July 17, 2006

The Right and Duty to Revolt

Dave Shuler commented at QandO, and later posted an expansion of his point on The Glittering Eye, as follows:

In a liberal democracy like ours civil disobedience and revolution are almost never moral or justified.

In a country like ours civil disobedience is only justified when the electoral system has itself been subverted. This was the case with respect to African Americans particularly in the South prior to the passage of the Civil Rights Act and, particularly, the Voting Rights Act. Their civil disobedience during that period was justified.

Revolution is never justified as long as the country remains a liberal democracy.


I strongly disagreed in Dave's comments, and wanted to post my disagreement here, also, for those who read Caerdroia and not Dave's excellent blog.


Dave, with all respect, I believe that you are confused about a very fundamental point. Before I get to that, and hopefully without taking up too much space/time, I want to talk about governmental forms. The reason for the digression is that "liberal democracy" is a vague term, and I could be misreading your meaning of the term.

In general, there are only three types of governance (plus anarchy, the absence of governance, which so far as I can tell inevitably leads to tyranny in a short time): tyranny, democracy and republic.

A tyranny is government by a small group of people not selected by nor answerable to public will. A tyranny is not necessarily malignant, but in practice virtually always eventually becomes so due to man's power-seeking and inherently corruptible nature. Variant forms of tyranny include monarchies (rule by one person and advisors or courtiers he selects, with the ruler selected by familial relationship to prior ruler) in both absolute and some constitutional forms (those in which the monarch can dissolve the parliament at will, for instance, or where the parliament has no actual power); oligarchies (rule by a very small group of people not subject to popular election or recall) including theocracies (rule by priests) and juntas (rule by a military council); and dictatorships (rule by one person and his selected advisors and courtiers, with the ruler being whoever grabs and holds on to power).

A democracy is rule with the explicit consent of citizens as a body. Variants include pure democracies (the citizens actually vote on all or most decisions, with the rule of the majority (or sometimes a supermajority) generally being absolute); representative democracies (the citizens periodically choose representatives to decide issues for them in elections of the whole body of the polis, and generally can recall those representatives by the same method); constitutional monarchies (or for that matter dictatorships) in which the parliament is not generally subject to the will of the monarch, particularly for its existence and selection; and participatory democracies (which are generally representative democracies, but in which the polis can directly impose its will by a referendum that overrides laws passed by the representatives).

A republic is rule by representatives, where each type of representative is chosen by a different segment of the citizenry (or sometimes of the whole population), and where the actions and decisions of the representatives are constrained by charter. The ruler or rulers are not generally subject to the polis to approve or reject their decisions, nor do they necessarily serve at the pleasure of the polis once selected (though they generally do, at least indirectly). There are many variant forms, based on how powers are divided and how the different types of representatives are chosen, but I'm not aware of any commonly-used terms for the variants.

(Before you say "federal republic", consider that a democracy could also be federal — "federal" is merely a descriptor indicating a government organization split into multiple levels, with any given sub-government's powers being based on which type it is.)

The United States began its life as a republic, in which the body of citizens as a whole selected their Representatives, the legislature of each State selected its Senators, and the people selected Electors who would in turn select the President and Vice President (good idea; bad execution). However, three key governmental changes over the past hundred-and-a-few years have changed our governmental structure to a representative democracy. Direct election of Senators made both Senators and Representatives selected by the polis as a whole (though the geographic differentiation differs between the two offices' electors); changing selection of electors from direct vote for electors to votes for a candidate who would pick electors for himself did the same for the President and Vice President; and the doctrine of the "living Constitution" removed the governing charter's brake on the representatives' powers.

You use the term "liberal democracy". In that context, you seem to mean a liberal form of representative democracy — at least, that's the common meaning of the term. The term "liberal" essentially means "based on Enlightenment principles", and in the US (and Japan, Korea, Taiwan and Australia), that generally means the principles of the English Enlightenment: life, liberty, and property. (In Canada and Europe, even oddly enough in Britain, the term generally applies to the principles of the French Enlightenment: liberty, equality, and brotherhood.) The English Enlightenment is very fundamentally concerned with individual Natural Law rights, and in particular the effective sovereignty of the individual except where he has, by consent to the republic's charter, explicitly agreed to cede elements of sovereignty to the government.

The point of a representative government is that it is much harder for such a government to tyrannize its people than it is for non-representative governments. In an explicitly liberal government, infringing on explicitly acknowledged rights (or in the case of the US, those rights deriving from Natural Law regardless of their explicit acknowledgment [see Amendment IX]) certainly constitutes a tyrannical act.

Where you go wrong is to assume that a mechanism for preventing tyranny against individuals (liberal democracy) inherently, always and unconditionally does prevent tyranny against individuals. I assert that that assumption is incorrect: there are many instances where liberal democracies have tyrannized their people in ways both large (as in Britain effectively banning gun ownership or the US allowing the government to confiscate one person's property for the use of another person) and small (such as the various restrictions on commercial speech in the US). That assumption leads, I think, to your comment that "civil disobedience and revolution are almost never moral or justified" because there are ways to change the system to resolve injustices.

I believe that there is an inherent, inalienable and self-evident right — indeed, a duty — to change the government if that government becomes destructive of the ends of securing individual natural law rights. This could be by revolution, if necessary; though I agree with you that that should be rare, because less drastic methods will generally suffice to remedy even large injustices. (Well, at least for now; we seem to be becoming anesthetized by the Chinese water torture of small but growing infringements, such that most people seem quite happy to be subjects rather than citizens.)

I believe that there is an inherent right — indeed, a duty — to resist clearly unconstitutional laws and regulations. This could be anything from refusing to comply (I don't care what law is passed, I will endorse whatever candidates I want whenever I please) through symbolic protest (if a law (not an Amendment) banning flag desecration is passed and held constitutional, I will burn the Constitution) to large-scale civil disobedience (I would be willing to attempt to block the government from taking private property for other private people's gain, and to get arrested in the process).

Perhaps you would agree, and I have misinterpreted you. Certainly, I think that both courses of action are too frequently called for (and in the case of civil disobedience, too frequently attempted), and perhaps that is all you are really saying.

As for me, the three bright lines I draw, the crossing of which would almost certainly lead me to kill government agents, are government agents trying to take my kids away from me, government agents bursting into my house in the middle of the night without first serving a warrant (how do I know they're really government agents?), or the various infringements of my liberties cumulatively becoming so intolerable that death is preferable to continued existence under such a regime.

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February 23, 2006

Tolerance and Survival

This morning, Instapundit linked to a joint WaPo essay by Bill Bennett and Alan Dershowitz (!!!), on the implications of the press' failure, by and large, to run the Jyllands-Posten cartoons. I was going to comment on it, particularly this bit, but had to go to work:

The Boston Globe, speaking for many other outlets, editorialized: "[N]ewspapers ought to refrain from publishing offensive caricatures of Mohammed in the name of the ultimate Enlightenment value: tolerance."

Bennett and Dershowitz point out the hypocrisy, but my beef was with the twisted thinking that makes "tolerance" an Enlightenment value — no, the ultimate Enlightenment value. I had, in my head, a long and intricate argument detailing how I've come, over the past 5-10 years, to believe that multiculturalism, collectivism, and victimology combine to create a Western suicide pact, and how our cultural institutions — schools, media, entertainment and politics in particular — embrace these doctrines so firmly as to make an actual belief in Western Enlightenment values, particularly those of the English Enlightenment which form the basis of the American idea, not merely heresy, but sin. (The seven deadly sins of the Left are intolerance, racism, misogyny, homophobia, "fundamentalism" [Judeo-Christian faith deeply held], individualism, and capitalism, but they all boil down to standing up for Western values against dehumanizing or inhuman values, masquerading as "diversity".) But what is the point of writing all out when Jeff Goldstein has already said it, and better?

Go read.

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February 3, 2006

I Hate "Me Too" Posts

But some times you just have to: I agree with everything Kevin says here.

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January 26, 2006

I Exist; All Else is Consequence

There have been some interesting discussions on what natural rights are, and why they are, in the blogosphere recently. First, to summarize:

Max Borders postulates that rights have meaning only because we give them meaning; all rights are socially constructed. Borders likens rights to money, without understanding the difference between fiat currency and money. (But then, he doesn't appear to understand anything about civil vs. natural rights, either.)

Jon Henke is impressed by this argument, and talks about rights in a manner implying civil rights, but he is apparently thinking about natural rights. This confusion leads Henke to conclude that rights are essentially polite social fictions.

Dale Franks has a much clearer understanding of rights, and lays out why natural rights exist, in a clear and straightforward manner.

