Among the issues most commonly discussed are individuality, the rights of the individual, the limits of legitimate government, morality, history, economics, government policy, science, business, education, health care, energy, and man-made global warming evaluations. My posts are aimed at thinking, intelligent individuals, whose comments are very welcome.

"No matter how vast your knowledge or how modest, it is your own mind that has to acquire it." Ayn Rand

26 November 2010

Allegiance to the American Principle, Not to Democracy

Today in the United States of America, most of the People believe that the laws and regulations of the federal government, or for that matter of the state and local governments, should be what they want them to be.  They recognize that these laws cannot be what everyone wants them to be, however, so they decide the impasse should be decided by a virtually unfettered democratic vote.  This is a viewpoint which is inconsistent with the great and original American Principle:  Legitimate government must have limited powers and have the sole purpose of protecting and defending the equal, sovereign right of the individual to life, liberty, property, the ownership of one's own body and mind, and the pursuit of happiness.

Our revolt against Great Britain was justified in our Declaration of Independence.  That great document, written by Thomas Jefferson, with some modifications by Ben Franklin and John Adams, defines legitimate government as that government instituted by the People to secure the unalienable rights of the individual to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  To this list, I explicitly add the right to property and the ownership of one's own body and mind, because though these rights are fully contained in the shorter list of the Declaration of Independence, modern Americans have largely rationalized them into oblivion.

The early citizens of the states freed from colonial rule by Great Britain, established an initial form of government which was exceedingly limited at the national level and found that it was incapable of sufficiently providing for the defense of the nation and allowing free trade between the states, that the government needed to be strengthened.  The result was a new government mandated by the People with the very highly limited powers carefully enumerated in our Constitution.  These few powers primarily dealt with defense and foreign relations and trade.  Some of the powers had internal consequences such as the maintenance of post offices and post roads, the establishment of patent rights and copyrights, the standardization of money, and the regulation of trade between the states.  The purpose of these internal powers was to strengthen the communications, interactions, and trade of Americans, each of whom had the right to associate with other individuals to establish a wide range of relationships with them and to trade with them.  The strengthened ties across state lines had immense consequences for the thinly populated American states for their defense of their extensive territory.

The Framer's of the Constitution did not at first think the Bill of Rights was necessary.  The federal government they had provided for in the Constitution did not have the power to violate the rights of the individual as they interpreted its provisions.  But, the People who had to ratify it had concerns about just that issue.  Many states would not ratify the Constitution without more explicit protections of individual rights, so the Bill of Rights was written to protect those rights which the People had seen damaged by earlier governments, including most prominently those violated by Great Britain in their recent memory.  Amendment IX made it clear that the listed protected rights were not a complete list of the individual rights of the People.  Amendment X made it clear that powers not explicitly given to the federal government were retained by the People and the states.  The entire structure of the Constitution and its purpose in promoting the tranquility, justice, general welfare, common defense, and the blessings of liberty to the People, clearly is an attempt to provide a government of highly limited powers consistent with the legitimate government defined by our own Declaration of Independence.

Today, Americans usually test a proposal for a new law or regulation by asking whether it would be good for them as an individual or as they imagine it might be good for some group of Americans they think are not capable of acting in their own self-interest.  Most Americans fail to test a law against the American Principle.  Rather than ask if the proposed law or regulation is supportive of every American's individual rights, they ask only that it be good for them or for some particular group of Americans, or in some cases, some particular group of illegal aliens.  In that process, the critical role of individual rights is lost.  The tyranny of the majority or a plurality of voters is made the gold standard of legislative priorities and political morality.  This is a huge mistake.

It is one that the Framers of the Constitution were very aware of and from which they tried very hard to protect us.  The American people thwarted the Framers great work by adopting the very creative expansive interpretations of the powers to regulate interstate commerce, to tax, and to provide for the General Welfare that they were indoctrinated in by the Progressive Elitists who have taken over education and most of the media in America.  The Progressive Elitists eviscerated Amendment IX, claiming that the People have no rights except those explicitly mentioned in the Constitution.  This is not even a creative interpretation of the Constitution - it is a very willful determination to ignore an amendment so basic and critical that it was put into the Bill of Rights.  They have also largely ignored Amendment X, reserving powers to the states and the People.  Amendment XVII, gave the people of each state the vote for their Senators and undermined the republican form of government and state powers, promoting the idea that the United States was a nationwide democracy, subject to the tyranny of the plurality of voters throughout the nation.

In the recent health care reform debate, we observed how the loss of the American Principle twisted the terms of debate.  American governments have actually made it more difficult for the People to provide for their own medical care by interfering with the rights of the individual to choose his own medical providers, his own health insurance policy, and his own standards of medical quality.  While minorities of the debaters were aware of this, the federal government and most state governments have ignored these arguments and plowed ahead with their programs to increase their control over the People.  They refused to take the liberty-enhancing arguments seriously and promoted those of the Progressive Elitists who argued that the governments must exercise still more control over our medical and health care insurance options.  They argued that some people did not buy health insurance and they counted on the People thinking this was unwise.  The Elitists said they must buy health insurance and because some of them will not buy complete enough coverage, we will tell them what must be covered in their insurance plans.  Some people have health problems already, which means their insurance costs will be high, so we must set up large pools in which the healthy will pay much more for their insurance so that the known unhealthy can be covered at as low a cost as the healthy can be.  Thus, the healthy will be heavily taxed to subsidize the health care of the unhealthy and this will be the case even if the unhealthy are unhealthy because they have made themselves unhealthy.

