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IT IS DANGEROUS TO BE RIGHT WHEN THE GOVERNMENT IS WRONGTHE CASE FOR PERSONAL FREEDOM
By ANDREW P. NAPOLITANO
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2011 Andrew P. Napolitano
All right reserved.
Chapter OneJefferson's Masterpiece: The Declaration of Independence
When I think about current mainstream sentiment, that the federal government can regulate all personal behavior, right and wrong, protect us from every catastrophe, take care of us from cradle to grave, and tax any activity, I wonder: When did Americans lose their way? How have we as Americans strayed so far away from the ideals which brought about the American Revolution? Do most Americans even know that the American Revolution was not the war for independence but instead the cause of the war for independence?
John Adams explained in a letter to H. Niles in 1818 when he wrote, "But what do we mean by the American Revolution? Do we mean the American war? The Revolution was effected before the war commenced. The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people; a change in their religious sentiments of their duties and obligations."
What were these duties and obligations that changed in people?
The Revolution before the Revolution
What exactly was this Revolution that occurred in people's minds, who started it, and when? Many people consider the British philosopher John Locke to be the grandfather of the American Revolution. Locke was the father of what was formerly called Liberalism; he was one of the most important enlightenment thinkers, and in 1689 he published his two most influential essays entitled The Two Treatises of Government. The second of these two treatises was An Essay Concerning the True Original, Extent, and End of Civil Government.
The Freest Nation in the World: The United State of Nature
In his second treatise, Locke traces the evolution of man from when he is born in a state of nature, to being part of an organized society governed by the laws of nature. Locke starts off his theory with a description of the state of nature; where all men are born equal, free, in possession of certain natural rights, and governed by the natural law of morality. This theory of equality means no one has rights that are superior to any others', and these natural rights are rights that are possessed by all people, given by our Creator, as a consequence of our humanity.
Societies will form naturally because individuals will come together in an attempt to acquire various goods and property, which will inevitably lead to conflict because of man's fallible nature. It is for this reason alone that governments will form, with their only roles being the protection and preservation of every individual's natural rights, and the only way the government gains this power is through the consent of the individuals involved. According to Locke, if governments abuse their powers, or if individuals do not consent to their governance, it is the right of the people to revoke their consent or to alter or abolish the government. What is the role of government today? Did anyone actually consent to this government? Where and how do you go about giving your consent, do they even ask for it, is it assumed that you implicitly consent, and more importantly, how do you revoke that implied consent?
Two Wrongs Don't Make a Right
As we can see, our liberties, rights, and freedoms existed before governments are formed, or as French lawyer Frédéric Bastiat stated in 1850, "Life, liberty, and property do not exist because men have made laws. On the contrary, it was the fact that life, liberty, and property existed beforehand that caused men to make laws in the first place." This is a far cry from the mainstream view of rights and liberties in America today; but wasn't Locke's theory the foundational theory upon which America was created in the first place? It seems modern American thought has replaced the theory that the only just role of government is to protect our natural rights, with a theory that the role of government is to give us our rights. How can the government give us what it does not have? What path has this led us down? Does the individual have the right to live his own life as he wishes anymore? It actually seems that some tyrannical central government has assumed this role for him, all supposedly in the best interests of the general welfare, of course.
You Cannot Purchase Rights from Wal-Mart!
It is very important to understand what a right is, especially since Big Government progressives in both the Democratic and the Republican Parties have been trying to trick us. These folks, who really want the government to care for us from cradle to grave, have been promoting the idea that some goods are rights. In promoting that false premise, they have succeeded in moving the debate from whether the feds should micro-manage our lives to how the feds should micromanage our lives. This is a false premise, and we should reject it.
What is a right? A right is a gift from God that extends from our humanity. Thinkers from St. Augustine to St. Thomas Aquinas, from St. Thomas More to Thomas Jefferson, from the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to Pope John Paul II to Justice Clarence Thomas, have all argued that our rights are a natural part of our humanity. We own our bodies; thus, we own the gifts that emanate from our bodies. So, our right to life, our right to develop our personalities, our right to think as we wish, to say what we think, to publish what we say, our right to worship or not worship, our right to travel, to defend ourselves, to use our own property as we see fit, our right to due process—fairness—from the government, and our right to be left alone, are all rights that stem from our humanity. These are natural rights that we are born with. The government doesn't give them to us, and the government doesn't pay for them, and the government can't take them away, unless a jury finds that we have violated someone else's rights.
