Note from Matt: Given the current political climate, I thought it might be a good idea to review some differences between the right and the left. So, here is an article from November 2009. Since we are about ideas, I think this is similar to the “Why we Fight” films from WW II.
“A free people claims their rights as derived from the laws of nature, and not as a gift from their chief magistrate.”
We are engaged in an ideological struggle. The lines are drawn cleanly between the opponents. One is the side of individual freedom and liberty, born of the American Revolution. The other is the soft (for now) totalitarianism of the nanny state, seeking to grow the government’s level of control over all aspects of human life. While the words “freedom” and “liberty” tend to evoke reactions to some degree from all Americans, looking at the general ideas behind those words helps us to understand the true nature of the current struggle. These ideas look to the very view of human nature between the sides, and are important. The implications of these ideas will largely determine our fate as a people.
Perhaps the most important of these underlying ideas is the concept of unalienable rights, or rights that cannot be taken away or otherwise abridged. Obviously, the idea rights that cannot be violated or reduced by government fiat is a significant factor in any debate about government intervention, or the very nature of man. The nature of man, either as a free individual, or intelligent mammal to be managed, will have implications for any view of humanity and it’s relationship to government. Without the underpinnings, the resulting arguments are loose and meaningless.
One cannot view the American idea of individual freedom without considering the works of John Locke, a 17th Century political figure who is considered by many to be the intellectual father of our nation. Here are some quotes regarding Locke.
The political philosophy of Locke’s mature years stemmed from the commonly-accepted Natural Law, under which man had Natural Rights, not given to him by any ruler. Under Natural Rights the right of property is paramount. Men came together in an organized community under a Social Contract between every member in order to gain advantages they could not have individually in a state of nature.
This Contract of Society was the foundation of the Contract of Government, under which all political power is a trust for the benefit of the people, and the people themselves are at once the creators and beneficiaries of that trust. The State is based on a contract between ruler and subjects, who give him power only so that their own welfare is increased and their property protected in a way not possible in the State of Nature, where it may be taken away by unprincipled forces. They, if he keeps the contract, owe him their loyalty.
It was Thomas Jefferson’s passionate belief in these ideals that made him base the powers of government on “unalienable rights.” Most of his Declaration of Independence is a bill of particulars in an indictment of King George III for his failure to keep the contract with his American subjects. He had broken it, and it was therefore void. The signers agreed with him. Contract, therefore, is fundamental to our system of government.
The state, Locke maintained, was concerned only with public order. It extended solely to those aspects of behavior, which had to be regulated for the protection of the public.
I think that one of the most important aspect of Locke’s idea is his use of Natural Law; that individuals have rights that preexist government, and they are not granted or created by government. The idea that rights are intrinsic, and cannot be discarded, disregarded, or superseded by the government have obvious and far-reaching repercussions on the relationship between the individual and the state, as the idea does intentionally limit the role of government. For example, as we debate free speech, and Mark Lloyd’s thoughts on the press, we see that his philosophy is one of censorship and control, which would naturally be opposed by Locke’s ideas. When we look at the health care debate, we see the government seeking to control the Doctor-patient relationship, to ration care, and to limit access. Also, when we also look at the writings of Ezekiel Emanuel, White House Special Adviser on Health Care, we see the government seeking to control decisions of life and death itself. When Cass Sunstein talks about animals being able to sue their owners in court, and advocates for gun control, other aspects of rights come into play. When Universities limit the free speech of professors and students, and punishes those who dissent, they show a different view of rights than the rest of us. When the President is caught on tape talking about income-redistribution, important issues are raised regarding our freedom. We can see more proposed government regulations that would control or otherwise limit what we can drive, where we can live, what we can eat, what we can say, and what our children can or cannot be taught. But can government take rights from others that it never granted, and therefore over which has no claim?
Both the left and the right invoke the concept of the social contract. However, it seems that the left quotes the words, but not the substance. As Locke states, the people are the creators and beneficiaries of the contract. While the people created our government, they did not create the thousands of bureaucracies that dictate so many different aspects of public life, nor are the bureaucrats that staff these monstrosities answerable to the people. Were Kevin Jennings, Mark Lloyd, or Van Jones even confirmed by the Senate, which does answer to the people? Also, when these bureaucracies and regulators regularly usurp the rights of the people, has the government violated the contract? The left would say no, but as we will discuss, the left views the contract as a license to steal, control, and dominate. If unalienable rights cannot be transferred or abridged, can the people elect a government that will transfer or abridge them?
Also, it is vital to note that Locke stressed that the role of government was to protect the rights of the people, not to limit them, regulate them, or render them irrelevant. Government is to be limited to protect the public in ways that they cannot protect themselves, i.e., defense, setting up courts, and so on. Locke contends that, “The State is based on a contract between ruler and subjects, who give him power only so that their own welfare is increased and their property protected in a way not possible in the State of Nature, where it may be taken away by unprincipled forces.” If government actions reduce the welfare and property rights of the people, as they admit that they will, are they betraying their obligations under the contract? If government does not protect the welfare, and instead decreases it; and does not protect property, but instead takes it, has government then not become the “unprincipled force” of which we should be wary?
