Freedom, democracy, and Independence Day

Posted on July 10, 2010


Our founding fathers, libertarian radicals all, were not patriotic to their government. Indeed, they declared independence and ultimately war against their government. The founders were patriots for their land, their communities and their natural rights. They were patriots for their ideas. Our founders, in short, were uncompromising ideologues.

The founders were philosophers steeped in the classical liberal tradition of John Locke and Adam Smith, whose Wealth of Nations was also published in 1776 and explained the laissez faire economics that would enable young America to prosper. They held to the concept of natural human rights that were not provided by the state but must be protected from it. Thomas Jefferson, the author of our declaration wrote:

The two enemies of the people are criminals and government, so let us tie the second down with the chains of the Constitution so the second will not become the legalized version of the first. – Thomas Jefferson

Our founders were not simply satisfied with an escape from “taxation without representation”. They sought to fundamentally bind government as an institution on all fronts. They rightly saw government itself as a natural enemy of freedom. And so they sought to create a system of checks and balances such that government could never get too far in it’s efforts without becoming entangled in the chains of law. Democracy is a form of restraint on the state, but democracy itself was never an end goal unto itself. Indeed, the rule of a majority can itself become a tyranny. James Madison, the “father of the constitution” wrote with great skepticism of majority rule as the penultimate judge of truth:

There is no maxim, in my opinion, which is more liable to be misapplied, and which, therefore, more needs elucidation than the current one, that the interest of the majority is the political standard of right and wrong…

In Republics, the great danger is, that the majority may not sufficiently respect the rights of the minority. – James Madison

If democracy is the only benchmark for justice, than there is no such thing as minority rights. Unrestrained democracy is mob rule. Nothing more. All rights in such a view are simply grants from the mob. The founders rejected such a thuggish, tribal conception of representative government, and thus bound not just the institution of the state but democracy itself in checks and balances. The President was to be elected by a college of electors who could, in theory, be a buffer between the supreme office and direct democracy. The Senate, originally, was not to be elected by popular vote but appointed by state legislatures, thus pitting the power lust of local and federal politicians against one another.

This check on federal power grabbing, and many constitutional limits, was reversed during the Progressive Era at the turn of the century, which was a time when the notion of limited government as envisioned by the classical liberals came under attack from warmongering statists and would-be despots like Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. These so-called “progressive” thinkers rhetorical celebration of democracy stood in stark conflict with the vision of Jefferson and Madison.

Beware the defense of state expansion and aggression and overreach under the rubric of “democracy”. Such pleas, much like the simplistic notion that “government is us” are fundamentally at odds with the philosophy on which our founding was based. In a commencement speech at the University of Michigan, president Obama articulated just such a progressive vision:

When our government is spoken of as some menacing, threatening foreign entity, it ignores the fact that in our democracy, government is us.  We, the people — (applause.)  We, the people, hold in our hands the power to choose our leaders and change our laws, and shape our own destiny. – Barack Obama

Our founders would be the first to raise up in protest against this claim by the most statist president in a generation. They understood the limits of “collective choice” and recognized that such choice is ultimately made not by “us” but by THEM, the elites of government. Unforeseen by our founders as well is the now massive bureaucracy of the executive branch whose agents are appointed and powers and vague and expansive. Again, Jefferson saw government as one of two great enemies of mankind. If that isn’t a menacing view, I don’t know what is. Even the most statist founder, Alexander Hamilton, who envisioned the presidency as life-long position akin to the King (likely with himself at the helm) would recoil at Obama’s democratic supremacy:

The ancient democracies in which the people themselves deliberated never possessed one good feature of government. Their very character was tyranny; their figure deformity. – Alexander Hamilton

Obama and his progressive statists in kind are wrong about the inherent justice of democracy and the nature of American governance. Make no mistake, “government is us” is no less than the centralization of power and socialization of responsibility. It is the antithesis of our founding vision.

