It is an old American pastime to worry that the government—or our political opponents—will exploit a crisis for undesirable ends, what James Madison described as “the old trick of turning every contingency into a resource for accumulating force in government.”
Madison’s phrasing is instructive. He wasn’t invoking some grand theory or historical inevitability, merely trickery. Or to put in less pejorative terms, “politics.”
I make this point for the simple reason that there is a tendency on both the left and the right to talk about the threat of socialism or statism or whatever label you prefer as inevitable. The difference between the camps is that one side celebrates it and the other laments it. The mechanism of its inexorable deliverance varies: demographic changes, the force of history, slippery slopes, the ratchet effect, etc.
Whatever the merits of these theories, it’s worth remembering that sometimes things happen not because of destiny but decisions. Leaders and voters alike make choices. Just as there are people who say “a crisis is a terrible thing to waste,” there is nothing stopping an equal and opposite group of people who say “don’t exploit a crisis to get things you otherwise couldn’t.” Winning such arguments is a matter of will, statesmanship, and persuasion. As the late Charles Krauthammer liked to say, “decline is a choice.” Well, so is statism.