Hidden Springs Lane. Americans have recently learned that certain groups seeking non-profit status were subjected to, ahem, “heightened scrutiny” by the IRS.  It seems that groups that used words like “Tea Party” and “Patriot” were singled out for rougher treatment including requests to turn over donor lists. The President has demanded a full investigation while others have suggested that his impeachment is warranted. Incensed Republicans are vowing to hold hearings, which gives everyone the sense that something important is being done, especially if the television coverage is sufficient. But will heads roll? Will anything really change? Will the system remain intact?

This is really just another symptom of a larger and more systemic problem. Everyone seem to realize that the federal government is out of control. It is spending money at an unsustainable rate. We all know that. I imagine that our leaders, in moments of quiet reflection, admit it as well. Yet no one seems able to do anything to staunch the bleeding. Government inefficiencies are simply expected. We have all been treated to laundry lists of redundancies, misappropriations, and “misplaced” funds, yet the abuses and negligence continues apace. Those in government with the best of intentions, and there are many, seem helpless.

How to tame a minotaur whose essence is to devour? How to redirect a force whose mass is orders of magnitude larger than any one person and whose momentum has been uni-directional for decades? On the one hand, our democratic republic is a system that is intended to be responsive to the people. The Founders placed checks on the process, but they believed that the will of the majority would eventually prevail. On the other hand, from the start, power began moving toward the center and despite the warnings of various writers along the way, the steady centralization of power has been the persistent theme of our history. We have not been attentive enough to the basic fact that power, itself, tends toward centralization and that, as Tocqueville put it, the longer a democracy endures, the more centralized its power will become.

Our feeling of impotence and anger in the face of such obvious and serious problems is a toxic combination that can lead to either complacency on the one hand or revolution on the other. Neither option is compatible with ordered self-government. A democracy can only thrive when people perceive themselves as citizens with real voices who can effect real change. I fear that many Americans today see themselves primarily as subjects or beneficiaries or even victims but not as citizens.

As with so many problems of social and political order the question of scale lies at the heart of the matter. Ironically, though, intelligent discussions of scale are difficult to find. We hear some railing against “big government” but at the same time cheering “big business” as if the two are not intimately conjoined. We hear from some quarters a steady militant drumbeat but we hear no admission that the warfare state is as beneficial to the centralization of power as the welfare state. How would our thoughts and actions fundamentally change if we took seriously the importance of human scale? Would our understanding of citizenship change? Would our tolerance for the systemic abuses of leviathan change? Would we find a vantage point from which to resist and perhaps reform that which now defies serious reformation?

The recent revelation about the targeting of certain groups by the IRS reminded me of FPR’s own trials with that particular government agency. In 2010 as we were in the process of applying for 501c3 status, I received a phone call from an IRS agent (I will withhold his name). He informed me in no uncertain terms that we were obliged to present both sides of every issue. We were required, as he put it, to be “fair and balanced.” He used that exact phrase three times during our conversation. Really? Fair and balanced? Is Mothers Against Drunk Driving required, in the name of fairness, to present the side of the drunk drivers? Are Tea Party groups required to give equal time to Progressives? And vice versa? I consulted two lawyers who assured me that the agent was completely out of line. I drafted a letter indicating that I had, in fact, consulted two lawyers (and I politely implied that their legal guns were loaded). Our application was approved shortly thereafter. A minor victory to be sure. But the system remains intact, and until the entire centralized, bureaucratized system is restructured to conform to the shape and scale of human affairs, all we have in our defense are lawyers threatening to sue. It’s some comfort. But not much.

 

8 COMMENTS

  1. Of course, this is the same line they’ve played with getting other 501(c)3’s in the educational or religious arena for years. I saw it firsthand with my father’s work. Be “fair,” promote “our agenda” our we won’t let you play ball.

  2. I’m in the middle of reading your “Politics of Gratitude” (Kindle edition), and what you’re saying here is – no surprise – right in line with it. Theoretically, we should be able to turn to God and right this ship back on the course our forefathers intended, but we don’t live in a theory. I therefore have no hope in the United States, in the way we have come to think of it, doing anything but continuing on down the primrose path of destruction, not necessarily with a bang but a whimper. It will be the revival of truly diverse communities, particularly those committed to recognizing their “creatureliness”, as you put it, on the more local level (sustainable scale), taking back their RESPONSIBILITIES that never should have been “delegated” to the government in the first place. Unfortunately, for that to happen, I’m afraid a good many of us are going to need to feel some more pain.

