“How will they learn to think for themselves if we don’t tell them what to think?” This video is fairly incredible. Great job to all involved.
“How will they learn to think for themselves if we don’t tell them what to think?” This video is fairly incredible. Great job to all involved.
I had a really interesting philosophical discussion with Brad Warbiany, our curator at The Liberty Papers, over a Facebook status I wrote. I had just re-listened to the CBS Radio Workshop rendition of Brave New World and had commented that it seemed like a far more livable situation than 1984.
Warbiany added that California, if Prop. 19 passes and allows the modern equivalent of soma to be freely ingested, the state really will look like Brave New World. With the state already self-organized into a caste system (Listen to someone from Northern California talk about Southern California or someone from Berkeley talk about Sacramento some time), abortion and every sort of contraceptive widely available and the domination of a vapid mass culture (seen at San Diego Comic Con or Wonder Con in San Francisco) taking precedence over civic involvement for Californians, the Golden State really resembles Huxley’s “negative utopia.”
Warbiany also handed me this great cartoon:
On Twitter, alot of progressive and libertarian leaning activists tend to advocate alot for issues of freedom and emancipation in countries like Iran or China. In a way, situations in so obviously repressive countries like those are much easier for the activist. They fit into the Orwell dynamic and the villains and heroes are very clear. In his opposition to the death penalty, our own Stephen Littau does take on the American equivalent to state repression. Along with questionable foreign policy and drug policy, however, those are really the only avenues for passionate American political activism.
Beyond such clear issues of state force, however, one runs into a brick wall when faced with the mass culture, dullness and vapidity of consumer society. It seems that in this society, the majority of more normal people (myself and most people reading this strongly excepted) do not become Jeffersonians but instead “turn on, tune in and cop out,” as Gil Scott Heron once said. How does one become an activist in a society in which people freely subjugate, segregate and limit themselves?
I have a funny story that relates to this, that I didn’t even remember until I read what Brad said. While living in Alameda, California, I lost my phone. A teenage girl, around college age most likely, found it and called my mom, who e-mailed me about it. When I got the phone back, I was really grateful but had no money on hand. The only possession I had literally was a copy of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. I offered it to her.
She literally responded, “No thanks. I don’t read.”
I know. Alameda is not a low income area where reading should be rare, either. There are several bookstores in the area, along with hip restaurants, record stores and everything else you expect in cosmopolitan society. It even has an incredible vintage movie theatre that I rank as the best in Northern California, next to Oakland’s Grand Lake Theatre. This girl was obviously more involved in other factors of modern life, all of which I can safely assume are of less consequence intellectually than the work of Huxley.
It’s especially ironic given that there is a passage in Brave New World in which infants are given books while bombarded with screeching, loud noises, in order to dissuade them from being too intellectual when they reach adulthood. With video games, television, the internet and iPhones, that seems unnecessary as modern people have been incentivized out of intellectualism.
That girl did go to extra trouble to give me my phone back, with no advantage to her, however. That means she had a decency and sense of altruism that her lack of reading hadn’t impeded. Having grown up around the hyper-educated and being on that road myself, I can also attest that we’re not the nicest group of people. Perhaps then we really are on the road to progress.
As cameras have become more available to individuals and government alike, viral videos of cops behaving badly have become quite pervasive on the internet. This short video by The Cato Institute provides a few recent examples of this relatively new phenomenon and explains why recording the actions of police and government officials for all the world to see is good for liberty. Its government that should be watched and its government that should fear the people, not the other way around.
Just as religious groups played a significant role in revoking the freedom to marry in California, it looks like religious groups are subsequently involved in squashing the freedom to put whatever you want in your own body:
The same day Los Angeles Sheriff Lee Baca became co-chair, with Dianne Feinstein, of the No on 19 campaign, he held a press conference to announce the arrest of a suspect in a triple murder case in West Hollywood.
Baca used the platform — and his role as sheriff — to further the goals of the political campaign by railing against medical marijuana dispensaries. He said that they had been “hijacked by underground drug-dealing criminals” and that “it is no surprise that people are going to get killed … drugs and violence go together.”
Baca is an enthusiastic advocate of Scientology’s drug treatment programs, which he actively promotes. Baca has close ties to Scientology, and claims to have to trained deputies in his department using Scientology materials. The Scientology website says that it “sponsors” the independent non-profits drug treatment programs Narconon and Criminon, which and are based on “The Fundamentals of Thought” by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard.
According to a Time Magazine cover story:
Hubbard’s purification treatments are the mainstay of Narconon, a Scientology-run chain of 33 alcohol and drug rehabilitation centers — some in prisons under the name “Criminon” — in 12 countries. Narconon [is a] classic vehicle for drawing addicts into the cult.
Revenues for Narconon and other drug treatment programs are generated in large part by court-ordered rehabilitation for drug users, which would be dramatically reduced if marijuana prohibition ended. Much like other elements of the prison industrial complex, Narconon has campaigned aggressively against medical marijuana over the years.
Every era and generation has a common force of darkness that threatens liberal society. In the first half of the twentieth century, it was aggressive collectivization which resulted in a near dictatorship in the United States and tyrannies in the form of Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, Imperial Japan and Communist China.
The common thread destroying individual liberty in our own age, from women who are forbidden to go to school, cartoonists who are threatened with death for daring to be creative, religious minorities who are terrorized and loving couples who are forbidden to wed due to their matching chromosomes, is religious fundamentalism. It’s our job to fight it.
It’s beginning to be really easy to hate Facebook. While Google has stuck to its libertarian principles of free exchange of information by not cooperating with Chinese censorship, Facebook has become more and more creepy:
The people behind the “Just Say Now” marijuana legalization campaign (oft-Boinged Salon contributor Glenn Greenwald is one of many political thinkers on their board) want Facebook to back off its decision to pull their ads from the social networking service.
This is what Facebook’s PR says:
It would be fine to note that you were informed by Facebook that the image in question was no long acceptable for use in Facebook ads. The image of a pot leaf is classified with all smoking products and therefore is not acceptable under our policies. Let me know if you need anything further.
One key indicator that you are dealing with unapologetic authoritarians is when you’re being harshly reprimanded for violating regulations and rules that are unpredictable, undefinable and more than likely not even known by the person touting them. That appears to be the case with Facebook’s policies:
But the group points out that Facebook’s ad policy doesn’t ban “smoking products,” just “tobacco products.” Also, Facebook does permit alcohol ads, even ads featuring images of alcohol products and packaging, though alcohol ads that make alcohol consumption “fashionable,” “promote intoxication” or that “encourage excessive consumption” are banned. Just Say Now calls Facebook’s action censorship.
Perhaps Facebook goes by the old Jack Webb Dragnet school that pot consists of “marijuana cigarettes.”
There’s alot of faux outrage out there, as the Cordoba Crowds in NYC have shown us. Given the extensive cost to normal livelihoods by the continued prison construction and law enforcement funding required by prohibition, Facebook does deserve to be boycotted for trying to silence a group like Just Say Now.