John Locke advanced our understanding of Natural Rights with his theory which explained what humans were naturally able to do in the perfectly free state of nature. In this state, humans were free to order their own actions, exercise their free will, employ their own person, and acquire and dispose of their own possessions. The state of nature (human existence without government and without the need for government) was also a state of equality; where no one's rights were subordinate to any others' rights. Thus, no person has the right to tell another person how to order his life, and no human may impose his will forcibly or coercively to deprive another human of his free will.
More generally, a right involves a sphere within which we are free to make our own decisions without any interference from the government, individuals, or entities. Just as we gain personal property when we mix our labor with nature to allocate food to ourselves, we then gain the right to be the sole decider of what to do with that property. From this it follows we should also be the sole decider of what to do with all of the other emanations from our bodies. If government were to regulate any of our rights, we would lose our personhood. Rights ensure such a result will not happen.
What is a good? Locke also spoke of humans as animals who naturally need to acquire property. Goods are those "things" we want or need as humans. In a sense, a good is the opposite of a right. Similarly, we have a right to acquire these goods in order to be able to fulfill our wants and needs, at least to the extent that these goods are scarce (unlike air, except for a scuba diver, who then must possess exclusive rights to his oxygen tank). The easiest good to analyze is food because it is such a basic necessity for all human beings. Prior to being claimed by any person on earth, a piece of fruit is no one's property. If fruit is the property of all humans on earth, and could never be privately owned, then every time we bite into an apple, we would be eating someone else's property; or if it is no one's property, then we would be stealing each time we bite. It is unreasonable to believe in a theory that results in humans violating another's rights every time they wish to eat; this would lead to the choice between constant violations of others' rights or starvation.
Nor is the scheme of natural rights a uniquely religious concept. The only premise one need accept is that humans are created; it is immaterial whether it is by God or by nature. If a Catholic scholar declares that the female birth cycle is a miracle from God, and an atheist scientist explains the process with a focus on human biology, anatomy, chemistry, and physics, does it undermine the occurrence of human pregnancy? Of course not; they are just two explanations of the same naturally occurring phenomenon, and though they start off with differing premises, they end up in the same place. Why then should a Catholic scholar's interpretation of Natural Rights being a gift from God be any different from an atheist scientist believing our Natural Rights come from our humanity? Just as pregnancy exists no matter how it is explained, the different explanations of the source of Natural Rights, God or rational humanity, do not change humans' possession of Natural Rights upon our entering into existence.
Governments Protect and Serve Others; You Don't
It is worth noting that the Founders, having experienced the tyranny of both kings and democratically elected majorities, adamantly rejected the notion that rights came from a society, rather than by virtue of being human. But how is such a notion possible? Is society not just a collection of individuals? How could you have the right to liberty, yet at the same time be forced to serve others' best interests? It is impossible, and best explained by Ayn Rand: "It only stands to reason that where there's sacrifice, there's someone collecting the sacrificial offerings. Where there's service, there is someone being served. The man who speaks to you of sacrifice is speaking of slaves and masters, and intends to be the master."
The word collectivist is appropriate for this view not only because it is a collective view of society, but also because it is the guardians who are the ones that are collecting our sacrifices, which in their view, we have no right to. No one's rights to life or liberty or property are protected in this system, because if your life and your liberty and your property are not in the best interest of society, then society can take them away, or as the American lawyer, newspaper editor, and politician Gideon J. Tucker said, "No man's life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session." This is a purely subjective theory of morality; and since any behavior can be rationalized while using a subjective theory of morals, it is a horrible theory upon which to base the governing of a society. Take the southern states in this country in the pre-Civil War era; when viewed as a collective society, dominated by white southern male farmers, was slavery not in the best interest of those who dominated that society? Any theory of government where slavery could be justified is immoral and abhorrent. While slavery might be in the best interest of the majority of members in society, it is definitely not in the best interest of the minorities in that society (the slaves).
