Thoughts, essays, and writings on Liberty. Written by the heirs of Patrick Henry.

November 23, 2005

The United States: An Authoritarian Oligarchy?

by Eric

After a variety of conversations with people on how our country can move forward I have come to the conclusion that most of them need to read the Constitution before having that conversation. There is a very limited understanding of what that document says, and yet it is written in plain English and is not difficult to understand. This country was set up so that most power was retained by the states and the people, not the Federal government. But, to avoid situations that many are concerned with, for example a same sex couple who is legally married in California being considered not legally married in Nevada, the framers put this in.

Article 4, Section 1: “Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State.”

The men who wrote the Constitution thought it was obvious that the Federal government had only been granted the powers and privileges enumerated in the document. But Jefferson convinced them that this was dangerous and so they included Amendments IX and X in the Bill of Rights to ensure that the government would not take upon itself more powers than had been granted.

Amendment IX: The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Amendment X: The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

That seems pretty straightforward and obvious to me. I have a really hard time understanding how we have managed to get ourselves into our current situation where the Federal government is involved in every aspect of our lives and consider this to be legal, but I’m not a lawyer. The intent was that if the federal government needed additional powers because of a new or changed situation then an amendment would be proposed and passed. In order to protect us from ourselves, passing amendments was deliberately made difficult. Of course, they didn’t foresee that we would simply put judges on the Supreme Court who would find obscure ways to interpret the words in this document to mean things that were never intended.

What most of us who are for having a federal style of government (which we de facto do not, even if we de jure do) want is a return to the Constitution, not 50 separate countries. The argument against a return to a true federal system is that it would result in a patchwork of laws and standards across the country. That is just what the founders intended because they were well aware that each state had different cultures and needs.

An argument against decentralization of power is that you could find yourself moving from a state with substantial welfare programs and to a state without such programs, which could cause you significant problems. My answer to that is that you should take responsibility for yourself and either not move or make plans to adjust to the situation in the state you are moving to. It’s called personal responsibility.

The men who founded this country certainly had no intention that the government should provide welfare and there is plenty of evidence to support that view. If you disagree with them politically, that’s fine. But realize that they tried to create a situation where the government would not be involved with the welfare of the individual citizen, and such things happened then too. Welfare is not a modern invention. In fact, one of the reasons that they set things up as they did is the lessons they drew from the fate of the various Greek and Roman governments.

On to my issues. It’s not selfishness, although many “liberals” will characterize me as selfish. In fact, I believe that the welfare state is worse for the individual citizens of the state than individualism. The socialist or statist approach is inherently inefficient and deprives individuals of their rights. It’s paternalistic nature leads to a weakening of self-reliance and responsibility. This can be seen by the change, in just a few generations, from most Americans believing they and their family are responsible for their welfare and safety net to most Americans believing that the government is. The welfare state, by its nature, limits economic growth. The best solution to poverty is economic growth, not welfare. LBJ’s Great Society did not end poverty, nor did it even ensure that a lower percentage of people would be below the poverty line.

On the other hand, the rise of the welfare state in this country has, directly and indirectly, given the government more control over the citizens and eroded their liberties and privileges. Long before the Patriot Act the government had a tremendous amount of information collected on all of us and it could be (and sometimes was) used in unscrupulous fashion. Taxation is one of the main ways for the government to take and maintain power from the people, which we recognized when we revolted because we were being taxed without representation.

As mentioned many times before, the men who wrote the Constitution understood that they could not foresee all of the needs of the future. And that is why they built the amendment process into the Constitution. It has been argued that their intent cannot be the only factor when implementing the political system in this country because of those changes they couldn’t foresee. Why can’t their intent be the only factor considered when determining what powers the federal government does or does not have? How would you feel if you signed a contract 10 years ago with your employer and then your employer came to you today and wanted to change something they had guarunteed you in the contract because the situation was different, but they had no intention of renegotiating the contract with you? Remember, one of the premises of our political system is that the government only has those powers that we, the people, grant to the government. The instrument for granting that power is the constitution. Do you feel it is reasonable that government bureaucrats should renegotiate the meaning of that political contract without the input of the citizens? We have a word for that. The word is tyranny.

