Column by Paul Hein.
Exclusive to STR
In a letter written in 1816 to Francis Gilmer, Thomas Jefferson set forth his idea of a proper government:
Our legislators are not sufficiently apprized of the rightful limits of their power; that their true office is to declare and enforce only our natural rights . . . and to take none of them from us. No man has a natural right to commit aggression on the equal rights of another; and this is all from which the laws ought to restrain him . . . and the idea is quite unfounded, that on entering into society we give up any natural right.
I do not doubt that Jefferson was sincere in his belief that government should--and perhaps could--limit itself to protecting natural rights; and perhaps most of his colleagues at the establishment of the government shared his views. Did they succeed in establishing such a government? Manifestly, sadly, no.
Jefferson declared it “quite unfounded” that “upon entering society,” you should give up any natural rights. Of course, one of the most basic of your natural rights is the right to property; a man is a slave who cannot keep what he has produced, or acquired with his production. So: can you keep what you have produced? Just try it! Our legislators claim a right to “your” property, which overrides your own! I am not referring solely to money or land, but to your very body, which you might reasonably conclude is your own property. Drink alcohol and you are within the law (although at one time you were not), but use a little cocaine and you are a criminal (although at one time you were not). What you can put into your body will be decided for you. When ordered to do so, you must place your body in a uniform provided by the rulers, and with weapons provided by them, be prepared to kill their enemies, even if your own life is lost in the effort. It means little to say you “own” your body, when others can tell you what you can, or cannot, do with it.
Do your opinions constitute your property? The government recognizes something called “intellectual property,” so I suppose your thoughts and ideas would be considered such property. So can you express them? Maybe yes, maybe no, but the decision is not yours. Your “natural right” to your opinion evaporates if it is inconsistent with the opinions of the rulers. And if there is such a thing as freedom of speech, it must include freedom from speech. Can you be compelled to speak? Must you talk to strangers if you don’t want to? Try keeping mum about your Social Security number! Don’t tell the census taker how many toilets are in your house, or the racial origins of its inhabitants. Find out first hand just how free you are to speak, if what you wish to say is--nothing.
If you have a natural right to keep your mouth shut, you obviously have a similar right to keep your private papers private. Not all communication is verbal, after all. Some is kept electronically, and some on paper. And who is to decide if your files are private? The Founders left the decision to you, recognizing that you were entitled to privacy in your papers and documents. That didn’t last long! Can you decline to furnish W-4 forms, or 1099s, or other financial statements, even though the tax system is inevitably referred to as “voluntary”? Do you, in fact, have freedom of, and from, speech, whether spoken or written?
Let’s check the scorecard: Can you accumulate property? Yes, provided you turn over a portion of it to the rulers when and however they demand. If the property is real estate, you can call it yours as long as you pay the yearly tribute; if not, it will revert to them. You can object, and refuse to pay; but the rulers own and operate the administrative, enforcement, and court systems, so good luck!
Can you speak your mind freely? Of course, as long as your speech is not “hate” speech (as determined by them) or speech that might expose their misbehavior to public view (possibly making you a traitor)! But when they ask you to speak, you put yourself in jeopardy if you decline. And you’d be smart to say what they want to hear.
Are your documents and other papers secure? Why sure! Lock them up; keep them safe--until they demand to see them. If what they want is financial information, you can refuse, but they will get it from your employer, or bank, or broker, who, despite the frequent “privacy notices” that you receive from them, will give your privacy not a millisecond of concern. You may be the customer or employee, but third-party strangers have more clout than you do regarding your own records.
What would Mr. Jefferson think of today’s America? I think that he would probably not be surprised. Any organization that must exist by seizing other people’s money--as all governments do--can find plenty of things to do with such easily acquired funds. More programs, more spending, more hiring, more taxing. As always, power corrupts. The need for ever more money means giving short shrift to any laws or constitution that might provide restraint; the rulers becoming ever more like the gang written about by St. Augustine:
A gang is a group of men under the command of a leader, bound by a compact of association, in which the plunder is divided according to an agreed convention. If this villainy wins so many recruits from the ranks of the demoralized that it acquires territory, establishes a base, captures cities and subdues peoples, it then openly arrogates to itself the title of kingdom, which is conferred on it in the eyes of the world, not by the renunciation of aggression, but by the attainment of impunity.
How much allegiance is owed a gang of thieves?