August 30, 2014

When is Taxpayer Day?

TAMPA, May 27, 2013 ― Today is the tenth day since Armed Forces Day. Ten straight days of “thanking the troops,” supposedly for the freedom we enjoy because of the sacrifices they’ve made.

Something needs to be said. It probably won’t be popular, but I have a sinking feeling there are more than a few people who have entertained the same heretical thought that I have:

I’m sick and tired of being invited to “thank the troops,” especially for my “freedom.”

There is no disrespect intended towards the families of anyone who has died in one of the government’s wars. The loss of a child, husband, father or mother is a tragedy, regardless of the circumstances.

Moreover, it is hard not to respect the kind of courage it takes to actually go into combat, regardless of the reasons one may have enlisted.

But thanks is quite another matter. Thanks assumes that we have enjoyed some benefit as a result. We’re told that “freedom isn’t free” and the benefit we enjoy is our liberty. That begs an obvious question.

What is the cause and effect relationship between any war the U.S. government has prosecuted, at least since WWII, and whatever relative freedom Americans have left? Are we freer because our government invaded Iraq? Viet Nam? Afghanistan? How?

Read the rest of the article at Communities@ Washington Times…

Why Santorum supporters should stand with Ron Paul

TAMPA, April 10, 2012 — Rick Santorum and Ron Paul clashed frequently during the GOP debates. Santorum and his supporters suspected that Paul had made a deal with Romney, but that wasn’t it at all. Santorum and Paul had genuine disagreements about issues that matter. What is American conservatism? Is it libertarian or not? Should religious beliefs inform public policy or should the separation of church and state be absolute? In a way, it’s a shame that the race was not solely between Paul and Santorum. These are questions worthy of public discussion, unlike Mitt Romney’s tax returns or Newt Gingrich’s marital adventures.

I am a libertarian and tend to agree with Ron Paul. I tend to disagree with Rick Santorum on most things, but not on everything. However, I do grant him this. He was the most sincere of Paul’s opponents. Call me naïve, but I am convinced that he believes the things he is saying.

Continue at Communities @ Washington Times…

Rick Santorum is Unelectable

Since the beginning of the Republican Presidential Primary race, we have heard that Ron Paul is unelectable. While many conservatives like some of Paul’s ideas on domestic policy, his non-interventionist foreign policy is supposedly a deal-breaker. Even in articles praising Paul on particular issues, reporters have without exception felt compelled to remind us that there is absolutely no chance that Ron Paul will win the Republican nomination for president.  This “unelectable” label has been used exclusively against Paul.

With only four candidates left in the race, the lead has changed hands several times. The current leader is Rick Santorum, fresh off primary wins in Minnesota, Colorado, and Missouri. Since those victories, the media have been trumpeting Santorum as the new frontrunner while completely ignoring the proverbial elephant in the room – Rick Santorum is unelectable.

With a plethora of debates behind us, we have had a chance to get to know the Republican candidates pretty well. All of the Republican candidates except for Ron Paul support some sort of federal government prohibition on gay marriage. Paul actually wants to get even the state governments out of the marriage business, taking the libertarian position that marriage is just a contract like any other. This has visibly upset Santorum, who not only opposes gay marriage but seems completely obsessed with homosexuality in general. Let’s be honest, who doesn’t believe, deep down, that Santorum wouldn’t support making homosexuality illegal again if he thought he could get away with it?

Most Republican voters put the federal budget at or near the top of their priority list as far as their political positions are concerned. Not Rick Santorum. The issues page on his website has the budget thirteenth on the page. What is the number one issue? “Enforcing Laws Against Illegal Pornography,” which Rick says “causes profound brain changes in both children and adults, resulting in widespread negative consequences.” Queue the eerie music because we’re just getting started. Update: Since this article was published, Santorum’s staff has changed the order of the issues on his issue page. He has moved “Enforcing Laws Against Illegal Pornography” to last on the page, moving the federal budget up to 12th by default. Gay marriage now comes in at Number Two.

Number two on his list is “No More Leading from Behind for America,” which is basically the standard Republican Party line that the U.S. military should be deployed in just about every nation on earth. I happen to think that is crazy, but most Republicans don’t. However, number three on the list is gay marriage. So, out of the top three issues listed on his page, pornography and homosexuality are two of them.

To say that Rick is “a little uptight” is a gross understatement. Santorum has stated unequivocally that he believes that the federal government can and should regulate the bedroom. In fact, he has also said that there is no area of life that is beyond the government’s reach. Outside of the few states where evangelicals can allow him to get away with these positions, he simply cannot win. Voters in the more moderate states like New York and California – which control the bulk of the delegates – will find these ideas repugnant.

The media has often supported the “Ron Paul is unelectable” narrative by criticizing his supporters. I’m not sure what the beliefs of some of his supporters have to do with Paul’s fitness for the presidency, but the punditry believes it is a valid line of inquiry.

So, some of Ron Paul’s supporters believe in elaborate conspiracy theories. The most prevalent revolves around quasi-secret organizations like the Bilderbergs and the Trilateral Commission. The theory is that very wealthy families like the Rothschilds and the Rockefellers use these organizations to further a plot to establish a world government. Some people think this theory is “a little kooky.” Not all or even most Paul supporters hold these views, but let’s say that a significant minority do.

Now, let’s consider the views of a significant minority of the evangelicals that support Rick Santorum. They are fierce supporters of the U.S. government’s wars in the Middle East because they believe that if Jewish people do not control the city of Jerusalem, then…wait for it…Jesus will not return to earth during the “end time,” which they also believe will occur any minute now. They are willing to elect leaders who will take America to war based upon this belief, which ranks up there with the “precious bodily fluids” theory from Dr. Strangelove.

I’m not even 100% sure that Santorum doesn’t believe this himself. Someone should ask him. Certainly, there have been much sillier questions put to candidates during the debates. I for one would like to at least get this crossed off the long list of idiotic theories that inform the president.

Regardless of Santorum’s answer to that question, which it is only fair to assume would be “no,” his other positions still nullify any chance of him becoming president. From all reports, Santorum is a decent person and a good father, and there is certainly nothing wrong with having strong religious convictions. However, the vast majority of Americans do not believe that those convictions should be imposed upon other people with the force of law. Rick Santorum does. That alone makes it obvious that Rick Santorum is never going to be president. So why hasn’t the media proclaimed him unelectable as they have Ron Paul?

Tom Mullen is the author of A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.

Free Chapters – A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America

Kindle edition now available here!

Paperback here!

Hello friends,

Americans are waking up to the reality that our once free republic is in serious trouble. They are searching for answers to what seem like unsolvable problems: economic depression, unending war, political corruption, and vanishing liberties. What if there were just one answer – freedom? The American republic was founded upon that principle, yet few suggest it is the solution to any of our problems,  much less all of them. But if freedom is the answer, we first must know what it is. Sadly, most Americans do not. That is why I wrote this book.

I hope you enjoy the Introduction and Chapter One: What is Freedom?, which I am making available for free below. The subsequent chapters discuss how freedom can solve the many challenges we face.

To read the rest of this book, you can get the Kindle Edition here.

