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

“It's time we asked ourselves if we still know the freedoms intended for us by the Founding Fathers. James Madison said, "We base all our experiments on the capacity of mankind for self-government." This idea that government was beholden to the people, that it had no other source of power, is still the newest, most unique idea in all the long history of man's relation to man. This is the issue of this election: Whether we believe in our capacity for self-government or whether we abandon the American Revolution and confess that a little intellectual elite in a far-distant capital can plan our lives for us better than we can plan them ourselves.”     Ronald Reagan

October 5, 2007

Liberty and 2008 – Part One

by Jason Pye

You can’t help but sit back and look at the current field of Presidential candidates and be disappointed. It’s not like there aren’t distinguished individuals in the field. Out of the seventeen candidates there are some impressive credentials. Nine of them have served as United States Senators. Eight have at some time or another served in the United States House of Representatives. Three have served as Governors of their respective states. Two have been Mayors of major cities. You also have a former United Nations Ambassador and a former First Lady.

Despite those incredibly impressive credentials they have no demonstrated sense of Liberty…and no matter the outcome of the 2008 election, Liberty, and ultimately the American people, stands to lose.

There are a couple of definitions for Liberty. This is the best definition, in my opinion…Liberty is “freedom from control, interference, obligation, restriction, hampering conditions, etc.; power or right of doing, thinking, speaking, etc., according to choice.” I personally do not believe in moral responsibility, not to say that I don’t have certain causes that I feel are worthy of my time and devotion, but I don’t believe an individual has any moral responsibilities with the exception that they do not infringe on the rights of another sovereign individual. Virtually every candidate falls short of meeting this definition.

“Jason, you are just being pessimistic,” you say? I really do wish that were the case. I look at the Democratic field and I see a group of individuals that are so Red they would make Karl Marx proud. I see Republicans that are constantly willing to trade liberty for security, as well as severely overblowing the threat that faces our country…and that is just the beginning with Republicans.

So far there have been several proposals for a government take over of one-seventh of the United States economy through the socialization of the health insurance and healthcare industries. The cost varies between $75 billion to as high as a $150 billion. Some of the Democratic candidates have proposed some form of mandatory “citizen service.” All of them propose increasing the federal government’s role in education, though, to his credit, Mike Gravel did throw out the notion of competition in education, something that is heresy on the Left.

There has even been one crazy proposal Sen. Hillary Clinton to give newborns $5,000 “to help pay for future costs of college or buying a home.” I keep a copy of the Constitution handy and I’m can’t seem to find where one of the delegated powers of Congress (Article I, Section 8) is to give newborns taxpayer dollars.

The cost for this gem of a proposal? To give you some idea, there are around four million births each year in the United States, multiply that by $5,000 and the total comes to $20 billion per year, this doesn’t include interest that would be accrued over the course of eighteen years.

This is not to say that the Barack Obama or John Edwards are any better. Both want will continue to chip away at foundation of Liberty that was laid long ago. Edwards constantly stumps with his “two Americas” rhetoric in a desperate attempt to keep up with the frontrunners. While Obama looks lost on foreign policy and reminds us that no one really knows much about him…and what we do know isn’t anything to write home about.

There has been no mention of entitlement reform, only expanding and adding more entitlements. No mention of lessening the burden on taxpayers, but the plan to soak the rich with even more taxes. No mention of restoring the basic rights of property…and two candidates score very low in on my presidential scorecard on that issue, Sen. Joe Biden and Gov. Bill Richardson.

Biden famously held up a copy of Richard Epstein’s Takings during Clarence Thomas’ confirmation hearings and implied that if he supported the author’s views that he wasn’t fit to serve on the Supreme Court. By the way, eminent domain tends to hurt racial minorities worse than any other demographic. I wonder how Biden would respond to hard questioning on this issue.

Richardson vetoed a property rights measure that would have restricted use of eminent domain in New Mexico. He said the legislation would “bring New Mexicans more harm than good.”

Several of the candidates (Biden, Clinton, Dodd, Edwards, Kucinich) voted (House Roll Call/Senate Roll Call)for the abortion that we call the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, or McCain-Feingold, which is blatant violation of First Amendment guarantee of free speech. Not to be out done, Rep. Dennis Kucinich supports further stifling by promoting the return of the so-called “Fairness Doctrine.”