History is full of examples of atrocities perpetrated by societies acting under the will of the majority. People tend to forget that Adolph Hitler was democratically elected, but people will never forget what resulted from his reign over Germany. In the antebellum American South, slavery was also present in a democratic society. The majority of voters in the South were white people who were property owners. These people authorized themselves by law to own black people as slaves. The Los Angeles Times, in a 1992 editorial about California politics at the time, stated,
Democracy is not freedom. Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to eat for lunch. Freedom comes from the recognition of certain rights which may not be taken, not even by a 99% vote. Those rights are spelled out in the Bill of Rights and in our California Constitution. Voters and politicians alike would do well to take a look at the rights we each hold, which must never be chipped away by the whim of the majority.
Liberty never lasts in a system where all laws are created by a majority vote; as Benjamin Franklin said, "When the people find that they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the republic." It was for this reason the United States was not founded as a democracy. James Madison expressed this view in Federalist No. 10 of The Federalist Papers:
Hence it is that such democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths. Theoretic politicians, who have patronized this species of government, have erroneously supposed that by reducing mankind to a perfect equality in their political rights, they would, at the same time, be perfectly equalized and assimilated in their possessions, their opinions, and their passions.
Our Duty to Protect Our Rights with a Locke
After John Locke created the seeds of Revolution, it fell to someone in America to plant these seeds in the minds of his brethren in order to form a better society. Thomas Paine, a student of the enlightenment, assumed this responsibility when he wrote and published a pamphlet entitled Common Sense on January 10th 1776. It was an instant success. At its time it was the best-selling book in American history, selling about five hundred thousand copies in its first year. This book was so popular because it was a beautiful argument premised on Locke's revolutionary ideas, with the aim of solving the colonists' woes. His solution, of course, was American independence from Britain and the creation of a new and just form of limited governance.
Paine began Common Sense by restating Locke's theory of man in the state of nature and why governments are formed. Paine understood his first goal was convincing Americans to go to war with Britain to win independence. To achieve this goal, Paine presented, and refuted, all of the arguments against maintaining the status quo and remaining loyal to Britain.
I Pledge Allegiance, to the Crown, of the United States of America
First, he tackled the theory espoused by British loyalists that since America had flourished under British rule, it should maintain its tight political bonds to Britain. Paine declared this just as absurd as concluding that because a baby had grown by drinking milk, it should never mature to eat meat. Paine even refuted the premise of this argument completely, and instead suggested that America had flourished despite British rule over the colonies and not as a result of British rule over the colonies.
This debate is eerily similar to a debate between American conservative political commentator Pat Buchanan and Thomas DiLorenzo, an economics professor at Loyola University Maryland. Buchanan suggested that it was because of the institution of central banking and protective tariffs that the American economy saw the greatest progress in world history, progressing from half the size of the British economy in the mid-nineteenth century into twice the size of the British economy in the early twentieth century. DiLorenzo correctly refuted this claim by stating that it was not only despite these government institutions and interventions that the American economy progressed, but that these interventions hindered progress by creating four stock market crashes, and several other boom-and-bust cycles. It is a shame that it is Buchanan's, and not DiLorenzo's, views that are accepted in the mainstream today. Sadly it seems that in the long run, the American Revolution did not change Americans' loyalty to the throne of England; it only replaced the throne of England with the federal government of the United States of America.
That Is Absurd to Me Because I Have Lost My Common Sense
Paine then addressed the next argument, which was that Britain's army and navy provided necessary protection to the American colonies. But the protection of the American colonies was for Britain's own financial gain and nothing more. In addition, Paine pointed out that since the colonies were dependent on British rule, they were seen as allies with Britain, and thus forced to be enemies with Britain's enemies. However, if they were independent, then they would no longer be enemies with nations such as France and Spain, with which they had no quarrel.
Excerpted from IT IS DANGEROUS TO BE RIGHT WHEN THE GOVERNMENT IS WRONG by ANDREW P. NAPOLITANO Copyright © 2011 by Andrew P. Napolitano. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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