I look forward to fighting with you to restore our liberty.  – Tom Mullen

Reviews

“Thomas Mullen is a knowledgeable and passionate libertarian and A Return to Common Sense is a valuable addition to the libertarian literature. Those new to the freedom movement will benefit from Tom’s introduction to both the practical and moral arguments for freedom. Long-time activists will benefit from Tom’s explanation of why strict adherence to principle is vital to the future success of the liberty movement.”

- Representative Ron Paul (TX-14)

Congressman and author of The Revolution: A Manifesto and End the Fed.

“A well written primer on economics, liberty, and government that even avid Austrians will enjoy. If you have been blinded by government and Wall Street propaganda, A Return to Common Sense will help open your eyes. I not only recommend that you add this book to your freedom library, but that you buy a few copies for your friends.”

- Peter Schiff, President of Euro Pacific Capital, Inc and author of Crash Proof: How to Profit from the Coming Economic Collapse.

Tom Mullen has written a thorough and useful book. Those for whom a discussion of liberty is a new experience will discover in A Return to Common Sense a clear, easy to understand guide to the nature of freedom, and why it is essential to our fondest hopes for a civil society of opportunity, peace, and prosperity. For those who already share these values, it’s a welcome resource for perfecting our own knowledge and advancing our cause.

- Charles Goyette, author of THE DOLLAR MELTDOWN: Surviving the Impending Currency Crisis with Gold, Oil, and Other Unconventional Investments and RED AND BLUE AND BROKE ALL OVER: Restoring America’s Free Economy

 

Free Chapters

Introduction:

The American Crisis

THESE are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.”

 – Thomas Paine (1776)1

America finds itself in a time of crisis.  For several generations we have expressed dissatisfaction with government, whether with the Viet Nam war, the energy and economic crises of the 1970’s, the scandals of the 1980’s and 1990’s, or the present wars in the Middle East.  While a little dissatisfaction with the status quo is healthy, it has gone far beyond that now.  For anyone remotely in touch with the state of our republic, there is a growing sense of dread that whatever is wrong is getting much worse much faster.  They realize that what was once a desire for change has now become a dire need for change.  Yet, in as much as the voting public clamors for it, does anyone think for a moment that the majority of people in America actually know what changes are necessary, or even what changes they want?

The United States emerged from the 19th century during the most innovative period in the history of mankind.  The industrial revolution had wrought miracles that could barely have been imagined 100 years before.  After thousands of years of traveling on foot or on the backs of beasts of burden, automobiles carried Americans wherever they wished to go.  Steamships freed travel by sea from the vagaries of the four winds, and the telegraph and telephone made communication with distant locations instantaneous, when just a few decades earlier weeks or even months might be required for a single letter to arrive.  Electric light replaced gas lamps, and man’s most ancient dream was realized by Wilbur and Orville Wright.

With the explosion of technology came an explosion of wealth and prosperity.  Mass production and other improvements made manufactured goods cheaper, increasing their availability beyond the affluent to the common man.  Indeed, as significant as the fortunes that were made by famous captains of industry was rising living standards of the growing middle class and even of the poor.  For the first time in history, the common people were the prime market for the output of society’s production.  After thousands of years, children no longer had to toil with their parents just to ensure that the family had enough to eat.  The average American lived comfortably on the income produced by one member of the family and that family’s standard of living was constantly improving.  No challenge seemed too formidable for a people that had harnessed the power of lightning, conquered the air and seemingly made a servant of Mother Nature herself.  Finally, the end of poverty and want were in sight.

At the dawn of the 21st century, no such optimism prevailed.  The technology-fueled prosperity of the 1990’s had hit a serious stumbling block with the crash of the NASDAQ index. A recession was just getting underway when America welcomed a new president.  In the midst of economic doldrums, socio-political disaster occurred.  Commercial airplanes exploded into the World Trade Center as a nation and world looked on in horror.  The buildings fell down and the War on Terror began.

Over a decade later, the United States finds itself quagmired in that war beyond anyone’s expectations.  Despite the fact that the Democrats won the White House and the House has changed hands twice since 9/11, there is still no end in sight to the wars in the Middle East.  President Obama began his campaign as an anti-war candidate, but has made it clear that he will continue the U.S. government’s policy of military intervention in the Middle East.  As the budget deficits and loss of lives mount, Americans are left to wonder if we will be at war forever.

At home, we find ourselves in economic crisis.  The stock market has experienced another historic crash, and for the second time in the past century we are told that we face a Great Depression.  While 50 years ago, the average American family was comfortably supported by one income, both parents in that family typically work today, and a second job for at least one parent is not uncommon.  While doctor bills were once only a concern for those with unusual medical needs, the typical American family is more and more being forced to choose between healthcare and other basic necessities.  While past generations saved for a comfortable retirement, the average American today is deep in debt.

How could a century that started with such promise end with so much doubt?  Where did we go wrong?  Since her historic founding, America has been known as the “land of the free.”  Yet, the answers proposed for each of our problems involves Americans giving up some of that freedom.  However, if freedom is what made America great, why would less freedom make things better now?

We are told “the world changed on September 11, 2001.”  Is this true?  Is the world fundamentally different than it was?  Do evil people really hate us enough because of our freedom and prosperity to commit heinous acts of murder against us?  Or are there other reasons?  Do we really have to surrender some of our freedom in exchange for security against this new threat?  What if the threat continues to increase?

Similarly, we are told our economic crisis was caused by too much laissez faire capitalism and too little regulation.  Can too much economic freedom really harm us?  Will the massive new government programs and “reregulation” promised by our new President solve our problems?  What if they don’t?  Will even less freedom be the answer then?

This book will set out to answer those questions.  In order to do so, we must take a sober look in the mirror.  In order to know what has put America in decline, it is necessary first to understand what made her great.  At a time when most people are confused and searching for answers, we must shine the light of clarity on every aspect of our society.  At times, that light may reveal truths we are not ready to face, including the part each of us has played in bringing about our nation’s decline.

We must question institutions we have long ago come to think of as unquestionable.  The past 100 years in America has been a time of significant change.  Of course, the 20th century was a time of astounding technological advancement.  However, we have also made ideological changes that have made America into a much different kind of society than the one our founders built.  Were those changes improvements, or have we moved away from the principles that made us great?  Are we still the “land of the free?”  Are we still the “land of opportunity?  Do we really know what those cherished words mean?

During the past few decades of apparent prosperity, very few of us wished to be bothered with the endless partisan bickering of our politicians, despite our frequent expressions of dissatisfaction with them.  While we may not have agreed with much about the direction in which our leadership was taking our country, we did not connect what was happening in Washington, D.C. with our own lives or the lives of our families.  We have been in a kind of slumber, believing that a free and open society of opportunity and prosperity is guaranteed in America, regardless of the decisions of politicians that determine what kind of society we are.

One thing is certain.  We are out of time.  In past decades, we have talked about issues we feared may present significant problems for the America of the future.  That future is here.  It is no longer enough to wistfully talk about the America we will leave to our children.  Everything we hold dear about America is in jeopardy, and the time has come to act.

 

Chapter 1

What is Freedom?

And what is this liberty, whose very name makes the heart beat faster and shakes the world?”