Meanwhile, Francis Porretto recently tracked rights and Christianity together through the two Great Commandments. UPDATE: And a follow-up to this post on social construction of rights.

I have a couple of observations to make, on "good" vs. "bad" religions (yes, I'll judge), "good" vs. "bad" social orders, and the cultures that arise from them. All because of the simple observation that I exist, and so do other people. This is going to be long, so the rest is below the fold.

The fact that I exist has certain consequences, including these: I want to keep on existing, and via having children to extend the meaning of my existence beyond my own lifetime; I want to be prosperous, happy and able to better myself, and to provide more for my children than myself; I don't want to be forced to do things, because that would likely prevent me from being prosperous and happy. Because I want these things, badly, I would be willing to go to great lengths to ensure that I get them.

Other people also exist, and want the same things, and are also willing to go to great lengths to ensure that they get them (though not to great lengths, necessarily, to ensure that I get them).

Anyway, the nature of our existence as rational beings possessed of free will leads to the three most important natural rights, so called because they arise as a consequence of man's existence and nature: life (keep living, have children, etc), liberty (not be forced to do things), and ability to pursue happiness (prosperity would be part of what makes me happy, certainly: starving, for example, sucks). The ability to pursue happiness has a requisite though: property. If I am dependent for my living on someone else's whim, I am not free to pursue happiness, because they could use their hold over my continued existence to compel me to do things for their happiness. So having property — enough property to grow food to support my family, at a minimum — is a requisite for pursuit of happiness, and that is why the original formulation was "life, liberty and property". Visually, thus:

liberty foundations.png

Immediately we find the first place that cultures often go wrong. A culture which denies natural rights to its citizens is inherently violating human nature at its most primal. Thomas Jefferson very succinctly defined the purpose of government and its relationship to natural rights:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.— That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

The legitimacy of a government derives not from elections or other means of representation nor from structural concerns. The legitimacy of government derives entirely from whether or not that government protects the rights of its people, against each other and against outsiders and against the government itself. For if the government does not protect those rights, for what reason does government exist? For the provision of justice is not a sufficient answer, though it is a common one, because justice demands the protection of natural rights, and the abrogation of those rights is thus inherently unjust.

A democracy can be illegitimate (in fact, a pure democracy will inevitably become so, while an impure democracy apparently will inevitably become so at a slower rate), and a tyranny can be legitimate. The key to legitimacy is not the organization of government, but its ability and willingness to protect the rights of its people.

I should mention, here, that this is essentially a moral judgement. The whole set of concepts of rights and justice and liberty are inherently moral judgements. If you believe, for example, that it is just fine to, say, kill people on a whim, then you will not be very persuaded by any of this. In that case, the only end to our disagreement will be for one of us to change our mind for internal reasons, or for one of us to die.

Back to rights. Each person's natural rights are self-contained; in fact, it is a necessary part of the definition of a natural right, what distinguishes a right from a mere desire. That is to say, if I assert a right, but exercising that claimed right requires an infringement of your rights, than my claim is false: what I want to do is not a right at all.

I can live without denying others their own right to live, can act without coercion (to do or not do, as the case may be) without denying others their own equivalent rights, and can own property — and thus work to guarantee my happiness — without denying others their right to own (different) property and similarly to work for their own happiness. While I can assert my rights without violating another's equivalent rights, there is also the possibility that I might not want another to enjoy their natural rights. For example, I might want to take another's property for my increased happiness, or coerce another to do something to make me happy even though it has negative consequences for them. In that case, since you would do virtually anything to secure your rights, you would perhaps decide to use armed force, if necessary, to prevent me from infringing your rights. From this it follows that self-defense is a natural right, as well. Similarly, other natural rights arise from the consequences of exercising and defending the basic natural rights, including the right to control one's own body (which arises from the life and property rights) or the right to engage in an occupation (which arises from the property and liberty rights).

Some rights, such as self-defense, arise as first-order consequences of the basic rights, but others arise as second- or third- or higher-order consequences. For example, the right to self defense implies a second-order right: the right to have a means with which to defend myself. Visually, our social structure becomes:

second order rights.png

From these rights, and the nature of man, two basic rules emerge for interacting with others. These two rules are called "natural laws" because they describe the proper exercise of natural rights, and they are these:

  • Do what you agree to do. (This is the basis of contract law.)
  • Do not encroach on others' rights. (This is the basis of tort law and much criminal law.)

Natural laws mediate the interactions of men in the same way that economic laws mediate the interactions of an economy. Visually, thus:

natural law.png

This is the second place that cultures frequently go wrong. If the interactions between people, or in particular between the government and the people, are not governed by natural laws, the result is inevitably a degradation in the observance of natural rights. In other words, failing to govern interpersonal interactions via natural law leads inevitably to tyranny.

In England, a justice system developed that was, as far as I know, unique in the world. The characteristics of that justice system that are important to this discussion are these:

  • All justice is based on natural law; and any violation of natural laws is thus an injustice.
  • Natural law is higher than statute law (law made by governments), and thus acts of government must be nullified if they conflict with natural laws.
  • It is the duty of judges to discover and apply natural law.

This system is called a common law system, and the American justice system is based on it. However, it is important to note that there aren't really any places which are purely based on common law: governments, seeking greater power as is in their nature, tend to override common law wherever and whenever it is to their convenience to do so. Those countries which still have vestiges of common law (the US, Britain, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and Switzerland, for example) are those in which people are most free and, for reasons beyond the scope of this post, generally most prosperous as well.

Those people, including our Founding Fathers, who thought deeply about Liberty and governance during the Enlightenment came up with a novel understanding of the purpose of government, which is spelled out in our Declaration of Independence: government exists to protect natural rights by enforcing natural laws. Visually, thus:

government purpose.png

The different types of law each exist to enforce natural law. But there is a problem with this: what exists to stop the government from becoming all-powerful, once the government has come into existence? The first answer is respect for natural law, including the right of people to self-defense. After you stop laughing at the concept of government respecting anything but its own power and privilege, we'll get to the other things that keep the government from being all-powerful. Ready?

OK, a government instituted by free people who are not idiots will take into account human nature, which is where we all started. It is a fact of nature — a fact below even the level of human existence — that there ain't no such thing as a free lunch. (If you don't believe me, go study entropy.) But it is a fact of human nature that we all want the free lunch anyway. And since government by its nature must have the power of taxation, government disposes of other people's money. So if you are in the right place in government, you dispose of other people's money. And there's what looks a lot like a free lunch, at least to the degree that you don't consider the long-term effects. Here are the long-term effects:

disaster.png

The government becomes a tyranny: it exerts control over the individuals subject to it, while extorting or stealing ever higher levels of taxes.

So to prevent that, a government designed to foster freedom requires safeguards. The right to keep and bear arms, for example, is a consequence of the natural right to self-defense. But it is also a necessary check on the power of government: an armed population can prevent the government from abrogating its rights, by force of arms if necessary. Other rights, which our Constitution also prohibits the government (theoretically) from interfering with also arise from this need to keep government within bounds: freedom of expression, habeus corpus and warrants, freedom of worship and from compulsion to worship, and so on. These are civil rights, and are only ours to enjoy until government decides to take them away. In addition, the very structure of government defined by the original Constitution was designed to keep the government from excessive taxation (no direct taxes except proportional to headcount) and excessive accumulation of personal power (checks and balances). Thank you the progressive movement for stripping away those protections! We have actually done this final wrong thing that government can do, and if we do not reverse it, we will eventually and inevitably slide into increasing tyranny. Already, we live in a less free society than our parents lived in.

The government can, of course, grant additional civil rights beyond these, and frequently does. Sadly, the government even more often uses the rhetoric of rights to mask the fundamental violation of rights. For example, claiming a right to free health care denies the more fundamental property rights of both doctors, compelled to practice in ways that they may disagree with, and of taxpayers, who must hand over ever more taxes to fund such programs.

Hmmm, I ended up going a bit off topic, so let me get back onto it. You might have noticed that I mentioned religion earlier, and didn't come back to it. Well, here we are.

Religion comes into this because we started with the fact of human existence. But prior to human existence comes the creation of humans: whence did we arise? And that is certainly a religious question. The Declaration of Independence merely notes that natural rights derive from the endowment of the Creator, but does not make any speculation as to the nature of the Creator, for what should be obvious reasons. But I think that it's possible to derive some idea of the possible divinities from examination of natural law, coupled with the observation that a just god would not create life to torment and destroy. (No one would call, say, Cthulu a just god, for example.)

