Wednesday, July 04, 2007

What the Fourth of July Means to Me

The Fourth of July, as a political event, is two things. It is, first, a celebration of an eventually successful -- if dimly remembered -- fight for independence from British rule. It is, second, an occasion for invoking the principles which animated that fight for independence. Those principles, as enunciated in the Declaration of Independence are
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.
The original Constitution gave form to the Declaration's rather vague statement of principles. The corruption of the Constitution -- especially in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries -- by the deadly combination of democracy and demagoguery has taken us far from what the Founders meant by "created equal," "endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights," and "consent of the governed." Those phrases do not imply -- contrary to current "wisdom" -- that all God's creatures deserve a minimum wage and an internet connection, that it is legitimate to pursue happiness through abortion and homosexual "marriage," or that coalitions of the governed may legitimately conspire to rob the majority of their property, income, freedom of association, and freedom of contract (among many other things).

What did the Founders wish for themselves and their progeny? This: a central government of limited powers, devoted mainly to the defense of the nation, the regulation of relations with other nations, and the free movement of people and goods across the nation's internal borders. The people could, within those broad parameters, govern themselves at the State and local level. Liberty -- which, in large part, is a personal conception -- was to be found in the freedom to live and work in the locality and State of one's choosing; each State and locality was "an experiment in living" (e.g., see this, by David Boaz). The continuation of slavery was the signal flaw in that scheme, but that flaw was long ago rectified.

The limited right to vote that prevailed at the Founding and for generations thereafter was not a flaw. It was, rather, a prudent safeguard against majoritarianism. Decisions about the scope and functions of government should be made with those who have to bear the cost of those decisions, not by those who seek to have others bear the cost.

What the Fourth of July means to me, then, is that the promise of liberty made in the Declaration and (largely) redeemed by the Constitution has been betrayed. The federal behemoth has smothered our sundry experiments in living under a heavy burden of regulation and taxation. The measurable economic cost has been huge; the social cost, commensurate. As I wrote here,
you are unique -- no one but you knows your economic and social preferences. If you are left to your own devices you will make the best decisions about how to run the "business" of getting on with your life. When everyone is similarly empowered, a not-so-miraculous thing happens: As each person gets on with the "business" of his or her own of life, each person tends to make choices that others find congenial. As you reward others with what you produce for them, economically and socially, they reward you in return. If they reward you insufficiently, you can give your "business" to those who will reward you more handsomely. But when government meddles in your affairs -- except to protect you from actual harm -- it damages the network of voluntary associations upon which you depend in order to run your "business" most beneficially to yourself and others. The state can protect your ability to run the "business" of your life, but once you let it tell you how to run your life, you compromise your ability to make choices that are right for you.
The American state has long since become "destructive" of our liberty. Thus, according to our Founding document, "it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish" that state.