The purpose of the document was to guard against the problems that democracies, republics and confederations had faced in the past. Of course, we have managed to do just about all of the things they were trying to guard against, with altogether predictable consequences. Many of the things that both the left and right yell about today are consequences of those actions and inactions. I’m always surprised by people who say “all that history is nice, but it doesn’t tell me what to do now”. Of course it does. Either by showing you the way to move forward or showing you the ways that are not good ideas. But our country in the past century or so has had a significant segment of the population decide that history and science are of little value. Indeed many, especially in the so-called intellectual classes, actively dislike and hate the lessons of history and the value of science and technology. The rebirth of the Luddites. We also seem to be of the opinion these days that we can get something for nothing, the proverbial free lunch. The lesson of history is that entropy always increases, free lunch schemes always fail eventually. In the immortal words of Robert Heinlein, “there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch”, aka TANSTAAFL.

Things I hear on a daily basis convince me that we probably can never move forward and out of the oligarchy we have gotten ourselves into. I hear things such as “the low income earners are the majority in this country” and that leaves me more and more pessimistic by the day about the hope that we will peacefully undo the damage we have done. If you look at the real income distribution of this country you find a solid majority in the middle class, income wise. Most of the wealthy in this country are one generation away from being middle class or poor and they got to where they are through hard work, not exploiting the lower classes. In fact, this continuous characterization of upper, middle and lower class is part of the problem. Our economic system is one of the most classless in the world, although the imposition of socialist and quasi-socialist government programs is having the effect of stratifying the classes more and more firmly.

How do we move forward? By realizing that we, individually, are responsible for ourselves, whether we are poor or rich. By recognizing that the government cannot fix things, that government programs do not solve problems but merely create more problems. By believing that we, the people, grant power to the government and the government has no right to take unto itself any power we have not explicitly granted to the government. We reject the oh so genteel and paternalistic desire of some to “take care of us” and stand on our two legs and take care of ourselves. We stop allowing bureaucrats and the oligarchs that we now have in our Congress to twist and interpret the Constitution to allow themselves more and more power and abrogate more and more of ours. We stop trying to use the Constitution to benefit our narrow special interest. Realizing that the power to tax is the most important power of the government and the one most likely to lead to tyranny we vote against any politician who too freely chooses to take our money as taxes and spend it on government programs. We realize that the government can provide for our security against foreign threats, can track down and jail those who cause us physical injury, but cannot make us prosperous or happy, those are things that only we, the people, can do.

How can we move forward? Well, I think it would help tremendously if each and every citizen of this country read and understood the Constitution. The average high school graduate should be able to, it is neither complex nor written in difficult legal language. That would make a tremendous difference when the boys in DC wanted to do something that the Constitution says they can’t do.

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  • http://www.noangst.blogspot.com Mike

    I agree, having them read the Constitution would be excellent, but they MUST understand it. I know far too many people at my university who can rattle off the Bill of Rights like it is nothing, who apparently comprehend both the 9th and 10th Amendments, yet who see nothing wrong with Roe v. Wade. How they make that jump in logic, I’m not entirely sure, but anyway, I’m pretty sure that these kind of people are in the minority, and, we could argue, are the “enemy.”

    It’s far more important to sway the “neutrals” to our side; the people who have never even understood or tried to read the Constitution.

  • http://nomayo.mu.nu Stephen Macklin

    I have always liked the analogy that poverty is like a toothache and welfare is tylenol. It makes the pain go away but does nothing to heal the tooth, which eventually rots completely.

    I think the problem is where and how to start. How do you generate a rebirth of personal responsibility without first reforming government to eliminate the programs that kill self-reliance? And conversely how do you reform government to eliminate the programs that kill self-reliance without first generating a rebirth of personal responsibility?

    I sometimes wonder if the only way to fix the mess isn’t to do it while picking up the pieces when the current system colapses.

  • http://thelibertypapers.org/2005/11/21/who-is-eric/ Eric

    I was talking to my dad the other day about this topic. He says, and I tend to agree with him, the problem is that there is no frontier. There’s no place to go if you don’t like how things are here. Our only hope is space. And if the authoritarians win completely before we get to space, heaven help the human race. All of Earth, today, is in the boat that Europe was in 1600. If we can establish a colony at the space equivalent of Plymouth Rock, we will be in the position Europe was in 1625. Hope will be rekindled, and the knowledge that we have another choice.

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