You can’t help but look over these candidates and see that individual liberty will be subverted, our free-market economy (or what is left of it) will be invaded, some civil liberties may be restored, rights that are actually mentioned in the Constitution, namely economic rights, will continue to be trampled on.

But with all this said most of the Republican candidates are no better. I’ll give my two cents on them next week.

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24 Comments

  1. Well, it’s not really the candidates who are the problem. It’s the American people. We’ve completely lost the motivation to preserve liberty because we have no idea what living under totalitarianism is like. I’m sure many candidates who hold preservation of liberty as the number one priority of government are not too enthused to run considering the lack of enthusiasm for liberty itself. Ron Paul said back early in the year that he was extremely reluctant at the thought of running and viewed his chances very pessimistically.
    My own theory is that as humans we’re never satisfied with the status quo and always yearn for more in life and so we swing from extreme liberty to extreme control, our view of government changing from one of hope to one of horror. Once we realize we’ve gone too far we struggle/battle back to the other side. Right now, the US and western Europe are headed towards increased control while eastern Europe is headed towards increased freedom. Of course, there are a lot of exceptions, but the ultimate point is that even though the nature of government never changes, our perception of it does.

    Comment by somebody — October 5, 2007 @ 3:01 pm
  2. Check out some fiscal facts on senators and congressmen at http://www.ntu.org/main/misc.php?MiscID=11. The report lists the costs/savings of bills our representatives sponsored or cosponsored. It is interesting (and sometimes depressing) to see the amount of spending proposed by our elected officials. Examining past records of candidates may be useful as well (blog.ntu.org/main/post.php?post_id=2689).

    Comment by Concerned — October 5, 2007 @ 4:34 pm
  3. I think you’ve done a great job of identifying the problem, Jason. I’m afraid its going to get much worse before it gets better (if at all). Maybe its going to take Hillary Clinton becoming the 44th President and a Democrat controlled congress with a filibuster proof majority before the American people will wake up. Maybe after 2-4 years of Democrat social engineering, people will be fed up and maybe the Republicans will finally get their act together. If such a scenario was to take place, the Democrats couldn’t get by with blaming everything on the Republicans…they would finally be held accountable.

    Comment by Stephen Littau — October 5, 2007 @ 5:13 pm
  4. Drop all the idealism, its not helping. A leader is just a guy or girl who has enough ego to actually stand in front of everyone and say what they think. I believe all of these canidates have a lot of guts to get up there in front of all the people who do pretty much nothing except complain and take shots at people who are doing something with their lives. No one can take away your liberty unless you let them. And no one is running on a platform of communism or dictatorship. There really is a canidate out there for everyone, and if everyone would vote for the person who holds the most amount of similar values to them, then democracy wins. If your always trying to vote for the winner than you lost your own liberty to stupidity along time ago.

    Comment by josh mcdonald — October 5, 2007 @ 9:35 pm
  5. Democracy winning isn’t always a positive thing. Especially when the largest number of voters decide to start voting themselves large gifts from other peoples’ money and property (in the form of taxes and eminent domain) or where they abridge the rights of a minority they don’t happen to agree with. In fact, democracy kind of sucks. It’s better when the Constitution wins, and Jason’s very valid point seems to be that there are damn few candidates out there in favor of that.

    Comment by UCrawford — October 5, 2007 @ 10:57 pm
  6. UCrawford, I agree that democracy has its problems, but I’ll remind you of Churchill’s comment about democracy being the worst form of government, except for all the others.

    I agree with Jason that we have a pretty sorry lot of candidates this time. It looks as if it will end up being Clinton against Giuliani, with Clinton winning. While I’m not at all enthusiastic about a Clinton presidency, I’m downright terrified of the prospect of a Giuliani presidency — did you read his essay in Foreign Affairs? {shiver}.

    I applaud the first comment from “somebody” who puts the blame squarely where it belongs — on the American people. I fear that our Republic is suffering from serious political arteriosclerosis. Somebody reminded me today that there’s nothing like a good crisis to shake things up and clear out the arteries, but 9/11 made matters worse, not better. My only hope is that at some point Americans will get off their high horses and realize that they have to compete with the rest of the world, that military solutions don’t solve anything, and roll up their sleeves and get to work solving problems. America’s greatest strength in the past has been its can-do pragmatism, but we seem to have lost sight of that, preferring ideological battles to problem-solving.