Just Say Now’s Jane Hamsher, founder of Firedoglake.com, is also on the side of liberty in her fight against punitive immigration laws. Check out an appearance she did that I posted at my website Voice of the Migrant. She’s also a cancer survivor and all around political superhero. Give her support and take it away from Facebook.
I used to think that Jon Stewart was another garden variety left winger but lately, I’ve found him to be perhaps the most reasonable political commentator anywhere. Whether the issue is the controversial South Park episode featuring the prophet Mohammed, Obama’s about face on civil liberties now that he is president, or this most recent ground zero mosque controversy, Jon Stewart, a comedian is the voice of reason as many other pundits take one extreme view or the other.
In this Daily Show segment below entitled “Extremist Makeover – Homeland Edition” Stewart does something that I’ve seen very few pundits do publicly: admit he was wrong. In observing the overreactions of this mosque controversy in which many on the right want to deny freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and property rights to a religious minority out of fear, Stewart realizes that he too overreacted in the wake of the Columbine Massacre when he and others on the left condemned the NRA for going ahead with their scheduled convention in Denver (near ground zero for this tragedy). From there, Stewart plays excerpts from then NRA President Charlton Heston and admits that Heston was right and he was wrong.
If you replace ‘NRA’ with ‘Muslim community’ and ‘Second Amendment’ with ‘First Amendment’ he [Heston] is still right.
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c|
|Extremist Makeover – Homeland Edition|
I did a critique as well as a defense of the ACLU for TLP not too long ago, but another aspect of the ACLU’s approach to defending civil liberties seemed worthy of analysis. Here goes.
On my Facebook feed this evening, I found this snibbet:
Every student deserves the opportunity to attend school and learn free of fear; however, this is not the reality for many LGBT young people in schools across the country. Jamie [Nabozny] experienced the kind of antigay verbal and physical abuse in his school in rural Ashland, Wisconsin, in the late 1980s and early 1990s that can only be described as the stuff of nightmares.
I know what you’re thinking. Michael, I thought you were a liberal. Or a libertarian. Are you about to become a conservative and attack the ACLU for supporting gay people?
No, not at all. What I will criticize the ACLU for is its segmenting the problem of school intimidation into being a “gay” thing instead of it becoming a larger social issue. Children have to face bullying in many of America’s schools that goes way beyond the jabbing that adults have to face, often with adults showing little compassion and instead speaking down to them.
I can attest to this myself. During the zenith of Seattle’s race-based quota system, I found my family relocating to the central part of Seattle, after living in northern Seattle. The cultural shock was extreme. While I’ve become far more knowledgeable of urban culture (I hesitate to say “black culture,” because it’s really more of an urban attitude that represents all colors), the bullying is still extreme in retrospect. The incidents were numerous: buying a pair of shoes I saw a cool kid wearing, that cool kid taunting me for copying him and hitting me upside the head with a metal object, causing my head to bleed and being falsely accused of sexual harassment by a girl in one of my classes I didn’t even know or ever talk to.
There was also bullying in the suburban school I had been to before, as there is everywhere. It was just more extreme at the inner city school. With incidents like Columbine and Virginia Tech, bullying really needs to be addressed on a large scale. Schools can’t have teachers on the payroll that could literally abuse a child and still be protected by a union. Teachers also should be made aware from day one that that kid in the back who is silent and sits alone at a lunchtable isn’t an antisocial troublemaker. He’s scared shitless. Chances are that most of the bullying he’s experienced will be summed up in his adult years as little more than childishness, but at the time, that’s certainly not how he feels. Having an arm around him and someone actually listening to him will change his life.
I certainly was that scared little boy, and I’m a straight white male. As long as public schools perpetuate more as prisons and forms of societal control than places of education, alienated young men will be produced. Utopia, being non-existent and likely impossible, is a very long way off but problems will never be solved with the ACLU approach of “school is hell for LGBT youth.” School is hell for youth period. Do something about it.
When I first heard Pat Buchanan talking about Palestine and Israel as a politically naive teenager, I thought he was a conservative who broke from the path because he thought the Palestinians had been mistreated. Things are obviously a lot more complicated than that.
Given Pat Buchanan’s proclamation that America is “a country built by white people” and his writing of an entire book called The Unnecessary War, a historical revisionist screed based on the absurd premise that Winston Churchill led Adolf Hitler into war, his declaration that there are “too many Jews on the Supreme Court” and his fear of “losing White America” (all of which is the tip of the iceberg for Buchanan) my own suspicions have arisen about where Buchanan is coming from. It seems as if he shares Mel Gibson’s ideology and sees the Palestinians as victims of another war started by the killers of Christ. Why else does he consistently stick up for one oppressed group but no other (like gays, for instance)?
As a person who generally thinks that freedom of religion is good and that people should be able to believe whatever it is that they want, I generally agree with Buchanan in this video:
However, politics does make strange bedfellows and it is easy, especially if governed by principle, to end up associated with a group you have little else in common with based on one or two issues. (This is an eternal curse for libertarians.) Buchanan, as an intellectual conservative, seems to know enough about history to find common sympathy with Muslims who are in conflict with Jews. He’s not the first European anti-semite to do so.
If you find yourself agreeing with Buchanan on policy towards Israel or Muslims, don’t. Read Edward Said’s Blaming the Victims instead, which was co-written by Christopher Hitchens and Noam Chomsky (both of which are most definitely not harboring anti-semitism). If you find yourself in agreement on the insanity of many politicians’ responses to the building of a Muslim community center two blocks from Ground Zero in NYC, don’t. Read Christopher Hitchens’ article on the subject instead.
Pat Buchanan is apparently a really nice and cordial fellow, but he carries with him some wicked and nasty ideas and prejudices.
Rules, rules, rules. You try to do something nice. You try to organize a little competition for homebrewers where they can have their craft evaluated, judged, and [even for those who don’t win] provide valuable feedback on technique. It’s done in private events, county and state fairs, organized by major breweries and by national brewing-centric organizations. As a regular competitor, I know how valuable that feedback can be in improving my beer.
This year, however, they dropped the hammer in Oregon, over a stupid law that nobody even realized was on the books:
When the 2010 Oregon State Fair opens on Aug. 27, there won’t be an amateur beer-brewers competition for the first time in 22 years.
An overlooked, 80-year-old statute that says Oregon home-brewed beer can’t leave the home has forced fair organizers to cancel the competition, which had 335 entrants last year, says Oregon Liquor Control Commission spokeswoman Christie Scott.
Brewers were reminded of the statute after the Oregon Department of Justice clarified the law for a pub seeking to serve home brew at an event, Scott says. “As long as this is the law, we have to enforce it,” she says, adding that the commission hopes to see the statute changed in time for the 2011 fair.
Nationally, federal regulations allow homebrewing as long as the beer is not sold and is subject to a 200-gallon household limit per year. (As an aside, one of my personal goals is to exceed that limit at least once.) The federal regulations say nothing about transportation of the beer, so this is purely an Oregon thing. Which is especially sad, since Oregon is one of the leading states driving the craft beer movement.
