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April 17, 2009
Saving the Republic
By Larrey Anderson
“What can we do to win back our country?” Conservatives are asking themselves that question — with increasing urgency — every day. They are desperately groping for a way to stop the twin avalanches of deficit spending and socialist programs that are hurtling down and shattering the once great mountain of a free republic that was the United States of America.
Most of the conservative remedies offered to date (including mine) have been specific policy recommendations: cutting taxes, imposing term limits, or reforming entitlement programs.
Something is missing in these propositions. Conservatives have some good suggestions for how to fix our runaway government — but we have failed to convincingly address the issue of why the government needs to be fixed in the first place.
This article is all about the why.[i] Understanding why America is America (and not some third world country) is crucial knowledge. The why of America is information that must be not only be understood by conservatives; the “why” must be promulgated and shared with all of our fellow citizens before conservatives can convince their fellow citizens the need for the “how” — for adopting any specific conservative solutions.
There are three “whys” that ground America’s historical success and prosperity. They are tradition, the Constitution, and education. These three concepts are interrelated and interdependent. If one of them falls then all three fall. And, at least at this moment in time, all three are in jeopardy — not only of falling — they are in danger of being destroyed.
Tradition: Private Property
Stated as simply as possible, America was founded on two truths. Both of these propositions were manifested in traditions that were established initially by the observation and practice of Judeo-Christian principles and then, over several centuries, were further developed under British common law. The first, and the most important tradition, was the right to private property.
John Locke, the British philosopher, explained the importance of the right to property as the foundation of any secure and free political regime:
Men, therefore, in a society having property, they have such a right to goods, which by the law of the community are theirs, that nobody hath a right to take them, or any part of them, from them without their consent; without this they have no property at all. For I have truly no property in that which another can by right take from me when he please against my consent. Hence it is a mistake to think that the supreme or legislative power of any commonwealth can do what it will, and dispose of the estates of the subject arbitrarily, or a take any part of them at pleasure.[ii]
Locke stumbled upon a fascinating political truth. The stability of any polity is directly related to the government’s ability to protect its citizens’ rights to buy, sell, own, exchange and/or keep their private property.
The Peruvian economist, Hernando de Soto, has done groundbreaking research that has proven the John Locke was correct. Professor de Soto’s monumental book, The Mystery of Capital, explains in shocking detail what happens when governments hinder, refuse to protect, or actively intervene in preventing the free exchange of private property.
In his review of de Soto’s great work, Thomas Sowell gives us this insight into the results of incongruous governmental meddling with private property:
Third World peoples “have houses but not titles, crops but not deeds, businesses but not statutes of incorporation.” Why then do they not get legal titles? Because it can be an unbelievable ordeal, especially for people with little education and in countries where red tape is virtually boundless.
When bureaucracy and frustrating legal systems drive economic activities underground, the losers are not simply those engaged in these activities. The whole country loses when legal property rights are not readily available because investment is stifled.
De Soto gives this stunning example:
In Egypt, the person who wants to acquire and legally register a lot on state-owned desert land must wind his way through at least 77 bureaucratic procedures at 31 public and private agencies. This can take anywhere from 5 to 14 years. To build a legal dwelling on former agricultural land would require 6 to 11 years of bureaucratic wrangling.
America, until just a few months ago, had a two hundred year tradition of protecting the free exchange of property between its citizens. One of the most important aspects of that process of exchange is called bankruptcy. If a business fails, the property or assets of that business are offered for sale to other citizens or businesses.[iii]
In other words, the state, in a self-governed and stable society, does not enter into the business of saving businesses. In a free society, the government allows its citizens to “sift through” the remains of a failed enterprise and to either restart the business or to salvage whatever valuable assets remain in the failed enterprise.
But rather than let the market place sort out the value of the abandoned homes, the heavily mortgaged properties, and the over promised benefits that resulted from the burst of the “housing bubble,” the collapse of the auto makers, and the incompetence of the insurance industry, many Americans seem more than willing to put the federal government in charge of “solving” these problems.