    Comment by Chepe Noyon — October 5, 2007 @ 11:59 pm
  7. UCrawford, I agree that democracy has its problems, but I’ll remind you of Churchill’s comment about democracy being the worst form of government, except for all the others.

    Churchill was wrong. There is a better form of government, and it predated Churchill’s comments by over 150 years. He should have known better.

    Comment by Bret — October 6, 2007 @ 1:26 am
  8. Bret,

    I agree that Churchill was wrong, I just think that he made the same mistake a lot of people do by lumping in democracy with constitutional republics. It’s a very common error because the differences are so subtle and I think that most people in the world fall prey to the same misconception. I suspect that our current president is among them.

    Comment by UCrawford — October 6, 2007 @ 10:24 am
  9. Chepe,

    Military solutions and violence solve issues all the time. The problem is that they shouldn’t be the first solution we attempt to use and often they are.

    Comment by UCrawford — October 6, 2007 @ 10:25 am
  10. Actually, Churchill was referring to parliamentary democracy (the context was a discussion of the many problems of democracies). But ‘democracy’ as used in such discussions is a broad category encompassing a number of varieties, including constitutional republics. one doesn’t lump democracy in with constitutional republics — constitutional republics are a form of democracy.

    Military solutions and violence solve issues all the time.

    I’ll agree that violence has solved most disputes in the past. In the modern world, however, populations are so high that military approaches seldom yield a final resolution. I’ll agree that it is certainly theoretically possible for a military approach to resolve a dispute, and it is likely that military approaches used as a portion of a larger strategy can be effective. But if you look at the track record of primarily military approaches in the last half-century (Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan (twice), Congo, Arab-Israeli conflicts, Somalia, Lebanon, India-Pakistan, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Chechnya) you see a pretty dismal record. Again, I’m not ruling out the possibility of military approaches yielding a success; I’m observing that they have seldom been successful.

    Comment by Chepe Noyon — October 6, 2007 @ 10:51 am
  11. Chepe,

    Not exactly…ours as originally set up was more of a form of indirect democracy (the Senate and the President not being popularly elected). I agree it’s a form of democracy or a kind of relation, but I think it’s wrong not to differentiate between the varieties when making an argument on the merits of democracy. It’s just too broad of a grouping and that often prevents useful discussion from occuring and creates faulty analysis. Churchill’s remarks may very well have been accurate for the discussion he was having but all too often they are applied to discussions where they are not.

    As for the examples you cite, it depends on what perspective you’re looking at it from. Afghanistan certainly solved a problem for the Afghanis…they wanted the Soviets out and that’s what their war achieved. Israel established itself in the region and forced Jordan and Egypt to deal with them. Several of the other conflicts you list are still ongoing so it’s premature to judge the merits of those conflicts. The problems that wars solve aren’t always about decisive, all-encompassing victories…sometimes the issues they resolve are much smaller and not readily apparent at the time of the conflict. I also believe that part of the reason so many conflicts tend to persist is the international community’s well-meaning but wrong-headed intervention, which prevents these conflicts from coming to an actual end, insulates parties from decisive wins or losses (thereby removing the incentive to negotiate meaningful treaties) and tends to let the resentments simmer and eventually boil over (Israel-Palestine, for example).

    Comment by UCrawford — October 6, 2007 @ 2:57 pm
  12. It’s that long-term simmering that makes military action so pointless. The Afghan wars were started by a Soviet invasion — and were a complete failure from their point of view. The Afghans themselves had war thrust upon them, and their insurgency (with massive American help) was ultimately successful. But look at them now — the place is still a mess.

    Israel may have established itself, but its existence is still threatened. Israel has consistently relied upon military action and the problems that it faced in 1948 have not gone away. Only a diplomatic solution will give them long-term peace.

    Normally violent conflicts are resolved by vast slaughters that effectively destroy the losing community. That kind of solution worked great in the past, when genocide was acceptable, but nowadays we don’t accept those kinds of solutions, and greatly increased populations make it almost impossible to carry them out.

    Comment by Chepe Noyon — October 6, 2007 @ 3:33 pm
  13. Never have I heard from an American’s mouth this statement: “We DON’T have to have it this good.” The truth is, the American people in general are complacent and take their liberties for granted. As I’ve grown up (now 23), I find myself more and more frustrated at what the government prevents me from doing. Nevermind that many of the things I’d like to do are rational or are compatible with the moral law (what many people call the conscience). For example, why can’t I build a deck unto my house without a permit from the city? Don’t I have property rights? It seems that instead of focusing on liberty and how to preserve its various forms, our people and government keep focusing on regulation. I find it troublesome that the statement “There should be a law against that” is a common one. That’s the incorrect mindset for a republic founded on liberty.