People romanticize government as our protectors, but forget that their meddling ways (and incompetence about what laws even exist) can be arbitrarily used to shut down a good time, despite the fact that nobody at the Oregon State Fair Homebrew Competition wanted or needed protection.
What’s next, shutting down a little girl’s lemonade stand because she doesn’t have a business license? Too late…
Hat Tip: Reason
“Let’s cut to twenty-five years later, I’m still married – none of my kids have been busted for drug possession. Can Al and Tipper Gore say the same thing? I don’t think so – oh, snap!” — Twisted Sister frontman Dee Snider
We’re not gonna take it,
No, we ain’t gonna take it
We’re not gonna take it
There are serious concerns about radical Islam and political Islam as a movement. It’s something we should be seriously conscious of. I’ve written about this extensively here at TLP.
Given that, there is a very, very fine line between critiquing the retrograde nature of radical Islam and outright xenophobia. I honestly find it hard to discern this line myself, since I am fully ready to call out efforts by Christians, Muslims or any other group to insert religious dogma into politics. Wherever that line is, it is more than readily apparent that many who are protesting the building of a mosque near Ground Zero in New York have crossed it.
There’s a part of the constitution that I’m especially fond of. It’s called the First Amendment:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
The “free exercise thereof” doesn’t just mean free exercise of Roman Catholicism, the faith of mosque critic Newt Gingrich, or Lutheranism, the denomination of Michelle Bachmann, another critic. It counts for Muslims, Jews, Christians, Buddhists or Hindus.
I was recently contacted by Templeton Press, the publishers of a new book called “New Threats To Freedom”. While I have not read the book at this time, judging by the theme and by some of the authors who submitted, it’s definitely intriguing.
In the run up to their paperback edition, they’re holding a contest for writers to submit their own new threats to freedom*:
In the spirit of these essays, write or post a response to the question:
What is an emerging threat to freedom and why is it critical to address it in today’s society?
First Place $500
The winning entry may also be considered for inclusion in the paperback edition of New Threats to Freedom.
Entries must be posted on a personal or professional blog no later than August 15, 2010, by 11:59 p.m. EST.
Blog posts must be 500 words or less.
Entrants must eighteen years or older.
Seems interesting. I’m not sure if I’ll submit something or not, but I’ll make the following offer to our readers:
If you think you have something worthy of submission [and I agree], but don’t have your own blog to present it, I am willing to offer space here at The Liberty Papers to submit your entry as a guest post. Since this is our own space on offer, some caveats apply**.
If you’re interested, contact me at the email address on the left sidebar.
» Read more
This past Monday, Samuel Alito, writing for the majority (with separate concurring opinions from Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia) in the case McDonald vs. City of Chicago and Village of Morton Grove; handed down what in 30 years will I believe, be held as one of (or perhaps half of a pair of, or the second in a series of) the most significant rulings in the courts history, not just for the right to keep and bear arms, but for the rights of all people in this nation.
I had meant to get this post out yesterday, but I had to take the time to read the entire opinion… all 214 pages of it… and think about it for a bit.
This judgment is notable, both for what it does, and for what it does not do; and I want to go into that in some depth… and I want to go into some of the background and issues surrounding the decision that aren’t necessarily about the right to keep and bear arms
However, that is going to get long…. and if you aren’t interested in constitutional law and the nature and exercise of the rights and powers of the states, it’s going to be boring. There’s only so much you can do to make enumeration and separation of powers issues over more than two hundred years, all that interesting.
Note: Also, for those of you who DO closely follow con law, this is going to be a gross simplification in some ways. I don’t have time to write a book here, and a book is what it would take to cover this comprehensively (actually several… there are a few out there already, and Heller and its progeny are sure to generate more).
At any rate, I’m going to break it out into another posts, and I’ll update this post with a link when I finish the other one.
… I should warn you, I’m already 5,000 words in, and I’m probably less than half done…
McDonald vs. Chicago is the first major gun rights case brought before the supreme court under the clarified Heller doctrine, to wit:
The right to keep and bear arms for all lawful purposes is an individual right, possessed by all citizens and lawful residents of this country (provided this right has not been statutorily stripped from them, with due process of law); and the core of that right, is the fundamental right to defense of self, and others.
Actually, McDonald is a bit more than just “first”… In fact, the case was prepared in advance, and filed immediately on the handing down of the Heller ruling; by the lead counsel on the Heller case, Alan Gura.
The issue at hand in Heller was to affirm and clarify the basic right; something which those on the left in general, and in the gun control lobby in particular, had been trying to deny for something like the last 40 years
Note: The modern gun control movement as currently constituted really began in the late 60s; roughly coinciding with accelerating decay of civil order and rise in civil unrest, the rise of the drug and counterculture, and dramatically rising crime rates.
More than anything else, it was the assassination of Robert Kennedy, and Martin Luther King that kick-started the gun control movement as it exists today.
The gun control movement in the U.S. as a whole has its roots in racial discrimination against immigrants in the pre-civil war northern cites, and blacks in the post civil war south.
Up until the late 1950s, the left as a whole actually advocated gun ownership, as a bulwark against the state… a position generally ascribed these days to the “far right”; but as the left post 1932 increasingly BECAME the state, their position on civilian non-police gun ownership changed.
The issue at hand in McDonald is substantially identical to Heller, with a crucial difference we’ll discuss in a moment; that of incorporation of the second amendment against state and local governments, as other rights enumerated in the bill of rights have been.
In Heller, the substance and nature of the right were affirmed. However, though the assertion of the right is very clear; it’s application is potentially limited.
Because the Heller case pertained to a federal enclave (Washington D.C. is not a part of any state. It is a federal enclave. Precedent in DC cases applies federally, but not necessarily to issues in the several states), the ruling only explicitly applied to the federal government.
In principle the right could be asserted against the states, or it could not be… depending on judicial interpretation. Either way a judge decided, it would almost be certain to be appealed… as indeed it was (in at least four cases so far, all of which were delayed pending the McDonald ruling).
Also, Heller left various questions open to interpretation, such as the standard of review for laws pertaining to the right to keep and bear arms, and whether interest balancing tests could be made.. or for that matter just what types of laws would be acceptable short of outright bans on firearms in the home (which were explicitly forbidden).
In Mondays decision on McDonald, it was affirmed (quite strongly), that the rights protected by the second amendment are equal in stature to the rights protected by the first amendment, and all the others.
In both the majority opinion, and the concurrences, the court made it explicit that the protections afforded by the second amendment applied against the state. Further, they made it clear that a strict standard of review was to be applied to any law regarding the right to keep and bear arms (though they do not by any means disallow all regulation. In both Heller and McDonald, it is acknowledged that some regulation of any right can be acceptable, but must be strictly scrutinized).
There is still one set of questions to be resolved, what exact restrictions against keeping and bearing arms will be acceptable under this standard of review. Just as there are many limitations against speech permitted by current jurisprudence, including many which probably should not be allowed under the constitution (such as most of what is called “campaign finance reform”); there will likely still be substantial restrictions allowed by the court. In any case, it will be years… likely decades… before the whole issue is settled law, and in the mean time, there will be a lot of contradiction and chaos.
