December 16, 2017

Spanish PM Pulls a Lincoln on Catalan Secession

rajoyIn the wake of Catalonia’s referendum on independence, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy continued to argue, as he had in the weeks leading up to the vote, that any attempt by Catalans to become an independent state violates “the indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation, the common and indivisible homeland of all Spaniards.”

Americans watching with interest could hardly have missed the similarity to U.S. President Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural speech, in which he declared, “It is safe to assert that no government proper ever had a provision in its organic law for its own termination.”

The difference is Lincoln was doing just what he said he was doing, “asserting.” His novel theory had no basis in the words of the U.S. Constitution itself and contradicted both the Declaration of Independence and the ratification statements made by three states, including Virginia, who all reserved the right to secede from the union as a condition of ratification.

The Catalonia Conundrum

Prime Minister Rajoy’s statement, on the other hand, was not based in theory. He was quoting directly Article 2 of the Spanish Constitution, which contains the provision Lincoln had to invent. But Rajoy wasn’t quoting the whole Article, which reads,

The Constitution is based on the indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation, the common and indivisible country of all Spaniards; it recognises and guarantees the right to autonomy of the nationalities and regions of which it is composed, and the solidarity amongst them all.

Jumbled together in that one paragraph are the same conflicting pressures which exploded into civil war in 19th century America and continue to smolder under the surface today. On one hand is the recognition that diverse cultures within the union have a natural right to govern themselves as they see fit, without having their political decisions overridden by politicians in a distant capitol who don’t share their values, have no local stake in the community and, in Catalonia’s case, don’t even speak the same language.

Read the rest at Foundation for Economic Education…

Newsweek: Can the US Survive the Pressures for Secession?

gettyimages-2030662Trump Derangement Syndrome rages on, the latest symptoms flaring equally based on causes both legitimate and ridiculous.

A key characteristic of the syndrome is its ability to evoke the same outrage over the president retweeting a harmless (and let’s admit it, funny) meme as threatening to destroy an entire nation. The breathless apoplexy over absolutely everything Trump-related, down to the shoes his wife wears while traveling, has desensitized Trump’s supporters to behavior even they should be concerned about.

It is true Trump has inspired new levels of hostility — even for politics — but Americans have been hating the president for this entire century, which is no longer in its infancy.

Bush may not have been “literally Hitler,” but he was Hitler nonetheless to the Democrats, just as Obama was “literally Mao” to conservatives.

But the proud American tradition of hurling invectives at the president isn’t nearly as ominous as the trend towards violence. Both the right and the left have mobilized armed groups, not just carrying signs but ready for violence. In fact, violent resistance is the far-left Antifa’s stated raison d’etre.

Read the rest at Newsweek…

How Long Can Americans Go on Hating the President and Each Other?

redandblueTrump Derangement Syndrome rages on, the latest symptoms flaring equally based on causes both legitimate and ridiculous. A key characteristic of the syndrome is its ability to evoke the same outrage over the president retweeting a harmless (and let’s admit it, funny) meme as threatening to destroy an entire nation. The breathless apoplexy over absolutely everything Trump-related, down to the shoes his wife wears while traveling, has desensitized Trump’s supporters to behavior even they should be concerned about.

It is true Trump has inspired new levels of hostility — even for politics — but Americans have been hating the president for this entire century, which is no longer in its infancy. Bush may not have been “literally Hitler,” but he was Hitler nonetheless to the Democrats, just as Obama was “literally Mao” to conservatives. But the proud American tradition of hurling invectives at the president isn’t nearly as ominous as the trend towards violence. Both the right and the left have mobilized armed groups, not just carrying signs but ready for violence. In fact, violent resistance is the far-left Antifa’s stated raison d’etre.

US Government Power Has Never Been Higher

It isn’t that the three men who have held the office since 2001 are monsters. Anyone who paid attention when Bush, Obama, or even Trump was caught in a quiet moment “off the record” would have to admit that they seem like reasonably likable people. That’s the rub. Government makes nice people do terrible things, things even they themselves would have considered barbarous before taking office.

Unfortunately, most Americans do not bat an eye at the worst offenses committed by the presidency, namely the killing of millions in undeclared wars of choice with nations who have never attacked the United States. But Americans on both the right and the left are increasingly feeling the effects of ceding power over domestic affairs to Washington and the executive branch in particular. The stakes of presidential elections are much higher now that Washington doesn’t just regulate interstate commerce, but regulates the minute details of how businesses are run, how crops are grown, what local public schools teach and even what signs they put on their restrooms.

