We have been ruled by men who live by illusions: the illusion that you can spend money you haven’t earned without eventually going bankrupt or falling into the hands of your creditors; the illusion that real jobs can be conjured into existence by Government decree, like rabbits out of a hat; the illusion that there is some other way of creating wealth than by hard work and satisfying your customers; the illusion that you can have freedom and enterprise without believing in free enterprise; the illusion that you can have an effective foreign policy without a strong defence force, and a peaceful and orderly society without absolute respect for the law.

—Margaret Thatcher. Speech to the Conservative Party conference, Brighton, October 13, 1978.

The businessman who embarks on a venture must worry about whether his plan is properly costed and whether there will be a market for his offering. The legislator treats such considerations with whimsical disdain. Living in a bubble disconnected from reality, he thinks he can mould the way people interact, change their motivations, and in essence play God simply through the coercive power of the law. Yet these schemes are bound to fail, because the laws of nature, which include human nature, cannot be altered by coercion. Thus, regardless of the millions of real and imaginary opponents Stalin killed, his fantasy that collectivized farmers would produce vast amounts of food for the nation remained a fantasy. Coercion cannot change the laws of nature. To the contrary, it is a blunt instrument incapable of doing anything outside its proper sphere except cause harm.

The desire to re-engineer society is a symptom of megalomania. It is one thing for an officious bureaucrat to delight in lording it over the people who fall into his power, but wanting to plan a whole nation, or in the case of the mandarins of the European Union, multiple nations, is the worst of all conceits. We see the disastrous results of these experiments— the incalculable suffering, misery, starvation, and bloodshed—in the history of Revolutionary France, Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, and Maoist China. Yet this megalomania lives on today in the breast of too many legislators in the democratic world. Torrents of meddlesome laws continue to pour forth from lawmakers who do not understand the proper role of government or the harm they are doing.

This article is an extract from the book ‘Principles of Good Government’ by Matthew Bransgrove