The fight is certainly not over… in fact it’s really just getting started.
This is where we get into the theoretical discussion about the constitution, so I think I’m going to end here and pick it up in the next, much longer, post.
This is a segment in The Liberty Papers’ continuing “Point/Counterpoint” series. This post is the rebuttal to my co-contributor Michael Powell’s post here, making the point that “states’ rights” are an antiquated and poisoned concept.
When I saw Michael’s post this morning, I was a little bit surprised. I was expecting him to make the argument that States’ Rights don’t exist. In fact, I was waiting for one specific statement that I’ve heard from those who attack the notion of states’ rights many times over. Thankfully, two comments in, commenter John222 made the point:
States don’t have rights, individuals do. Better would be to say, “The interest of the State in protecting the rights of it’s citizens”.
This is a common statement among libertarians, and although I’ve probably used it in the past, there have been points where I’ve become troubled by it.
Michael made some very important points in his post, and these are points that must be answered. However, to begin, we must have an understanding of the origin, the nature, and the limitations of states’ rights. Only by setting this groundwork may I refute Michael. But first, a caveat. In order to make the points I must make, I must work with two critical assumptions:
For those that have read my previous work, it should be understood that I believe neither of these assumptions. I am a philosophical anarchist, and while I can construct a non-theistic basis for natural rights theory, I view them as artificial constructs, not incontrovertible truths. However, we must work within the framework we have, and thus I will concede these points for the purposes of this post. For the purposes of discussion and comments, please try to take these two premises at true, and if you have a problem with the argument flowing from those premises, attack the argument.
Let’s start at the beginning:
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.
Here’s the base. Natural rights are the area where we say to government: “Over this line you may not tread.”
Individuals have certain natural rights, and they empower governments to help them protect these rights. The statement that “States don’t have rights, only individuals do” does not account for what we consider the social contract. Individuals enter into an implicit contract with their government, offering to entrust some of the rights they hold in the “state of nature” to their government in order for cooperation and protection of those rights. Those governments do not gain *new* rights as governments, but they inherit the rights of those they are designed to protect.
Natural rights theory does not hold that individuals give up their rights to the government, the rights are retained. It is best to be understood as a legal contract — individuals freely, by exercise of their rights, create their government. They voluntarily empower their society — their government — to protect their rights. A government that reaches beyond the legitimate power of protection of those rights, as Jefferson himself states, deserves no longer our assent or our support. If said government treads beyond the lines defined above, that government has violated the social contract.
“Government”, of course, is not a singular entity. Governments are hierarchical, competitive, and numerous. In many cases, we are under the jurisdiction of several governments — entities within entities. In many cases, the governments we live under must make compacts with other governments outside our territory — treaties — in order to help complete the tasks which we have empowered them. Each of these agreements are contracts or compacts. Rights of the citizens of the government are not abridged, they are retained — at least if the government empowered to act on behalf of its inhabitants are legitimate.
How, then, do we describe the relationships between these levels of government or between competing governments? How do we define the lines over which they may not tread? Let’s take one example: borders. What are borders, other than the territorial lines defining the government which protects the rights of its inhabitants? What do we call a government’s relation to its borders? Territorial rights! Now, of course, these rights are not that of “the government”, but they are the territorial rights of which the individuals supporting that government have ceded to their government to protect.
Likewise, how do we define our US Government’s relationship to the United Nations and the nations of the world? We use the term sovereignty: the inviolability of our government to the others of the world — the statement that our government has “rights”, i.e. lines over which those other governments may not tread.
The nature of the United States Government and its relationship to its constituent States is a tricky one, historically. The United States Constitution — our governing document — is a compact between states, not a contract directly between the federal government and the people. Historically, the people of the several States entrusted their governments — the entities to which they had entrusted their rights for protection — to form a federal republic. One may support the claim — at least until 1865 — that the States retained sovereignty, and that they had contractual RIGHTS as constituent members of that federation.
These rights are not inherent to them, as States. These rights are the rights entrusted to them by their inhabitants, and the rights they are protecting are not the rights of the State as State, but a collective bargaining arrangement to protect the rights of their inhabitants. Regardless of how you define this, though, the rights exercised are contractual rights exercised by the States on behalf of their inhabitants. The States drew a line, and told the United States Government “over this line you may not cross.” For the United States Government to cross that line would allow the State, if it so chose, to exercise its sovereignty and break the contract — secede.
These rights are not without limit, though. We previously stated that government is created by individuals in order to secure their natural rights. But those rights are retained. A government which does not secure those rights — a government in fact which violates them, is not a legitimate government at all and may be disbanded. Likewise, federal governments or supra-national bodies do not have super-natural powers — they are still only as legitimate as the rights of their constituent states (and thus the rights of their constituent inhabitants). If the United States Government attempts to violate the sovereignty of the states in order to violate the natural rights of its constituent inhabitants, it is just as illegitimate as if the individual state takes that action…
…which finally brings me back to Michael’s post!
Specifically, this country is, and always has been, a work in progress. I said it was illegitimate for a federal government to violate the sovereignty of its constituent States and if a federal government were to do so, it would justify secession. However, while Michael says he wouldn’t cry crocodile tears if the South had been allowed to secede, the South’s secession would not have been justified under States’ Rights theory. Why? Because slavery — a State deliberately violating the natural rights of its inhabitants — is not a legitimate government, and thus the Southern States did not have true sovereignty. A government which violates the natural rights of its inhabitants as a matter of design cannot be granted the authority to act on behalf of its citizens.
The Fourteenth Amendment, in the wake of the Civil War, finally codified this statement. Prior to this, the United States Constitution did not have a method for the Federal government to impede the States from abridging the natural rights of its citizens. (Of course, one can infer from this that the Civil War was illegal, but the destruction of slavery in the South can hardly be described as immoral). It should be stated that Michael’s quote from George Wallace was not truly a defense of States Rights. Those rights of States to discriminate by law against their citizens had long been removed via the Fourteenth Amendment. If he truly believed that the right of the State was inviolable (I doubt this to be the case — I personally think it likely that “States’ Rights”, like patriotism, just happened to be the last refuge of a scoundrel), he was simply wrong.
Michael is correct, of course, that in the intervening century, the term “States’ Rights” was used by all manner of racists, supporters of Jim Crow, and people who are “defiant of settled law”. In American politics, terminology tends to have this problem — terms become appropriated by unsavory characters, and the terms themselves pick up unsavory connotations. We “libertarians” constantly bemoan the fact that our previous label, “liberal”, as appropriated by big-government Democrats. We had to abandon the term completely and build a new one. States’ Rights has some of that connotation, but by definition that doesn’t not negate the concept of those rights.