 – Frederic Bastiat1 (1850)

If there is one thing uniquely associated with America, it is freedom.  From the moment Cornwallis surrendered to Washington at Yorktown, America has been a symbol of liberty to the entire world.  Since the end of World War II, when the United States assumed a worldwide leadership role, it has been the leader of the “free world.”  At sporting events, standing crowds begin their ovation when the vocalist singing the national anthem gets to the words, “O’er the land of the free.”  Even in everyday conversations, scarcely a day goes by that one does not hear someone say, “Do what you like, it’s a free country.”

Although we all agree that America is the “land of the free,” there are questions about freedom that might be more difficult to answer.  What is freedom?  How is it defined?  What makes America the land of the free?  How would we know if we were to lose our freedom?  What is it that our soldiers die for and our politicians swear to defend?

We have been told a lot of things about what freedom is not.  From the end of World War II until 1991, most Americans understood that freedom was not communism.  For almost three generations, Americans lived in the “free world” during its cold war with the communist Eastern Bloc.  Without further thought or instruction, many children of the 20th century think of freedom merely as the antithesis of communism.  In some ways, this is not completely untrue, although it hardly provides a complete answer to our question.

Certainly, the mere absence of communism doesn’t necessarily guarantee freedom.  The 18th century British monarchy wasn’t communist, but the American colonists nevertheless considered it tyrannical enough to rebel against.  Likewise, the Royal House of Saud may be an ally of the U.S. government, but most Americans would not regard Saudi Arabia as a “free country.”

In addition to monarchies, there are plenty of dictatorships around the world that don’t enforce a communist system but are nevertheless oppressive.  While they also may be allies of the U.S. government, they certainly aren’t free countries, either.  So, a society is not free merely because it is not communist.

On the other hand, monarchy doesn’t seem to necessarily preclude freedom, either. Great Britain has been a relatively free country throughout much of its history, even when the monarchy was much more than a figurehead.  The American Revolution notwithstanding, Great Britain was at that time one of the freest societies in the world.  Therefore, rather than conclude that no freedom is possible under a monarchy, one might instead conclude that monarchies neither guarantee nor necessarily exclude freedom. Freedom or tyranny seems possible under almost any system of government.

Perhaps we can define freedom more easily by looking at its antithesis.  Merriam-Webster Dictionary lists slavery among antonyms for freedom.  Surely, we have found a start here.  Most people would agree that slavery is the complete absence of freedom.  Who can we imagine that is less free than the slave?  This is helpful in beginning to try to frame an answer, but freedom cannot be merely the absence of slavery.  Surely our founding fathers bled to give us a higher standard than this!

If we are told anything about what freedom is, it is that freedom is democracy.  If you ask most Americans, this is the answer you will get.  This is reinforced ad nauseum by politicians, media, and teachers in our public schools.  When Iraq held its first elections after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, politicians and journalists universally celebrated the Iraqis’ “first taste of freedom.”

Certainly, democracy is a vast improvement over the autocratic rule of a dictator. But does democracy automatically mean freedom?  If democracy is rule by the majority, what about the minority?  What if 51 % of the people voted to oppress the other 49%?  Would that society truly be free?

Most Americans would be quite surprised to learn what our founding fathers thought about democracy.  Any objective analysis would conclude that their feelings lay somewhere between suspicion and contempt.

James Madison said, “Democracy is the most vile form of government … democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention: have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property: and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths,”2

In a letter to James Monroe, he also said,

“There is no maxim, in my opinion, which is more liable to be misapplied, and which, therefore, more needs elucidation, than the current one, that the interest of the majority is the political standard of right and wrong.”3

While often extolling the virtue of majority rule, Thomas Jefferson nevertheless wrote,

“…that the majority, oppressing an individual, is guilty of a crime, abuses its strength, and by acting on the law of the strongest breaks up the foundations of society.”4

Can this be true?  The founding fathers were ambivalent about democracy?  For many people, this is tantamount to sacrilege.  More shocking still is what the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution say about democracy: nothing.  Nowhere in our founding documents will you find the word “democracy” or the assertion, implicit or explicit, that our government is a democracy.  How can this be?

Despite what we are taught virtually from birth, the United States of America has never been a democracy.  As only contrarians point out these days, it is a constitutional republic.  We choose our leaders using the democratic process of majority vote, but that is the extent to which the United States involves itself with democracy.

Like monarchy, democracy neither guarantees nor necessarily prohibits freedom.  Our founders actually feared that democracy poses a danger to freedom.  Apart from the pure heresy of the idea, it leaves us with a problem.  We are no closer to defining freedom.  If even democracy is not freedom, perhaps freedom doesn’t really exist!  If we are not to find freedom in democracy, where else can we look?

We certainly won’t learn what freedom is from our politicians.  While terrorism, healthcare, unemployment, gay marriage, and a host of other “major issues” dominate public debate, freedom is just too quaint, too academic, or too forgotten to get any airplay.  Yet, as we shall see as we explore the different subjects of this book, freedom is the fundamental issue.  In fact, despite what we perceive as a myriad of different problems facing the United States of America today, freedom is actually the only issue.  That may be hard to accept, given the decades of shoddy history, obfuscation, and plain old bad ideas we’ve been bombarded with.  Nevertheless, our greatest challenges and their solutions revolve around freedom.  If freedom is really that important, we’d better be absolutely sure we know what it is.

In order to answer the question posed by Bastiat at the beginning of this chapter, we will have to go back to the beginning.  Our founding fathers faced no such quandary about the definition of freedom. They knew exactly what it was.  They were children of the Enlightenment, and derived their ideas about freedom directly from its philosophers, especially John Locke.  While these philosophers were powerful thinkers and their ideas were (no pun intended) revolutionary at the time, the principles of liberty are relatively simple.  They are, as the namesake of this book concluded, common sense.  It was an understanding of these revolutionary ideas by average American colonists that inspired the revolution that gave birth to a nation.

The idea that opens the door to the true meaning of freedom is individual rights.  Despite the emphasis today on the “general welfare” and the “common good,” the American tradition of liberty has nothing to do with either.  Instead, the founders believed each individual was born with natural, inalienable rights.  The Declaration of Independence states,

“We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,” 5

This passage is quoted widely in popular culture.  Invariably, the words emphasized are “that all men are created equal.”  Certainly, these are fine words and worthy of veneration.  However, the rest of this passage is equally important.  Every human being, because of his equality with all other human beings, has rights no earthly power can take away.  These rights are “unalienable,” so that governments, even democratically elected governments, have no power to revoke them.  To the founding fathers this was self-evident.  It was true based purely upon man’s existence itself.

This idea is drawn directly from the philosophy of John Locke, who wrote,

“A state also of equality, wherein all the power and jurisdiction is reciprocal, no one having more than another; there being nothing more evident, than that creatures of the same species and rank, promiscuously born to all the same advantages of nature, and the use of the same faculties, should also be equal one amongst another without subordination or subjection,”6

While these rights are endowed by a Creator, the founders did not specify who the Creator was.  Too often, those arguing for the ideals of our republic make the fatal mistake of basing the natural rights upon belief not only in God, but specifically upon the Christian God.  While the founders were by no means opposed to Christianity, belief in it or even in God is not a prerequisite for the existence of the natural rights.  The beauty of this idea is that it transcends religion and thus welcomes members of all religions, and those with no religious beliefs at all.  Therefore, the first building block of freedom, individual, inalienable rights, can be claimed by Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, atheists, by every person on earth.

