The Alarming Lack Of Pretense In Politics


One of the most alarming trends in American politics is the lack of pretense being displayed by authority. Like a ravening beast that loses its fear of humans, government becomes more dangerous when it loses the need to pose as a public servant that performs legitimate tasks. In short, government becomes more dangerous when it doesn’t care what you think of it. The sentence-long version of the argument for pretense is this: The need to pretend is a restraint upon authority.

Libertarian icon Murray Rothbard used to chuckle gleefully over the statements and antics of the notoriously corrupt politician Boss Tweed (1823-1878) of Tammany Hall. Murray loved the blatant quality of the man’s corruption. “Those were the days before politicians had PR agents, and a crook was a crook,” Murray would declare. He found the transparent corruption to be charming because it was non-hypocritical and it publicly revealed the ugly face of politics.

I disagree.

The government is a band of organized thugs who steal wealth and impose social control. Every “legitimate” function government provides — such as the construction of roads — would be better provided by a free market that does not steal and does not control behavior. But if there must be a government, then I want it filled with pretense.

Modern politics is the art of PR or smoke and mirrors. Politicians steal a fortune in salaries, hidden perks, pensions and benefits. This is on top of the ego-bulging power they enjoy. But politicians also want the populace to believe they are public servants who are humbled by power. They deny praxeology. This Misesean theory states that human beings act to achieve goals that benefit them. “Not so!” claim politicians. “Our actions are for the greater good, from pure altruism, for the children, an expression of public service, to stave off climate warming, for global peace, to advance women’s rights.”

The mask is falling. America is returning to the Boss Tweed approach in which blatantly self-serving motives are hardly concealed.

I remember vividly a news item from December 2012. It was the moment at which I realized the police in the United States no longer feel any need to pretend. They have become blatant thugs who will brutalize or kill anyone who defies or annoys them.

The news item? A Texas high school student was arrested; the arrest was allegedly to prevent the boy from harming himself due to depression. He was searched, his hands were cuffed behind his back, and he was placed into a police vehicle. The official version of what happened next: He shot himself to death with a hidden gun. Police claimed the T-shirted teen must have hidden the gun “really well,” and investigators backed up their account. No explanation of how the handcuffed teen retrieved a weapon was offered. The underlying message is that the police no longer need to pretend that they protect rather than victimize people.

Imagine an associate who has the goal of victimizing you at every turn while, at the same time, he deceives you into calling him a friend. As long as the pretense is in place, he cannot commit acts that are glaringly antithetical to friendship. If he beats you up in an alley, you will compare his actions to his words and conclude he is an enemy. The need to float an illusion of friendship is a restraint upon his actions. He needs to maintain the illusion because it is your belief in the friendship that gives him access to your life. He wants you to cooperate in your own victimization.

Government is that associate. The American government has pretended to be a friend and partner of “the people” since its inception. “Government of the people, by the people, and for the people” were words spoken by President Abraham Lincoln at a time when he presided over the greatest slaughter of Americans in history: the Civil War. The President uttered noble words and young men died in fields filled with corpses rather than grain. Such is the way of government “for the people.”

Nevertheless, the need for pretense generally restrains government in much the same manner as it used to restrain the police. Before the militarization of the police in the wake of 9-11, officers perpetuated the lie of “to serve and protect” by presenting a comparatively benign face to the public. This required some level of good behavior. Brutality occurred behind closed doors and it was largely inflicted on those who had no voice in society. Today, the police no longer close the door. They police use SWAT teams to raid organic farms, holding residents at gun point while they destroy okra plants. They kill harmless family pets as a routine part of intimidating harmless people. The mask has fallen.

The war against Syria that wasn’t is instructive. When Syria allegedly crossed an arbitrary “red line” that had been defined by Barack Obama, the President was unilaterally ready to attack, without diplomatic foreplay, without Congressional approval, without U.N. support, with nothing but his signature on a piece of paper. It would have been a war for one man’s credibility. The legacy of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning President required the murder of Syrians.

Then a series of PR setbacks occurred: The British parliament prevented the U.K. from joining in, the American public rebelled, international opinion backfired and Congress demanded a voice. Suddenly, Obama began to pretend. “I honor the opinion of the American people,” he claimed. “I will ask Congress,” he vowed. “I will consult with international powers,” he announced. And so war with Syria was prevented by the need for pretense.