    Another point I wanted to make is that though many politicians say they believe in limited government, have they ever thought to stop and examine how many things they’ve voted into law that restrict the public in some way? Maybe they’ve voted for more rules or certain regulations to combat behavior they see as contrary to the public good. Whatever happened to the notion that maybe the government should NOT intervene for everything? Whatever happened to the notion of repealing legislation? Even when one does genuinely want to give the public more choice, why do I find that solving legislative problems with more legislation somewhat illogical? It all gets screwed up in some bundled mess. A great example of this is the U.S. tax code that keeps getting amended in some way every single year. If accountants can’t understand it, how do the common people understand a legislative mess like that?

    Comment by Adam — October 6, 2007 @ 6:23 pm
  14. Adam, I can offer an explanation for building codes. There would never be a problem if no other person ever entered your home and you dismantled your deck before selling the home. But in practice, neither condition is satisfied. It’s very likely that other people will use your deck, and it’s unlikely that you’ll dismantle the deck when you sell the house. So, what happens when somebody steps onto your poorly built deck, it collapses, and they’re injured?

    Now, most libertarians would treat this with tort law. The problem here is that litigation is always more expensive than building codes and seldom yields positive results — you spend more money on the lawyers than on the injury.

    Other problems make tort law ineffective in dealing with this problem. What if you sell the home, don’t tell the new owner about how you never bothered to apply anti-rot coatings to the foundation wood, and they sell it, and twenty years later the deck collapses and a couple of people are injured. It’s all YOUR fault, but how are they going to track you down and make you pay for their injuries? What if you’re dead?

    The idea of building codes is to make buildings safe from the get-go. People shouldn’t have to post certificates at their front doors declaring that the home has been found to meet the standards of the XYZ Building Code. People shouldn’t have to stop at the front door of the house, read the safety certificate, and then decide whether or not to attend the party based on that certificate. While this is theoretically the best approach from a libertarian point of view, in practice it just means that more people will be injured and killed by badly-built structures.

    Oh, one other problem: what happens when the building contractor cuts corners, the apartment building collapses, a dozen people die, another few dozen are seriously injured, and the building contractor declares bankruptcy? Do you just shrug your shoulders and say, “Too bad for them!”

    This is a classic example of good principles being thwarted by ugly practical details. That doesn’t mean that we should abandon libertarian principles. It just means that we can’t get dogmatic about them.

    Comment by Chepe Noyon — October 6, 2007 @ 7:30 pm
  15. Chepe,

    I can see where building codes come from in a practical sense with your explanation, but even if something is practical, it doesn’t make it right. As with many other instances of regulation, I believe the local market conditions should help people to decide what to do with property projects like a deck, not government regulation where you have to get permission from the government to do something on your own property. It seems as if our society is “permit-happy,” with everybody needing permission from the localities to accomplish major home or property projects. Don’t get me wrong, I can see your point about the localities interest in seeing that things are safe and “up to par” so to speak. But if this is the case in most communities, I see yet another instance of sacrificing liberty for safety. I don’t see why I, in a sense of self-interest, that I have to get a building permit to build an addition to my home that may increase its market value. Of course, I would have to take into account that I cannot wreck other people’s property (which is why I wouldn’t erect a power plant on my property) and any homeowners association guidelines, which may or may not apply.

    As far as litigation goes, I think there is an equal chance for there to be trouble with up-to-code building practices. Things may be up to snuff, but there are always chances where one may use crappy building materials or building materials age and become weak over time. Those things, in some instances, are expected, especially when one hires a contractor to build something cheaply. If one gets something for cheap, obviously the builder will use somewhat cheap materials. You get what you pay for and I don’t think that an unreasonable expectation.

    Thanks for the explanation above…I suspect that took awhile to type lolz.

    Comment by Adam Rodriguez — October 7, 2007 @ 10:17 am
  16. Adam, I’d like to suggest a thought for you relating to this statement of yours:

    even if something is practical, it doesn’t make it right

    I’d like to offer the thought that in fact practicality (from society’s point of view, not the individual’s) determines morality. Why do we consider murder to be immoral? Because it’s bad? What does that mean? We all “just know” that murder is bad, but WHY is it bad? Yet we also know that in some cases, such as war, killing is good. So why are there exceptions? Note that the only really consistent factor in all of our moral codes is the good of society. Freedom is ultimately good for society because it unleashes the talents of individuals.