So what are these inalienable rights, which cannot be taken away?  The Declaration goes on to say, “That among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”7

At first glance, this statement might be a bit deceiving, maybe even a little disappointing.  Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness?  Is that all?  Surely we have more rights than these!  Of course, the Declaration says “among these,” so it does not limit the natural rights to these three.  But these three are important.  It is worthwhile to determine the meaning of each.

The right to life is pretty easy to understand.  Most civilized societies have laws against murder.  Each individual has a right not to be killed by another human being, except in self-defense.  So far, so good.  What about the other two?  We are in the midst of trying to define liberty, or freedom, so let us put that aside for the moment.  The third right listed is “the pursuit of happiness.”  What does that mean?  Does it mean nothing?  Or does it mean everything?  What if it makes me happy to steal cars or blow up buildings?  Surely, I don’t have a right to pursue happiness like that!

No. There is a natural limit on liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Again, we can find the answer in Locke,

“To understand political power right, and derive it from its original, we must consider, what state all men are naturally in, and that is, a state of perfect freedom to order their actions, and dispose of their possessions and persons, as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of nature, without asking leave, or depending upon the will of any other man.” 8

While people are free to do what they want, they must do so “within the bounds of the law of nature.”  What is the law of nature?  Locke goes on to tell us,

“The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges every one: and Reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind, who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions…” 9

Finally, we have some indication of what freedom is, rather than what it is not.  Liberty is not the unlimited ability to do whatever you want, nor is it confined to the arbitrary limits placed upon people by governments.  Contrary to the spurious argument that unfettered liberty would result in chaos, we see that the law of nature, Reason, very clearly and unambiguously prohibits some actions, even for people in a state of absolute liberty.  They are:

1.   Initiating the use of force or violence

2.   Infringing upon another person’s liberty

3.   Harming them in their possessions.

This last limit upon the actions of free individuals is important.  Locke spends an entire chapter of his Second Treatise talking about it.  It is related to property, which is arguably the most important right, while at the same time the least understood.  Property is important enough that we will spend the next chapter examining the subject.  To do this we will have to come to a clear definition of property, including how it is acquired, how it is exchanged, and what right the owner has to it.

More importantly, we have arrived at a definition of liberty.  It is the right of any person to do as they please, as long as they do not violate the equal rights of anyone else.  The latter half of this definition is generally referred to as the “non-aggression principle.”  Political activists associate this principle with libertarians, while intellectuals associate it with Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism.  Certainly both movements recognize and venerate it, but it is important to realize that neither is its source.  In fact, the non-aggression principle has been articulated with very little variation by all writers in the liberal tradition, including Locke, Jefferson, Paine, Bastiat, Mill, and later Rand and other 20th century writers and thinkers.

By applying this principle, the most complicated societal issues become astoundingly simple.  The ambiguous becomes unambiguous.  The answers become clear.  Virtually every problem facing America today can be solved by applying the principle of freedom.

There are a few points we should review for emphasis.  First, the rights mentioned in the Declaration of Independence and drawn out of Locke’s philosophy are inalienable.  They cannot be taken away by any power on earth, including a majority vote.  The reason the founders were suspicious of democracy was because of their fear that the majority would oppress the individual by voting away the individual’s rights, especially property rights.  This was the reason for the separation of powers and the limits on government authority.  Even a majority vote can be a threat to freedom.

The difference between a right and a privilege is a vital concept to understand.  A right is something you are born with, that you possess merely because you exist.  A privilege is something that is granted by another person, group, or a government.  Our country was founded upon the principle that all people have inalienable rights that cannot be taken away, not privileges granted by their government.  As John Adams so eloquently put it,

“I say RIGHTS, for such they have, undoubtedly, antecedent to all earthly government, — Rights, that cannot be repealed or restrained by human laws — Rights, derived from the great Legislator of the universe.”10

There is no need to be “thankful for the rights we have in America.”  All people have those rights and gratitude is neither necessary nor appropriate.  Rather, people are justified in demanding their rights, and any violation of them should be recognized as an act of aggression.

Second, in any conflict between individual liberty and the will of the majority, individual liberty prevails without compromise.  The majority has no right to violate the rights of the individual.   This is to some extent merely making the first point in reverse, but it is important enough to say in more than one way.  Society doesn’t have rights; individuals do.  Society is nothing more than a collection of individuals, so protecting each individual in society protects society.

Despite these seemingly undeniable truths, individual liberty is today under constant attack because of its perceived conflict with the common good or “the needs of society.”  While living together and agreeing not to initiate aggression against each other seems astoundingly simple, our politicians would have us believe there is something incredibly complicated about it.  They create a world in which civil society is a maze of moral dilemmas that only their astute guidance can lead us safely through.  Once liberty is properly understood and applied, all of these supposed dilemmas disappear.

End Notes

Introduction: The American Crisis

1 Paine, Thomas The American Crisis “The Crisis No. 1” December 19, 1776 from Paine Collected Writings edited by Eric Foner Literary Classics of the United States, Inc. New York, NY 1955 pg. 91

Chapter 1: What is Freedom?

1 Bastiat, Frederic The Law 1850 from The Bastiat Collection 2 Volumes Vol. 1 Ludwig Von Mises Institute Auburn, AL 2007 pg. 79

2 Madison,James Federalist #10    http://www.foundingfathers.info/federalistpapers/fedi.htm http://www.foundingfathers.info/federalistpapers/fed10.htm

3 Madison, James Letter to James Monroe October 5th, 1786 James Madison Center, The http://www.jmu.edu/madison/center/home.htm Phillip Bigler, Director, James Madison University Harrisonburg, VA http://www.jmu.edu/madison/center/main_pages/madison_archives/quotes/supremacy.htm

4 Jefferson, Thomas To Dupont de Nemours from Jefferson Writings edited by Merrill D. Peterson New York, NY: Literary Classics of the United States, 1984 pg. 1387

5 Declaration of Independence, United States 1776 National Archives and Records (website) http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/declaration_transcript.html

6 John Locke Second Treatise on Civil Government from Two Treatises of Government C. and J. Rivington, 1824 (Harvard University Library Copy) pg. 132

7 Declaration of Independence, United States 1776 National Archives…

8 Locke Second Treatise pgs. 131-32

9 Locke Second Treatise pg. 133

10 Adams, John A Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law 1765 Ashland Center for Public Affairs (website) Ashland University  http://www.ashbrook.org/library/18/adams/canonlaw.html

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Rights and Responsibilities

There is an old argument about rights that has enjoyed resurgent popularity in these days of “spreading the wealth around.” It is the assertion that while human beings undoubtedly have rights, they also have responsibilities. In fact, it is said that for every right there is a corresponding responsibility that is its complement. One should not be surprised that this line of reasoning appeals to statists of all varieties, because they see in it a way to undercut rights and dress up their schemes of plunder and domination as “responsibilities.” However, it does not take the clear-thinking mind long to see through these sophisms, for they fail to hold up to a moment’s scrutiny.

