Liberty cannot be defined without also defining government because each is the polar opposite of the other. Of course both can and do exist at the same time, but each is diminished to the extent the other exists.

Someone rushes to point out that government makes liberty safe. In fact government may sometimes protect us from some harm, but government’s presence with the power of force and coercion threatens liberty.

Our federal government today is the living example and primary proof of that statement. We began under a written constitution providing for a limited government with enumerated powers. The noble purpose of that experiment in government was to provide protection for the individual to enjoy nearly unlimited rights, but with complete control of, and responsibility for, themselves while always respecting the equal rights of others. In those ancient days rights were understood as freedoms of action within which anyone could act as they pleased so long as they respected the equal rights of others. That Constitution provided not only those rights specifically mentioned in the Bill of Rights but the unlimited rights referred to in the 9th amendment.

Over time, at the expense of our liberty and individual rights, our protector government grew in size and power. The executive and the legislative each increased their powers beyond those enumerated in the Constitution. The politically appointed Supreme Court repaid the favor of their appointments by agreeing to the gradual, then rapid, dismemberment of the Constitution that limited government power and protected liberty.

Since 1787, slavery has been ended, blacks and other races and ethnic groups are far better off than in earlier periods, but with those exceptions, government power anf liberty have changed places. We have become individuals with enumerated and gradually diminishing limited rights under a government of increasingly unlimited powers.

Our Supreme Court Justices are now part of the federal political aristocracy that rules us.

An yet, if I could travel back in time knowing what I know today, what could I advise the Constitutional Convention that might insure the long lasting liberty and limited government that they sought to leave us. I doubt they could do better than what they did.

I have a long list of candidates for changes to the Constitution. Term limits is on that list of course. But recently I have come to doubt that any government possessing the police power, taxation and other means of coercion can be limited. Not over an extended period of time.

Jefferson said as much: “The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield, & government to gain ground.”

In fact Jefferson is the perfect example: those who wrote the Constitution were more able and better prepared to construct that document than we are today. Which is why I wonder if there is any change that would have prevented government from discovering a way to increase its power. The use of force and coercion defines government. That is why it is the opposite of liberty. And that makes government too fearful an institution to invite into any society that wishes to be free.

Economic Freedom of the World as ranked by the Fraser Institute reports the average economic freedom of all 152 nations has risen in recent years. That’s wonderful. However, in the period from 2000 to 2013 the United States has fallen from #3 position to #17. Now examine the graph below remembering that for the first 100 years Federal spending growth averaged less than 2 % per year. (Unfortunately I cannot find usable information for national economic growth in the 1800s. I believe it to be in excess of 6% per year.

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9 Responses to Opposites?

  1. Norm says:

    1.) Well meaning liberals and bureaucrats think that we all need the government to “protect us”, if we are to have any liberties. ( The article alludes to this “fact.”) They truly believe that without us being free from risk, we can’t really have any liberties. They would ask the question, what liberties can you have if you are not protected and kept safe by those who have the power to protect and keep us all safe? Once people accept this false premise they are quickly willing to accept government as needed to ensure personal liberties. I conclude, which is mentioned in the article, that our personal liberties are reduced in direct proportion to the government’s intervention in our lives. I don’t want to be protected – I want to be free which comes with all the associated risks. My view is in conflict with the the liberal’s position/ logic. One of us is wrong but both sides see the other as being blind to the obvious. 2.) A Justice is a lifelong appointment. They can’t be removed because of how they vote which means that they should vote based upon their beliefs Vs fear of getting canned. The real legacy of each President are the Justices they appoint. My problem with the Supreme Court these days is that they are not interpreting the Constitution but are using the court to MAKE new laws. Unlike legislatures, I don’t think any Justice has ever left the court and then went to work for a company they helped. The Court is not working the way it should but I don’t see it broken like the legislative and executive branches. The Executive branch is now using its power to pass laws without any consideration for congress – talk about substituting liberties for power. 