If we are “endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights,” what gives the government the right to reduce or otherwise take them? Government does not grant rights, rights are built into humanity by its very nature. Leftists and others would simply take this point and use it to attack Christianity. However, I would submit that any view of a creator would suffice in this argument. This idea even applies to an atheistic worldview. For example, what if nature, via evolution, created a sentient race. Is not a sentient being free by it’s very nature? Are not individuals possessing free will, as humans demonstrably are, born in a state of freedom? Even in that scenario, humans are free, and government serves to protect freedoms, not to take them. After all, government cannot take away what is has not granted, can it? To me, freedom is a concept that applies to every human, regardless of their belief in a particular creator, or even lack of one.
“The sacred rights of mankind are not to be rummaged for among old parchments or musty records. They are written, as with a sunbeam, in the whole volume of human nature, by the hand of divinity itself, and can never be erased or obscured by mortal power.”
Another important aspect of Locke’s work seems to be his views on property. However, property does not necessarily extend to simply a piece of land.
He was concerned with principles and rights, and property rights are uppermost. He wrote in “The Second Treatise of Government,” . . . every man has a property in his own person. This nobody has any right to but himself. The labour of his body, and the work of his hands, we may say, are properly his . . . ” He said that whatever is removed out of the state that nature provided and is mixed with someone’s labor, becomes that person’s property. James Madison later explained that “property” means “that dominion which one man claims and exercises over the external things of the world, in exclusion of every other individual . . . it embraces everything to which a man may attach a value and have a right; and which leaves to every one else the like advantage.”
This is a view of property that is at once practical, expansive and libertarian. It is the essence of political freedom. Who can argue that a man does not have a property in his own person? No government could take the fruits of one’s labor and intellect without a compelling public need and without compensation, and then only through due process of law. A person was free to contract away his property, or any of his several rights in it, for gain. The contract with government was only to protect private contracts, and the government was not entitled to any of the gains therefrom.
The human right in property was meant by Locke and understood by the Framers of the Constitution to be the fundamental liberty. Obviously, it was not necessary to organize government to protect free speech from government or to protect freedom of assembly against government. It was only necessary to organize it to protect property and life (one’s life was his property), and once organized other freedoms had to be protected against government’s power. He wrote in the Second Treatise that men unite in a society “for the mutual preservation of their lives, liberties, and estates, which I call by the general name ‘property’.” He said that the supreme power (the legislative) “cannot take from any man any part of his property without his own consent. For the preservation of property being the end of government and that for which men enter into society . . . ” He noted that for the protection of government everyone should pay his share (a small, flat tax), but only with the consent of the majority.
Do you own you own body? Apparently not, according to the left, as they take the stance that people can be “nudged (Cass Sunstein)” into doing as the state wishes. Also, is it not Mr. Sunstein that suggests that organs might be removed from living people? Do you control your body when the government wishes to determine what you can or cannot eat, or otherwise consume, or what type, amount, or frequency of health care you can receive? Again, the left seems to act as if YOU belong to them, and that all that you do is subject to government intervention and supervision. Hate crimes laws take into consideration what an individual may or may have been thinking when they committed a crime, are we then to assume that the government means to legislate our thought processes?
Beyond the basic control over one’s body, the basic property that all of us have is our labor. We contract with an employer, or a customer, in order to exchange currency, goods , and services. We own our labor, and Locke and the founders suggest that this too, is an unalienable right. However, do we own our own labor when the government takes ever increasing amounts of it? Do we own our own labor when, depending on where one works, a labor union can take from you and use it against your own best interests? For that matter, can one be forced to join a union against their will? Also, why does government turn a blind eye to the violence committed by labor unions? Do we own our own labor when the government advocates forcing you to “volunteer” that labor (The GIVE act)? For that matter, do we own our own labor when, this year, the average American worked into August to pay off their tax bills?
A common deception of the left is to not ban something that they want to “go away.” Rather, they use increasing levels of taxation or regulation to make it either impossible to exercise a right, or create so many administrative hoops that one can only exercise a right within a narrow window of government regulation. Can we use our property as we see fit, or do we have to leap through many hoops to do what we want? Can we control the heat and power consumption of our home, or will the “smart grid” do that for us? Can government take our property and hand it over to private developers? It’s happening all over. Are sustainable development regulations being translated into zoning and building codes all over the US? Yes, they determine where you can build, what you can build, and how big it can be, and a myriad of other requirements that have to be met. Is the government “nudging” us into living in certain areas, all in the name of eliminating “suburban sprawl?” In the end, are we really free to own and use property, or does the government create an environment in which we can (at least for now) own property, but can only do with it as they allow?
“This freedom from absolute, arbitrary power is so necessary to, and closely joined with, a man’s preservation, that he cannot part with it but by what forfeits his preservation and life altogether. For a man not having the power of his own life cannot by compact, or his own consent, enslave himself to any one, nor put himself under the absolute arbitrary power of another to take away his life when he pleases. Nobody can give more power than he has himself; and he that cannot take away his own life, cannot give another power over it.” (Locke, op. cit.)
As usual, this is a topic that can be expanded into a book. There are a myriad of directions, examples, and solutions that this post could take. For the sake of brevity, I will sum it up this way:
Either we are free, and government must guard those freedoms, or we are not. In which case, government is free to do to us what it wills. The answer to that question will determine our future. We must therefore must choose our leaders wisely, or our political differences will pale in comparison to what is to come.