What are the characteristics of a right? A right is an absolute and exclusive claim to something. “Absolute” because you cannot partially have a right to something. You either have a right to it wholly or not at all. “Exclusive” because that which you have a right to no one else can claim a right to. A right defines something that you are entitled to (there really is a proper use of that word). You do not need anyone’s permission to exercise a right. No one can charge you a fee for exercising it. No government can regulate it. You are entitled to exercise rights without interference by or permission from anyone.

Consider the right to life. Is your right to life absolute or do you only have a right to live under certain conditions? Do you have an exclusive right to live your own life or do others have some partial right to your life? Are you entitled to live, or do other people have a right to charge you a fee in return for allowing you to live? Can any government pass a law or regulation qualifying your right to life?

There are different kinds of rights, based upon their origins. Legal rights derive from a contract. While these rights originate with the consent of others, such as your right to a house that you have purchased, that right nevertheless takes on all of the characteristics described above once you have acquired it. The corresponding responsibility to the right of ownership of the house is the obligation to pay for the house. Your responsibility to pay derives from the contract you entered into. You are obliged to pay because you have consented to pay in exchange for the right to the property previously owned by the seller.

Natural rights are inherent in each person. These do not originate with the consent of others, but are part of and inseparable from our humanity. They cannot be taken away. Even if they are violated, they nevertheless remain. When we recognize something to be “wrong,” it is usually the violation of some kind of right. However, when we recognize something as “evil,” it is invariably the violation of a natural, inalienable right.

Next, let us consider “responsibilities.” A responsibility is something that you are obliged to do. It is an obligation that you must fulfill in order to comply with a moral or legal code. Responsibilities do not always conform to our wishes. We may prefer to do one thing, but have the responsibility to do another. Responsibilities are actions that we are compelled to do, either by religious doctrine, our own consciences, or other people.

This raises the question: When is the use of violence justified in compelling someone to fulfill their responsibilities? Can violence or the threat of violence be used in enforcing all responsibilities? Obviously not. There are some responsibilities that cannot be enforced by other people at all.

For example, those who believe in God feel a responsibility to worship or to pray. While this may be their responsibility, it is certainly not enforceable by other people. If there is an absolute, inalienable right of conscience, then no human may use violence against another for failing to fulfill the responsibility of praying. Certainly God may claim a right to punish someone who has shirked this responsibility, but other people cannot. That is because the obligation related to the responsibility for praying is to oneself and to God, not to anyone else.

To put this into the framework of the argument that we are examining, you have a right of conscience and a corresponding responsibility to act according to the dictates of your conscience. To act against the dictates of your conscience may have negative consequences, but violence inflicted upon you by other people cannot be one of them. Otherwise, you must conclude that it is possible for a right to be destroyed by its corresponding responsibility.

So what responsibilities can be enforced with violence by other people ? It would seem self-evident that since violence is only justified in defense, that the only responsibility that can be enforced with violence is the responsibility not to initate force against someone else. It is only when one person has failed to fulfill this responsibility that others are justified in using violence. If other people were to use violence or the threat of violence under any other circumstances, they would be failing to fulfill their own responsibility not to initiate force.

This is demonstrated by the natural and inalienable right to liberty. Is this a right? Yes. Does it have a corresponding responsibility? Yes, the responsibility not to commit aggression against the equal rights of others. Can others use violence or the threat of violence to enforce this responsibility? Yes. This is the only responsibility that can be enforced with violence. Attempting to enforce any other responsibility with violence is to commit aggression, by definition.

However, it is not the rights to life, liberty, or conscience that the statist has in mind when he begins his sermon about responsibilities. While he may be willing to violate all of these rights as his means, it is rarely his end. No, the statist’s primary object is not your life or liberty, but your property. By property, I do not mean exclusively or even primarily land ownership, but rather that right that each human being has to keep the fruits of his labor and dispose of them as he sees fit. It is here that the statist will stand up to say, “Yes, you have a right to acquire and own property, but you have a corresponding responsibility to pay your ‘fair share’ to society.” Of course, the statist also claims the right to use the threat of violence – the government – to compel you to fulfill this responsibility. But where does this responsibility come from? And is property a natural and inalienable right?

There are only three ways to justly acquire property. One must either take it directly out of nature, create it with materials taken directly out of nature, or take possession of someone else’s property by agreement. This last means of acquisition may be the result of a gift or a trade. It is not important whether the previous owner was compensated for the property transferred from him, but only that he voluntarily consented to the transfer.

Most people acquire their property by exchanging their labor for the property of others. In other words, they are employed by other people to perform a certain type of work. In exchange for this work, they are given property in the form of money, with which they can then acquire other types of property. Depending upon the scarcity of the skills and experience that they offer to purchasers of their services (employers), they may be able to sell their services for larger or smaller wages.

Now, whether the individual in question makes $20 thousand, $200 thousand, or $2 million dollars per year in wages, no one would deny that his labor itself is his property. He has a right to this property, meaning that his claim upon it is absolute and exclusive. He is entitled to own his labor and dispose of it as he sees fit. That is the basis upon which he sells his labor to an employer for the wages he demands in return.

If this is true, then it must follow that he also has an absolute and exclusive right to those wages. After all, he has just exchanged part of his life for them. Who else could claim any right to part of his life? The wage earner will invariably exchange most of his wages for other goods, but his right to whatever he acquires with his wages is identical to his right to his labor itself, which is merely a portion of his life. Denying this right necessarily supposes that other people have a right to part or all of his labor, and therefore part of his life.

There was once an institution wherein one group of people claimed a right to the labor of others. It was quite rightly abolished.

The statist will answer that the wages were a “blessing of society” for which the wage earner owes some portion back. If that were true, one would have to question the rationality and efficiency of this mysterious entity called “society,” which chooses to bestow blessings upon people, only to immediately demand part of those blessings back. Why not simply bless the individual less, leaving both parties square?

In reality, the wage earner has already paid his  “fair share” to society. For the $20 thousand or $20 million he has earned, he has provided exactly $20 thousand or $20 million worth of labor. How do we know that his labor was worth that amount? The same way that we know the market value of anything. It is the price that others are willing to pay for it. Perhaps our wage earner is a painter. In that case, he has exchanged exactly $20 thousand in painting services for $20 thousand in cash. Nothing was given to him by any nebulous entity called “society.” He created that wealth himself with his own labor. To keep it and dispose of it as he sees fit is undeniably his right.

If there is any justification for a corresponding responsibility to society, it can only be the responsibility to pay for some service that “society” has rendered to him. As we have discussed, the obligation associated with a responsibility to pay for something derives from a contract. If one agrees to purchase something, one has the responsibility to pay the previous owner the agreed upon price. This responsibility corresponds to the right of ownership of the purchased property.

So what has our wage earner purchased from society? What has he consented to buy? Accepting the extremely elastic definition of “consent” employed by proponents of constitutional government, he has “consented” to purchase protection of his life, liberty, and property. As Thomas Paine put it, his responsibility is to “surrender up a part of his property to furnish means for the protection of the rest.”[1] If there is any responsibility incumbent upon him, it is to pay for these services rendered and no more. Even taxation for this purpose has a dubious moral foundation, for it is apparent to everyone to that our wage earner has never really consented to purchase even this. That is why Paine also referred to government as “a necessary evil.”[2]

However, let us assume that somehow this consent is real. Like the purchaser of the house, the citizen has entered into a contract. His responsibility to pay for protection of his property corresponds to his right to demand that the protection he has purchased be provided.