    Truly, we are living in interesting times!

  3. “I am shocked, shocked to discover there is gambling going on in the back room.”
    As if no IRS bureaucrat EVER did such a thing? As if a Democrat — Johnson, and a Republican — Nixon, would never have abuse the office like that?
    Unfortunately, as already suggested, this has nothing to do with whoever is in the White House, nor which party is currently in power. Whoever is *out* will make as much political hay as they can from such revelations, and — once in power — will ignore the same things happening on Their watch. AT LEAST, this one does not seem to have been initiated by the President.
    On The Other Hand, how DID these revelations come about? From an “investigative reporter”? From a Watchdog NGO?
    No, from an internal audit.
    From *within* the “system”!
    And that, my friends, is Remarkable in extremis. A Gummint Agency, staffed by myriads of faceless bureaucrats, actually caught itself –Itself — doing wrong, and ‘fessed up. And reports have it that these harassing actions were not approved at any level above mudlark.
    No Conspiracy. No Enemies Lists. No Cover-Up.
    I know the nihlists currently posing as Republicans will try to make something of this, but… Really!
    In its place, with the proper controls on it, government can be a valuable tool of people’s community interest. Promoting loathing and fear does not contribute to a conservative (as in *conserving*) end.
    Give the Devil his due on this one.

  4. Is it really that strange that the IRS would put extra ‘scrutiny’ on organizations whose mantra is “taxed enough already?” Who on this forum really believes that all of these new Tea Party non-profits are selfless altruists who aren’t just looking for loopholes to stick it to the man?

  5. Bubba,

    Assuming that your critique of the “Tea-Party non-profits” applies to the majority of them, an assumption which has no basis in known facts, then why would there exist so many folks so organizing with the mantra “taxed enough already.” Perhaps the taxes are indeed too high; to perhaps the government is squandering too much of the wealth of those who actually produce it, and I am not talking about the paper aristocracy, the stock jobbers, the bureaucrats and the banker; perhaps far too many people are working hard but being impoverished by the tax structure which seems to be framed to enrich those connected to government: bureaucrats, corporatist (military/industrial complex) and welfare recipients, including land-bank farmers, illegal immigrants and welfare queens and kings, all pandered to by those who hold power, well, by pandering to their constituency with money which they have stolen under the color of law, of course, from those who actually produce wealth, stolen primarily, although not exclusively, through the three I’s: Income tax, Interest on Debt and Inflation. We are indeed “taxed enough already.” In the not to distant past, we fought a War of Independence over that issue.

  6. None of us can seen into the hearts of those who seek these cryptic little labels for themselves, to exempt themselves from paying taxes. My guess is that a certain percentage of those who attain the 501-3xyz status do so for purely partisan reasons that having nothing to do with charity; to use money that otherwise would have gone into the general coffers to bestow unearned rewards on their political allies and bash their political opponents. And I’m sure this kind of deceit is committed by those of the liberal persuasion as well. It is indeed a tragedy that our tax code is so byzantine and ineffectual as to allow this kind of tomfoolery, and that we’ve charged and funded the IRS to try to police it, but there it is. We may indeed to be taxed too much, but despite that, we have spent more than we taxed for decades now with no end in sight.

  7. Might be of FPR interest: (know of Berman through Rod Dreher)

    “Immoderate Greatness is the name of a very short, very brilliant book by William Ophuls, published last year. The subtitle is “Why Civilizations Fail”
    http://morrisberman.blogspot.com.au/2013/05/immoderate-greatness.html

    “A gradual and gentle transition to a viable agrarian civilization capable of supporting large numbers of people and a reasonable level of complexity is extremely unlikely….We must recognize that the deep structural problems elucidated above have no feasible solutions….Hence…the task is not to forestall a foreordained collapse but, rather, to salvage as much as possible from it, lest the fall precipitate a dark age in which the arts and adornments of civilization are partially or completely lost.”

    P.s. Ophuls’ connection with Christopher (A Pattern Language) Alexander and Nikos Salingaros http://zeta.math.utsa.edu/~yxk833/courses.html in subsequent book ‘Sane Polity: A Pattern Language’

    P.p.s. http://www.permies.com/t/23959/permaculture-design/Geoff-Lawton-Designing-acre-property (FWIW 120MB video http://www.mediafire.com/view/?23vb76qs711drx2 5 Acre Abundance on a Budget)

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