Read the rest at Foundation for Economic Education…

Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.

Both Lincoln and the Confederacy Were Awful

lincolnWe’re fighting the Civil War again. Whenever both major parties drop any pretense of addressing the real problems facing American taxpayers, their constituents revert to having at each other in “the culture wars.” And no culture war would be complete without relitigating what should now be settled history: the reasons for the Civil War.

Americans sympathetic to the Union generally believe the war was fought to end slavery or to “rescue the slaves” from political kidnapping by the slave states, that seceded from the Union to avoid impending abolition.

“No,” say those sympathetic to the Confederacy. The states seceded over states’ rights, particularly their right not to be victimized by high protectionist tariffs, paid mostly by southern states, but spent mostly on what we’d now call corporate welfare and infrastructure projects in the north.

The declarations of South Carolina, Mississippi and Texas don’t mention taxes or economic policy at all.

That the states seceded for a different reason than the war was fought seems to elude everyone.

Read the rest at Foundation for Economic Education…

Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.

Free Excerpt – 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

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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>Symbolism Abounds at the Winter Olympics

>Perhaps there are those who will say it is a stretch, but for me the medal presentations last Monday night (Feb. 15) for the men’s moguls competition at the winter Olympics were steeped in symbolism. Most of the media attention was focused on the fact that Alexandre Bilodeau was the first Canadian to win Olympic gold on Canadian soil. He also knocked off the heavily-favored former gold medalist, Dale Begg-Smith, who had turned in one of his best performances. However, the fact that Begg-Smith and Bilodeau finished ahead of American bronze medalist Bryon Smith contained a hidden message that I doubt most Americans caught.

Consider Begg-Smith’s story. As a teenager in Canada, he was not only a skiing phenomenon but a tech entrepreneur. His coaches told him that he was spending too much time on his business and not enough on skiing. Perhaps his coaches were simply skiing purists that insisted on a total commitment to the sport. On the other hand, perhaps they suffered from that epidemic philosophical disease that promotes contempt for all entrepreneurs and vilifies all who seek to profit from voluntary exchange – in other words to accumulate wealth by producing far more for their fellow human beings than they consume themselves.  In any case, Begg-Smith and his brother/partner Jason decided to exercise their rights and vote with their feet. They moved to Australia where they could ski on their own terms and pursue their business interests as they saw fit.

It was symbolically appropriate that this man finished ahead of the American, because his life embodied a principle that Americans have forgotten. When the opportunities that he deserved were not made available to him where he was, he voted with his feet. He left his country and emigrated to one where he was free to pursue his happiness in the way that he wished to. This did not cost him victory on the ski slopes. In 2006, he took the gold medal in men’s moguls in Italy, having also become a millionaire from his internet business. Like most of the early Americans, he wasn’t deterred from leaving the country that stifled him by false platitudes about “patriotism.” He was proud of rather than ashamed of his desire to seek his fortune. Like our American ancestors, he was justly rewarded with victory on both fronts.

However, Begg-Smith finished second to an athlete who inadvertently embodied an even more American principle. While most Americans probably think first of government health care when they think of Canada, Alexandre Bilodeau didn’t just come from Canada. He came from Quebec – the French-speaking province that has smoldered for decades with the most American of all ideals: secession. Yes, the Parti Québécois espouses some of the precepts of social democracy that are ultimately hostile to true liberty, but the movement nevertheless recognizes one core American principle that most Americans have forgotten. The state exists solely to serve the individuals who comprise it, and the loyalty of those constituents ends where the state ceases to govern with their consent. Certainly, none of these ideas entered the mind of the talented young man who earned that gold medal, but that didn’t diminish the symbolic significance of a Quebec native besting an American.

Let me take a moment to congratulate Bryon Wilson. He skied magnificently and the difference between him, Begg-Smith, and Bilodeau (literally milliseconds) is too infinitesimal to have any real significance. All three athletes should be deservedly proud of the fact that they have achieved greatness in their discipline. However, I hope that somehow the allegoric message of this competition will burn itself into the hearts of every American. The two athletes that finished ahead of the American represented ideas that Americans have forgotten:

1. Let no nonsense about (false) patriotism keep you from pursuing your happiness.

2. To seek your fortune through trade is to seek to benefit your fellow man more than most other people do by large orders of magnitude. There is no nobler aspiration.

