Montréal, le 14 août 1999
Numéro 43
  (page 8) 
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          La montée de l'interventionnisme et de la tyrannie bureaucratiques ne date pas d'hier. Déjà au début du siècle, à une époque où la taille des gouvernements était pourtant encore modeste par rapport à aujourd'hui, la tendance était perceptible pour les esprits critiques libertariens. Des taxes toujours plus élevées, des invasions toujours plus insidieuses dans la vie des gens, la tentation de tout régler par la réglementation et les dépenses, des politiciens rapaces qui se servent du pouvoir pour leur propre profit plutôt que pour le bien public: tout y était.  
          L'un de ces esprits critiques qui mérite d'être lu encore aujourd'hui s'appelait Henry Louis Mencken. Linguiste, critique littéraire, journaliste, et surtout satiriste à la plume assassine, Mencken fut l'un des commentateurs les plus influents de son époque. Il dénonçait la bêtise sous toutes ses formes, celle qui sortait aussi bien de la bouche des politiciens que de celle des pasteurs méthodistes, des professeurs ignorants, des croisés puritains (nombreux à cette époque de prohibition de l'alcool) et de tous les « quacks » qui prétendaient pouvoir réformer la société par une combine miraculeuse ou une autre.  
          H. L. Mencken ne se faisait aucune illusion sur la nature essentiellement oppressive des gouvernements, quelle que soit leur couleur. Il constatait que la constitution essentiellement libertarienne des États-Unis n'était plus respectée, et que l'État avait acquis une sorte d'aura surnaturel permettant aux politiciens de justifier toute action comme si c'était la volonté de Dieu lui-même qui s'accomplissait. Mencken explique sa conception des gouvernements dans cet extrait d'un texte écrit dans les années 1920 (Prejudices: A Selection, Vintage Books, 1958). Les choses n'ont pas cessé d'empirer dans les trois quarts de siècle qui ont suivi...
          The citizen of today, even in the most civilized states, is not only secured but defectively against other citizens who aspire to exploit and injure him (...); he is also exploited and injured almost without measure by the government itself – in other words, by the very agency which professes to protect him. That agency becomes, indeed, one of the most dangerous and insatiable of the inimical forces present in his everyday environment. He finds it more difficult and costly to survive in the face of it than it is to survive in the face of any other enemy. He may, if he has prudence, guard himself effectively against all the known variety of private criminals, from stockbrokers to pickpockets and from lawyers to kidnapers, and he may, if he has been burnt enough, learn to guard himself also against the rogues who seek to rob him by the subtler device of playing upon his sentimentalities and superstitions: charity mongers, idealists, soul-savers, and others after their kind. But he can no more escape the tax-gatherer and the policemen, in all their protean and multitudinous guises, than he can escape the ultimate mortician. They beset him constantly, day in and day out, in ever-increasing numbers and in ever more disarming masks and attitudes. They invade his liberty, affront his dignity and greatly incommode his search for happiness, and every year they demand and wrest from him a larger and larger share of his worldly goods. The average American of today works more than a full day in every week to support his government. It already costs him more than his pleasures and almost as much as his vices, and in another half century, no doubt, it will begin to cost as much as his necessities.  
          These gross extortions and tyrannies, of course, are all practised on the theory that they are not only unavoidable, but also laudable – that government oppresses its victims in order to confer upon them great boons (...). But that theory, I believe, begins to be quite as dishonest as the chiropractor's pretense that he pummels his patient's spine in order to cure his cancer: the actual object, obviously, is simply to cure his solvency. What keeps such notions in full credit, and safeguards them against destructive analysis, is chiefly the survival into our enlightened age of a concept hatched in the black days of absolutism – the concept, to wit, that government is something that is superior to and quite distinct from all other human institutions – that it is, in its essence, not a mere organization of ordinary men, like the Ku Klux Klan, the United States Steel Corporation or Columbia University, but a transcendental organism composed of aloof and impersonal powers, devoid wholly of self-interest and not to be measured by merely human standards. One hears it spoken of, not uncommonly, as one hears the law of gravitation and the grace of God spoken of – as if its acts had no human motive in them and stood clearly above human fallibility. This concept, I need not argue, is full of error. The government at Washington is no more impersonal that the cloak and suit business is impersonal. It is operated by precisely the same sort of men, and to almost the same ends. When we say that it has decided to do this or that, that is proposes or aspires to do this or that – usually to the great cost and inconvenience of nine-tenths of us – we simply say that a definite man or group of men has decided to do it, or proposes or aspires to do it; and when we examine this group of men realistically we almost invariably find that it is composed of individuals who are not only not superior to the general, but plainly and depressingly inferior, both in common sense and in common decency – that the act of government we are called upon to ratify and submit to is, in its essence, no more than an act of self-interest by men who, if no mythical authority stood behind them, would have a hard time of it surviving in the struggle for existence. 
