Illegal Meals and de Jasay’s Model of the State
It used to be that one perk of power under Western democracies was to be more or less above the petty laws imposed on the commoners. Contrary to rulers and their cronies under tyrannies, a high-level democratic ruler (politician but sometimes high-level bureaucrat) could not (normally) commit murder or any other serious crime without penalty, but he could indulge in minor infractions to the myriad of little, vexatious laws that he contributes imposing on others.
A democratic ruler could, say, attend an illegal birthday party or share an illegal meal. I am referring to the pandemic “Partygate,” in which the British prime minister has been fined for attending an illegal party and two Labor MPs are now investigated for sharing an illegal meal (“Boris Johnson’s Ethics Adviser Suggests Partygate Fine May Breach Ministerial Code,” Financial Times, May 31, 2022). Being above petty laws must have been a major political perk, and perhaps it still is or, obviously, some thought it still was.
This phenomenon of rulers being harassed by the harassing laws they impose on ordinary citizens fits well in the model of the state developed by anarcho-liberal, or perhaps anarcho-conservative, theorist Anthony de Jasay. In this model, political competition gradually reduces the discretionary benefits of the actual rulers. Politicians can be counted on to exploit and publicize their competitors’ infractions in order to win voters’ support. They may realize that they are thereby cutting the branch of their future privileges, but they must play the competition game—just like, on the ordinary market, a firm that lowers its price against a competitor knows that its benefit will be short-lived.
What’s the endgame? What happens as the discretionary benefits of being a ruler are undermined by political competition? In de Jasay’s model, democratic rulers will finally be led to abolish political competition.