    • Erne Lewis says:

      Norm and Gary
      I agree with your observations but I would add “conservatives” to “liberals and bureaucrats”. In fact I frequently find just as many conservatives demanding government interference into the private decisions of individuals as I do liberals. There is plenty of blame to go around. They all believe government is critical to protection of our rights and should be used enthusiastically.
      I thought so myself until recently. But a government that can use force to protect us must also decide when force is appropriate. There is the problem. Everything looks like a nail to a man with a hammer.
      As we have recently seen, the user of force under today’s Constitution and in today’s democracy, is rewarded by voters with another term in office because she redistributed wealth taken from a few to a great many more voters. Companies that provide large campaign contributions are rewarded with much greater subsidies taken from taxpayers.
      Politicians, like everyone else, tend to make decisions that benefit them. Granting the use of force to anyone and then expecting it to not be misused is naïve. Everyone is susceptible to the corruption of power. Everyone.
      I hope we can someday find a way for humans to discover a free market solution to that issue. If it happens it will be the free market that makes the discovery. It will not be a plan worked out by any individual or group beforehand.
      If I begin trying to design such a system it quickly falls apart before I have finished. The wonderful thing about the free market is that ideas are built upon each other better than an individual mind can work. It not only can work, when we get government out of the way, it will work, perhaps in some small community at first but eventually it will spread.
      I can imagine civil society communities might hire private police contractors that get replaced when they fail the community. That already happens. A justice system where members of the community agree to use common law and arbitration for their civil court system and a criminal justice system where criminals are forced to pay the victim, or their heirs, for their crime and pay society for the cost of administering justice. Nothing perfect but it can be a lot better.
      Norm, you mention our Supreme Court system. I am just finishing Dirty Dozen a Cato book laying out the 12 worst cases in the history of the Supreme Court and where and why they went wrong. I highly recommend it for a somewhat different view of our Supreme Court. They are part and parcel of our political aristocracy.

      It would be impossible to design beforehand a market based solution but over time I think society will find a way to replace government with a market based solution. Almost anything would be better.

  2. Gary says:

    I would have to respectfully disagree with the above comment that, “Well meaning liberals and bureaucrats think that we all need the government…” I do not believe liberals, or for that matter progressive Republicans, mean us ‘well’. They mean to grow in the acquisition and growth of raw, political power.
    For years I believed that they just had a different view of how things oughta be. While that may be true of the useful idiots in the trenches who mindlessly regurgitate the liberal dogma, those at the top of the food chain, be they dems or repubs, simply seek power. It’s the story of history, one person or group seeking to dominate another.
    I’ve believed since high school, am 52 now, that if I could do one thing to try to ‘make things better’ it would be to institute congressional term limits. While that would not restrain the SCOTUS at least maybe, maybe we could get statesmen in who are more interested in doing what’s right instead of getting re-elected. Maybe, just maybe the knowledge that they would be returning to live under the laws they had just passed would give office holders pause and cause to reflect on liberty vs ‘protecting’.

    Erne, your book struck a chord on this subject. Absent the steps outlined by your protagonists or a Constitutional Convention as advocated by Mark Levin, we’re probably doomed. The idea that the current occupants of Capital Hill would ever seek any limits, yet alone term limits, on their power is beyond laughable. I increasingly think the only answer may be some sort of societal collapse, be it a currency meltdown, with or without a national bankruptcy, or some other sort of ‘reset’ to awaken Americans out of their slumber. I hope I’m wrong but a casual scan of the daily headlines on Drudge cause me to think ‘something’ is coming. We simply can’t keep going the way we are going, the precipice draws nearer and the law of gravity will not be denied if we continue on the course we are on.

  3. Donald Sammis says:

    Well said. I recently read, “The rise of the Warrior Cop”. Which is another angle of “POWER”. Locally, last week our local SWAT team had a guy surrounded on the lawn of the courthouse, who was ranting and waving a pistol around. All civilians had been evacuated. After a 3 hour, repeat , 3 hour standoff the goon squad moved in and blew the guy away, “as a last resort”. His gun turned out to be a pellet gun. He was a known nutball. Off hand I can think of half dozen non lethal ways to address the problem. Our “protectors” have as much imagination and judgement as your average robot. Google Broward County , Fla. for all the details.

  4. Ben LaGarde says:

    The opinions expressed above are done well and are beyond my “poor power to add to or detract from”, to borrow a phrase. That said, it is my feeling that any discussion about “the Constitution” these days needs to recognize that “what we are seeing in our politics is not two clashing interpretations of the same Constitution, but increasingly two different Constitutions in conflict: the old Constitution of 1787 and a “living” Constitution that is not just a different approach to the original, but an alternative to it. The extraordinary fight the Tea Party was willing to put up arose from this fact—that Obamacare amounted to a colossal battle between two different ways of government. And it was the Tea Party and President Obama who shared a clear understanding of the stakes; mainstream Republican leaders understood them with much less clarity and intensity.” Quote from Charles Kesler, The Tea Party, Conservatism and the Constitution.

