Why the History Of Native Americans is the Best Argument For Small Government

Progressives routinely tout the advantages of bigger government, particularly for the poor.  Free health care. Free education. Free housing, transportation, Obamaphones, etc. You name it, progressives will tell you it can be “free,” paid for by higher taxes on the “evil” rich and “big corporations.” It won’t cost you a penny. All you have to do is remove existing constraints on their power, and they will use government to provide everything you need and want. 

Historically, how has an all-powerful centralized government worked out? Especially for those to whom so much was promised? Not well at all.

A case in point is our nation's own Native American community. Native Americans signed hundreds of treaties with both individuals and with the United States as a whole.  When the national government was weak, or non-existent, treaties were generally beneficial to both sides, such as William Penn’s purchase of land from the Delaware Indians. 

However, as the strength of the United States government grew with respect to the various Indian tribes, the stronger centralized government increasingly imposed their will on the militarily weaker tribes. Most often, these treaties took the form of a transfer of ownership of the tribe’s land to the U.S. government, and the forced relocation of Native American populations to “reservations” with promises to provide food, housing, goods, land, money, and protection. The reservation system also allowed those who considered themselves to be “more civilized” to control the tribes “for their own good,” and to help “civilize the savages.” 

 So, how did that work out? 

In spite of written guarantees, Indian treaties have rarely been honored, and the promises of food, housing, goods, land, money, and protection have been, for the most part, ignored.  After all, once the Indians gave up their land and military capability, they had no means of enforcing the terms of the treaty, so they got whatever the more powerful central government decided was “enough.” 

As a result, for decades, poverty among Native Americans has been extreme, often reaching 40% or higher. Even worse, the opportunity to work one’s way out of poverty was “cut off” by government rules, regulations, and policies, such as the Dawes Act. But perhaps the greatest atrocities came from well-meaning, government empowered “social engineers” in the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) who felt justified in using the power of the federal government to engage in radical social experiments, forcing Native Americans to abandon much of their cultural heritage, outlawing Native American traditions and practices, even going so far as the forced adoption of Native American children to help “engineer out” what was viewed as “backward beliefs.” 

Simply put, once the more powerful central government had total control over Native Americans, it proceeded to do everything it could to exterminate them as a people, culture, and demographic identity, all in the name of “helping” them become more civilized or, to put it another way, more like those who controlled the levers of government. 

Were the bureaucrats at BIA evil? Generally not. They were doing what they felt was in the “best interest” of Native Americans. After all, these “enlightened” bureaucratic experts just “knew” that Native Americans weren’t capable of managing their own affairs, so they needed to be cared for and nurtured by their benevolent and more highly-evolved betters.  So, for more than 100 years, Native Americans were forced to be dependent upon a sometimes benevolent, but always domineering, central government. It is only in the last decade that the chains imposed on Native Americans by Washington have been loosened and a small measure of freedom restored. Still, in 2010, the Native American rate of unemployment was 28.4% versus 15% for Americans not living under government control on reservations. For Native Americans living on reservations, the poverty rate is an astonishing 39%

Are Native Americans a special case, where big daddy government just did a particularly bad job of honoring its commitments? Not at all. The scenario has played out with similar results throughout time and around the world. The euro-socialist big daddy government model is falling apart before our very eyes, with riots in the streets as governments fail to honor their promises. Those European countries that are still able to, like Germany and Sweden, are backing away from the big daddy model as fast as they can. 

Even worse, historically, highly-centralized governments that achieved dictatorial control over their people usually ended in bloodshed, with Germany, the Soviet Union, and China simply the largest examples. Overall, it is estimated that highly-centralized, autocratic governments have killed nearly 262 million of their own people in the last century alone, not including wars. Democide, as it is called, seems to be a characteristic of centralized power. Political scientist R.J. Rummel claims that, based on his research, it is clear that, “political mass murder grows increasingly common as political power becomes unconstrained. At the other end of the scale, where power is diffuse, checked, and balanced, political violence is a rarity.”

As progressives continue to aggressively argue for bigger, stronger, more pervasive, unaccountable and autocratic government, Americans should be leery of the promises being made, and what the consequences of allowing progressives to impose their agenda are likely to be. Progressives are promising that big government will provide food, housing, jobs, education, an income, security, and lots of free stuff, if we just give them the unconstrained power they need. 

Before we do, maybe we should decide whether we are ready to accept a future such as the one imposed on Native Americans, “for our own good.” 

How much do you trust the information in this article?

Steve Curtis

Graduated Princeton University with a BSChE. Worked in industry for 20 years, then started a safety and environmental consulting company.

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