For the statist, however, this logical connection between rights and responsibilities does not exist. He asserts that there is a responsibility that corresponds to the right to own property, but the responsibility he identifies destroys the right. For him, the citizen has a responsibility to suffer the very crime for which he established government to protect him from in the first place – the invasion of his property. He is not entitled to the protection that he has purchased, but instead has a responsibility to endure its very opposite. As John Locke put it, ”the preservation of property being the end of government, and that for which men enter into society, it necessarily supposes and requires, that the people should have property, without which they must be supposed to lose that, by entering into society, which was the end for which they entered into it; too gross an absurdity for any man to own.”[3]

Absurdity is at the root of all statist thinking, producing bizarre and disastrous results. The statist seeks to grant rights to the labor of others, such as healthcare, education, or housing, and corresponding responsibilities to provide these services under the threat of  violence. Neither these rights nor these responsibilities exist. This is evident on its face because the supposed rights are claimed by one person and the corresponding responsibility placed upon another. If one is looking for an explanation as to how a government can get so out of control that it spends all that it can possibly tax from its citizens and all that it can possibly borrow, yet still seems to need more, then false rights and responsibilities enforced by the threat of violence are a good place to start.

[1] Paine, Thomas Common Sense from Paine: Collected Writings Literary Classics of the United States, Inc. New York, NY 1955 pg. 7

[2] Paine, pg. 6

[3] Locke, John Essay Concerning the True Original Extent and End of Civil Government from Two Treatises of Government and A Letter Concerning Toleration  Digireads.com Publishing Stillwell, KS 2005 pg. 113

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 © Thomas Mullen 2011

>The Myth of the "Christian Nation" Divides Us

>While our politicians get on with the work of plundering our wealth, planning our lives, and preparing their next war of aggression, they remain comfortably insulated from criticism of any of these substantive actions because they have successfully distracted average Americans with issues that should not involve government at all. There is none more divisive than religion.

The left reads into the First Amendment of the Constitution an active role for government in prohibiting the acknowledgment of religion or God in any public setting. The right reads into our Declaration of Independence a requirement of belief not only in God, but in the Christian God, in order for one to claim the unalienable rights that are “endowed by our Creator.” Neither position is correct.

If there was one thing that our founders made clear, it was their belief that each person’s inner life belonged wholly to him or her. They referred to this as the “right of conscience,” and they revered it above all other rights. They believed that each human being had the right to answer for himself the questions of whether there is a God and what the nature and will of God might be. They believed that reason was the means for man to do so. Regardless of the conclusions that any individual might reach, he was still entitled to all of the same unalienable rights. This is the true meaning of “religious freedom.”

Among the growing minority that has recognized our loss of liberty and the importance of regaining it, there are many who mistakenly say that the United States was “founded as a Christian nation,” and that only returning to Christian principles will solve our problems. Others may not require that one believe in Christ, but do insist that belief in God is necessary in order to give authority to the law of nature and the natural rights. These positions not only alienate atheists, who are admittedly a small minority, but also a large contingency of Christians and other believers in God who do not want government – which is an institution of force – to play any role in their inner lives. This is an unnecessary division among people who might otherwise unite to fight for their liberty.

It is long past time to answer some fundamental questions about our history once and for all. Did the founders of the United States believe in God? Was the United States founded as a “Christian nation?” Was the Constitution based upon Christian or Judeo-Christian laws as found in their scriptures? Did the founders believe that belief in God was necessary to claim the unalienable rights?

The answer to the first question is a resounding “yes.” Even Jefferson, arguably the most “liberal” of the founding fathers, believed in a supreme being, despite the accusations of atheism made against him by political rivals. He also revered Christianity as the greatest religion in human history, as did his “conservative” counterpart, John Adams. However, neither Adams nor Jefferson believed that Jesus Christ was the son of God or even a divine being. Most people are familiar with Jefferson’s bible, which he cut apart and reorganized to eliminate all of the miracles. However, John Adams, a Unitarian, was even more hostile towards the idea that Jesus Christ was God. In a letter to Jefferson, he wrote,

“They all believe that great Principle which has produced this boundless universe, Newton’s universe and Hershell’s universe, came down to this little ball, to be spit upon by Jews. And until this awful blasphemy is got rid of, there never will be any liberal science in the world.”[1]

Neither Adams, Jefferson, Washington, nor Franklin believed that Jesus was literally the son of God or otherwise a divine being in any way. Rather, they admired most of the moral principles of Christianity, although not all of them. For instance, they disagreed with Jesus’ doctrine to “turn the other cheek.” They believed that self defense of one’s life, liberty, and property was not only a right, but a duty. However, it was the Christian principles of love and non-aggression that are espoused in virtually all religions that inspired John Adams to say, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”[2] This will become even more apparent shortly.

In any case, the answer to the first question is “yes.” Most of the founders believed in God. They revered the moral teachings of Christianity, although most of the philosophical leaders among them did not believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ.

Our second question is, “Was the United States founded as a Christian nation?” In 1796, the United States signed a treaty with Tripoli, promising a monetary gift in return for a cessation of hostilities. That treaty was unanimously ratified by the senate and signed by President John Adams. Among its articles resides the answer to our second question.

“Art. 11. As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity, of Mussulmen; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.”[3] [emphasis added]

Thomas Jefferson confirmed this statement in his autobiography when commenting on a Virginia bill to establish religious freedom.

“Where the preamble declares, that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed by inserting “Jesus Christ,” so that it would read “A departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion;” the insertion was rejected by the great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mohammedan, the Hindoo and Infidel of every denomination.”[4]

Next, there is the question of the philosophical basis for the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and original system of laws of the United States. According to Thomas Jefferson, that philosophical basis was most directly the enlightenment philosophers, specifically John Locke and Algernon Sydney. In 1825, Jefferson actually got a resolution passed by the Board of the University of Virginia to make this point clear.

“Resolved, that it is the opinion of this Board that as to the general principles of liberty and the rights of man, in nature and in society, the doctrines of Locke, in his ‘Essay concerning the true original extent and end of civil government,’ and of Sidney in his ‘Discourses on Government,’ may be considered as those generally approved by our fellow citizens of this, and the United States.”[5]

Despite this and other unqualified statements by the founders regarding the philosophical basis for our founding principles, there are many that claim that the founders drew their philosophy from Judeo-Christian scriptures or teachings. While there is much common ground between these teachings and the enlightenment philosophers, the founders were clear that where scripture or dogma conflicted with the enlightenment philosophy of liberty, it was the non-aggression philosophy of liberty that prevailed. Regarding the scriptures, Jefferson wrote,

The whole history of these books is so defective and doubtful that it seems vain to attempt minute enquiry into it: and such tricks have been played with their text, and with the texts of other books relating to them, that we have a right, from that cause, to entertain much doubt what parts of them are genuine. In the New Testament there is internal evidence that parts of it have proceeded from an extraordinary man; and that other parts are of the fabric of very inferior minds. It is as easy to separate those parts, as to pick out diamonds from dunghills.[6]

The founder’s skepticism about man’s knowledge of the will of God was not confined to the scriptures themselves. John Adams makes clear that at least he recognized that human beings had no ability to definitively determine the will of God.

