A libertarian introduction to an authoritarian matter
Historical evidence proves time and time again, that the concentration of power in the hands of those in government has always been the greatest threat to individual freedom. Every historical example of enlargement of government and its centralization of power has been instigated ironically in the name of the common man and his freedom to support his struggle to achieving a better existence. Despite those who have set in motion the enlargement of state regulation and centralization of government control to be men of good character, it is unambiguous that the instruments of state authority attract power-hungry individuals in the long run who are not motivated by the same good values so to speak.
With that in mind on a further note, there is a delicate interconnection between economic freedom and political freedom, and the world has numerous examples to prove it. Throughout time there has not been a single case of human progress or innovation of any sort achieved by a government entity, whether being a collective state agency or an individual bureaucrat. Every human achievement has been accomplished through the private citizen by himself or through his participation as an individual in a private group entity. The reason being is that human behavior is and always has been driven by economic incentives. Even from an anthropological standpoint, since the very beginning of our existence, humans have battled due to the scarcity of goods and resources.
Shifting the focus to a more recent perspective, the appearance of the free market has led to capitalist competition substituting military rivalry. The formation of price as a variable and its natural regulation of economic activity and social exchange has led to the willful supply and demand of goods and services among societies. This has gradually limited to a great degree the need of violent coercion prompted by various governments. The evidence speaks with a unified voice on the relation between political freedom and peace with the establishment of democracy and free markets.
The political struggle of Bulgarian civil liberty
In theory, it would not be divisive to declare that politics and economics should remain largely unconnected. In particular, the material welfare of the citizen should be addressed as an economic problem and the political freedom of the individual a political one.
The nation-states of Eastern Europe are a product of 19th-century nationalism. The consequence of this ideology which is based on the premise that the individual loyalty to the state should surpass all individual and group interests comes in direct conflict with the classic idea of liberalism favored by intellectuals in the same century.
The obvious historical disasters of Bulgaria’s communist past has led to the supposed end of totalitarianism and its principles of planned economy at least on paper. Today the Bulgarian government stands as a unitary parliamentary republic. Despite socialism practically annihilating its ability to be competitive to this day Bulgaria still widely implements fundamental socialist doctrines. The collective socialist spirit can be seen right away in the very beginning of its constitution as follows:
“We, the Members of the Seventh Grand National Assembly…..hereby proclaim our resolve to create a democratic and welfare state, governed by the rule of law, by establishing this CONSTITUTION.”
THE OPENING REMARKS IN THE PREAMBLE OF THE CURRENT BULGARIAN CONSTITUTION
As seen in the passage, it declares that the elected government will be the leading force that shall act to provide and secure “individual rights by establishing democracy, lawfulness, and a welfare state”.
The issue with this proclamation in the preamble of the Bulgarian constitution is that no government action is anything but restrictive both by its essence and function. True civil liberty is the state of being free within a law-abiding society from oppressive restrictions imposed by central authority on the citizen’s way of life, economic behavior, and political views. In this sense, civil freedom must be obtained and defended by the power of individualism, not by the force of government. The role of government should only be to provide a safe and regulated environment in which one individual may exist, produce and grow without limitation, as long as his personal growth does not endanger the potential for other individuals or social organizations to do the same.
The economic state of the individual shaped by his commercial arrangements represents the foundation of western society more evident in the United States than in Europe with the arguable exception of the United Kingdom. In this respect, economic arrangements in societies have often played a role in political validation for establishing a big government with more centralization of state power. In contrast to this enlargement, political freedom has always come along in parallel with the emergence of the free market and the development of capitalist institutions. This claim is easily justified by the more recent examples of societies that have risen out of poverty by excepting western values. More prominent of which would be Western European nations, Indonesia, Honk Kong, Japan, South Korea, India, and even China which have opened up to the west despite that being a complicated matter suitable for a separate discussion.
In a biased attempt of big-government supporters to dismantle this empirical claim, they would most likely use a more idealist argument with the historical examples of Tzarist-Russia, Fascist-Italy, and the state of Spain under the dictatorship of General Franco. Unfortunately, all of these forms of capitalist societies had enormous centralized control over the many major societal functions in one form or another which easily puts them into the large graph of unsuccessful big governments with strong state centralization of power. Cases on both sides distinguish the importance of a well-structured democracy making it an absolute necessity in order for capitalism to truly flourish in accordance to everything we nowadays perceive as civil liberty.
So what achieves individual liberty and economic freedom and what part does the government play in this process?
In terms of political philosophy, the government plays a fundamental role no matter the position in the spectrum of the long and complicated political aisle. One may argue that individual freedom and liberty have been achieved to the truest extent only by the United States example with its so-called “American exceptionalism”. If Such advocates are asked how they would explain the unarguable American success in terms of achieving civil liberty and economic freedom they would argue that the bill of rights which guarantees freedom of speech, freedom of the press, the right assembly, and free practice of religious beliefs enables society and its individuals to truly be “free”.
But is the American Bill of Rights truly the guarantor of freedom?