In allowing the government to not only intervene, but actually purchase, these failed businesses and at risk assets, Americans have abandoned the most important and cherished tradition that grounds our freedom: the right to property.
The ultimate result of this kind of capitulation by the citizens to the state has been known for centuries. Once the government becomes involved in the actual distribution of private assets the result is always the same: corruption, ineptitude, injustice and tyranny:
Then the LORD said to Elijah, the prophet from Tishbe, “Go to King Ahab of Samaria. You will find him in Naboth’s vineyard, about to take possession of it. Tell him that I, the LORD, say to him, ‘After murdering the man, are you taking over his property as well?’ Tell him that this is what I say: ‘In the very place that the dogs licked up Naboth’s blood they will lick up your blood!'[iv]
Read the entire story of the state’s seizure of Naboth’s property. Many citizens of Jezreel were complicit in the king’s successful attempt to kill Naboth and take his vineyard. The parallel between the biblical story of Naboth’s vineyard to our government’s current “bailouts” (rapidly turning into buyouts) is stunning.
I have argued at length elsewhere that the right to privacy can only exist in tandem with, as an addendum to, and as a corollary of the right of property. Put as simply as possible — privacy takes place. And it must have a private setting in order to take place. As I have demonstrated, the venue, that is both sufficient and necessary for the existence of the right of privacy, is the right (and the sustained existence) of private property.[v]
When people lose their right to property they lose, and they lose it quickly, the right to privacy. We have witnessed, in the last few weeks, dramatic examples of this fundamental political truth.
Within weeks of “bailing out” AIG both state and federal governments demanded the release of the names of the employees who worked for AIG who had signed bonus contracts.
AIG employees’ lives were threatened and “concerned citizens” picketed some AIG executives’ homes.
Within weeks of receiving financial aid from the federal government, the Chairman of General Motors was forced to resign by President Obama. The right of the shareholders to hire and fire the head of the company that they own is an example of the right of privacy that stems from the right to property. (A contract is a private agreement between the owners of the company and their employee — the CEO.)[vi]
These are but two examples (there are others) of losses of the right to privacy that have occurred within months of the passage of the first TARP bailout and since President Bush’s infamous declaration, “I’ve abandoned free market principles to save the free market system.”
Abandoning free market principles does far more than increase the federal deficit. Abandoning the free market not only devastates free markets … it destroys freedom.
Our Founding Fathers were well aware of the twin principles of the right to property and the right to privacy. In fact they knew that the two concepts were inseparable:
Government is instituted no less for protection of property, than of the persons, of individuals. The one as well as the other, therefore, may be considered as represented by those who are charged with the government.[vii]
If the government protects the right to property, it protects the persons and their rights to privacy within their property (their homes and their businesses.)
The Constitution was specifically written to limit the power of the federal government and to protect the citizens’ rights to property and to privacy.
For example, Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution specifically itemizes the power of Congress. In fact, that’s the name of Article I, Section 8: “The Powers of Congress.”
So how many powers does the Congress have and what are they? You can read them here. There are less than 20 powers and the particular capacities of Congress are fully enumerated in less than 500 words.
That’s it — at least according to the Constitution that’s it. No mention in Section 8 of buying up auto companies, or bailing out banks, or providing medical services, or spending money on schools, or windmills, or building bike paths or … well, the list of what Congress has done, compared to the list of what Congress is allowed to do in the Constitution is almost endless.
So who has the power to do all of the things that Congress now does — powers that are NOT specifically listed in the Constitution? You do. And I do. And, to a certain extent, so do the individual states and local governments in the United States.
To emphasize and to make it perfectly clear that the new federal government was a limited government intended primarily to protect the property and the persons of the new nation, the Founders added a list of ten amendments that we call “The Bill of Rights.”
Of particular interest in our discussion are the Ninth and Tenth Amendments. Here is what the Ninth Amendment says:
The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
The list of rights granted to Congress in Article I, Section 8 (the enumerated rights of the Congress) contains all of the “Powers of Congress” granted under the Constitution.
