"Nip the shoots of arbitrary power in the bud, is the only maxim which can ever preserve the liberties of any people. When the people give way, their deceivers, betrayers, and destroyers press upon them so fast, that there is no resisting afterwards. The nature of the encroachment upon the American constitution is such, as to grow every day more and more encroaching. Like a cancer, it eats faster and faster every hour. The revenue creates pensioners, and the pensioners urge for more revenue. The people grow less steady, spirited, and virtuous, the seekers more numerous and more corrupt, and every day increases the circles of their dependents and expectants, until virtue, integrity, public spirit, simplicity, and frugality, become the objects of ridicule and scorn, and vanity, luxury, foppery, selfishness, meanness, and downright venality swallow up the whole society." ~ John Adams
Patriot Pauls and Patriot Acts, Part I of II
Column by tzo.
Exclusive to STR
Wow. Lots of buzz lately about Rand and Ron Paul and the Patriot Act. It's got me to thinking...
This is for all the Paul supporters out there who believe that their Constitutional vision of returning the nation to the noble framework laid out by Thee Founding Fathers™ is the end to be attained. This is for all those who are disillusioned, dissatisfied, irritated, enraged, uneasy or downright afraid. This is for all those who, after watching the government chokehold tighten in the face of “legitimate” efforts to breathe easier, ask “But what can we do about it?”
Here are some ideas to consider.
Anyone who truly believes in a system in which a single person (or small group of persons) has the power to change the rights of millions, whether for the better or for the worse, really only believes he has privileges bestowed instead of innate rights endowed.
If one truly believes in a system in which one gives up his rights and places them in the hands of strangers and hopes for the best... Well, eventually and inevitable he will get what he deserves: A fool and his rights soon go their separate ways. These are among the basic lessons parents should impart to their children very early on: Don’t hit, don’t steal, and don’t be a sucker, son.
Here the Constitutionalist jumps in to point out that the Constitution—the basis of this government—is not the source of rights, but merely the declaration that those innate rights shall not be infringed upon by the government. When the Constitution is obeyed, the system works as it should.
Yeah. Excuse me, Mr. Spooner? Can you come over here for a minute and say that thing you wrote 150 years ago about the Constitution?
But whether the Constitution really be one thing, or another, this much is certain—that it has either authorized such a government as we have had, or has been powerless to prevent it. In either case, it is unfit to exist.
Yes, that. Thanks.
And going beyond the practical issue of restraint, the premises involved here are highly suspect. It is difficult to see much difference between what is being proposed by this “modern” “social contract” and what might otherwise be scoffed at as primitive and superstitious mumbo-jumbo.
The entire concept of legislators producing legislation that restricts human rights as being justified as long as the magical Constitutional procedures are followed smacks of dancing around the volcano.
It is bemusing that people believe their freedom is dependent upon certain other people whom they've never met—and never will meet—solemnly navigating their way through sets of sanctified procedures in a building built by slaves located as many as a few thousand miles away from them.
Dancing around the volcano, the legislative priests—if they get all their steps correct—can channel superhuman power and ethically bind their subjects to whatever commandments they invoke. Perhaps they may deign to give the people a bit of their innate freedom back? The populace cowers and hopes. Some even take action and vote—the offering of slaughtered chickens to appease the legislative clerics so that they may look down favorably upon, and not be overly harsh with, their charges.
Grownups should be more than a bit embarrassed to invest even a minute portion of their lives and energy into such games, and if the results weren't so tragic, it would be amusing.
Of course the simple fact of the matter is that no individual is forced to delegate his innate authority to a representative who will make decisions and restrictions on that individual's innate rights and freedoms. If you accept this premise, then it becomes very clear that thugs are using force to violate your rights and freedoms if you have not given them the authority to do what they are doing.
If you feel inherently obligated to part with your authority, then you live with Patriot Acts as something for which you have given your blessing. You acknowledge that you accept the fact that dancing priests can tap into a divine stream of power and wield it over you, and you are obliged to obey.
But this misguided belief fails to pass the ethical smell test: Individuals do not possess the innate right to violate the rights of others, and so this superhuman right cannot be delegated. Governments tax, create laws that restrict human freedoms, kidnap people who disobey such arbitrary positive laws, and declare wars. Can you do such things? No? Then how can you possibly delegate that nonexistent power to someone else? That is to say, by means other than some modern variant of Juju?
Here's a question for you disenchanted but politically active, voting U.S. citizens: What if the majority of Americans WANT the Patriot Act and other fun things like TSA junkyard scavenger hunts? What if the majority of Americans don't CARE if either the letter or the spirit of the Constitution is violated? What then of a representative government?
And if Ron Paul is the cure for the ills that afflict today’s society, why can't he get elected? Why do the vast majority of voters NOT WANT Ron Paul and the additional freedoms he claims to bring to the table? Because the masses are stupid? Then why be surprised or complain about stupid representatives? That is the system in which you have chosen to participate.
In other words, what exactly is there to fix, if the representative government is doing what the people want it to do? It ain’t broke after all, is it? The question for the disgruntled voter here is “Why have you hitched your fortunes to a wagonload of imbeciles?”
Don’t be a sucker, son.
But once again the Constitutionalist chimes in to say that the rules laid out in the Constitution are designed to protect the ignorant masses, who may not know what is best for them. A Constitutional Republic is a safeguard against the Democratic Tyranny of the Majority. A man like Ron Paul, well versed in the true meaning of the Constitution, can step in and save the people from themselves.
