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

July 1, 2008

Somehow, I just feel like this is appropriate right now

by Chris Byrne

“Comrade Members, like fire and fusion, government is a dangerous servant and a terrible master.

You now have freedom—if you can keep it. But do remember that you can lose this freedom more quickly to yourselves than to any other tyrant.

Move slowly, be hesitant, puzzle out the consequences of every word. I would not be unhappy if this convention sat for ten years before reporting—but I would be frightened if you took less than a year.

Distrust the obvious, suspect the traditional . . . for in the past mankind has not done well when saddling itself with governments.

For example, I note in one draft report a proposal for setting up a commission to divide Luna into congressional districts and to reapportion them from time to time according to population.

This is the traditional way; therefore it should be suspect, considered guilty until proved innocent.

Perhaps you feel that this is the only way. May I suggest others?

Surely where a man lives is the least important thing about him. Constituencies might be formed by dividing people by occupation . . . or by age . . . or even alphabetically. Or they might not be divided, every member elected at large—and do not object that this would make it impossible for any man not widely known throughout Luna to be elected; that might be the best possible thing for Luna.

You might even consider installing the candidates who receive the least number of votes; unpopular men may be just the sort to save you from a new tyranny. Don’t reject the idea merely because it seems preposterous—think about it! In past history popularly elected governments have been no better and sometimes far worse than overt tyrannies.

But if representative government turns out to be your intention there still may be ways to achieve it better than the territorial district. For example you each represent about ten thousand human beings, perhaps seven thousand of voting age—and some of you were elected by slim majorities. Suppose instead of election a man were qualified for office by petition signed by four thousand citizens. He would then represent those four thousand affirmatively, with no disgruntled minority, for what would have been a minority in a territorial constituency would all be free to start other petitions or join in them. All would then be represented by men of their choice. Or a man with eight thousand supporters might have two votes in this body.

Difficulties, objections, practical points to be worked out—many of them! But you could work them out . . . and thereby avoid the chronic sickness of representative government, the disgruntled minority which feels—correctly!—that it has been disenfranchised.

But, whatever you do, do not let the past be a straitjacket!

I note one proposal to make this Congress a two-house body. Excellent—the more impediments to legislation the better. But, instead of following tradition, I suggest one house legislators, another whose single duty is to repeal laws. Let legislators pass laws only with a two-thirds majority . . . while the repealers are able to cancel any law through a mere one-third minority. Preposterous? Think about it. If a bill is so poor that it cannot command two-thirds of your consents, is it not likely that it would make a poor law? And if a law is disliked by as many as one-third is it not likely that you would be better off without it?

But in writing your constitution let me invite attention the wonderful virtues of the negative! Accentuate the negative! Let your document be studded with things the government is forever forbidden to do. No conscript armies . . . no interference however slight with freedom of press, or speech, or travel, or assembly, or of religion, or of instruction, or communication, or occupation . . . no involuntary taxation.

Comrades, if you were to spend five years in a study of history while thinking of more and more things that your governinen should promise never to do and then let your constitution be nothing but those negatives, I would not fear the outcome.

What I fear most are affirmative actions of sober and well-intentioned men, granting to government powers to do something that appears to need doing. Please remember always that the Lunar Authority was created for the noblest of purposes by just such sober and well-intentioned men, all popularly elected. And with that thought I leave you to your labors. Thank you.”

— Robert Heinlein, “The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress”

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  • Akston

    I suggest one house legislators, another whose single duty is to repeal laws. Let legislators pass laws only with a two-thirds majority . . . while the repealers are able to cancel any law through a mere one-third minority.

    I’ve always loved that concept. :-)

  • sandy sphinx

    “And any law broken by any member of the government yet not brought to trial or, if tried, but not sentenced in the same manner and by the same guidelines as would be the case for any other citizen, shall become null and void three months from the first public notice of such a crime having been committed, and all citizens previously incarcerated under such a law shall gain immediate release and just compensation for time wasted.”

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