« The average American of today works more than a full day in every week to support his government. It already costs him more than his pleasures and almost as much as his vices, and in another half century, no doubt, it will begin to cost as much as his necessities. »
          These men, in point of fact, are seldom if ever moved by anything rationally describable as public spirit; there is actually no more public spirit among them than among so many burglars or street-walkers. Their purpose, first, last and all the time, is to promote their private advantage, and to that end, and that end alone, they exercise all the vast powers that are in their hands. Sometimes the thing they want is mere security in their jobs; sometimes they want gaudier and more lucrative jobs; sometimes they are content with their jobs and their pay but yearn for more power. Whatever it is they seek, whether security, greater ease, more money or more power, it has to come out of the common stock, and so it diminishes the shares of all other men. Putting a new job-holder to work decreases the wages of every wage-earner in the land – not enough to be noticed, perhaps, but enough to leave its mark. Giving a job-holder more power takes something away from the liberty of all of us: we are less free than we were in proportion as he has more authority. Theoretically, we get something for what we thus give up, but actually we usually get absolutely nothing. Suppose two-thirds of the members of the national House of Representatives were dumped into the Washington garbage incinerator tomorrow, what would we lose to offset our gain of their salaries and the salaries of their parasites? It may be plausibly argued, of course, that the House itself is necessary to our happiness and salvation – that we need it as we need trolley conductors, chiropodists and the men who bite off puppies' tails. But even if that be granted – and I, for one, am by no means disposed to grant it – the plain fact remains that all the useful work the House does might be done just as well by fifty men, and that the rest are of no more utility to the commonwealth, in any rational sense, that so many tightrope walkers or teachers of mah jong.
          The Fathers, when they launched the Republic, were under no illusions as to the nature of government. (...); Jefferson it was who said sagely that “the government is best which governs least.” The Constitution in its first form, perhaps, was designed chiefly to check the rising pretensions of the lower orders, drunk with democratic fustian of the Revolutionary era, but when the Bill of Rights was added to it its guns began to point more especially at the government itself, i.e., at the class of job-holders, ever bent upon oppressing the citizen to the limit of his endurance. It is, perhaps, a fact provocative of sour mirth that the Bill of Rights was designed trustfully to prohibit forever two of the favorite crimes of all known governments: the seizure of private property without adequate compensation and the invasion of the citizen's liberty without justifiable cause and due process of law. It is a fact provocative of mirth yet more sour that the execution of these prohibitions was put into the hands of courts, which is to say, into the hands of lawyers, which is to say, into the hands of men specifically educated to discover legal excuses for dishonest, dishonorable and anti-social acts. The actual history of the Constitution, as everyone knows, has been a history of the gradual abandonment of all such impediments to governmental tyranny. Today we live frankly under government of men, not of laws. What is the Bill of Rights to a Roosevelt, a Wilson, a Palmer, a Daugherty, a Burns? Under such tin-horn Caesars the essential enmity between government and citizen becomes only too plain, and one gets all the proof that is needed of the eternal impossibility of protecting the latter against the former. The government can not only evoke fear in its victims; it can also evoke a sort of superstitious reverence. It is thus both an army and a church, and with sharp weapons in both hands it is virtually irresistible. Its personnel, true enough, may be changed, and so may the external forms of the fraud it practises, but its inner nature is immutable. 
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