Divine law governs how man may achieve salvation (Christian tint courtesy of Aquinas, but the principle is broader than that), and is not discoverable by reason (the way natural law is) or reading (the way statute law is) or experimentation (the way eternal laws, such as gravitation or thermodynamics, are), but only through faith. But here's the kicker: any divine law which abrogates natural law automatically goes against human nature, because natural law is just the set of rules that describe human nature. So if a divine code of law goes against natural law, that divine code, and by extension the religion that embodies it, is inherently bad: by denying human nature, it is unfit for human consumption.

This is in fact the basis of my break with Christianity, or as I now recognize it, the Judaical basis of Christianity: what kind of god says "Don't touch that one thing" to a curious being who is curious because that's how the god created the being and then eternally damn the being for touching? As far as I can tell, the Levitical covenant is still in effect, and thus at its core (though not in broad practice) Judaism has a serious problem with human nature. Islam, too, has this problem. The covenants of Islam deny natural law to a breathtaking extent.

Now to be fair, most Jews and most Muslims seem fairly decent sorts. Except, of course, for the very hard line fundamentalist Jews and Muslims, who take the covenants quite seriously. (Similarly, many hard line fundamentalist Protestants, who adhere to the Levitical covenant in spite of the two Great Commandments, are nearly unrecognizable as human in their relations with those who don't share their beliefs.)

But Christianity has at its heart the possibility of something better: the two Great Commandments, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. (38) This is the first and great commandment. The second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." And most Christians, really, follow that covenant rather than the earlier and harsher one. The implications of those two commandments, when fully thought through (and I recommend you read Porretto's religious writings) are actually quite beautiful. And note how closely those commandments adhere to natural law: those are the divine laws of a god that understands the beings of his creation.

Wicca and similar religions, too, have divine laws that are congruent with natural law. The Wiccan Rede ("Do what thou wilt, an harm none" being my favorite formulation) corresponds directly to the principle of not abrogating another's rights, while exercising one's own rights. The Three-Fold Law (that which you do comes back to you three-fold) expresses the consequences of not keeping your agreements.

I'm sure that there are other religions, too, whose core law matches well with natural law. And there are other religions equally dangerous (I suspect scientology falls in this category, from what little I know of it). If you want to know why the jihadis are so dangerous, you just need to look at what their covenant is, and how seriously they take it. Hopefully, as with the Catholic Church since its rethinking of itself after the Reformation, they are amenable to reform.

Contra Henke, natural rights and the associated natural laws are quite real. There are consequences to ignoring them, and those consequences go far, far beyond living and dying. They go to your very soul. So in the immortal words of Bill and Ted, "be excellent to each other."

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November 30, 2005

Propaganda, Perception, and Human Behavior

Go read this, but ignore the part that you see normally and read everything after the "read more" link. It's fantastic.

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November 21, 2005

The Federal Catechism

The American Spelling Book, by Daniel Webster, published in the late 1700s/early 1800s, included in some editions a federal catechism. (Hat tip: Steph) I reproduce it here in full and without commentary:

                A FEDERAL CATECHISM
Containing a short EXPLANATION of the CONSTITUTION of the
   UNITED STATES of AMERICA, and the Principles of
   Government.

               For the Use Schools.  [sic]
   Q.  WHAT is a constitution of Government?

   A.  A constitution of government, or a political constitution,
consists in certain standing rules or ordinances, agreed upon by a
nation or state, determining the manner in which the supreme powers
shall be exercised over that nation or state, or rather how the
legislative power shall be formed.

   Q.  How many kinds of constitutions are there; or in how many
ways may the sovereign power be exercised over a people?

   A.  Constitutions are commonly divided into three kinds; monarchy,
aristocracy, and democracy.

   Q.  Explain these sorts of governments?

   A.  When the sovereign power is exercised by one person, the
constitution is a monarchy.  When a few rich men or nobles,
have the whole supreme power in their hands, the constitution is an
aristocracy.  When the supreme power is exercised by all the
citizens in a general meeting or assembly, the constitution is a
democracy.

   Q.  What are the faults of despotic governments?

   A.  In a despotic government, a whole nation is at the disposal
of one person.  If this person the prince, is of a cruel or
tyrannical disposition, he may abuse his subjects, take away their lives,
their property or their liberty.

   Q.  What objections are there to aristocracy?

   A.  In an aristocracy, where a few rich men govern, the poor
may be oppressed, the nobles may make laws to suit themselves

-----
p. 149

and ruin the common people.  Besides, the nobles having equal
power one with another, may quarrel and throw the state into
confusion; in this case there is no person of superior power to settle
the dispute.

   Q.  What are the defects of democracy?

   A.  In a democracy, where the people meet for the purpose of
making laws, there are commonly tumults and disorders.  A small
city may sometimes be governed in this manner; but if the citizens
are numerous, their assemblies make a crowd or mob, where
the debates cannot be carried on with coolness or candour, nor can
arguments he heard:  Therefore a pure democracy is generally
a very bad government.  It is often the most tyrannical government
on earth; for a multitude is often rash, and will not hear
reason.

   Q.  Is there another and better form of government than
any of these?

   A.  There is.  A REPRESENTATIVE REPUBLIC[,] in which the
people freely choose deputies to make laws for them, is much the
best form of government hitherto invented.

   Q.  What are the peculiar advantages of representative
governments?

   A.  When deputies or representatives are chosen to make laws,
they will commonly consult the interest of the people who choose
them; and if they do not, the people can choose others in their
their room. [sic]  Besides, the deputies coming from all parts of a state,
bring together all the knowledge and information necessary to show
the true interest of the whole state; at the same time, being few
ion number, they can hear arguments and debate peaceable on a
subject.  But the great security of such governments is, that the
men who make laws are to be governed by them; so that they
are not apt to do wrong wilfully.  When men make laws for themselves,
as well as for their neighbours, they are led by their own
interest to make GOOD laws.

   Q.  Which of the former kinds of government is adopted by
the American States?

   A.  The states are all governed by constitutions that fall under
the name of representative republics.  The people choose deputies
to act for them in making laws; and in general, the deputies, when
assembled, have as full power to make and repeal laws, as the
whole body of freemen would have, if they were collected for the
purpose.

   Q.  By what name may we call the United States in their
political capacity?

   A.  A federal representaive republic.

-----
[page image]

p. 150

   Q.  How are the powers of government divided?

   A.  Into the legislative, judicial, and executive.

   Q.  What is meant by a legislative power?

   A.  By legislative is understood that body or assembly of men
who have the power of making laws and regulations for governing
state.  [sic]

   Q.  Where does the power of making laws for the United
States reside?

   A.  By the constitution of the United States, the power of making
laws is given to the representatives of the people chosen by
the people or their legislatures, and assembled in two distinct
houses.  This body of representatives so assembled, is called "the
Congress of the United States."

   Q.  What are the two separate houses called?

   A.  One is called the Senate, the other the house of Representatives.

   Q.  How i[s] the senate formed.

   A.  By two delegates from each state, chosen by the legislature
of the state, for six years.

   Q.  Why are not senators chosen every year?

   A.  Because one branch of Congress is designed to be distinguished
for firmness and knowledge of business.

   Q.  How is the house of representatives formed?

   A.  This branch of the national legislature is composed of
delegates from the several states, chosen by the people, every second
year.

   Q.  Can every an in the states vote for delegates to
Congress?

   A.  By no mans.  In almost every state some property is
necessary to give a man a right to vote.  In general, men who have
no estate, pay no taxes, and who have no settled habitation, are not
permitted to vote for rulers, because they have no interest to
secure, they may be vagabonds or dishonest men, and may be
bribed by the rich.

   Q.  Why is congress divided into two houses?

   A.  When the power of making laws is vested in a single assembly,
bills may often pass without due deliberation.  Whole assemblies
of men may be rash, hasty, passionate, tumultuous, and whenever
this happens it is safe to have some check to their proceedings,
that they may not inure the public.  One house therefore
may be a check upon the other.

   Q.  Why may Congress regulate the election of its own members
or why is not this power left entirely to the states?

   A.  For this good reason; a few states might by neglect, delay
or wilfulness, prevent the meeting of a Congress, and destroy the

-----
p. 151

federal government.  It is necessary that Congress should have
power to oblige the State to choose delegates, so that they may
preserve their own existence.

   Q.  It is not unjust that all should be bound to obey a law,
when all do not consent to it?

   A.  Every thing is JUST in government which is NECESSARY to
the PUBLIC GOOD.  It is impossible to bring all men to think alike
on all subjects, so that if we wait for all opinions to be alike
respecting laws, we shall have no laws at all.

