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Posts Tagged ‘liberty’
July 3rd, 2014 at 7:14 pm
Does the Declaration Empower Govt as Much as Secure Rights?

An allegedly misplaced period is causing at least one liberal academic to argue that the Declaration of Independence is as concerned with empowering government as it is with securing individual rights.

The argument runs like this. On the official transcript of the Declaration housed in the National Archives a period appears after the familiar phrase, “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” However, the period doesn’t appear on the earliest version of the document we have, nor does it occur on other reproductions.

Removing the period changes the fundamental balance of government, argues Danielle Allen.

“That errant spot of ink,” summarizes the New York Times, “she believes, makes a difference, contributing to what she calls a ‘routine but serious misunderstanding’ of the document.

“The period creates the impression that the list of self-evident truths ends with the right to ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,’ she says. But as intended by Thomas Jefferson, she argues, what comes next is just as important: the essential role of governments – ‘instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed’ – in securing those rights.”

According to Professor Allen, “The logic moves from the value of individual rights to the importance of government as a tool for protecting those rights. You lose that connection when the period gets added.”

What we have here is a grammar czar masquerading as a political theorist.

Whether or not the period is included, the logic of Jefferson’s argument is the same: Individual rights precede the formation of government. In fact, the only reason governments are formed is to secure the enjoyment of these pre-existing rights; among these being life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

When a government becomes destructive of these ends, the people have the right to abolish the government and found a new one that will secure them. If Professor Allen and others will recall, the vast majority of the Declaration sets forth the reasons for dissolving the bonds between the British Empire and the American colonies before declaring the latter free, independent and self-governing.

Allen’s real project, though, is reading the Declaration as a collectivist document that empowers government to legislate equality. In a summary of her book Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality, Allen tries to make the most out of her ink blot by arguing that “Its list of self-evident truths does not end, as so many think, with our individual right to the ‘pursuit of happiness’ but with the collective right of the people to reform government so it will ‘effect their Safety and Happiness.’ The sentence laying out the self-evident truths leads us from the individual to the community – from our individual rights to what we can achieve only together, as a community constituted by bonds of equality.”

It’s impossible to square Allen’s interpretation with anything we know about the Declaration and the Founding. The Lockean theory driving the document puts individuals ahead of the group, and government – the largest expression of a group – at the service of the rights-bearing human person. If the group violates a person’s God-given rights (i.e. the inalienable ones endowed by the Creator), the group loses.

Going forward, it would be better if Professor Allen sticks to answering the marginally interesting question of the Declaration’s intended punctuation. Doing more – like trying to inject of a political philosophy into a blank space – risks making her contribution seem less important.

March 9th, 2012 at 12:52 am
Santorum Covers the Gamut for Alabama Policy Institute

At the public dinner in Mobile Thursday night for the Alabama Policy Institute, a terrific state think tank, Rick Santorum gave a cogent and thoughtful explanation of his “JFK/throw up” line that got him in so much trouble last week when talking about separation of church and state. A woman sitting next to me had voted for Obama in 2008, but she said she thought he handled the question very very well. He self-deprecatingly and with good comedic timing said “the language that I used was, at a minimum [HIS emphasis], inarticulate.” He said his overstatement came from “years of frustration” with the establishment’s enshrinement of “absolution separation of church and state” (in Kennedy’s formulation) as sacrosanct. That said, he said he agreed with much of what JFK said in his famous Houston speech on the subject in 190, that it “resonated very well with me.” But he said JFK’s “absolute” language amounted to “a reversal of the concept” originally planned by the founders. They meant not to protect the state from the church, but to ensure the free exercise of all religions and no religions in the public square. Madison said that giving everybody an equal chance to be heard in the public square, to freely exercise their consciences, was “the perfect remedy” for “how we shall live together. Kennedy, he said, “went too far” by saying he would not even take advice from people that was rooted in faith.

On other topics, Santorum repeatedly blasted federal interference with local education (and thus very memorably blasted the federal hijacking of the Common Core state standards initiative); he pledged to increase trade and improve relations within the Western Hemisphere, promote manufacturing,and  ”put constraints on the judiciary that thinks it is pre-eminent.” On the latter, he rejected the idea that we have a “living Constitution” :  ”Living and breathing are done by people, not by documents.”

He spoke at length about his signature achievement in the 1990s in leading the fight to reform the Aid to Families with Dependent Children welfare program. Noting that the reforms saved a on of money for the feds and significantly reduced the welfare rolls, he insitsed that those two achievements alone do not define success. “Poverty rates fell to the lowest levels in history. A drastic change occurred not just in the budget of Washington but also in the lives of millions of Americans.”

