… is from pages 57-58 of Bernard Bailyn’s profound 1967 book, The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution:
What gave transcendent importance to the aggressiveness of power was the fact that its natural prey, its necessary victims, was liberty, or law, or right. The public world these writers saw was divided into distinct, contrasting, and innately antagonistic spheres: the sphere of power and the sphere of liberty or right. The one was brutal, ceaselessly active, and heedless; the other was delicate, passive, and sensitive. The one must be resisted, the other defended, and the two must never be confused.
DBx: The sphere of liberty is not weak or passive in creating prosperity and opportunity. Within this sphere there teems today billions of individuals, each creating and working and striving, with market prices, profits, and losses coordinating these uncountable efforts into a mighty productive force. Insofar as creating widespread prosperity goes, no method is remotely as powerful as is the market order in which innovation is encouraged.
Ironically, however, the sphere of liberty is indeed a weak defender of itself. The liberal market order works so successfully and so smoothly that its fruits are taken for granted. This success – so routine, so substantial – conveys the mistaken impression that earthly perfection is possible. One ill consequence is that the market-order’s failure to achieve perfection is taken by many people as reason enough either to displace it altogether with state-directed economic arrangements, or at least to meddle in the market order to ‘improve’ its performance. Proponents of meddling – that is, of economic intervention – no less than proponents of central planning are utterly oblivious to the complexity of the details of the emergent process that they propose to ‘improve’ with their meddling.
Most humans have an abiding faith in the power of coercion when exercised by their preferred team members. For nearly everyone other than true liberals, the state is godlike – or can and will be godlike if the right team controls it. This primitive, benighted superstition is embraced today by even those individuals who fancy themselves to be the most hard-nosed empirical scientists.
Resisting the sway of this superstition on the public mind is a never-ending task.
Bernard Bailyn died two years ago today.