The term “States’ Rights” may, in fact, be coming into a renaissance. As Michael points out, individual states are fighting the Feds on medical marijuana, and California — the state where we both live — has a ballot measure in November to legalize marijuana entirely. This is in direct contravention of the Controlled Substances Act, but more importantly, this is a state protecting its citizens from the overreaches of Washington!
But again, look at the nature of government. A State government that violates the natural rights of its inhabitants is acting illegitimately. At the same time, a Federal government that violates the natural rights of its inhabitants is acting legitimately. In this case, it is right for the inhabitants of a State to pool to their rights collectively — using their States’ rights — to protect themselves from the Federal government on their behalf. Individuals often have little recourse against the Federal leviathan. They need all the help they can get.
Either way, I think that Michael did not prove, as I thought he would attempt, that states don’t have rights. He did make some valid points that the terminology of states rights had been hijacked for the last century by those State governments who wished to protect their racist fiefdoms. But he belied his own point by bringing up the fact that the very same terms are also being used by States to protect the liberty of their inhabitants from Federal overreach.
Contrary to what the religious right might say, children raised by lesbian parents are doing just as well as their peers, according to a new report based on a 20-year study to be published in the journal Pediatrics. In fact, they may be even better off. “When we compared the adolescents in our study to the so-called gold standard,” Dr. Nanette Gartrell, the study’s author, said, “we found the teens with lesbian mothers were actually doing better.” Researchers found that the children showed significantly fewer social problems and rated much higher academically and socially. As for why their children are faring well, Gartrell suggested that lesbian mothers “are very committed, very involved parents,” and may also be better off economically.
Such research proves two things: Gay people are actually an exceptionally well-to-do group, likely based on the fact that they are often couples of working individuals. Also, a free society must not only be politically and economically fluid but also culturally so. Every child is different, and there’s no set standard for how to raise every single one.
Eliot Spitzer says that we should re-read the Gettysburg Address to regain that sense of sacrifice necessary to keep our bloated government doing its holy work.
Because nothing makes me more appreciative of the men who laid down their lives for the freedom of others than supporting the very government that’s hard at work taking freedoms away.
Reader Clown Prince (whose name I hope comes from a shared affinity for the villain of the DC Comics Universe) recommended an article from Times Online about women converting to Islam. I thought it was worth noting a few things I found prominent in the article. First:
“Our liberal, pluralistic 21st-century society means we can choose our careers, our politics – and we can pick and choose who we want to be spiritually,” explains Dr Mohammad S. Seddon, lecturer in Islamic Studies at the University of Chester. We’re in an era of the “religious supermarket”, he says.
I couldn’t agree more with Dr. Seddon. The beauty of our society is that people can choose where they want to live, who they want to associate with and what faith (or no faith) they want to subscribe to. The problem is that there is an extreme element in Islam, and Christianity to a less violent degree, that can’t handle many elements of this pluralism. Many Muslims think criticism of their religion should be outlawed because their faith doesn’t permit it, putting their own faith over the laws of the countries they’ve immigrated to. Many Christians, because they believe homosexuality is a crime, want their views of homosexuality enforced on the rest of society.
The rest of the article documents several women who lived lives of drunken chaos, nihilism and other youthful decadence. It pretty seems like the same story of those who convert to evangelical Christianity:
“At university, I lived the typical student existence, drinking and going clubbing, but I’d always wake up the next morning with a hangover and think, what’s the point?
“It wasn’t until my second year that I met Hussein. I knew he was a Muslim, but we were falling in love, so I brushed the whole issue of religion under the carpet. But six months into our relationship, he told me that being with me was ‘against his faith’.
“I was so confused. That night I sat up all night reading two books on Islam that Hussein had given me. I remember bursting into tears because I was so overwhelmed. I thought, ‘This could be the whole meaning of life.’ But I had a lot of questions: why should I cover my head? Why can’t I eat what I like?
Some people are apparently unable to live a stable, independent life on their own and need to have the constant validation of orthodoxy to keep them in line. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it would be good if religious people were to realize that not everyone has this problem. Many of us are moral and refrain from doing drugs and drinking every day simply because it’s self-evidently necessary.
“When people see a white girl wearing a niqab they assume I’ve stuck my fingers up at my own culture to ‘follow a bunch of Asians’. I’ve even had teenage boys shout at me in the street, ‘Get that s*** off your head, you white bastard.’ After the London bombings, I was scared to walk about in the streets for fear of retaliation.
That’s the sort of ignorance and stupidity that needs to be stomped out. A recent roommate of me remarked about the Jihad Jane story that it was surprising that she was white. Islam is and has always been a global religion since its inception.
“For the most part, I have a very happy life. I married Hussein and now we have a one-year-old son, Zakir. We try to follow the traditional Muslim roles: I’m foremost a housewife and mother, while he goes out to work. I used to dream of having a successful career as a psychologist, but now it’s not something I desire.
“Becoming a Muslim certainly wasn’t an easy way out. This life can sometimes feel like a prison, with so many rules and restrictions, but we believe that we will be rewarded in the afterlife.”
Here Aqeela Lindsay Wheeler validates the arguments of Ali and myself. Organized religion makes oppression based on stupid differences like race and gender sustainable because it leaves the believer in acceptance of their lowly status. I’m a little surprised Clown Prince sent me an article where a Muslim convert essentially validates the anti-feminist nature of the faith.
Islamic orthodoxy is antithetical to liberal enlightenment. Islam must remain one faith among many, separate from the state and policy, if we want to remain free and secular. This is a fine line to walk, because the skepticism of Hitchens, Ali, Dawkins or Harris could turn into the conservative racism and xenophobia of Mark Steyn (who actually used Arabs being elected to political positions as an argument for a European downfall in his screed America Alone).
Anyways, I recommend everyone read Clown Prince’s article and educate themselves about Islam. Westerners are far too ignorant about it.
The journalist responsible for the original uproar about the MMR vaccine and autism has been shown to have produced very shoddy research, and widely discredited. He was even recently banned from the practice of medicine in the UK. This has, of course, not quieted the debate. In fact, it’s gotten even worse, with his vaccine supporters claiming the science is settled, and vaccine opponents acting as if this is all a big cover-up.
The problem with this debate, for most people, is that they don’t have the training to actually view the real research and make an informed decision. They’re trying to decide whether to listen to their usual source of information, an emotionally-charged celebrity (Jenny McCarthy) or to trust the authorities, who just naturally have that stink of “they must be hiding something” about them. Add a dash of humanity’s propensity to swallow conspiracy theories, and nobody knows what to believe.
As a parent, I decided it was my job to educate myself and make the decision for my kids, regardless of what the CDC said. Nothing is riskless. It is my job to weigh the risk of vaccinating against the risk of not vaccinating, both for specific vaccines, for the age of administration of those vaccines, even to the level of possibly discriminating against brands of vaccine based upon ingredient levels (you may laugh, but I have asked my pediatrician which brand they use).
Some anti-vaccine folks in my extended family supplied me with the crackpot books they’ve read (i.e. books where the author was denouncing the entire germ theory of disease as bogus), and it was clear reading these that the authors had an axe to grind. A book written from an ideological perspective is not necessarily a disqualification, but books where the ideology trumps the science are out of the question.