“That there is an active principle of power in the universe, is apparent; but in what substance that active principle resides, is past our investigation. The faculties of our understanding are not adequate to penetrate the universe.”[7]

Finally, there is the most important question. Did the founders assert that belief in God was necessary to claim the unalienable rights? As with the other questions, they answered this one quite unambiguously. In a letter to Peter Carr, Thomas Jefferson advised his young friend,

“Question with boldness even the existence of a god; because if there be one he must approve of the homage of reason more than that of blindfolded fear.”[8]

“Do not be frightened from this enquiry by any fear of its consequences. If it ends in a belief that there is no god, you will find incitements to virtue in the comforts & pleasantness you feel in its exercise, and the love of others which it will procure you. If you find reason to believe there is a god, a consciousness that you are acting under his eye, & that he approves you, will be a vast additional incitement; if that there be a future state, the hope of a happy existence in that increases the appetite to deserve it; if that Jesus was also a god, you will be comforted by a belief of his aid and love. In fine, I repeat that you must lay aside all prejudice on both sides, & neither believe nor reject anything because any other persons, or description of persons have rejected or believed it.” Your own reason is the only oracle given you by heaven, and you are answerable not for the rightness but uprightness of the decision.”[9] [emphasis added]

There are those who argue that without God, there is no authority to base the natural rights upon. This was not the assertion of our founders and it directly contradicts our Declaration of Independence, which reads,

“We hold these truths to be self evident, 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…” [emphasis added]

While the founders believe that our rights came from our Creator (whomever or whatever the Creator might be), they explicitly said that these truths are self evident. They are truths that can be observed directly. This is directly inspired by Locke’s empiricism. While he, too, believed in God, he based his philosophy only upon what he could directly observe in nature or reasonably conclude from those observations. Therefore, his philosophy recognized the existence of God but did not depend upon it for its validity.

Consider a useful analogy. If a priest and an atheist were both to consider a rock lying upon the ground, both would agree that the rock exists. They could see it, touch it, and hear its sound if they picked it up and then dropped it from their hand. The priest would say that the rock was created by God. The atheist would explain its existence with scientific theories. They may disagree vehemently on this point, but no third party would have to decide who is correct. All can see that the rock exists, for its existence is self evident. The same is true of our natural rights. Our Declaration of Independence says so explicitly.

The only authority that the founders recognized as the basis for our laws was the non-aggression principle, which they recognized as the fundamental law of nature. The beauty of this idea is that it transcends religion and thus welcomes members of all religions, as well as those with no religious beliefs at all. The non-aggression principle allows each individual to use his reason to answer the most important philosophical questions of life for himself, without being forced to assent to any beliefs that he does not hold. It allows people to believe in God voluntarily, or to not believe, as their reason dictates. The only restriction upon them is that they commit no aggression against anyone else, regardless of their beliefs. Jefferson expressed this beautifully when he wrote,

“The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.[10]

If all of America’s founding principles, including freedom of religion, could be summed up in two sentences, no better than these could be found anywhere. If we could agree to live by this one statement alone, the number of people no longer divided along partisan lines would be staggering. Our politicians are wasting trillions of our dollars and assuming un-delegated powers over us that apply to believers and non-believers alike. We must grant each other the ability to exercise the right of conscience freely within the boundary of non-aggression. Only then will we see clearly where the true source of our crisis lies – in a government whose every act contradicts the reason for its existence and perpetuates a state of war with its people. We must unite together to eliminate this earthly threat in order to resume the pursuit of our happiness, both in this world and the next.

[1] Adams, John Letter to Thomas Jefferson January 22, 1825 from The Works of John Adams Second President of the United States Vol. X Charles C. Little and James Brown Boston, MA 1851Pg. 415

[2] Adams, John To the Officers of the First Brigade of the Third Division of the Militia of Massachussetts 11 October 1798 from The Works of John Adams Second President of the United States Vol. IX Charles C. Little and James Brown Boston, MA 1851Pg. 229

[3] Treaty of Peace and Friendship between the United States and the Bey and Subjects of Tripoli of Barbary June 17, 1797 from The Avalon Project Yale Law School Lillian Goldman Library http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/bar1796t.asp. There has been some debate on whether the language in Article 11 was translated correctly from the original Arabic in which the treaty was written. However, this is irrelevant. It was the English translation containing these exact words that the Senate reviewed and ratified, making the question of translation irrelevant on this point.

[4] Jefferson, Thomas Autobiography from Jefferson Writings edited by Merrill D. Peterson, Literary Classics of the United States, New York, NY 1984 pg. 40

[5] Thomas Jefferson, Writings, ed. Merrill Peterson (New York, N.Y.: Library of America, 1984), p. 479

[6] Jefferson, Thomas from The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Vol. 14 edited by Albert Ellery Bergh and Andrew A. Lipscomb The Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association 1904 pgs. 71-2

[7] Adams, John Letter to Thomas Jefferson January 22, 1825 from The Works of John Adams Second President of the United States Vol. X Charles C. Little and James Brown Boston, MA 1851Pg. 414

[8] Jefferson, Thomas Letter to Peter Carr August 10, 1787 from Jefferson Writings edited by Merrill D. Peterson, Literary Classics of the United States, New York, NY 1984 pg. 902

[9] Jefferson, Thomas Letter to Peter Carr August 10, 1787 from Jefferson Writings edited by Merrill D. Peterson, Literary Classics of the United States, New York, NY 1984 pg. 903-4

[10] Jefferson, Thomas Notes on Virginia from Jefferson Writings edited by Merrill D. Peterson, Literary Classics of the United States, New York, NY 1984 pg. 285

© Thomas Mullen 2009

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>False Prophets of Freedom

>One might be tempted to celebrate the “growing” number of people here in America that associate themselves with the “freedom movement.” As encouraging as it may be to see a loss of confidence in the present “neo-con” ruling class, there is certainly no reason to think that what most people would replace them with would result in any more liberty. Sadly, as was the case in Germany in the early 1930’s, the opposition to the present tyranny simply thinks their form of tyranny is better. Using Bastiat’s terms, they don’t object to legal plunder, they just have a different idea of how to divide up the loot.

While professing to be staunchly against tyranny, it is apparent that most people don’t seem to understand what tyranny is, and most importantly don’t understand its motivation. Perhaps many do not WANT to understand, because their solution may not be substantively different. Let me clear the air in the hopes that the 800 pound gorilla hiding in the corner of this tea party we call the “freedom movement” can cease to be politely ignored. In all of human history, there has only been one motivation for tyranny: plunder.

No conqueror in history has gone to the expense and trouble of raising, training, and feeding an army, marching them across vast distances, and risked his own position and wealth for the purposes of suppressing free speech. Neither has he done so to suppress freedom of religion, the writ of habeas corpus, or the right of the people to freely assemble. While he may have attacked all of these rights, he did so only as a means to one end: plunder. Every tyrant that ever lived has violated the rights of his own people and of those he has conquered for no other reason than to gather wealth that he did not earn.

