There is a great principle known as “The Rule of Law”. It means that Government, in all its actions, is bound by rules fixed and announced beforehand. The Rule of Law provides a permanent framework in which individuals make economic decisions. This is in stark contrast to some central authority directing economic activity. Collectivism is contrary to the Rule of Law because Government cannot tie itself down to formal rules in a centrally planned economy. It must arbitrarily provide for the direct needs of people as they arise and choose who gets what and when. It’s lawless.
The difference is enormous. Hayek likens it to laying down the rules of the road so people can decide which route to take vs. posting signposts commanding people which road to take. The Rule of Law is vastly superior to central planning. Economically, the State provides only general rules, allowing individuals to make decisions, which depend on their circumstances because it’s those individuals who best know their circumstances. It’s a more efficient way of allocating resources. Morally, if the State imposes specific economic ends it must give people no choice. Government must force its values and choose economic ends. Law is then not an instrument of people. It becomes a coercive instrument of the State for doing whatever it wants.
Fortunately, the philosophical foundation of The Rule of Law is ancient and rock solid. Modern progressive thought is just a recent intellectual head cold for humanity. Much more profound and historic legal ideas made us immune to the collectivism virus. From John Locke, to Immanuel Kant, to Voltaire, freedom and law are carefully developed concepts. Man is free if he needs to obey no person but solely the law.
Socialists try to distort the law with the misconception that if a State’s actions are duly authorized then The Rule of Law is preserved. Well, Hitler was duly empowered by the German people but nobody can argue that the murderous Nazi regime observed the Rule of Law. Progressives believe that there should be no limit to the power of a Government freely chosen by people. That’s the opposite of The Rule of Law. The true notion of law has been articulated for centuries by great thinkers and codified in the Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights.
Collectivism is an infectious pathogen to human thought. But our healthy intellectual history provides plenty of antibodies that will eventually cure us of this sickness among thinkers. Our Estate Planning War Chest has been inoculated against progressivism with The Rule of Law. Traditional notions of liberty, justice and law protect our economic interests from radical ideas. We’ll continue our travels down The Road To Serfdom next week.