The staying hand of the American Principle was barely discussed.  It was rarely noted that the reform plan greatly reduced a man's right to control and promote his own life.  It was rarely noted that it represented a government claim that the government owns a large share of our very bodies.  It was rarely noted that the plan was a hugely confiscatory transfer of wealth from the young and the healthy to the old and the unhealthy, as well as from the middle class to the poor, making this bill one with very unequal impact upon the citizen's individual rights and their welfare.  It was not noted that if one is not free to provide for one's own medical care and seek protection from pain, then one cannot be said to be free to pursue one's own happiness.  The necessary government rationing of health care in ObamaCare will take the power to seek relief from pain out of our individual hands.

We have seen the destruction of the American discourse on the extension of the Bush tax cuts as well.  The Progressive Elitists wish to increase taxes on Americans making more than something over $200,000 per year, claiming that those people can afford it.  Of course, they do not know all of those people, so it is patently absurd for them to claim that those people can afford it.  It is even more absurd that they think that it is their right to make any decision on who can afford to be taxed more.  If we all have equal rights, then the government should not be taxing some of us more than others of us.  Also, in the midst of the Great Socialist Recession, these Progressive Elitists are recommending many increased taxes on business activities, such as an increase in the capital gains tax rates, the corporation tax rate, and the death tax.  This is a straight play on the weakness of a democracy in that it wants to place greater burdens on those with fewer votes, so the majority will be given as large a bribe as possible to reward the governing Progressive Elitists with more power.  The American Principle that every American individual's rights are paramount, including those in business, is stomped upon.

The intimate body searches of the TSA in airports is being discussed vigorously, but many are refusing to give due consideration to the American Principle.  Amendment IV, written when Americans believed in the American Principle, says
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
When Dagny passes through the TSA security check area, no Warrant has been issued based on probable cause that she is carrying explosives onto a plane, yet she is searched in the most intimate way.  It really could not be more clear that this is a fundamental violation of her individual rights. All the talk that people will feel safer from terrorist attack if they are searched and therefore if Dagny is searched, is completely irrelevant.  It is fine for anyone who wishes to volunteer to be searched intimately, but it is not within their rights to force someone else, for whom they have no Warrant based on probable cause, to be searched.  This matter is no different in principle from
  •  a random search of anyone to check if they are under the influence of marijuana,
  •  randomly forcing people to describe what they were doing throughout the last 24 hours just in case they might have been involved in a crime which the government knows nothing about,
  • a random stop to see if you are on the list of people who filed a tax return with the IRS last year or not,
  • or a random search to see if you can prove that you are a documented U.S. citizen, immigrant, or visitor. 
You may argue that this is a matter of life and death, but I would argue that giving up the American Principle is a much more critical matter of life and death.  Besides, the present policy means that we have ceded victory to the terrorists, whose goal is less to kill some of us, than it is to degrade the quality of most of our lives.  A life without our equal, sovereign individual rights is a very degraded life.

2 comments:

LZsays said...

I agree with just about everything in this post, except for the following, which confuses me:

They have also largely ignored Amendment X, reserving powers to the states and the People. Amendment XVII, gave the people of each state the vote for their Senators and undermined the republican form of government and state powers, promoting the idea that the United States was a nationwide democracy, subject to the tyranny of the plurality of voters throughout the nation.

Could you elucidate what exactly you are saying here? It sounds to me like you are somehow suggesting that the government should elect the People's representatives instead of the People themselves, which considering the tone of your whole blog (that the government should not be given more power) does not make sense to me.

Please note I am absolutely aware that democracy is very good as defeating itself, but I fail to see how it would be preferable to give the government the power to dictate who will represent the People of a given state. When it is working properly, democracy is stupidity. When it isn't working, it becomes insanity. I prefer stupidity.

Thank you for this blog!

Charles R. Anderson, Ph.D. said...

Perhaps I was a bit terse here. The problem with the people voting both directly for their Representative and for two state Senators is that the power of the state government is reduced in favor of the more distant and less easily influenced federal government. We select the state legislators and they used to select the two state Senators. The Senators we elect directly are now more likely to identify with the federal government and we see that they have become less interested in supporting the states which are actually supposed to provide us with more services than the federal government does. The weakening of the state governments means that we lose a counterbalancing advocate for our interests. The federal government has become almost impossible for the states to challenge and sometimes the state government may actually have our best interest in mind. It is at least as likely to be concerned with our real welfare as the federal government is and it can be good to force the state and federal government to vie for our good will as individuals. Division of power is a good thing.

There is another way in which a stronger state government role is good. There are very real regional and local interests that need protection from the power of the federal government. For instance, some states are heavily dependent upon coal and others are not or do not want to allow its use. Or, some states are most agricultural, while others are more into manufacturing. More state influence can help to keep the federal government from messing with the local economy.

We also know that there are very different ways that the people in different parts of the country see the role of government. Texans and Oklahomans tend to have a different viewpoint than New Yorkers or Californians. Yet, with our present approach, Medicaid and ObamaCare are all too likely to be run mostly from Washington with little control over the system exercised by Texans and Okies. As a consequence, the states have lost the ability to resist many federal mandates requiring them to spend their budgets as directed by the federal government.

I do want every level of government to become smaller and less intrusive in our lives. Local, State, and Federal governments have all grown much too much and all are commonly running roughshod over our individual rights. But, the shift to having more and more of our individual lives controlled by central planners in Washington, DC is a particularly bad development.

The authoritarianism of local and state governments vary substantially and they provide us with some choices to seek out those that will allow us more freedom. The federal government forces us to make a much more drastic move right out of our country if we believe it is too tyrannical and we wish to seek a country more compatible with respect for individual rights. Rather than move, I intend to stay and fight for my liberty in the country whose Declaration of Independence and Constitution I love.

Thanks for the thanks!