   Q.  How are the members of Congress paid?

   A.  Out of the treasury of the United States, according to a
law of Congress.

   Q.  Would it not be politic to refuse them a reward, and let
them serve their country for the honour of it?

   A.  In such a case none but rich men could afford to serve as
delegates; the government would then be wholly in the hands of
the wealthy; whereas there are many men of little property, who
are among the most able, wise and honest persons in a state.

   Q.  How far do the powers of Congress extend?

   A.  The powers of Congress extend to the regulation of all
matters of a GENERAL NATURE, or such as concern ALL the United
States.

   Q.  will not this national government in time destroy
the state governments?

   A.  It is not probable this w[i]ll be the case; indeed the national
government is the best security of the state governments; for each
state has pledged itself to support every state government.  If it
were not for our union a powerful state might conquer its weaker
neighbour, and with this addition of power, conquer the next state,
and so on, till the whole would be subject to one ambitious state.



                        F I N I S.
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October 18, 2005

Government, Vigilence and Freedom

Mark Safranski has a long excerpt from Bruce Kesler on what the recent attempts to move Internet oversight to the UN, and to license journalists (essentially preventing bloggers from commenting on politicians near elections), mean for freedom. At the end of the quote, Mark provides this bit of commentary:

The admirable vigilance of Mr. Kesler is the price of liberty. We need to watch our Congressmen closely. Republican or Democrat, both kinds of elected officials are by definition insiders. Some of whom have forgotten where they came from and why they are there.

Indeed, such vigilance is laudable. It is just a shame that it is so necessary. And the reason that it is necessary is that government has massively overrun its bounds. The whole point of the American system of governance was that the Federal governments would not interact often or decisively with individuals; it was to be indirect governance. By so strictly constraining Federal powers and abilities, the Constitution as originally written made it unnecessary for individuals to be concerned with the day to day machinations of government at the Federal level.

But the increasing interference of the Federal government in everything, particularly following the removal of Federal limits on spending (16th Amendment) and political limits (17th Amendment) , requires every citizen to be well informed about the minutiae of not only the Congress' actions, but also those of the myriad Federal bureaucracies and courts. Otherwise, you could easily wake up and find that the First Amendment no longer protects your right to political speech, or that the Fourth Amendment no longer prevents the government from taking your property and giving it to your neighbor.

Sadly, the anti-Federalists appear to have been right in their criticisms of the Constitution (not limiting enough on government, so that government would grow into tyranny over time), even while they were unable to articulate a way of keeping the US together as a single nation in the absence of a stronger national government.

Posted by jeff at 9:43 AM | TrackBack

October 12, 2005

Freedom, Governance and Emergent Behavior

Many would argue — do argue, in fact, loudly, self-righteously and continually — that government not only can but should determine the nature of society. And by determining the nature of society, what they really mean is controlling the behavior of individuals: society is a myth, a convenient abstraction.

If "society" wrongs you, to whom do you turn to complain? How does "society" act to enforce its will? How does "society" even express its will? If you wish to plead with "society", to whom do you go with your plea? In each case, the only possible answers are direct and unfettered democracy, meaning that the mob expresses the opinions of society and it is to the mob you must go for justice, or tyranny, meaning that the government is the arbiter of all that happens and will take care of you, you poor deluded person thinking you know what's best for yourself.

We find our self edging more and more towards a strange combination of the two: the mob pushing the government, which then overacts and compels obedience. Take, for example, MADD's effort (apparently successful) to get the state of Texas to arrest people who are not driving drunk, in an attempt to further reduce drunk driving. Here we have an unreasoning and unreasonable demand, arising from moral self-suredness, that the government act to control individual behavior that is otherwise legal, to avoid the risk of later illegal behavior. If that is not a tyrannical act, I don't know what is. And yet this effort will pass almost unnoticed, along with the numerous other tyrannies, petty or outlandish, that government has foisted on the American public over the last seventy years.

The government is best which governs least. — Thomas Jefferson

For many years, I've noted (some would say "preached") that the role of government is not to form society, but to create a safe environment in which society could form itself. That government in a free country cannot effectively control society is evident from two facts: individuals are perverse, and the government is not ubiquitous. You cannot change the essential nature of people, as the various philosophical dead ends of the twentieth century (the pure Aryan, the New Soviet Man, etc) have amply shown, and were the government ubiquitous you would no longer have a free country, since the effect of government is forcible control.
The state is the great fictitious entity by which everyone seeks to live at the expense of everyone else. — Frederic Bastiat

Let's look at the government efforts to change human behavior. There have been numerous attempts, even an all-encompassing "war on poverty", to raise people's economic status so that no one is poor. Yet for most of the time that this effort has been being actively undertaken, true poverty has been a rarity in the US: it only exists where individual will is weak. Think of how often lottery winners end up, a few years later, broke and miserable. Why is this? Because it is generally the poor who play the lottery, and the poor generally are poor because they make bad decisions. A person with money who makes bad decisions soon ends up poor again. Similarly, the many efforts at welfare created generations of people whose entire incentive was to not work, not put forth anything more than their hand, and those people sank into a deeper poverty (materially and morally) than they were in prior to welfare, despite being essentially given money. What fixed the problem? Welfare reform, where the amount of welfare you could receive was time limited. What has happened to those who have left the welfare rolls? In general, their material and moral wealth have both increased. Welfare is still necessary in some transitional cases, but by ending welfare as a permanent condition, by removing the power of government to control, human dignity and wealth as well as individual freedom have been increased.

Or let's look at the "war on [some] drugs". Here again, the government saw something intrinsically bad (people destroying their lives through drug abuse) and decided to "do something" (the universal rallying cry of would-be tyrants). Here, the government decided that simply making the drugs commercially unavailable would be sufficient to get people to take care of themselves. Well, we all know how that worked out, yes? But what interests me about the war on drugs is not the unconstitutionality of it, its creation of a black market, its probable effect in increasing drug use and certain effect in increasing drug-related violence and property crimes, nor even the naive belief that it's possible for the government, without becoming a police state, to prevent a product in demand from being supplied. No, what interests me most about this is simply that, past the first few hits, there is no benefit in drug use for the user. There are numerous drawbacks, of course, to one's financial state, family, friends, wealth, and so on. But once the pleasure is gone, which is very short-lived, from what I understand, there are no benefits.

Both of these illustrate the perversity of human nature: some people — a frighteningly large number of people — are simply willing to act against their best interests as others perceive them. Why is this? What do they get from staying poor or drug-ridden? I can only hazard a guess, because I cannot truly understand that frame of mind. My guess, based on observation, is that what such people long for is an escape from responsibility for themselves and their lives. If you are poor, others must take care of you; if you are drug-ridden, you cannot control yourself. In fact, it seems to me that this attempt to avoid personal responsibility pervades most of the attempts inexorably to extend the nanny state into our wallets and minds (from the Left) and our bedrooms and souls (from the Right).

But the "war on drugs" also illustrates the propensity for government to slip into tyranny. If, despite all of our efforts to control people, they still treat themselves badly, the answer must be ... more government attempts to control people. If you cannot eradicate a destructive behavior like using drugs by making the product illegal, then you can bend all other means of control towards punishing everyone involved in the trade, even where that has perverse outcomes. My "favorite" perverse outcome is the zero-tolerance law that would deprive you of your property if someone stole it from you and then used drugs on it. (I recall cases of people having their cars or boats stolen and taken for a joyride, and when the police found the vehicles and arrested the drugged up thief, they would then confiscate and auction off the property because it had been used in a drug crime. No, I'm not kidding.)

The same thing is happening with drunk driving. Moral suasion was insufficient to end drunk driving. Making drunk driving illegal and subject to punitive action cut down drunk driving, but didn't eliminate it. Increasing the penalties probably didn't even cut down drunk driving. Tightening the laws so that even non-drivers in a vehicle could not be drinking didn't fix the problem. But we're not done yet; oh, no! Reducing the availability of alcohol didn't fix it. Reducing the level of alcohol in the blood considered "drunk" didn't fix it. Prohibition of alcohol by the Federal government is unconstitutional1, and dry-county laws don't help because you can get alcohol in the next county over. But perhaps if we arrest people for drinking in bars, yeah, that'll do it. All we have to do is government unrestricted power, and it can solve anything, right?

