I just viewed an episode from the original Star Trek series where Kirk and Spock look for a missing history professor, John Gill, who was sent to a planet to observe its development. Kirk and Spock find the planet has modeled its culture after the German Nazi Party of old Earth in the 1930’s. Kirk and Spock find John Gill is responsible for the planet adopting the ways of the Nazi Party. Kirk asks Gill why he had the adopted the horrific methods of the Nazis. Gill answers that when he arrived he found the planet badly fragmented and divided. To end the disorganization, Gill turned to Earth history and adopted the policies of Nazi Germany. Kirk demands Gill explain why he would adopt Nazi policies when Gill “knew what they were.” Gill’s answer is chilling. Gill adopted the Nazi culture because Nazi Germany was the “most efficient State Earth ever knew…” Spock further explains, “Quite true. A tiny country. Beaten. Bankrupt. Defeated. Rose in a few years to stand only one step away from global domination.” But Kirk says that efficiency leading to global domination was “brutal, perverted” that had to be destroyed at a terrible cost. Spock then suggests that perhaps Gill believed that the Nazi system, run benignly, could be run efficiently without sadism.
Today, many are saying the United States needs to be run more efficiently. Usually this is followed by the comment that government should be run like a business. Should efficiency be the paramount value for our government? If so, the Star Trek episode is right on point. The first place in efficiency must go to dictatorships–the viler, the more efficient. The more absolute the power of the local tyrant, the more rapidly and completely his policy desires are implemented. Cruelty and unpredictability are the techniques of the real efficiency experts. Dissidents complaining? Just shoot them. Citizens acting up? Arrest them on trumped up traffic charges as terrorists against the State. Or even torture them–making sure to include some of your previous favorites like waterboarding–and the rest will snap into line. Make sure they stay in line by the government monitoring all forms of communication. Maybe even have drone planes spying on citizens just to be safe.
But that kind of behavior is not what we want in America, is it? Our Founding Fathers agreed that America was founded on natural laws that certain “truths [are] self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Moreover, to secure these natural rights, a government must derive any government power from the people. Finding the consent of the people to run the government is not very efficient. That is the opposite of the rapidly executed and efficient power of a dictator. But adhering to the principles of the Declaration of Independence, Abraham Lincoln said in his October 1854 Peoria speech, is the only way to save the Union and keep it worthy of being saved. Likewise the United States Supreme Court has held that “it is always safe to read the letter of the Constitution in the spirit of the Declaration of Independence. No duty rests more imperatively upon the courts than the enforcement of those constitutional provisions intended to secure that equality of rights which is the foundation of free government.” Cotting v. Godard, 183 U.S. 79 (1901). Earlier, in The Amistad, 40 U.S. 518 (1841) the Court said that our government was based on the principles promulgated in the Declaration of Independence. By adhering to these principles our government remains one of just and equal law, not of men. Yick Wo v. Hopkins, 118 U.S. 356 (1886)
Does our government itself bear marks that it was designed for efficiency of inefficiency? More importantly, if it is efficiency, for what purpose is efficiency promoted? Perhaps the best example of how federal and state governments are designed to be run inefficiently is the principle of separation of powers. The term “trias politica” or “separation of powers” was coined by Charles-Louis de Secondat, baron de La Brède et de Montesquieu, an 18th century French social and political philosopher and is the basis of our Constitution. A separation of powers means the political authority of the state is divided into legislative, executive and judicial powers. Separation of powers, therefore, refers to the division of government responsibilities into distinct branches to limit any one branch from exercising the core functions of another. The intent is to prevent the concentration of power and provide for checks and balances. Interestingly, Montesquieu believed that to most effectively promote liberty, these three powers must be separate and acting independently. The argument from liberty holds that separation is needed in order to prevent tyranny. According to The Federalist Papers, “The accumulation of all powers legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.” Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, John Jay, The Federalist Papers (New York: New American Library, 1961), 47, p. 301.
Clearly, our Founding Fathers did not want a more efficient government. The separation of powers they created is a restraint based on inefficiency with our freedom guarded not by fierce virtue of politicians but by simple unfeasibility or unconstitutionality of a more efficient process.