I ended up on a book published by my kid’s pediatrician. I chose it because it seemed to honestly and neutrally discuss the relative diseases guarded against, the ingredients of the vaccines in question, and the safety record of the vaccine. The author supports vaccination, but it was clear that he did his level best to offer the evidence without bias, separate from his own recommendations pro/con on each vaccine.
I ended up choosing the vaccine schedule that I put my kids through based on that information — i.e. a cost/benefit analysis of the likelihood my child might contract the disease in question, the severity of the disease if he did catch it, and the relative risks of the vaccine in relation to the above.
As an example, I chose that my children get the polio vaccine. While it’s a rare disease, it’s a particularly nasty disease, and the vaccine is one of the safest available. I also chose to get vaccines such as HiB and Rotavirus, because they’re relatively harmful diseases, particularly in infancy, and also diseases that my kids aren’t that unlikely to contract.
On the other hand, I chose against MMR. While measles, mumps, and rubella are common, they’re also typically mild diseases. The vaccine has a higher prevalence of adverse reactions than most, and there is a worry that some of the vaccines for “mild” diseases can lead to complications later in life, with a more virulent and dangerous form of a disease affecting the individual in adulthood. Thus I didn’t believe taking risks to protect my kids from diseases that seemed relatively innocuous in most kids made a lot of sense, especially since the long-term effect is unknown. I had the same rationale for the chickenpox vaccine.
I also opted for a more spread-out vaccine regimen (i.e. not necessarily later in life, but more visits and less shots per visit), because I think the likelihood of an adverse reaction may be increased when you subject a body to the stress of several vaccines at once.
This, of course, is done with the unique attributes of my family taken into account. It’s a low-risk household, with the kids breast-fed until 12 months, no day care, and not a huge amount of interaction with hordes of other youth. Further, they’re well-nourished and healthy kids, so I feel they’d be far better than “average” at weathering the storm of a disease like measles or chickenpox. This, of course, also makes them less likely to have an severe adverse reaction to a vaccine, so it affects the risk/benefit of vaccinating just as much as not vaccinating.
I know that this decision is my responsibility as a parent. I know that I am weighing some risks against others, and that there’s a chance that things could go wrong. It is because of that responsibility that I read 3 books cover-to-cover on the subject, discarding two of them as trash and settling on one that I thought trustworthy before making my decisions. At the end of the day, I feel like I made the best decision I could, given the evidence I had, and I and my family are going to be the ones who have to live with the consequences, right or wrong. That’s a heady weight, and one that most parents probably don’t want to bear. But that’s the responsibility that comes with raising a child.
The problem will come when the kids need to go to school. The schools typically demand that you’re current with all or most of the vaccines on the CDC schedule. Most public schools will allow you to let your unvaccinated child attend if you claim a philosophical objection to vaccinations. It’s a major hassle, but they do allow it. The problem for me is that I don’t have a philosophical objection to vaccination (especially as an atheist — no religious reasons for me). One of the pieces of evidence against a philosophical objection is to give your child any vaccines — i.e. my piecemeal approach is not philosophical.
I do have a philosophical objection to bureaucratic one-size fits all government mandates, though, and thus I don’t accept that the government should be the one demanding that I follow their cost-benefit analysis for “most” kids when it doesn’t fit my family’s particular situation. My philosophical objection is being forced to take risks with my children that the CDC wants me to take, when I’ve evaluated the research myself and I disagree. That objection, though, is less well accepted in California than Scientology.
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Two contrasting stories out of the Supreme Court today, that bring home the fact that jurisprudence in this country is profoundly… hopefully not irreparably… broken.
First, from the New York Times:
NO MORE LIFE SENTENCES FOR MINORS WHO HAVEN’T MURDERED…. In yet another 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court said this morning that incarcerated minors can’t receive life sentences if they haven’t killed anyone.
By a 5-4 vote Monday, the court says the Constitution requires that young people serving life sentences must at least be considered for release.
The court ruled in the case of Terrance Graham, who was implicated in armed robberies when he was 16 and 17. Graham, now 22, is in prison in Florida, which holds more than 70 percent of juvenile defendants locked up for life for crimes other than homicide.
“The state has denied him any chance to later demonstrate that he is fit to rejoin society based solely on a nonhomicide crime that he committed while he was a child in the eyes of the law,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in his majority opinion. “This the Eighth Amendment does not permit.”
The Eighth Amendment, of course, prohibits cruel and unusual punishments.
Justices Alito, Scalia, and Thomas dissented. Chief Justice John Roberts also sided with the minority, though he agreed with the majority on the specific case of Terrance Graham’s fate.
In Justice Kennedy’s majority ruling, he made note of the “global consensus” against life-sentences for youths who haven’t committed murder. The sentence will likely enrage the far-right, which tends to throw a fit when justices take note of international developments.
In a concurrence, Stevens, joined by Ginsburg and Sotomayor, threw an elbow at one of their colleagues: “While Justice Thomas would apparently not rule out a death sentence for a $50 theft by a 7-year-old … Court wisely rejects his static approach to the law. Standards of decency have evolved since 1980. They will never stop doing so.”
and in a complete reversal of logic, this judgement:
WASHINGTON (May 17) — The Supreme Court ruled Monday that federal officials can indefinitely hold inmates considered “sexually dangerous” after their prison terms are complete.
The high court reversed a lower court decision that said Congress overstepped its authority in allowing indefinite detentions of considered “sexually dangerous.”
“The statute is a ‘necessary and proper’ means of exercising the federal authority that permits Congress to create federal criminal laws, to punish their violation, to imprison violators, to provide appropriately for those imprisoned and to maintain the security of those who are not imprisoned by who may be affected by the federal imprisonment of others,” said Justice Stephen Breyer, writing the majority opinion.
President George W. Bush in 2006 signed the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act, which authorized the civil commitment of sexually dangerous federal inmates.
The act, named after the son of “America’s Most Wanted” television host John Walsh, was challenged by four men who served prison terms ranging from three to eight years for possession of child pornography or sexual abuse of a minor. Their confinement was supposed to end more than two years ago, but prison officials said there would be a risk of sexually violent conduct or child molestation if they were released.
A fifth man who also was part of the legal challenge was charged with child sex abuse, but declared incompetent to stand trial.
The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., ruled last year that Congress overstepped its authority when it enacted a law allowing the government to hold indefinitely people who are considered “sexually dangerous.”
But “we conclude that the Constitution grants Congress legislative power sufficient to enact” this law, Breyer said.
Justice Clarence Thomas dissented, saying Congress can only pass laws that deal with the federal powers listed in the Constitution.
Nothing in the Constitution “expressly delegates to Congress the power to enact a civil commitment regime for sexually dangerous persons, nor does any other provision in the Constitution vest Congress or the other branches of the federal government with such a power,” Thomas said.
Thomas was joined in part on his dissent by Justice Antonin Scalia.