So now your proposition is that a Constitutional government is NOT meant to represent the people? That it must rule over the people because they are not intelligent enough to participate in their own governance? That elections are essentially meaningless, because the wise philosopher-king representatives will follow and interpret the sacred text of the Constitution and not allow the people to wander astray? Of course these superior human beings, drawn from the general population based on how much money they can raise and how many promises they can make, are incorruptible with the power they will be given. Because we all know through experience that the one life-form on this planet we can unquestioningly trust is the politician.
Oh, I’m sorry, I seem to have drifted off into fantasyland just then. Pardon.
But let’s stop here for a moment and consider the Patriot Act as a f’rinstance of putting the Constitution to the test. Is it in fact unconstitutional? Based on what? According to whose interpretation? Choose the passage you wish from the founding document, and someone else will find something that can counter it: Even the devil can quote Constitutional scripture for his purposes.
But the Patriot Act is just wrong, claims the Constitutionalist. The spirit of the Constitution cannot allow such unseemly behavior!
This is opinion. And within the confines of the current system, which has determined that things like Patriot Acts are perfectly legal and Constitutional, the only option is to use the political process to affect change. Justice, in the Constitutionalist’s mind, must be achieved by using coercion, that is, forcing those who do not hold his opinion on a subject to behave according to his beliefs at the barrel of a gun. This boils down to might makes right.
He has abandoned any ethical high ground. Violence is not an argument. Violence is treating human beings like objects, and forcing them to do things against their wills. This is what the Constitutionalist wails about when things he deems unconstitutional come into being, but he must resort to the same tactic to “fix” the problem. Such is the system. There is always someone who thinks they know what’s best for everyone, and they are more than willing to wave the government gun around to threaten everyone’s compliance, or else.
It is nothing more than rudimentary, non-thinking barbarianism, and this comparison may be an insult to barbarians. A barbarian may smash your skull and take your stuff, but at least you will be spared the lecture about how he is doing it for your own good.
I happen to believe that taxation and war are unethical, but the Constitutionalist defends these actions by calling them Constitutional. When someone leans on a document that promotes theft and murder, and then advocates a system that uses coercion to implement that document, he cannot begin to pretend that ethics has anything at all to do with his arguments.
It’s OK to declare war via Congress, but not via the President. Constitution sez so. Presidents declare unjust wars—only Congress’ voodoo blessing can make ‘em right. And so on and such.
The fact of the matter is, the Constitutionalist has much more common ground with the Patriot Act supporter than with me. The Patriot Act supporter is playing according to the rules, while I am not. I cannot even begin to discuss eliminating taxes, for example, because there is nothing to discuss. It says so right there in the Constitution that the government is allowed to tax.
This is as axiomatic to the Constitutionalist as is the number 2 to the mathematician. Unfortunately for the Constitutionalist, he also claims to hold the conflicting belief that All Men Are Created Equal is a Self-Evident Truth. This is akin to the mathematician who also believes that 2 can be equal to 3. The result in both cases is 2 + 2 = 5: Pure nonsense.
There is very little difference between a citizen who supports the Patriot Act and one who doesn’t. Both have placed their faith and their human rights into a crapshoot wherein they accept to be forced into complying with whoever can summon enough force to get their way.
The fatal flaw in all governmental schemes—even the most minimal, well-meaning governmental schemes—is that individual rights are necessarily transformed into privileges. Some dole 'em out, others receive 'em. This is not All Men Are Created Equal, this is tyranny of the majority (or minority) at best, and slavery at worst.
And so Ron Paul cannot increase freedom, he can only lengthen the leash. As long as the people continue to demand to be leashed, then all they can do is argue about how big the circle should be in which they are permitted to run around.
And if a (nother) sociopath gets elected, then you have acquiesced to obey whatever he may mandate. If you’re going to play the game, you have to accept the fact that you might lose. Repeatedly, continuously and mercilessly, even.
The system called government cannot work if freedom is to be at all valued. Don’t be a sucker, son: The system cannot restrain itself, as there is no one available to watch the watchers. If you surrender your rights to them, they are no longer your rights.
Constitutions and other such sundries do not stop bullets or restrain legally sanctioned bad behavior, and every instance of government that has ever been scribbled down in a history book confirms this empirical fact. The clearest example is the United States, which began with the barest minimum of minimalist government philosophy ever implemented, then proceeded to grow into the largest, most intrusive government empire the world has ever seen.
The Constitutionalist, a bit apoplectic by now, barks out that you just can’t have society without government, you naïve Utopian dreamer!
Oh Mr. Rothbard, can you help me out over here? Yes, if you would, please. You tell it so well.
The idea of a strictly limited constitutional State was a noble experiment that failed, even under the most favorable and propitious circumstances. Why should a similar experiment fare any better now? No, it is the conservative who puts all the guns and all the decision-making power into the hands of the central government and says, “Limit yourself;'” it is he who is truly the impractical utopian.
Thank you, sir.
At this point the Constitutionalist changes tack. Diagnosing, he proclaims, is insufficient—a prescription is needed or else any list of criticisms is rendered invalid. The Voluntaryist is full of bluster when it comes to finding faults in an admittedly imperfect system, but what does he bring to the table by way of a solution?
The diagnosis that the current government is an aggressive and terminal cancer is perhaps accepted by the Constitutionalist. He agrees that some type of therapy is needed to eliminate this extremely dangerous form of life-threatening disease. The Voluntaryist suggestion to give it a try without any cancer is seen as absurd—a non-answer—what is needed is a milder form of cancer as a replacement.
After all, what is to be done about the sociopaths that will inevitably be looking to wreak havoc within society?
I dunno—how about not arming them and sanctioning their sociopathic behavior?