The reason that most people don’t understand tyranny or its sole motivation is that they don’t truly understand liberty, either. If your understanding of liberty ends at freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of association, and the right to due process, then you are omitting the heart and soul of liberty – property rights. Without a right to keep the fruits of your labor, there can be no liberty, no matter how fiercely the other “civil liberties” are protected. The right to the fruits of your labor is the central right, the foundation of liberty. Without controlling the fruits of your labor, you have no control over your life. Whether you have nothing to eat, a little to eat, enough to eat, or enough to save for another day all depends upon your control over the product of your work. However, it is the violation of precisely THIS right that is the sole desire of the tyrant.

This is why Jefferson said that “’the guarantee to every one of a free exercise of his industry and the fruits acquired by it” is the “first rule of association.”[1] Samuel Adams called it “self-preservation, commonly called the first law of nature.”[2] It is the reason that John Locke devoted an entire chapter of his 2nd Treastise on Civil Government to property, and the reason he said that “The great and chief end, therefore, of men’s uniting into commonwealths, and putting themselves under government, is the preservation of their property.”[3]

Plunder is the violation of this central right. Plunder is the use of force to divest people of the fruits of their labor without their consent. When it is done by individuals or groups outside of the law, it is recognized as a crime. When it is done by government, it becomes what Bastiat called “legal plunder.” Legal plunder by government generally falls into two categories: welfare and warfare. While cosmetically different, these two practices are essentially one and the same. They represent the use of government force to plunder the property of the individual. One merely does so farther away than the other – a relatively minor difference.

Recognizing that the right to property is the most important civil liberty (without which there can be no liberty), and recognizing also that plunder is the only true threat to liberty, Bastiat devoted much of his brilliant essay “The Law” to the subject of legal plunder. Like Locke, our founding fathers, and all philosophers in the liberal tradition, he recognized that government in a free society has only one purpose, beyond which it may not be permitted to go. Its sole purpose is to protect life, liberty, and property. According to Bastiat, the minute that government goes beyond fulfilling this role, it must necessarily attack life, liberty, and property. This is the fundamental principle of government which must be understood before one can begin answering questions of liberty.

Bastiat correctly concluded that there are only three alternatives for a society in determining how to address the question of plunder. Only by choosing the last of these can a society be free. It is not surprising that our two political parties generally align themselves with one of the other two. I will take the “liberty” of inserting their names in parenthesis next to the alternative they advocate:

1. The few plunder the many. (Republicans)
2. Everybody plunders everybody (Democrats)
3. Nobody plunders anybody (Freedom – the position of neither party)[4]

Like the unfortunate child in the middle of a game of “pickle in the middle,” Americans have been running back and forth between the first two alternatives offered by their political parties for decades. It has never occurred to the great majority of people that NEITHER ONE can benefit them in the end. There are only two possible reasons for this. Either the great majority of people do not understand the true nature of liberty and tyranny – that they both revolve around property rights – or the great majority of people DO NOT WANT TO UNDERSTAND. This may be because they secretly do not want to let go of the possibility that THEY ALSO might benefit from legal plunder. This second possibility is even more pathetic than the first. Like the gamblers in Las Vegas, they should know by now that the House always wins.

Rather than objecting to legal plunder itself, false prophets of freedom frame the debate into organizing opposition to the present ruling class on the assumption that the loot should merely be divided up differently. At the moment, the Democrats position themselves as against the war in Iraq, not because it is wrong, but because the Republicans started it. Their position is no more the position of liberty than was the Republicans’ in objecting to President Clinton’s war in Kosovo, or their ludicrous impeachment of him over a sex scandal. They are merely looking to divide up the loot differently.

However, politicians will be politicians, and I am much more concerned about the average American than I am about them. In the end, politicians can be bought with votes. If the vast majority of voters demand liberty, liberty is what they will get. However, when the vast majority of voters are persuaded to demand legal plunder, then it becomes clear why Madison described democracy as “the most vile form of government.”[5]

For those interested in finding their way through this maze of false assumptions, I offer the following examples of common arguments made on current issues and their implications for true liberty.

If you are (rightly) against the war in Iraq, but go on to say that the money we are spending on that war should instead be spent on providing healthcare to uninsured Americans, you are not against legal plunder. You merely want to divide up the loot differently.

If you are opposed to the recent bailouts of the banks during the mortgage crisis, but like False Prophet of Freedom Lou Dobbs go on to say that the government should instead help average Americans that are in danger of losing their homes, you are not against legal plunder. You merely want to divide up the loot differently.

If you are against the fascist alliance being formed between large corporations and government, but suggest taxing the profits of corporations more heavily to fund some public redistribution of wealth, you are not against legal plunder. You merely want to divide up the loot differently.

If you are concerned that Social Security and Medicare are imminently insolvent, and go on to argue that they must be “reformed,” rather than abolished (or at least phased out), then you are not against legal plunder. You are merely concerned that you won’t get your share of the loot.

These are only a few examples of the lapses in reason so common even among those who claim to be part of the “freedom movement.” Presently, average Americans are running from the Republicans (the few plunder the many) to the Democrats (everybody plunders everybody) in their perennial game of pickle in the middle. They still haven’t noticed that no matter which side they’ve run to over the past century, they never actually get to catch the ball. However, the implications are more ominous than this.

After at least a century of practicing legal plunder in one form or another, the inevitable end to which such a society comes is now in sight. Having given up the central civil liberty – property rights – Americans now see that the government monster they have built is coming to gather up the rest of the rights that people have deluded themselves that they retain. It is vital to realize that the police state measures and the perpetual war that we now find ourselves confronted with are not an aberration of the Bush administration BUT THE LOGICAL END OF DECADES OF LEGAL PLUNDER. This was Hayek’s central point in his classic The Road to Serfdom – that Naziism was the natural result of socialism, and that England’s and America’s socialism of the 1940’s would eventually lead to the same results in decades to come as Germany’s socialism of the 1870’s had led to by 1933. He was not only correct in theory, but seems to have correctly predicted the duration.

In conclusion, there will be no “freedom movement” until Americans recognize and understand the nature of freedom and tyranny. Until Americans cease to marginalize or ignore property rights, and again recognize them as the MOST important rights, as our founding fathers did, we will not move one inch toward freedom. In fact, even if we were able to completely end warfare for several presidential administrations in a row, our practice of welfare would lead us right back to our present circumstances.

Do not look to your politicians to offer you Bastiat’s third alternative. They have seduced free people throughout history with the prospect of sharing in legal plunder, while keeping the majority of the loot for themselves. It is left up to every American to reject the notion of legal plunder on their own, to reject the false prophets of freedom, be they named McCain, Obama, Clinton, Dobbs, Paulson, Bernanke, or Roosevelt, and again take responsibility for their own self preservation, and thus regain the right to determine it themselves. This is the ONLY path to freedom.

Tom Mullen

[1] Jefferson, Thomas Note in Destutt de Tracy’s “A Treatise on Political Economy,” 1816. ME 14:466
[2] Samuel Adams The Rights of the Colonists (1772) The Report of the Committee of Correspondence to the Boston Town Meeting, Nov. 20, 1772 Old South Leaflets no. 173 (Boston: Directors of the Old South Work, 1906) 7: 417-428.
[3] Locke Second Treatise Ch. IX, Sec. 124
[4] Bastiat, Frederic The Law (1850) (words in parenthesis inserted by the author of this article)
[5] Madison, James Federalist #10

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