But even then, the perversity of human nature rears its grip: tyrannies are uniformly corrupt. (Indeed, one of the major flaws of the computer game Civilization was that corruption disappeared under Communism, which is blatantly counter-historical.) If the government has the power to control all, those who want the control to pass them by, or to hit their opponents or enemies, have ample incentive to bribe officials. And in a tyrannical government, officials have ample incentive to be bribed: even a tyranny cannot be everywhere at once, so why not take money for not doing what you didn't have the resources to do anyway? But of course, this is a downward spiral, that ends with true power being exercised by those who are the most corrupt and the most ruthless. What was that about the road to Hell and good intentions?

The more you tighten your grip, Tarkin, the more star systems will slip through your fingers. — Star Wars

But if government cannot force people to act in society's best interests (or, for the well-intentioned fools, in their own best interest) with any consistency, then how can you possibly form a good and just society that will last more than a generation? Oddly enough, we already have the recipe, and it contains only two ingredients: individual liberty, and personal responsibility.

The first is laid out in John Locke's Second Treatise of Government, from 1690, which can be summed up as "life, liberty and property", and was slightly expanded upon in the Declaration of Independence with the realization that property was only one part of a larger need: the pursuit of happiness. When individuals are allowed to act in their own interest, they will sometimes fail to do so (that is part of the perversity of human nature), but as a whole they will produce a better society than if their actions are constrained. Not only are free people better able to perceive their interests locally, but the interaction of those local interests creates a series of beneficial emergent behaviors.

Dr. Von recently posted on emergent behavior (hat tip: Mark Safranski), so I won't go into it too much here. But there are two instances of emergent behavior that I would like to mention. The first is insect colonies, and the second is the working of a market economy.

Insect colonies, particularly ants and bees, exhibit an incredibly complex and intelligent behavior pattern, yet the individuals that make up the colony have essentially no intelligence, only a simple set of rules for their behavior. But each of those simple behaviors has its own reward. For an ant, for example, to get back to its nest, it must follow chemical trails left by itself or other ants. But due to the essential randomness of the outward wandering of the ants in search of food, the trails cross and re-cross. So how does the ant get home? It simply makes the smallest possible turn. Because of the nature of ants' movement outwards, this brings the ant home by the shortest route. However, this leaving of chemical trails has another feature: when food is found, the returning ant leaves a different chemical trail, and this trail is picked up on by other ants, who then take the shortest possible route to the food. By acting in their own self-interest, leaving different chemical trails as they move, the individual ants contribute to an act of apparent intelligence far beyond their ability to comprehend: the organization of the colony to efficiently gather food.

Adam Smith's An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (generally called The Wealth of Nations) is the first description of which I am aware of an emergent behavior: the "invisible hand" that guides a free market. Essentially, the basis of a money economy (as opposed to a barter economy) is this: I have a product, or can provide a service. I need things. I have something you need, but you don't have what I need. You give me money for what you need, and I take that money elsewhere to get what I need. But if, say, you can go to lots of places to get what you need, I am limited in how much I can charge you; if I charge too much, you will get your needs met elsewhere for less. This results in a series of transactions based only on local knowledge: I don't necessarily know how much of what I have to offer is in circulation, but if you aren't willing to pay what I ask, it means that you probably know you can get it for less elsewhere. On the other hand, if I cannot produce fast enough to meet the demand, that means that I can make more by producing faster. It is utterly unnecessary to control the economy at the macro level: the invisible hand will do that.

But what is the invisible hand? In essence, nothing more than the presence of cues and the acts of self-interest they generate. If you need something that a lot of other people need, and I have it, I will sell it to you at a high price: I know I can find another buyer. Consequently, there is an incentive for others to produce what I produce so that they too can get relatively high income for relatively low labor, and can then use their income to obtain what they need or desire. As more people come online producing that good or service, the price I can charge goes down, because now you can go elsewhere to get what you need. The result is that, over time, supply expands or contracts to meet demand, and the economy produces pretty much exactly what is needed with very little waste.

That these simple, basic lessons in political economy are lost on most people can be demonstrated by the frequent calls for price controls, especially in the aftermath of disaster. If the government compels me to charge a lower price than I could get on the open market, there are two possibilities: either I will sell on the black market, to avoid regulation, or I will avoid increasing the supply since the additional labor nets me less income than it would otherwise. So attempting to, say, regulate the price of lumber after a hurricane to prevent "gouging" actually works to reduce the supply of lumber available to rebuild. Talk about a perverse incentive! Or look at Hawaii's recent regulation of gas prices. As happened in the US generally in the 1970's, it's a small matter of time before Hawaii runs short of gas. After all, if I can sell the gas elsewhere at higher profit, why would I bring it to Hawaii to sell?

So, just as the ant colony or the economy is self-regulating, so are interactions among free people. Let's take crime as an example. If robbing someone's house is likely to get me killed, I am less likely to rob someone's house unless losing my life is unimportant to me relative to the potential gain. I am not likely to lose my life, or even my freedom, if I rob a house where the owner has no incentive — or is not allowed — to protect his property. On the other hand, if I am likely to face an owner who is armed and will not be legally sanctioned for defending his property, my risk is much higher. Consequently, disarmed societies have higher property crime rates. Don't believe me? Look at the crime rates in England and Australia before and after those societies were disarmed.

On the other hand, if I can protect my property adequately, I am likely to invest labor into that property, to make it more useful to me. In doing so, I am also investing money in all of the various suppliers that make the things I need to improve my property. I am also as a result producing something (even if it's only my own comfort and ease) of value, that can be consumed by others. For example, whomever buys my property. This is not particularly evident with a suburban house, but consider a farm or a blighted neighborhood; in those cases, the ability to realize the gains from property improvements is a powerful monetary incentive to invest in the farm or in urban property.

The point of all of that is that simply being free — being secure in life and limb from random or capricious deprivation, being able to act in your own self interest, and being able to realize the gains accruing from your actions — leads to emergent behaviors that produce abundance, happiness, charity, health and justice. The more free a society is, the more of all this things it will have.

So if individual liberty produces a good and just society, why is personal responsibility also needed? In a word: sustainability. A system of absolute liberty coupled with lack of consequences quickly devolves into libertinism, nihilism and excess. The reason for this is that there is no controlling mechanism to prevent self-interest from becoming selfishness. This is why the ruling elites in a tyranny, or the very rich in an aristocratic society, become so horrible (the root of liberal discontent with the rich, by the way): their insulation from the consequences of their actions breeds very, very bad behavior, including exploitation of those less fortunate than themselves and bending the rules to obtain rents (in the economic sense). Look no further than Ted Kennedy for a prime example of the depravity and self-exhaltation of a life of liberty without consequences for one's actions.

By removing the consequences of a person's actions, one removes the incentive to act correctly. Why produce, which requires work, when you can be indolent and still fed? Why respect others, when it will not result in any negative effects for you if you are disrespectful? Why consider your rhetoric, if you know you cannot be called to account for inflammatory slanders?

Yet our society has spent the last hundred years progressively (no pun intended) removing any consequences for bad actions. We can be sexually irresponsible, knowing that medicines or abortions are available — often at taxpayer expense — to insulate us from the consequences of our irresponsibility. We can be financially irresponsible, knowing that bankruptcy laws shield us from stupidity as well as risk. We can be irresponsible about where we live, knowing the government will rebuild our flooded house for the fifth time. And so forth.

The reason that we have removed the consequences of our actions is the toxic desire for equal outcomes, what the "progressives" call equality or justice or fairness. If we accept that people are different in their abilities and desires (which is self-evidently true), then it follows that they will differ in their attainments: a clumsy person will never be a good ballerina, nor a foolish person a good judge, nor will a slothful and stupid person likely be wealthy. But in the progressive conception of equality, these unequal outcomes are simply wrong: why shouldn't a mediocre mind be a great philosopher if he desires? His mere inability to produce useful philosophy should not hinder, say, Noam Chomsky from being recognized for it, should it? Well, I suppose that depends on whether or not you want a useful and productive society, or one that allows you to congratulate yourself on how equal you are. The practical outcome of this doctrine is that incentives for good behavior are reduced, and good behavior becomes more rare as a result.

Similarly justice, where it is defined as the ability to get the "right" outcome regardless of law, custom, morality or truth. After all, the progressives say, it is not right to make the poor suffer for their bad decisions, when "it's not their fault they are poor", again ignoring all evidence that it is very much the fault of the poor if they remain poor; the rules for not being poor are simple enough, and available to everyone regardless of how much money one starts with. It's only bad decisions, not a society stacked against them, that leads to poverty in America. Even the crippled and orphans and so on are cared for by the state to the degree that they enter adulthood with a good chance of a productive and happy life. The practical outcome of this doctrine is that those who make good decisions and improve society are penalized in favor of those who make bad decisions and are a drag on society.