Where government is elected by majority vote, restrictions on government are, of course, restrictions on the rule (and tyranny) of the majority. So the constitution was not just a structure for binding government, but for binding the majority as well. Our Bill of Rights is in fact a list of rights which must be PROTECTED FROM DEMOCRACY. Our freedom to speak and assemble is not legally subject to the whim of the majority. Deep down, most Americans recognize that unpopular speech cannot be made illegal, no matter how much that speech offends us. That Elena Kagan, Obama’s Supreme Court pick, disagrees only further alienates him and his regime from the American classical liberal tradition.

And so, as we celebrate our independence from colonial Great Britain, we must recognize that American independence is also freedom from the tyranny of majoritarian rule by democracy itself.

Our founders were not just seeking an escape from British rule. They sought to escape the rule of man by dictate and protect themselves from the tyranny of the majority in the process. The result, was a constitutional republic whose rule of law required unanimous consent and whose legislative process was designed for maximum gridlock. Our founders correctly understood our freedoms to be inherent and natural, not grants from the majority. In so far as we have a government at all, it should reflect and be held accountable to the will of the governed. But it must be bound in the chains of law. The solution our founder sought for the inadequacies and inequities of democratic rule was constitutional rule of law. Independence requires the rule of law.

We were founded as a republic and that republic is in danger. As Ben Franklin understood this fact and the threats to it’s survival:

“When the people find they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the republic. – Benjamin Franklin”

I believe that statism, under the guise of “democracy” is swamping our republic with money and “redistributive justice” and undermining our nation’s classical liberal foundation. Our federal government has taken the unprecedented step of mandating by force and fear that every American purchase health insurance, an action which is surely illegal. The independence of our local governments and municipalities, envisioned as another layer of check against Federal tyranny, is being systematically undermined by indebtedness to federal largesse through “stimulus” spending, the military industrial complex, enormous (and wasted) department of education money and interventions and countless other transfers of wealth from taxpayers to the politically connected. The President and Congress continue to expand central power and control with plans for national ID cards, executive authority to shut down the internet, “indefinite detention” and countless other tyrannies.

It’s time to begin restoring our founder’s respect for limits on democratic rule. It’s time to role back the statism that has burdened all of us with debt in the name of “justice”. Ironically, just as the statist regime ruling our government seeks to expand their dominance of everything in sight, our former imperial overlords in Great Britain appear to be leading the way on this vital restoration. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg is helping lead the charge:

During their 13 years in power, the Labour Government developed a dangerous reflex. Faced with whatever problem, legislation increasingly became the standard response. Something needs fixing? Let’s pass a new law.

And so, over the last decade, thousands of new rules and regulations have amassed on the statute book. And it is our liberty that has paid the price. Under the cover of pretending to act in our best interest, the state has crept further and further into people’s homes and their private lives. That intrusion is disempowering. It needs to change.

The Coalition Government is determined to restore great British freedoms. Major steps have been taken already. ID cards have been halted. Plans are underway to restrict the storage of innocent people’s DNA. Schools will no longer be able to take children’s fingerprints without their parents consent.

But we need to do more. The culture of state snooping has become so ingrained that we must tackle it with renewed vigour. And, especially in these difficult times, entrepreneurs and businesses need our help. We must ensure we are not tying them up in restrictive red tape.

So today we are taking an unprecedented step. Based on the belief that it is people, not policymakers, who know best, we are asking the people of Britain to tell us how you want to see your freedom restored.

We are calling for your ideas on how to protect our hard won liberties and repeal unnecessary laws.

Could anything be farther from the actions and rhetoric of our current American regime, with it’s endless desire for the expansion of state power and control? Could it be that, 234 years after our Declaration of Independence, Great Britain’s leaders now understand the American vision or republican goverance better than our own? It appears so.

Independence Day matters for America. It is our most important national holiday; it is a day worthy of national introspection (and lengthy blog posts). It’s time for us to stand together in rejection of state tyranny and support for the classical liberal values of our founders: constitutional limited-government, decentralized power and decision making, respect for individual natural rights and skepticism of mob rule by the majority. If Great Britain’s population and leaders can rediscover the merits of liberty, so can we…

Via …but what the hell do I know?