The tyrannical Soviet Union had its own form of a bill of rights which in theory guaranteed freedom of speech, the right of civil assembly, freedom of the press, and the right to protest. Every banana republic in Central America as well as all the authoritarian states of Africa also had some form of legislation stamped by noble judicial document proclaiming liberty, freedom, and every other basic human right any person may possibly think of. If one examines these very documents he would naively conclude that they are even more progressive and liberal in terms of demanding and defending the pursuit of human freedoms, than any western political doctrine but of course, these are just words on paper.
In order to avoid misinterpretation of such political declarations, the following point must be understood. Every bill of rights, doctrine, or decree despite its great importance government structure and societal organization, such documents are just a mere continuation of the legislative foundation. Excluding countries such as the United Kingdom and a few other nation-states, the most significant document with the greatest impact on the organization of government function and its relation to society is that of the constitution. It is the constitution of the Soviet Union that did not limit the centralization of power leading to the emergence of Stalin. It was the fascist constitution of Italy that empowered the chief-executive Mussolini to widen his grip on the Apennine peninsula and it was again the Weimar constitution that made possible the rise of Adolf Hitler. All of which were able to establish an authoritarian government with centralized state control limiting civil and economic freedoms with strong government regulation. All other documents proclaiming freedom are just afterthoughts with little importance when the structure of government is fundamentally built to favor totalitarianism by the constitution.
The constitutionally proclaimed welfare state of Bulgaria
So why is it that the noble objectives of establishing the economic wellbeing of the common man through the instruments of government and its institutions always take such a disastrous course as shown in the past and present in Bulgaria? Instead of going through all the necessities for a society to function properly..such as separation of powers, an independent judiciary, and a more detailed approach towards defining a good constitution, let us finish off with a less lengthy but just as equally important matter…
The corrupt Bulgarian logic of taxation rhetoric and the welfare state.
The first key point one may find in the act of taxation is in its very definition. The process of taxation essentially involves the act of taking away the individual’s money in order to do good with it in the name of the collective. It this sense it would be difficult for one to argue that one person acting as the instrument of government may spend someone else’s money better than the very man who earned the money himself. In the case of Bulgaria, government regulation of all forms of private entities is mindblowing. It heavily taxes middle and small-sized businesses and taxes often do not distinguish any difference in terms of one’s economic capability or activity. Widespread corruption navigates institutions to politically target industries and businesses thanks to the well established heavy regulatory burdens.
In contrast to the socialist big government approach with its stronger regulation in the name of the “common good”, we ought to add a more libertarian/liberal or republican solution. The political label of this following statement would be determined by your location as a reader due to the terms being heavily misused all over the globe.
The true free-market functions so well that it gives the common man whether participating in some sort of social organization or as an individual to earn and spend currency in a matter best suitable for their individual needs instead of another group deciding what they ought to want and need. Of course, this does not mean that the role of government should be nonexistent. But it proves that the “goodwill” of government institutions is easily corrupt whereas the will of private entities always acts in accordance with its economic incentive to survive.
State institutions must be the arbiter of economic activity in order to establish a safe and equally favoring environment for the individual to act and grow in both the political and economic sense. Government interference should not organize the fundaments economic activity neither should it act as a patron of the citizen’s wellbeing. It is the individual itself that should act upon being the biggest sanctuary and gatekeeper to his own freedoms in the context of the free market. The potential ability for the individual citizen or the social organization to succeed and flourish in the competitive free market society provides an economic strength that has proven to be the strongest factor that checks political power backed by the rights deriving from a powerful and righteous constitution orientated towards the individual.
A comparison between American exceptionalism and Bulgarian nation-state building
American history has been stamped by many shameful mistakes in terms of human rights. The events of slavery, racial segregation, sexual discrimination, denial of fundamental civil liberties for women all echo in the seemingly turbulent American society of the present. Nonetheless, readers need to know that all of these atrocities were committed because, at one point in time, it was the government that had established these political beliefs as normalities upon the society which they governed.
As history also shows quite visibly, it was the power of the constitution which granted the individual citizen to overthrow these government decisions showcased by the supreme court cases of Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), Korematsu v. the United States (1944) Brown vs Board of education (1954), Loving v. Virginia (1967), Roe v. Wade (1973) and many many more.
It has been the power of individual liberty which made it possible for the American citizen to triumph in his attempt to accomplish change in the above-mentioned supreme court cases over oppressive government regulation. It is exactly why the preamble of the United State constitution symbolizes the importance of the individual, as it begins with the words “We the people” displaying the unity between those who govern and those who are governed in their common right to “pursuit of happiness”.
Whereas in the case of Bulgaria the preamble of the constitutional document starts as follows: “We, the members of the Seventh Grand National Assembly.” A merely symbolic difference but nonetheless important in the Bulgarian distinguishment of those in power with ordinary citizens. Despite Bulgaria being the most centralized government, the most corrupt government, the most heavily regulated society, the poorest society, the most unhappy society in the European Union, you as a reader have the right to interpret the spirit and symbolic differences behind these two preamble opening remarks. In case you’re Bulgarian just make sure you interpret quietly because as mentioned before, many declarations of freedom are just words on paper.
By Zlatin Kurshumov, published in Chicago Illinois
ORIGINAL PUBLICATION: Foreign Times
* The opinions expressed in the articles published in Bulgaria Analytica are solely those of their authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of CBBSS or its sponsors.