And again similarly with fairness: why should someone get less of something he wants than another? Even if the relatively deprived person is unwilling to work, argue the progressives, this should not be held against them. It's not fair that a person might not have a nice house and two cars and other things they desire, if someone else can obtain those things through an effort that the deprived person "cannot" make. The practical outcome of this doctrine is the transfer of wealth from the productive to the unproductive through taxation and government handouts.

But all of these come down to the same thing: removing a person from the consequences of their actions and decisions. And the consequences are also the same: an increase in bad behavior and a decrease in abundance, happiness, justice, charity and health.

So if we want to create a good and just society, all we need to do is to overthrow the idea of equal outcomes, restoring personal responsibility as the guiding principle of justice, and getting the government out of our lives and economy as much as possible so as to increase individual liberty. It's been done before; it can be done again.

I know of no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power. — Thomas Jefferson

1Arguably unconstitutional, anyway. In practical terms, it won't happen because of the experience with prohibition. Why we needed an Amendment to ban alcohol but not to ban drugs is the subject for another rant entirely.

Posted by jeff at 5:33 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

July 4, 2005

We Hold These Truths to be Self Evident

Declaration of Independence


IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.— That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.— Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy of the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.


[The 56 signatures on the Declaration were arranged in six columns:]

[Column 1]
Georgia:
   Button Gwinnett
   Lyman Hall
   George Walton

[Column 2]
North Carolina:
   William Hooper
   Joseph Hewes
   John Penn
South Carolina:
   Edward Rutledge
   Thomas Heyward, Jr.
   Thomas Lynch, Jr.
   Arthur Middleton

[Column 3]
Massachusetts:
John Hancock
Maryland:
Samuel Chase
William Paca
Thomas Stone
Charles Carroll of Carrollton
Virginia:
George Wythe
Richard Henry Lee
Thomas Jefferson
Benjamin Harrison
Thomas Nelson, Jr.
Francis Lightfoot Lee
Carter Braxton

[Column 4]
Pennsylvania:
   Robert Morris
   Benjamin Rush
   Benjamin Franklin
   John Morton
   George Clymer
   James Smith
   George Taylor
   James Wilson
   George Ross
Delaware:
   Caesar Rodney
   George Read
   Thomas McKean

[Column 5]
New York:
   William Floyd
   Philip Livingston
   Francis Lewis
   Lewis Morris
New Jersey:
   Richard Stockton
   John Witherspoon
   Francis Hopkinson
   John Hart
   Abraham Clark

[Column 6]
New Hampshire:
   Josiah Bartlett
   William Whipple
Massachusetts:
   Samuel Adams
   John Adams
   Robert Treat Paine
   Elbridge Gerry
Rhode Island:
   Stephen Hopkins
   William Ellery
Connecticut:
   Roger Sherman
   Samuel Huntington
   William Williams
   Oliver Wolcott
New Hampshire:
   Matthew Thornton

UPDATE: I had also intended to publish Lincoln's speech regarding the meaning of the Declaration in the Lincoln-Douglas debates. Powerline has done so. Posted by jeff at 12:01 AM | TrackBack

June 29, 2005

AN INTRODUCTION TO THE POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY OF THE CONSTITUTION

I got this from Betsy. Absolutely spot-on brilliant.

Posted by jeff at 2:50 PM | TrackBack

June 24, 2005

Correctable Flaws

It strikes me that there are two flaws which lead to a lot of unnecessary problems in the US. One is a flaw of libertarianism, and the other a flaw of the US legal system.

The libertarian flaw is its absolutism. More particularly, it's failure to recognize density. Let me back up a bit.

When a single person is alone in a vast wilderness, it is simply the case that anything they can do is theirs to do by right: an assertion of a right is after all nothing more than saying that by doing a thing, no one else can claim to be prevented from doing the same thing. (For example, if I say something offensive, it does not prevent another person from saying something else. If I use my property as I see fit, it does not prevent others from using their property as they see fit, and so on.)

Bring two people together, and conflicts begin to arise almost immediately. My claim to a particular item as my property is questionable as a matter of right: why is it mine and not the other person's? I have the right to express an opinion, but do I have the right to express an opinion on the street outside your house at 2am using a bullhorn? It becomes obvious that rights are limited to the extent that they are contestable on rational grounds, so much so that it is a cliché that "your right to swing your fist ends at my nose."

But libertarianism in general is blind to such conflicts, resorting to absolutism and only very vaguely defining the boundaries within which rights can be exercised. This probably - apparently - works fine in situations where the population density is low. If I'm at my Dad's house in the middle of the Ozarks, I can play music at any volume at any time and disturb no one but my parents. If I'm in an apartment in Chicago, playing music loudly at midnight is quite disturbing. Trust me: when I was in an apartment in Chicago, our neighbors one time were playing loud music at midnight; I was disturbed. What libertarian theory of property accounts for this? None of which I am aware. And it seems obvious that as density increases, rights must inevitably decrease if civil society is to be maintained.

So it seems to me that a needed advance in libertarian thought would be to define how rights are gained and lost based on the population density and other factors (association, familial bonds, etc), such that a consistent determination of rights can be made. It might actually be reasonable to deny rights in a city that would be beyond the pale in the country. This is not hypocrisy, but respect.

The second problem, the one of American law, is actually related. Our system of property rights is fundamentally broken. There is no concept of how property comes into existence (enclosure) or how it goes out of existence (abandonment). All property is assumed to be enclosed (at least since the frontier was closed in the early 1900s), and no property is ever considered to be abandoned. With the recent Supreme Court decision suggesting that "a limited time" is any time that is not actually infinite, no matter how long it might be, this has come to be a problem with intellectual as well as physical property.

Let's take some cases where a clear law on abandonment would serve a real societal purpose. The first that comes to mind is an abandoned building. Let's say that the owner of the building has, for some fixed period of time, not maintained the building, secured it, or even visited it. At some point, doesn't it simply make sense that the owner no longer maintains any interest in the property? And if that is so, why not allow squatters to claim the property and take title? It would certainly have the potential to help the problems of both homelessness and blight, as owners who gain no value from the property could be exchanged painlessly for owners who would find value. It might not be worth the money for a property owner to maintain a slum building, while it might be worthwhile to the homeless to have a place to live for the cost of their labor in maintaining it. But the law allows no such thing.

A second case is evident in copyrighted works. Let's say that a book is written, but after several years goes out of publication. Under current law, the copyright owner maintains rights for so long that the odds of such a work simply dropping into oblivion (because no copies survive long enough to enter the public domain) is quite high. Yet others might find value in maintaining the work, shifting it to new formats (such as digital reproductions) as they become available, and so on. As it is now, there is too much risk in doing so: the heir of the original copyright holder, long dead, could still sue you into oblivion if, for some reason, the abandoned work becomes profitable at some future time. This does not, as the Founders plainly meant, advance the sciences or arts in any meaningful way.

Why not create a law whereby intellectual property is abandoned if a nominal fee is not periodically paid to the government to maintain title to the work? It would increase the public domain dramatically, reduce the chances of works disappearing, and not diminish the real rights of intellectual property creators (if it's not worth, say, $1 every 20 years to maintain, you really don't derive any value from it anyway).

It seems to me that both of these problems are fixable - the property rules by simple lawmaking, the density problem by someone more clear-minded than I - and that both need to be fixed.

Posted by jeff at 11:24 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

June 23, 2005

The Final Arbiter

Jack Kelly of Irish Pennants, in an essay I otherwise agree with, says:

The second [Constitutional amendment that would provide a way to diminish the reach of activist judges] is to do what the Founding Fathers didn't, and establish a means for resolving disputes in Constitutional interpretation among the three separate, but equal branches of the federal government.

Judicial review is nowhere mentioned in the Constitution. In his landmark decision in the case of Marbury v. Madison, Chief Justice John Marshall said it was implied by the Founders. But James Madison hotly disputed this, and Madison took part in writing the Constitution. Marshall did not.

Not providing a means for addressing disputes in constitutional interpretation was one of the (few) mistakes the Founders made, like the original method for selecting the vice president (the guy with the second highest total of electoral votes). There needs to be a power of judicial review. But the one unelected branch should not be able to run roughshod over the other two.


This is a fundamental mistake; the same mistake in fact, that the justices made in Marbury v. Madison: the meaning of the Constitution is not up to the government.