It seems clear to me, that both of these decisions are examples where justices are deciding a case based on what they want to do and finding a way to justify it, rather than a considered opinion of the law and the constitution.
In the first case, the majority came to what I believe is the right decision on constitutional ground, but for what appear to be the wrong reasons. The minority on the other hand are supporting an unconstitutional practice, based on pragmatic considerations.
In the second case, the majority supported a CLEARLY unconstitutional practice for pragmatic reasons; and the minority dissented based on the constitution.
Both cases however, highlight a major problem with our “justice system” today: We can’t deal effectively with our criminals, our prisoners, or our prisons.
There are many reasons for this of course, but what it comes down to, is that there are too many crimes, too many criminals, and too little honesty in how we deal with either.
Both of these cases are about recidivism. The plain fact is, more than 40% of people who go to prison, go back. More than 60% who go to prison for violent crimes go back. More than 80% who go to prison for sex crimes go back.
There have been a number of attempts at dealing with these difficult facts; none of them effective, and most of them unconstitutional.
In the case of the criminals under 18 being imprisoned for life because of sentence enhancements… The problem here isn’t that it’s a 17 year old in prison for life for something other than rape or murder… Its that “sentence enhancements” even exist at all.
Firstly, I think the whole “global consensus” thing is not only irrelevant, but dangerous and unconstitutional (interpretation of American law should ONLY be based on the Constitution, and the constitutions of the several states)
Yes, the law evolves, and yes it is influenced by changing moral standards, which is influenced by world culture.
When we wrote our constitution, it was in large part based on principles inherent in English common law; as was the early constitutional scholarship and interpretation until we built up our own body of case law. The goes further back to the greeks, romans, even the Assyrians. Certain basic principles of law and justice are universal; or have filtered up through from the earliest formalized conceptions of both rights, and laws.
However, it is important that case law be consistent with the written constitution; and that any case law which is not be ignored in interpretation of future cases, and hopefully be reversed.
If the American people want to change their constitutions, they can. There is a mechanism for that. Until they do, there should be no other arbiter for American law than the constitution.
One of the fundamental principles of jurisprudence is that the law should be knowable, and predictable; not arbitrary and capricious. One should not need to follow “evolving moral standards” and case law in other countries, to know whether one is violating the law.
In a system where ignorance of the law is no defense, the law must be written and knowable. The fact that in todays world it is not; is not an indication that we have evolved morally, it is an indication that modern jurisprudence is profoundly broken.
All that said however I agree that the law in question should have been struck down, just for a different reason.
I believe that “sentence enhancement” conditions are themselves a bad thing. They are invalid and unconstitutional as far as I am concerned. A crime is a crime, and one should be punished the same way for the same crime, as everyone else.
Certainly, there can be special circumstances, but they shouldn’t increase punishment; a maximum punishment should be set, and that’s it. There should be discretion for judges to reduce sentences, but not to increase them. Three strikes laws, hate crime enhancements, all of them need to go.
The problem that three strikes laws are intended to solve (high recidivism rates), is more properly addressed by longer or more harsh initial sentences, combined with better rehabilitation and reintegration efforts, and a better running of our penal system.
In the second case, we again have an issue of inappropriate sentencing.
Genuine sexual predators (rapists, molestors etc..) need to be put away for life without parole, or they need to die (though I have grave reservations about the death penalty). Either way, they need to be permanently removed from society.
For some reason, we treat sex crimes as far less serious than major property crimes, or other violent crimes; as if rape were not every bit as serious as attempted murder (believe me, it is).
Some things require ultimate sanction, and serious sex crimes are among those things.
On the other hand though, we now classify the most piddling things as sex crimes. Right now, we have hundreds of 18 and 19 year old young men in prison around this country, for having consensual sex with their 17 year old girlfriends (somehow, we almost never imprison older young women for sex with teenage boys). We make people register as sex offenders for having consensual sex in the back of their cars in a parking lot…
Which just reinforces the point: We’re broken both ways. We are far too harsh on one side, and far too lenient on the other; and just plain broken all the way around, because a sentence doesn’t mean what it says it means.
The very idea that a state official can simply decide you are too dangerous to be let out of prison, EVEN THOUGH YOUR JUDICIAL SENTENCE IS OVER… It’s disgusting. It’s abhorrent to the very nature of our country, and our constitution.
Three strikes laws, sentence enhancements, sex crime laws… All are seriously broke; because they are attempting to deal with practical problems, in an impossible way. You can’t achieve the goals they’re trying to achieve, with the techniques and tools they are using.
We’re broken. We need to fix it. We need to protect society from real criminals, real dangerous people, real evil people; and we need to provide a strong incentive for the “casual criminal” (and we are all “Casual Criminals” now). But we need to do it, without destroying what it means to be American.
In order to do this, we must first reduce our prison population, not by releasing the truly dangerous; but by DRAMATICALLY slashing the amount of people we imprison (both today, and in the future).
The first thing we need to acknowledge, is that the so called “war on drugs” has not only failed, but was wrongly conceived in the first place.
Imprisoning people for drug use simply does not achieve the goals it is intended to achieve. It doesn’t reduce drug use at all. It doesn’t reduce crime at all, in fact it increases it. It turns people who might otherwise be productive… or at least LESS of a drag on our society; into total dependents. It frequently makes them into “harder” criminals.
It just doesn’t work.
Frankly, I think we should entirely decriminalize drug use and possession; even if we choose to maintain prohibition on importation, sales, and distribution.
Then there is the question of the proliferation of felonies… Damn near everything is a felony these days. Two students in Virgina were charged with felonies last year for THROWING SNOW BALLS. Schoolchildren have been charge with felonies for drawing pictures with guns in them…
Felonies are supposed to be reserved for “high crimes”. Those things which must be punished by long term removal from society.
Does anyone really believe it is necessary to send someone to prison for two years, for serving hotdogs wrapped with bacon out of a cart (yes, that is a felony in several jurisdictions in this country).
The fact is, we classify far too many things as felonies, which simply should not be. We need to eliminate most of those felonies.
What it comes down to, is that we should reclassify most non-violent felonies as misdemeanors, and eliminate custodial sentences for them; substituting EXTREMELY HIGH fines, and supervised restricted release (ankle bracelets etc…).
Combined, that would reduce our prison population by more than three quarters immediately (the drug changes alone would cover 60%). This would allow us to deal with the remainder of that population more appropriately. More harshly for those who need it, and with a higher focus on rehabilitation for those who are willing to make the effort.
Importantly, it would allow us to eliminate early release for those who have not made serious and genuine rehabilitation efforts; allowing prison officials and judges to exercise discretion appropriately.
Perhaps when we no longer have to be so concerned about overcrowding, and inappropriate early releases, and imprisoning those who should not be; we can restore some sanity to the system as a whole.
But that’s all related to the practical issue.. The pragamatic justice as it were..
The bigger issue here, is that under todays conception of jurisprudence, it is impossible to know or understand whether you are breaking the law or not. Whether your crime is a felony or not. Exactly what that crime might be, or what the punishment for it might be.