If any particular right is not granted to the Congress in Article I, Section 8, then that right belongs to you and me. We, the people, retain all of the rights that are not specifically enumerated in the Constitution.
In order to make the Ninth Amendment absolutely explicit, the Founders added the Tenth Amendment. I like to call the Tenth Amendment the “And We Really, Really Mean It” amendment. Here is what it says:
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.
The Founding Fathers really, really did mean it.
America is founded on the right to property and the accompanying and complimentary right to privacy. Our Constitution was written to protect these two most precious forms of freedom — the joint liberties from which all other rights and human dignities flow. These are the two simple truths that, for more than two hundred years, made America the most powerful and prosperous nation on the face of the earth.
We have failed as a nation to teach the majority of at least the last two generations of our citizens these fundamental truths. This is why we a loosing our republic. The Founders warned time and time again that they had given us a free republic “if you can keep it.”[viii]
The first step conservatives must take to preserve our republic is to understand the importance of these truths and to teach them to our children, our friends, and, yes, even to our political opponents.
Start with our children. Millions of Americans study the scriptures with their children — some on a daily basis. How many of these same Americans study the Constitution with their offsrping? The Bible and its message are available in almost every country in the world (including autocracies like Cuba and Venezuela). But God blessed only America with the Bible and with our majestic Constitution.
My advice for the millions of religious conservatives in America: read your kids the Bible and the Ten Commandments but don’t neglect reading them The Constitution and the Ten Amendments.
There are some great resources available for teaching our children the history of the founding of America. National radio talk show host Mike Church has produced an entertaining series of recordings on compact disc that tell the story of the struggle for independence and the founding of America. The series includes The Road to Independence and The Fame of Our Fathers.
These fascinating, and historically accurate, CDs are a must for home school history classes. Children who attend public schools would greatly benefit listening to these CDs. New citizens, or adult Americans who don’t know much about early American history, will enjoy them as well.[ix]
Take the time to sit down with your like-minded friends and study the Constitution. Are you in a book club? Insist that the Federalist Papers be included on the reading list.
Learn the Constitution. Understand the wisdom of our Founding Fathers. In an argument with any one on the far left, being able to refer to specific sections of the greatest political document ever written is the most effective debating tool you can possess. Be able to show them that the Constitution is all that stands between their inalienable rights to property and privacy … and tyranny.
Larrey Anderson is a writer, a philosopher, and submissions editor for American Thinker. His latest award-winning novel is The Order of the Beloved. His memoir, Underground: Life and Survival in the Russian Black Market, has just been released.
[i] My suggestions in this article for solving the current crisis in our republic are very simple and straightforward. But the principles behind these ideas are not so simple. My proposals are based on philosophical premises that I have published over the last several months here on American Thinker. I suggest that the reader review these articles before considering the manifesto that follows: (1) Privacy and Property Rights; (2) The Myth of Relativism and the Cult of Tolerance; and (3) Intellectuals and Philosophy vs. Conservatives and Tradition.
[ii] Second Treatise, Section 138.
[iii] The state’s role in the redistribution of the assets of a failed enterprise is fair and just judicial oversight of the sale of the remaining holdings. It is also important to realize that a corporation is a legal fiction created to be able to allow a business to act as a single “person” to buy and sell property, to provide goods and services, and to enter into the contractual obligations to do so.
[iv] I Kings 21: 17-19. See also Exodus 22:1-4.
[v] Here was the summation of that argument: “Whenever the state restricts a private activity, thus limiting the activity to a specific site, if there is no private property (no specific site) then there is no place in which that activity can occur. Prisons are not private.”
[vi] See note 3. The traditional (and constitutional) role of government in contract law is to act as a referee (once again through the judiciary) when one side or the other fails to keep its part of the contractual agreement.
[vii] The Federalist, Number 54.
[viii] The Federalist, Number 10 outlines the need for continuing education and the frailty of a free republic to be captured by “factions.”
[ix] Professional actors read from the actual historical letters and documents. The CDs were recorded with convincing sound effects and a stunning musical score.
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