The reason that no final arbiter of Constitutional meaning is named in the Constitution itself is that, in a free Republic, every citizen is the arbiter of Constitutional meaning. If I, for example, am seated on a jury, and find the law with which the defendant is charged to be unconstitutional, it is my duty as a citizen to find the defendant not guilty. If I am a judge, and find the law under which a person is charged to be unconstitutional, it is my duty as a citizen to dismiss the case. If I am a police officer, who after all is merely charged with doing full time what all citizens are supposed to do opportunistically (that is, to enforce the laws duly set out under the authority of the appropriate governing documents that bind me), and I find that a law is unconstitutional, it is my duty as a citizen to not enforce that law. The same goes for a district attorney.

And this power works in reverse: if the Court attempts to strike down a law that is Constitutional, the President and Congress and every citizen should ignore the Court on that issue. (That option, obviously, is not available to the defendant in the case at issue, who is still bound by the decision of the Court. The key is to keep that decision from having broader effect.)

And what goes for any other citizen goes for the President: no matter what the Supreme Court says, the President should not enforce an unconstitutional law. And it goes for the Congress: unconstitutional acts by the President should be a case for impeachment. And it goes for the Courts: a power unconstitutionally granted the Court by law is still unconstitutional.

In fact, Marbury v Madison itself shows that the Court itself recognized this to some degree: the Court refused to use a power (to issue writs of mandamus) granted it by the Congress, when the Congress had no Constitutional authority to grant the Court that power. Had the Court stopped there, rather than arrogating the power to strike down as unconstitutional any law, rather than to prohibit the application of that law in cases that come before it, Marbury v Madison would have been a good precedent. As it is, it must be reigned in, but not by giving the government the exclusive control of the Constitution that Kelly's proposal would inevitably grant.

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June 22, 2005

Guns in Society

Daniel Nexon at the Duck of Minerva disagrees with my claims that it is the right of the Zimbabwean people to be armed against their government and to resist it with force. Daniel's is an excellent post, and you should read it. However, I would like to note that the if one takes up arms in self-defense, it is not the defender who has created the "state of war", but the attacker. The defender has merely recognized the state exists and taken reasonable action to survive under those conditions.

The decision to defend one's self, loved ones and property is not the least problematic. It is the decision to take up arms (within the context of society) as an aggressive means that is problematic. This is why vigilantism is so worrisome: it is a sign that the citizens do not trust the rule of law on the matter at hand. And taking up vigilantism is problematic, because it means that you are acting outside the law. Even correct action outside the law can be corrosive to society, and should only be done in extreme circumstances.

The key is taking responsibility for one's actions within society.

But in the case where the government takes up arms against a subset of its people, it is certainly the people's right to defend themselves against that government. Otherwise, the entire founding basis of liberal political thought - that the government exists to serve the people - is worthless, and tyranny of a more or less benign nature (and no, you don't get to choose) is inevitable.

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May 18, 2005

The Fundamental Condition of True Peace

Joe Katzman at Winds of Change delivers a must-read essay on the history, meaning and implications of the Bush Doctrine. Should the Bush Doctrine become bipartisan US policy - by no means assured at this point - Joe's essay gives a good indication of how we will be engaged in the world for the next half century or more.

I think, by the way, that one way of helping the Bush Doctrine towards becoming bipartisan US policy will be to change its name. It is simply and sadly the case that a large number of Americans will not accept the policy just because it is named for President Bush. As the Truman Doctrine was also known as containment, there needs to be another moniker for the Bush Doctrine. I don't have any good suggestions at the moment.

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September 12, 2003

Incompetence This Great...

Note: this is a post recovered from my old blog, before it died of an insufficient backup. Any comments/trackbacks on it have not been brought over, but can be seen with the original. The date is that of the original posting.

Kim du Toit makes a great point:

The other day our Carpenter's helper heard me say something along the lines of, "it is difficult to conclude that incompetence is the reason why our public schools have deteriorated. There comes a point where you have to suspect sabotage, or a conspiracy."

He asked me if I really meant that. I gave him the five minute explanation of John Dewey's known affiliation with communists, his frequent essays and articles about the wonders of the Soviet education system, and his quote, "You can't make Socialists out of individualists. Children who know how to think for themselves spoil the harmony of the collective society which is coming where everyone is interdependent."

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July 10, 2003

The Foundations of Free Societies

Note: this is a post recovered from my old blog, before it died of an insufficient backup. Any comments/trackbacks on it have not been brought over, but can be seen with the original. The date is that of the original posting.

Tarek Heggy, guest blogging at Winds of Change, discusses how the ballot box is not the most important component of democracy; rather, the institutions underlying a free society are necessary for representative government to succeed. This is something I've written about before in regards to Iraq, and it is a pet peeve of mine when people trumpet elections as being the sum total of freedom.

Heggy lists the following conditions as reforms necessary to create a free society:

  • Laying down the policies and creating the mechanisms and organizations required for the conduct of democratic political action in an institutionalized fashion.
  • Creating the ideal framework for the growth of civil society institutions, which are the first line of defense against fascist forces that claim to be the holders of absolute truth.
  • Proceeding on the path of economic reform while never wavering from the ultimate objective of reducing the role of the State in economic life from a patriarchal role to a less intrusive role, albeit one that is decisive when it comes to laying down economic policies and guaranteeing their observance.
  • Reforming educational institutions, which have sunk to abysmal standards in most countries today, producing graduates who are totally unfit to cope with the challenges of contemporary life. Our educational institutions are among the worst, and the only voices raised in their defense belong to those who contributed to their decline.
  • Reforming media institutions which, in much of the Third World, continue to apply Goebbels' understanding of their role as propaganda machines serving the government, and turning them into institutions which set themselves the contemporary goal of serving the consumer.

I'd like to restate these prerequisites/reforms, and maybe add a few, as follows:
  • Recognized and protected private property rights - the ability of anyone to obtain, have and use real property, and to sell or give that property without restriction; the ability to defend that property from attempts to take it by force.
  • Free economy - the ability to form businesses, employ and terminate the employment of workers, and keep the profits (if any) of those businesses; to loan and be loaned money or other resources (including rights to property owned by another); to work for onesself or for another, at whatever trade or profession one desires. This cannot exist without recognized and protected private property rights, and is an inevitable outgrowth of those rights. (If a free economy doesn't exist, you cannot sell your property freely, for example.)
  • Personal security - being free of the threat of sudden death, loss of property, or loss of liberty (whether from government, or from individuals or organizations) without yourself acting to trigger such a threat (by, for example, trying to rob someone). This includes the ability to defend one's security by force of arms.
  • Personal liberty - the ability to do what one wishes, so long as it does not interfere with the property, life or liberty of someone else. This includes the freedoms of speech and religion, as well as the freedom to defend one's liberty by force of arms.

In other words, we are back to Adam Smith's "life, liberty and property" as the underpinnings of a free society. Representative government cannot long exist without these underpinnings. These underpinnings cannot be maintained without the ability to defend them from threats - whether by a constabulary, a militia or individual action.

Then, after these prerequisites are established, is the time to have national elections. (Local elections would almost certainly come about during the establishment of the prerequisites, as a way of settling purely local disputes.) It is this that we need to undertake in Iraq - and that fortunately we seem to be undertaking in Iraq. It is this process that needs to be undertaken - quickly or slowly - in any society that wants to be free.

These are not, of course, guaratees of a long-maintained free society. Such a society must have certain characteristics of government (including respect for and observance of the rule of law, regular and regulated entry to and leaving from office, separation of powers within any given layer of government past the county level, franchise limited to those who have an interest in the future of the state, apportionment of power and responsibility to distinct interest groups (doesn't necessarily need to be regional, as the United States is), and decreasing power with increasing scope (so that the local government - the easiest to escape - would have the most power over individuals, while the national government - the most difficult to escape - would have virtually no power over individuals.) However, without the pre-requisites, the form of government is meaningless, because it will not last past the first strongman with determination and followers.

