John Adams vs. Woodrow Wilson

by Don Boudreaux on September 11, 2012

in Man of System, Myths and Fallacies, Reality Is Not Optional

Here’s a letter to WTOP Radio:

A listener on your “Talk Back Line” today asserted that “We Americans are too ideological.  If we’d spend more time electing competent leaders, government’s size wouldn’t be so alarming.”

I couldn’t disagree more with this technocratic take on centralized power.  And nor could John Adams.  Here’s Adams writing in 1776:

“[Alexander] Pope flattered tyrants too much when he said,

‘For forms of government let fools contest,
That which is best administered is best.’

“Nothing can be more fallacious than this….  Nothing is more certain, from the history of nations and nature of man, than that some forms of government are better fitted for being well administered than others.”*

It is dangerously naive to trust chiefly in the competence and character of government officials while paying little attention to the temptations and complexities that confront such officials – temptations and complexities that grow exponentially with growth in government’s powers.

Sincerely,
Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA  22030

* John Adams, “Thoughts on Government,” 1776, in American Political Writing during the Founding Era: 1760-1805, Charles S. Hyneman and Donald S. Lutz, eds. (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1983), pp. 401-409.

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