When a government no longer cares how people view it, what results is the Soviet Union of the 1980s. A government that does not seek your consent to being victimized is a transparently totalitarian one that uses brutality as a default policy. People in the Soviet Union did not have the illusion of “we are the government” or “the police are there to help you.” They knew government was the enemy and the police were its agents.

The American government is abandoning pretense. Murray would applaud. I see it as a final sign to either get out or prepare to seriously shelter in place. A government that is indifferent to public good will is openly hostile to human survival. A government that does not pretend is terrifying.

–Wendy McElroy

Wendy McElroy is a renowned individualist anarchist and individualist feminist. She was a co-founder along with Carl Watner and George H. Smith of The Voluntaryist in 1982, and is the author/editor of 12 books, the latest of which is “The Art of Being Free”. Follow her work at

Personal Liberty

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  • John Douglas

    I have been posting on various web sites my unease over the fact that both Democrats and Republicans are indifferent to how the voters see them and subsequent voter backlash. Wendy’s article tells me why –


    The 2014 mid term election will be pivotal… if it’s not a sham…if we even have one.

    • hungry4food

      You are right , there is really no difference between the 2 party leaders once they take their seats , other than the theater of it all !!!!!

      The Politics and then the reality behind the scenes of
      Politics is what this story portrays , and it makes me sick to think that we
      the people are so ignorant to think that today’s 2 party system is our way to
      sustain Liberty !!!!

      These 2 videos gives you more on how the
      culture of corruption is so profound that Nothing will be done to revive
      the Republic of the U.S.A.

    • speedle24

      Don’t get too excited about the mid terms. Remember that New York, California and Illinois would elect a house pet to congress if it had a “D” on its lapel. Minnesota actually gave Al Franken close to 50% of the vote to get him elected (close enough to steal the election). 95% of the black population will vote for any democrat on the ballot (Hispanics will probably do so 85% of the time). And, we have idiots on the right side that will stay home and not vote if their perfect candidate is not on the ballot. This will all get fixed someday, but I am not certain within my lifetime.

      • WellNowDear

        Something similiar was said when Ted Cruz was running for election against Dewhurst in Texas but, we got Ted in there.

        • speedle24

          That’s right Well, and I helped put him there, but I have come to the realization that I am philosophically closer to a man from Mars than I am to the clowns in the blue states. Somehow we have to figure out how to get a leader that champions our cause and appeals to the pop culture morons as well. That’s not an easy task.

  • Irwin Tyler

    White House spokeswoman Amy Brundage said: “The president has said repeatedly that members of Congress don’t get to demand ransom for fulfilling their basic responsibilities to pass a budget and pay the nation’s bills.” Actually, the President’s statement is disingenuous because the President and Senate Democrats don’t get to demand Obamacare ransom for fulfilling their basic responsibilities to pass a budget and pay the nation’s bills, against the overwhelming expression against Obamacare of the American people they are pledged to serve.

  • jaybird

    I think the Tea Party Republicans, Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, Jason Chaffitz(?), Trey Gowdy and others are truly for the people. Ted Cruz does not use the Senate insurance and was donating his salary doing the shut down to charity, some of the others were donating their salaries. These guys have young children and want to protect their futures.

    Everyone that is protesting in DC should shout the police down like they did in front of the WH until they walk away, we pay their salaries and it was a peaceful protest. If everyone sticks together peacefully and resists, they can’t arrest them all. The police have been brutal and injust in handling unarmed, innocent people and until we go to county meeting and protest, nothing will be done. They have thrown pregnant women on the ground, more civilian law suites against the officers themselves and then the dept. might make them think first.

  • paendragon

    Wendy, you can’t be an “individualist feminist.” When you declare your self to be a feminist, you advocate for the rights of one group (women) to trump the others.

  • Stuart Shepherd

    What the hell is in “individualist anarchist” or an “individualist feminist”? This kind of complete flakiness really diminishes, if not eradicates, the credibility of the well presented points of the article. I don’t trust a flake to be giving accurate or substantiated information. Who’s to know about the young man in the police car. Overall, though, she or he has a point.

    • Deerinwater

      Some woman that’s authored 12 books and is full of it , up to her eye balls.

  • Deerinwater

    I think Wendy has it backwards, as pretense is all we do have today.