That isn’t law, or justice; and it isn’t what our country is supposed to be.
This is a post I wrote at my personal blog back in June 2005. I was reminded of it today, as many of the points Doug touched on in his post this morning were in the same vein as points I made back then, and after a search I was surprised that I’d never cross-posted the old post here. Even today, infringements on personal liberty such as the individual mandate are only making the situation worse, and the piece, while 5 years old, hasn’t lost its relevance. So here it is.
America has been, throughout the course of our history, a nation that values liberty. In 1787, at the time of the Constitutional Convention, liberty was on the brain. A Constitution was written to ensure that all people in this nation, for all time, would enjoy the blessings of freedom. Freedom from tyranny of government, which was ensured by the protections of a document that limited its powers and a Bill of Rights that enshrined personal liberty into its hallowed wording. And a nation whose freedom was guaranteed based upon the rule of law as written in that document, not the whims of an electorate or the legislature of the day.
There were flaws at that time, to be sure. The nature of our nation did not yet live up to that document’s billing. “Freedom to all” meant freedom to land-owning white males. Everyone else was out of luck. The work of millions of people helped to change that fact. The souls of hundreds of thousands of young men were lost in a war to bring freedom to the slaves, only to take another 100 years to bring true equality with the end of Jim Crow. Racial equality came to pass. Gender equality came to pass. Even today, these battles are still being fought for the rights of same-sex couples. Since the day this country was founded, you have seen the liberty of unpopular groups gain hold and reach parity with the rest. In a country that is based upon the right to be safe in unpopularity, the march of history has been remarkable to make that a reality.
But there’s another current at work. We are slowly seeing social liberty for all groups reach parity. Parity, however, can be equally great or equally poor. As unpopular groups have raised their level of acceptance and been granted the same rights as those of the popular, liberty has been defined down for all.
We have reached a point, socially, where government regulation intrudes on our lives and decisions from the time we wake until the time we retire, and all through our slumber. Rights, from what one can ingest into his body, be it benevolent medicine to malevolent narcotics, are decided by government. Free speech has survived, mostly, as long as you have a legal degree and training to comply with McCain-Feingold. The 2nd Amendment is still alive, and you’re allowed to own firearms, as long as you apply to the right bureaucrat to inform the government where to look for them. You have the freedom to practice religion, as long as you make sure not to do it anywhere approximating a “public” place. You have the right to be safe from unreasonable search and seizure, provided, of course, that you never visit the library. Seemingly innocuous laws such as the requirement to wear a seat belt in a car or a helmet on a motorcycle may be in your own best interest, but forcing such behavior is tyranny nonetheless.
Economic liberty, of course, has become a joke. It is almost unnecessary to even go into the details, but we must remember what we’re up against. The land of the founding fathers was one where government and business were more separate than religion and government are now. Starting with the anti-trust acts (probably before, of course), continuing through Wickard v. Filburn, through the Sarbanes-Oxley legislation of 2002, the government has a hand in regulation of every business in this nation. On the personal level, nearly every monetary transaction performed is taxed through a myriad of different local, state, and federal rules, you only own as much of your income as government allows, and likewise you only own as much of your property as government allows. You exist economically not as an individual, but as a servant of the state.
It is obvious, that as some personal liberties may be slowly advancing, many other liberties are quickly dying. So we ask ourselves, how did it get so bad? Can we turn it around? Jon asks in this comment at Dadahead whether we should start thinking of it as Peak Liberty. I.e. just like the extraction of oil from the ground might eventually hit a point where the increase in demand and limited supply lead to global catastrophe, have we reached a point of no return in our loss of liberty? Have we reached a point where our only options will be an eventual slide into tyranny, requiring nothing less than a bloody revolution to turn around? And if so, how do we know the “Peak”? Has it happened yet?
Then perhaps somewhere it peaked and we’ve been sliding downward, living on the backside of the bell curve for a while now. We’ve peaked and have entered liberty’s long emergency. As with peak oil, defining peak liberty might not be clear except in hindsight. Was it the Civil War? Was it Brown v. Board of Education? The Sherman Anti-Trust Act? The Civil Rights Act of 1964? Was it landing on the moon? ADA?
Or was it some act against democracy that defined the peak (Dred Scott? ERA fails? NAFTA?) Is protecting against “flag desecration” just one more drop out of a near empty tank? Does our ‘democracy’ function like our suburbs now, sprawling, messy and without some sense of direction other than growth?
It is a valid question. After all, we can look at the possible peaks. The Civil War, where slavery was ended but the concepts of federalism were greatly weakened and the federal government made more powerful? The 16th Amendment, where we first determined, as a nation, that the ability to keep ones income was a privilege, and the extent allowed was determined by the whim of government? The New Deal, where many people were helped, but where it was taken as fact that individuals were subservient to “society” and the government thereof? The sixties, where we reached our greatest heights in the civil rights movement, only to transition to the even more obtrusive welfare state of the Great Society, and the victim politics that arised? Or was it today, when our Supreme Court decided that private property rights no longer matter? Or has it not happened yet? Are we still on the upward trend (doubtful).
I can’t answer where the peak was, but it certainly seems like we’re on the downslope. Peak Liberty, as a theory, has some serious flaws. After all, liberty is not a finite resource. It is elastic, and greater liberty can be enjoyed by all. So no matter what happens, it can be reversed. It is certainly possible that an equilibrium point can be reached. It may be argued that Europe has reached that point, and only something as silly as a “European Union” can move them farther down the slope. But the effort and ease at which that reverse occurs depends greatly on what point of the downslope has been reached. If we act in time, we can defeat tyranny at the ballot box. But history has shown that people do not respond to the lack of liberty until it is too late. If the slide continues, the day will come where government will not tolerate our attempts to restrain it, and that government must be replaced, by any means necessary.
Peak Liberty, like Peak Oil, can happen. Each can also be avoided. Peak Oil, of course, is a completely different topic, so the aversion strategies are beyond the scope of this post. But to avoid Peak Liberty, it simply takes education. Oddly enough, our own government has provided us all the lesson plans we’ll ever need. Pissed off about Social Security? A failure of government. Pissed off about the inefficiencies of the IRS? Blame government. EPA declared your home “wetlands” and not letting you build that inground pool? Overreaching intrusion of government on your private property rights. Government educational system in your locale a morass of corruption, lack of discipline, excess of political correctness, and not doing a thing to educate your kids? Ask why we rely on government as the primary source of education in this country? And first and foremost, trumpet Kelo v. New London to everyone in earshot. People listen to what affects them personally. Nothing is more personal than the government seizing your house for what they determine is just compensation, only to turn it over to another private entity.
Peak Liberty, like Peak Oil, relies on current trends. We may have reached Peak Liberty, but by changing trends we can step back from the abyss. Our current populace cares about nothing but bread and circuses, and our current political crop is perfectly willing to erode their liberty while providing those diversions. We can change the trends, but to do that, we need to win the hearts and minds. We can’t change government without changing the minds of voters, so let’s get cracking. There may be dangerously little time left.