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IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

Note: this is a post recovered from my old blog, before it died of an insufficient backup. Any comments/trackbacks on it have not been brought over, but can be seen with the original. The date is that of the original posting.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.--Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good. He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them. He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only. He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures. He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people. He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within. He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands. He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers. He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries. He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance. He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures. He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power. He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation: For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us: For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States: For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world: For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent: For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury: For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies: For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments: For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever. He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us. He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people. He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation. He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands. He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

The 56 signatures on the Declaration appear in the positions indicated:

Column 1
         Georgia:
         ���Button Gwinnett
         ���Lyman Hall
         ���George Walton

Column 2
North Carolina:
���William Hooper
���Joseph Hewes
���John Penn
South Carolina:
���Edward Rutledge
���Thomas Heyward, Jr.
���Thomas Lynch, Jr.
���Arthur Middleton

Column 3
Massachusetts:
John Hancock
Maryland:
Samuel Chase
William Paca
Thomas Stone
Charles Carroll of Carrollton
Virginia:
George Wythe
Richard Henry Lee
Thomas Jefferson
Benjamin Harrison
Thomas Nelson, Jr.
Francis Lightfoot Lee
Carter Braxton

Column 4
Pennsylvania:
���Robert Morris
���Benjamin Rush
���Benjamin Franklin
���John Morton
���George Clymer
���James Smith
���George Taylor
���James Wilson
���George Ross
Delaware:
���Caesar Rodney
���George Read
���Thomas McKean

Column 5
New York:
���William Floyd
���Philip Livingston
���Francis Lewis
���Lewis Morris
New Jersey:
���Richard Stockton
���John Witherspoon
���Francis Hopkinson
���John Hart
���Abraham Clark

Column 6
New Hampshire:
���Josiah Bartlett
���William Whipple
Massachusetts:
���Samuel Adams
���John Adams
���Robert Treat Paine
���Elbridge Gerry
Rhode Island:
���Stephen Hopkins
���William Ellery
Connecticut:
���Roger Sherman
���Samuel Huntington
���William Williams
���Oliver Wolcott
New Hampshire:
���Matthew Thornton

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July 8, 2003

The Burdens of Citizenship

Note: this is a post recovered from my old blog, before it died of an insufficient backup. Any comments/trackbacks on it have not been brought over, but can be seen with the original. The date is that of the original posting.

Eugene Volokh points out (hat tip: InstaPundit) an extraordinary example of judicial incompetence: the Nevada Supreme Court has ordered the Nevada Legislature to ignore an inconvenient provision in the State's Constitution! While Professor Volokh brings up both impeachment and recall as possible remedies, he leaves unsaid that there are duties imposed upon citizens which come into play here:

It is the duty of the Nevada Legislature to ignore the Court's decision.
If the Legislature does not do so, it is the duty of the people to not pay the increased taxes that would result.
It is the duty of the prosecutors to not file charges against people who do not pay such taxes (assuming they pay their previous taxes.)
It is the duty of the police to not arrest people charged on such an account.
It is the duty of the duty of jurists not to convict a person so tried.

It is, in short, the duty of every citizen to respect and uphold both the national and their State's Constitution, and to not do so would be tragic, in that it would set the precedent (or reenforce the perception) that the citizens are not particularly concerned about their Constitutional rights.

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July 1, 2003

The Axioms of Liberty

Note: this is a post recovered from my old blog, before it died of an insufficient backup. Any comments/trackbacks on it have not been brought over, but can be seen with the original. The date is that of the original posting.

The first nation to come to grips with personal freedom was England. Over a period of several hundred years, the institutions necessary to allow ordinary individuals to attain wealth and some measure of independence came into being, in a bitterly-contested battle between the supporters of the monarcy, and the various populist factions which arose over time. But England most emphatically did not want to extend these rights to overseas colonies. The pressures that this put on the American colonies, where the colonists were after all British citizens and subjects, led to the Declaration of Independence, which was perhaps the most elegant statement of Liberty ever conceived:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,--That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Today, throughout the world, these very basic freedoms are under threat even in nations nominally free. The progressive, fascist, socialist and communist movements which rose in America and Europe in the late 19th and throughout the 20th centuries, have undoubtedly brought advances in our knowledge and experience; they have also in many ways weakened the fundamental commitment to Liberty of these nations. In the US, it is in some places not legal to defend one's own life, or the life of one's family. In England and Australia and across Europe, the situation is more dire than that. In many countries in Europe, the ability to express an opinion is hindered by hate crimes laws, so that putting up a poster can get you banned from the EU.

I assert that it is self-evidently true, that each person is sovereign unto themselves, and possessed of innumerable rights, including

To live without fear of arbitrary violence, or arbitrary confinement, or loss of liberty, or of involuntary servitude;

To be free of compulsion, except to adhere to a contract freely agreed, or as adjudged by a court under due process of law;

To live in whatever manner they choose, so long as in doing so they do not infringe on another's right to do the same;

To accumulate property and wealth, and to use that property and wealth in whatever manner they desire, so long as such use does not foreclose others the use of their own property; and to sell, lease, rent or transfer that property without restriction;

To associate with other people or groups of their choice, in the manner of their choosing, and to peaceably assemble in the place and at the time of their choosing;

To observe their religious beliefs as they choose;

To hold and express opinions, to state facts, to express judgements and to disseminate these in any manner they desire;

To participate in the operation of their government, by being eligible for election to office, and to vote at election regardless of personal circumstance, provided that they have obtained a sufficient age as determined by law;

To raise their children according to the dictates of their conscience;

To be free from the threat of searches and seizures, except upon presentation of a warrant, drawn by a court of law upon the affirmation of their involvement in the commission of a crime;

To be free from the threat of repeated prosecution for the same event;

To be free from the threat of torture, or of any other cruel or unusual treatment, either under questioning, or for punishment, or for any other purpose;

To be represented at any trial to which they should be subjected; to confront their accusers; to bring forth evidence in their favor; to be tried in an area local to them by a jury of their peers; to be free of the compulsion to testify against themselves; to be tried within a short time of accusation; to be free of the threat of accusation for any event which happened in the distant past, and against which it is therefore difficult to defend;

To defend their person, property and rights by any necessary means, and to that end to be able to keep and bear arms sufficient to the purpose.


The only legitimate purpose of government is to secure those rights and liberties. To do so, a government must

Draw its powers from the consent of the governed;

Provide for, and itself be subject to, the rule of law;

Ensure that each person is equally subject to, and equally protected by, the law, and no person receive any special or particular benefits or penalties on account of their position, notoriety, race, gender, place of origin, or age, except that an age of majority may be fixed by law, and used for such purposes as the law may allow;

Provide for the selection of its officers, and of the representatives of its citizens, by free and fair election;

Restrict the exercise of its powers in proportion to the number of people over which that power has an effect, and in particular to exercise its powers as locally as possible;

Be so constituted that its officers serve at the pleasure of the people, or of their representatives, subject to recall or impeachment of any officer, and repeal or amendment of any law by referendum;

Implement any source of revenue, or raise any rate of revenue, without the consent of the people, or the consent of the overwhelming majority of the people's representatives;

Vest control of the military in the hands of the civil authority, and prohibit the military from enforcing domestic law, except on the explicit request of the people's representatives;

Provide that at any level, the power to make laws, to enforce them, and to adjudicate them shall be held by different bodies;

Prohibit the accumulation of power in the hands of certain individuals, by limiting the amount of time during which a person may consecutively serve as a civil officer of government or as a representative of the people;

Vest all power of the making of laws, regulations and statutes in those bodies which have legislative power, such that no person is bound by a law unless it is consented to by a legislature in which they are represented;

Provide no mechanism for the suspension of laws, without the consent of the representatives, or of the people, and in all ways resist such suspensions;

Prohibit any law, regulation or act from applying only to a named person, or to a group so limited as to contain only one person;

Prohibit any law from having retroactive effect;

Reserve all rights and powers to the people, except those delegated by the people to the government by constitution, law, or by referendum;

Provide methods for its citizens to alter, reform or abolish the government peacefully, should the government infringe upon the rights of the people, or be unable to provide for the peace and ability to seek happiness of the people.

Any government must be judged according to its adherence to these principles, and its ability to protect and record of protecting these rights and freedoms.

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May 18, 2003

The Founders' Constitution

Note: this is a post recovered from my old blog, before it died of an insufficient backup. Any comments/trackbacks on it have not been brought over, but can be seen with the original. The date is that of the original posting.

OK, Zenpundit owes me hours, nee days of my life for this link to the Founders' Constitution. Basically, the Founders' Constitution is the entire Constitution, with an incredible amount of backing information from addresses to various legislatures and groups, the Federalist Papers, various writings of prominent politicians at the time and so forth. It's amazing the things that can make me very, very happy.

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April 21, 2003

Freedom

Note: this is a post recovered from my old blog, before it died of an insufficient backup. Any comments/trackbacks on it have not been brought over, but can be seen with the original. The date is that of the original posting.

The cornerstone of being free is being able to maintain that freedom against all threats. Sadly, the greatest threat to any free people is their own government. Governments, after all, have the ultimate tool of forcible coercion: the police and army. There is a way to prevent the government from taking away your freedoms, though, and Bill Whittle nails it. If I could convince every American to read one thing, it would be this: Freedom.

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