    There are many complexities to consider here, such as the merits of altruistic behavior (Western civilization doesn’t require but certainly applauds fatal self-sacrifice for others.) But the general principle certainly has a great deal of merit.

    Thus, a purely ideological approach (“total individual freedom is absolute right that we’ll never compromise on!”) flies in the face of historical experience.

    Comment by Chepe Noyon — October 7, 2007 @ 2:58 pm
  17. Be careful Adam. Chepe may be right the pure anarchy is impractical and unsustainable, but that does not necessarily justify the status quo. There are many intermediate solutions.

    Why do we consider murder to be immoral?

    Because it deprives another of his freedom.

    Yet we also know that in some cases, such as war, killing is good.

    Self-defense is justified because you have a right to protect your own freedom. Aggression is not.

    Freedom is ultimately good for society because it unleashes the talents of individuals.

    Yes, freedom has practical benefits, but that is not the reason it is desirable. I would gladly accept a less efficient society in exchange for more freedom.

    Comment by Jeff Molby — October 7, 2007 @ 10:41 pm
  18. So Jeff, are you arguing that freedom is the foundation of morality? That all moral questions can be answered by determining the impact upon freedom of the various options?

    Comment by Chepe Noyon — October 7, 2007 @ 10:50 pm
  19. I can’t say I’ve studied the matter enough to conclude that it is the foundation, but it’s certainly closer to the foundation than practicality.

    Comment by Jeff Molby — October 8, 2007 @ 1:11 am
  20. Chepe-

    Regarding “freedom [being] the foundation of morality…”: Well, you could say that, although it would be more accurate to say “an individual’s right to life” is the foundation of all morality.

    And murder is wrong because it impinges on the dead guy’s right to life. Capital punishment (or killing in self-defense) is not wrong, because (presumably) it’s done to people who have violated someone else’s right to life.

    s.s.

    Comment by Steve S. — October 8, 2007 @ 1:27 am
  21. Steve, if an individual’s right to life is the foundation of all morality, then war is fundamentally immoral — yet we do it all the time. That’s the problem with your definition.

    Jeff, let me refine my terminology, because “practicality” is too sloppy a term and will lead to misunderstandings. Instead of the quick and dirty term “practicality”, let me suggest instead “the aggregate health of society”. To some degree, this begs the question by introducing the new term “health of society”, but I think that, for the moment, we can agree on its simple meaning. I’ll likely have to refine the term as we explore more complex issues.

    Note that this terminology includes individual freedom within its scope. Freedom unleashes the talents and energy of individuals, allowing them to make the best possible contribution to society. Yet at the same time it avoids the conundrums that arise when the health of society requires intrusions upon the freedom of individuals. By making freedom the measure of morality, we make it impossible to justify a huge range of socially beneficial policies. Why, for example, should we hold an accused person in jail if he cannot post bail? We are depriving him of his freedom before we have established his guilt — if freedom is the ultimate measure of morality, not social health, then this is an immoral action. There are countless other such examples.

    Again, my definition does not deny the benefits of freedom, but it more precisely evaluates the costs against the benefits.

    Comment by Chepe Noyon — October 8, 2007 @ 9:52 am
  22. Chepe-

    Using an individual’s right to life as the foundation of all morality does NOT necessarily mean that war is fundamentally immoral — it just means we haven’t discussed what a properly derived moral justification for some war(s) might be.

    And just because we “do it all the time” doesn’t mean it’s “right”, or that we should change our definitions and/or basic premises.

    s.s.

    Comment by Steve S. — October 8, 2007 @ 1:16 pm
  23. But Steve, if the right to life is the FOUNDATION of morality, then there’s nothing that can trump it. If it’s the foundation, then everything is built on top of that absolute, and there can be no compromising the foundational principle.

    Comment by Chepe Noyon — October 8, 2007 @ 1:33 pm
  24. …if the right to life is the FOUNDATION of morality, then there’s nothing that can trump it.

    That’s exactly the way it should be. Unfortunately, current events indicate that we are a long way from that ideal.

    s.s.

    Comment by Steve S. — October 9, 2007 @ 1:58 pm

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