Having previously exposed the unfailing dangers of Faction, the more pernicious and enticing danger of Efficiency may be revealed. Indeed, Efficiency, properly ordered as a servant, aids humanity in frugality. An efficient farmer may feed more people; an efficient merchant may employ more people; an efficient politician may persuade more people.
Efficiency, though, once being servant, quickly becomes master. And Efficiency is a jealous king. It demands, with greed surpassing understanding, the unwavering fealty of its erstwhile beneficiary. Once crowned, Efficiency suffers no dissent. Thus, a farmer serving His Majesty Efficiency will defile the land upon which he depends; a merchant serving His Excellency Efficiency will degrade and humiliate labor which brings dignity; the politician serving Lord Efficiency will decry polysyllabic words, superfluous metaphors, and gratuitous lists that, arousing in man ideas unfathomable for all other creatures, reminds him of his office at the peak of creation.
Efficiency builds its empire with the aid of its chamberlain, Quantification. I refer not, of course, to the pure and beautiful science of mathematics. Rather, I refer to the perverted concept that whatever is, is numerical, and the troublesome consequence that nothing that ever was, was not. I refer to the demand of unquestioning deference to the inscrutable wisdom of statisticians, who, with a surfeit of confidence, persist in mitigating humanity’s eternal privation of omniscience. These foolish ideas deny the everyday experience of every man, woman, and child who has ever existed, and who knows, from their most fundamental being, that that which makes us human and breathes life into our days does not dwell in the realm of numbers. For, is love quantifiable? Is virtue? Is joy, or sorrow? By what ruler may we measure truth? By what weight may we calibrate the scales of justice? How many dollars does hope cost? How many acres may a man acquire by selling his faith? We may tally income, property, and duration of life; we may estimate employment, and commerce, and taxes; but will we ever reduce freedom to a number?
And yet, the edict of Quantification commands that every decision find its cause in a number. Indeed, Efficiency only annuls this edict and considers the foundations of society, to wit, personal virtue and natural rights, when that consideration serves the designs of Efficiency. Thus, Efficiency praises self-preservation, indulgence, power, and compliance, save when fortitude must defend property, or when temperance must reduce public expense, or when justice must attract votes, or when autonomy must breed innovation.
The student of popular governments thus finds himself nearly as alarmed at Efficiency, as he is at Faction, when he contemplates the tendency for Efficiency to destroy the society which conceived and sustains it. He will shortly discover that society crumbles, with monotonous frequency, when its members, by serving the ambitions of Efficiency, desist from exercising their inalienable rights and growing in their personal virtue. He will, with vigor and certainty, conclude that society may not survive without Liberty, which alone fosters virtue, for no man may be truly virtuous if he may not choose to be vicious, and no man, convinced by the lies of Quantification, will strive to grow in virtue which Quantification cannot comprehend, when he may instead grow in quantifiable wealth.
The student will also uncover no commonality uniting the purposes of detractors and advocates of Liberty. For while detractors derive specious declamations from the past failures of Liberty to prevent the evil of Faction, Liberty’s friends and foes nonetheless concur that Faction is an evil, and merely disagree on the pragmatics of defeating its effects. But Liberty’s foes truly desire its demise at the behest of Efficiency, should that demise augment health or wealth or any such thing convertible to the language spoken by Quantification and residing in the domain of Efficiency.
Liberty, the student will certainly surmise, must be defended, once secured, against encroachments by the agents of Efficiency, in every age, by every generation, for Liberty finds neither repose in the house of Efficiency, nor ally among its subjects.
Dispensing with the conceit of our imaginary student, and attaching ourselves purely to the dictates of reason and good sense, we will immediately observe that the bulwarks necessary to keep Efficiency at bay, and thereby sustain society, are present in the American constitution, which, through structure, fetters Efficiency, and through command, provides sanctuary to Liberty. To manifest this, examples may be considered.
A lesser society may, by sweeping act, forbid religion, and thereby obtain another three fortnights of work each year; forbid assembly, and thereby eliminate expenditure on the public health; forbid speech, and thereby ossify power; and forbid redress, and thereby entrench its worship of Efficiency.
A servile society may reduce violence and ensure a compliant populace through confiscation of the arms which, born by greater men than we, have proven the necessary tools of securing liberty.
An ignoble society may, to reduce public expense and eliminate the possibility of costly sedition, require that its citizens feed and clothe and house its defenders.
A base society, desirous of conformity and predictability which encourage investment, may permit its officers to enter the property of its citizens to discover any fact or possession, embarrassing when exposed to public light, thus holding captive its population.
A vulgar society may, to reduce the public expense of investigation, and in the otherwise admirable pursuit of peace and elimination of crime, permit torture of its citizens to procure confessions; and may, to promote, with economy of scale, public works, permit deprivation of property at the whim of its leaders.
A deplorable society may, to prosecute criminals with least cost, convict its people based on nothing more than the caprice of a magistrate, founded upon enigmatic laws perceivable by none but the magistrate himself.
A corrupt society, favoring the powerful who grow economy in greater proportion than, and to the detriment of, the weak, may reserve judgment of controversy to the labyrinthine sense of the rarefied few, preventing bothersome interruption of mercantile interests by aggrieved commoners.
A detestable society may, to increase public accounts and extinguish vandalism, charge exorbitant fines and mortify the guilty.
A diseased society, its infection festering throughout its limited existence, may placate its populace, by platitudinous and ostensibly complete enumeration of rights, to restrain their vocabulary, and prevent them from recognizing new infractions of their inalienable dignity, which threaten the reign of Efficiency.
And a condemned society may concentrate its power, surrendered by a million unrepeatable and infinitely valuable wills, in a single level of government; nay, in a single office of government, dispatching all others as superfluous and expensive, and thereby elect a tyrant, terrible and unrelenting in his pursuit of Efficiency.
But we are not any of those societies. We behold, in the text of our constitution, that Liberty reigns. American inertia, begun by our revolution, sustained by the virtue of our people, undiminished by our vice, and permitted by the Liberty secured by our constitution, has, thus far, shackled tyrannical Efficiency. Our resistance to those who would unchain Efficiency to rule our every decision ought to match the degree of pleasure and pride we feel in being free, and the sorrow we feel for those who are not.
The Imaginative Conservative applies the principle of appreciation to the discussion of culture and politics—we approach dialogue with magnanimity rather than with mere civility. Will you help us remain a refreshing oasis in the increasingly contentious arena of modern discourse? Please consider donating now.
The featured image is “Treasurers’ Papers and Documents” (1656) by Cornelis Brisé (c. 1622-before 1670) and is in the public domain, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.