    • Erne Lewis says:

      I agree with all you said. However in the late 1800s the Progressives began to change public political opinion. The Federal Reserve Act, the amendments to the Constitution such as The Income Tax, Popular election of Senators, and Prohibition all acted to diminish greatly individual liberty. Those were popular votes that ravaged property rights and civil rights. To some extent the popular mood to change the Constitution were excuse enough for the subsequent actions of the Supreme Court. If I were to rewrite the Constitution I would insert language that “no majority shall have power or be able to assign power to any office that infringes on the rights of individuals to completely own and control themselves. And I would insert a definition of rights as actions that everyone has to act for their own pleasure, subject to equal rights of others.
      The Supreme Court does use a living Constitution by which they mean anything we can find excuse for that expands the power of the federal government.
      My point is that we cannot require the Supreme Court to do as the Constitution plainly requires while at the same time accepting the amendments to the Constitution that have crushed liberty.

  5. Mary Swoboda says:

    Somehow establishing (or re-establishing) a free market system again will not solve the problem. John Adams said, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people.” Morality and religion are bridles to control human passions such as envy, ambition, revenge, and domination over other people. Without the bridles of morality and religion, these human weaknesses will “break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net.”

  6. Larry says:

    A couple of my favorite quotes:
    “Democracy is defined as 2 wolves and a sheep voting on what’s for dinner” – Sorry, but don’t know who said this.
    “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the rest” – Winston Churchill

    One of the problems with our voting system is that everyone has exactly one vote. Idiots have the
    same influence as you and I. This is an obvious flaw. Another flaw is that the largest stakeholders
    only have one vote, and they are grossly outnumbered by smaller stakeholders. Thus we get the
    ‘rich don’t pay enough taxes’ crap.

    So I propose a system – just as corporations operate under. Corporations weigh the vote of stockholders by the stake of each stockholder. If you have 1 share of stock, you get 1 vote,
    if you have 1000 shares of stock, you get 1000 votes.

    How about if your vote is multiplied by your tax burden?

    So the first point someone might make is – well, the ‘rich’ – the ones with the heaviest tax burden would
    get to cut themselves a great deal – vote for the reduction of their tax burden. Of course they would.

    But the next election — well – they would no longer have as much of an influence would they?
    This, in engineering terms is called ‘negative feedback.’ The system has a design that causes it to
    balance and any extreme force in a particular direction is opposed by a larger force which tends to push it back.

    And another idea – this is actually done in many places, mostly outside the US.
    It’s called ‘At Large’ representation.
    Rather than divvy up a state, for instance, into districts and have a winner take all election in each district for representation, an At Large system is completely different.
    In an At Large system, all candidates are listed on the ballot for the whole state. There are no districts.
    In my state, for instance, we have 10 representatives. So we would have a list of many candidates,
    anyone that is running. Each voter of my state will pick their 10 favorites from the list.
    The 10 representatives for the state would be the 10 with the highest vote totals.
    These 10 representative represent the whole state.
    This solves what I see as 2 very big problems.
    1. Gerrymandering – the art of drawing district lines in strange ways to manipulate the systems. (this goes away since there are no districts)
    2. Winner take all goes away – and with it we would start to see people get elected that are not from the 2 big parties.

    Of course – the 2 big parties would be opposed to this – probably why we don’t see it much, if at all.

  7. Charles Stokes says:

    It seems to me that we are too generous with our enemies; and I do consider anyone trying to change or subvert the Constitution an “enemy”. i believe socialist/communist controlled countries discovered early on that they could not compete with our democratic republic and realized that their only recourse was to take us down from within. I suspect Russia being the original culprit but do not exlcude communist China from taking advantage of the weakness of a free market society: mainly greed with its related vices, and the remnants of slavery.

    I view politicians who join socialist organization, who abuse their power, who buy votes; the voters who are bought; the corporations involved; and welfare cheaters as traitors to our society…and therefore the enemy. They are no less an enemy then Al Queda.

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