The relationship between self-discipline and success

Is it not obvious that this relationship between discipline and success holds good nationally? Are not nations made of men; and are not men subject to the same laws of modification in their adult years as in their early years? Is it not true of the drunkard, that each carouse adds a thread to his bonds? of the trader, that each acquisition strengthens the wish for acquisitions? of the pauper, that the more you assist him the more he wants? of the busy man, that the more he has to do the more he can do? And does it not follow that if every individual is subject to this process of adaptation to conditions, a whole nation must be so; that just in proportion as its members are little helped by extraneous power they will become self-helping, and in proportion as they are much helped they will become helpless?

—Herbert Spencer. Over-legislation, 1853.

Every time the legislature meddles with the market or insulates people from the consequences of their own actions or from reality, it adds to the collective moral and economic degradation of the nation, both of which have important national security implications. The moral degradation of a nation leads to its abject surrender, as France experienced in World War II. This is because a cringing, envious, dependent people, accustomed to look to government for their welfare is not spiritually in a condition to fight off conquerors. The economic degradation of a country leads to military defeat, even if the people themselves are fiercely resolved—as Greece experienced in World War II. This is because the best fighting spirit cannot assist a nation which is outgunned by its enemy many times over.

The Chinese threat

Whoever admits it, must admit that the enervation of a people by perpetual State-aids is not a trifling consideration, but the most weighty consideration. A general arrest of national growth he will see to be an evil greater than any special benefits can compensate for.

—Herbert Spencer. Over-legislation, 1853.

The communist Chinese are building their free economy much faster than the socialist countries of the West. Whereas the United States experiences an average economic growth rate of 0–3 percent, China enjoys 10–15 percent economic growth. Although China may in the coming years suffer currency or credit collapses, and although these may temporarily reduce the rate of its economic growth, the trend will be unaffected. When the respective growth rates of the two countries are considered in the context of their respective populations, it is clear that the United States will shortly be eclipsed in economic power by China. After this happens it will be possible for China to increasingly outspend the United States on military technology while taxing its citizens less. It is reasonable to expect that this expenditure will eventually allow the Chinese to intercept America’s missiles (in the way the United States can now intercept the missiles of poorer countries), track down its submarines (in the way the United States can now track down the submarines of poorer countries), destroy its satellites (in the way the United States can now shoot down the satellites of poorer countries) and sink its navy (in the way the United States can now sink the navies of poorer countries). Once this point is reached, the certainty of mutually-assured destruction, which underwrites world peace, will be removed.

Those who imagine superior tactics, aggressiveness or bravery will allow the United States to prevail in a future contest where China wields more sophisticated weaponry should remember the position the Serbs found themselves in during their 1999 war with NATO. As their factories, bridges and soldiers were being destroyed from the air, Serbs interviewed by foreign television crews vowed that once the ground war began it would be NATO’s turn to take casualties. But the ground war never came and NATO never took any casualties. Superior technology meant that the Serbs could be utterly destroyed from the air at no risk to their attackers and so were ultimately forced to capitulate. As Winston Churchill warned, “Moves are made upon the scientific and strategic boards, advantages are gained by mechanical means, as a result of which scores of millions of men become incapable of further resistance, or judge themselves incapable of further resistance.” (Speech to the House of Commons, August 20, 1940.)

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