02 May 2010

Respect by Fiat

Cafe Hayek | Don Boudreaux | Respect Must Be Earned

Here’s a letter sent yesterday to WTOP, a DC news-radio station:
This morning’s caller who reports that her “heart is broken” by Tea Partiers’ “disrespect for Washington” reminds me of one of H.L. Mencken’s many trenchant, useful, and eternal insights. After describing government accurately as a “great pox of civilization,” Mencken observed that “The fact that it [government] is generally respected – that it possesses effective machinery for propagating and safeguarding that respect – is the main shield of the rogues and vagabonds who use it to exploit the great masses of diligent and credulous men.”*

The danger isn’t that some Americans have a low opinion of Washington; the danger is that too many Americans have a high opinion of it.

Donald J. Boudreaux
* H.L. Mencken, Prejudices: A Selection (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996 [1947]), pp. 187-188. [Note that the 1996 Hopkins edition seems no longer to be in print.]
Boudreaux is on a roll recently.

Here are some alternate quotes he could have dropped on WTOP:
No society can exist if respect for the law does not to some extent prevail; but the surest way to have the laws respected is to make them respectable.

— Frederic Bastiat, The Law, 2.38

In order to be respected, authority has got to be respectable.

— Tom Robbins, Another Roadside Atraction
I loosed the latter of those on my insufferably self-righteous high school principal when he claimed there was a rule against not only acting disrespectfully, but harboring a disrespectful mental state towards staff members.

The sadly wide-spread no-disrespect clause in student handbooks should be Clue #1 for students that the deck is stacked against you.  You can toe all the lines, and work to all the rules, but they'll still nail you for "disrespect" whenever you do something the authority just plain doesn't like.  It doesn't matter what the rules actually say, in disputes with your school it gets to be its own referee.  It will never let you win.

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