Other topics: Also on judges, he spoke of having worked really hard with Bama’s Sen. Jeff Sessions to help confirm controversial (but superb) Judge Bill Pryor to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, and spoke again of passing a Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution that includes a spending limit.

But all of that came in Q and A with a local panel. His 15-minute speech focused very strongly on the overarching theme of liberty. All those at my table said he spoke eloqently on the subject. Alas, my notes cannot do justice to his speech, because I was not scribbling fast enough to capture the best sense of it. One of the best lines: “A limited government… means unlimited opportunity for everybody in our society.”

There: Those were the highlights.

January 17th, 2011 at 1:41 pm
Hat Tip to a Real Community Organizer

For this year’s celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I’d like to suggest printing and reading King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail.  The work is part of the American literary and cultural canons, deserving rightful mention alongside other great statements of American principles like King’s “I Have a Dream Speech.”

King’s public witness reminds Americans that ours is a nation of aspiration.  May his words inspire us to keep fighting for individual freedom…together.

H/T: University of Pennsylvania African Studies Center & MLKOnline

November 4th, 2010 at 5:53 pm
Public Health Care Means Loss of Privacy

One of the selling points for “universal” health care is the notion it carries of making treatment available to everyone.  That’s (somewhat) true, but when government-run health care displaces private companies, something else gets tossed out too: privacy.

According to a notice published in the Federal Register last month, President Barack Obama’s Office of Personnel Management (OPM) will be launching a new health-related database that adds to new data sets to one representing federal workers: private citizens who report pre-existing health conditions or use one of the newly created regional exchanges for pooled health insurance.  That information will be made available to any government agency, law enforcement group, or third party researcher that shows a need for it.

What gives OPM the right to collect and disseminate such sensitive health records?  The passage and implementation of ObamaCare.

Charles Krauthammer’s recent column heralding the demise Obama’s legislative agenda contained a paragraph that deserves mention:

Over the next two years, the real action will be not in Congress but in the bowels of the federal bureaucracy. Democrats will advance their agenda on Obamacare, financial reform and energy by means of administrative regulation, such as carbon-emission limits imposed unilaterally by the Environmental Protection Agency.

No doubt, there will be many battles to fight in Congress against enactment of more freedom-killing policies, but voters, activists, and politicians should remember that the threat to liberty only accelerates once the federal bureaucracy gets involved.  OPM is just the most recent example.

September 25th, 2010 at 2:26 pm
Reduce Government? Grow Liberty? There’s An App For That.

The Prometheus Institute, an Irvine, CA-based think tank, is at the leading edge of using new media to make government more transparent, while spreading the good news about free markets.  Currently, the group’s signature initiative is the ‘Do-It-Yourself Democracy’ App.

The fruit of hundreds of hours of research, the DIY Democracy App allows users to instantly find the contact information for state and local officials, official forms for filing complaints, propose local initiatives, and research individual rights like freedom of speech and association.

Here’s an interview with the Institute’s founders from Reason.tv:

Prometheus is also gearing up to use the digital capabilities of the Apple I-Pad to promote free market classics like F.A. Hayek’s Road to Serfdom to a new generation of readers.  Not bad for a couple of guys trying to “pioneer innovative technology to advance liberty.”

April 5th, 2010 at 4:50 pm
Fighting the Good Fight

The defining battle in the war of competing political philosophies today is the one being waged between proponents of large and small government.  Clifford Asness makes a sterling contribution to the latter in his essay, “The Way Forward for Republicans, Tea Partiers.”  A sample:

We must beat them by repeatedly making the hard arguments as to why liberty works and why it is the moral choice.

We must win by explaining, no matter how long it may take and hard it may be, that free people acting in a free market is what this country stands for, is the only ethical way to live, and happens to be the greatest anti-poverty and civil rights program on earth. This is harder than saying “here’s some free stuff, now vote for us forever or you’ll lose it.” But, it’s the right thing to do for America, and even the right thing to do politically. If the other party is trying to hook the American people by pushing drugs (entitlements and such) on them, we won’t win elections by pushing slightly less attractive drugs!

The disadvantage to this approach is, again, it’s far harder. It does not fit well in a sound bite. It requires faith in our audience. I think the American people are ready for it, and will reward the party that shares the truth with them. I think so no matter how much more complex the truth is than simpler feel-good lies.