3. You have a right to choose not to vote with your feet, but instead to alter or abolish any government that fails to secure your rights or becomes destructive of that end.  In other words, you have a right to secede.

Should Americans rediscover these simple, uniquely American values, who could set bounds to the heights to which they could ascend?

Check out Tom Mullen’s new book, A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America. Right Here!

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© Thomas Mullen 2010

The True State of the Union: We Have No Rights Whatsoever

2010_State_of_the_UnionIt has been almost a week since President Obama gave his first State of the Union address, and it has been analyzed from the left, right, center, front, and back. Of course, the speech is really about the performance of the federal government, particularly its wonderful accomplishments under the leadership of the sitting president. This is not peculiar to the Obama presidency. As far back as Jefferson, presidents have used the Constitutionally-mandated stump speech to do a little self-promotion, although what they promote has certainly changed quite dramatically.

However, if the speech is supposed to reflect the accomplishments of the federal government, then we should expect that it will contain specifics about how that government has fulfilled its purpose, which is, as we all know, to secure our rights. At least that’s what our founding document tells us. Therefore, if a president is going to do a little bragging about what a great job he has done, it would be logical to assume that we would hear particulars about the way in which he has secured our rights. Logic, however, has little to do with the machinations of leviathan.

In fairness, President Obama did begin his speech with a few remarks about the actual state of our country – a state of economic devastation and unending war. The fact that both of these afflictions have been caused wholly by our federal government is something that seems to have gone right by him, although he is not unique in that respect, either. Having reminded us about how bad things are, he dutifully lays as much blame as possible on the president that preceded him (another time-honored tradition when succeeding a president of the opposing party). He then moves right into trumpeting his accomplishments.

The president explains how he hit the ground running after taking over during the financial crisis, which began during the last year of the Bush administration. He takes pride in the fact that he supported the bank bailouts over the wishes of the American people, because when he ran for president, he “promised he wouldn’t just do what was popular,” he would do “what was necessary.” I don’t remember that particular campaign promise, although I do remember him promising to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States” or something to that effect. I suppose you can’t expect him to keep them all.

President Obama justifies his first initiative as president as follows:

“And if we had allowed the meltdown of the financial system, unemployment might be double what it is today. More businesses would certainly have closed. More homes would have surely been lost.”

Perhaps the president is correct on this. Perhaps he is not. However, there is one consideration that seems wholly missing from his thought process. Do the people whose money was taken to “stabilize the financial system” have any rights? By what authority was their money confiscated, even if it were for “the good of all?” Majority vote?

The president next goes on to extol the virtues of the first policy that was wholly his own. He says that his administration “extended or increased unemployment benefits for more than 18 million Americans; made health insurance 65 percent cheaper for families who get their coverage through COBRA; and passed 25 different tax cuts… As a result, millions of Americans had more to spend on gas and food and other necessities, all of which helped businesses keep more workers. And we haven’t raised income taxes by a single dime on a single person. Not a single dime.”

This seems to be a mixed message. The part about extending unemployment benefits and making health insurance cheaper seems like more wealth redistribution. However, he also mentions tax cuts that saved jobs and let people keep more of their own money. One might have been led to believe that he actually secured the right to property here, at least for some of his constituents. Then came the punch line.

“The plan that has made all of this possible, from the tax cuts to the jobs, is the Recovery Act. That’s right -– the Recovery Act, also known as the stimulus bill. Economists on the left and the right say this bill has helped save jobs and avert disaster. But you don’t have to take their word for it. Talk to the small business in Phoenix that will triple its workforce because of the Recovery Act. Talk to the window manufacturer in Philadelphia who said he used to be skeptical about the Recovery Act, until he had to add two more work shifts just because of the business it created. Talk to the single teacher raising two kids who was told by her principal in the last week of school that because of the Recovery Act, she wouldn’t be laid off after all.”

It is ironic that one of the examples that the president cites is a window manufacturer. Those few lucid economists who are not among those “on the left and the right” who agree wholeheartedly with the stimulus bill certainly would have been unable to avoid recalling Frederic Bastiat’s “broken window fallacy.” It is the absurd reasoning that Bastiat exposes in his famous essay, “What is Seen and What is Not Seen,” that underlies the entire “stimulus” strategy. Occasionally, this has been pointed out in public debates over these programs. However, there is one question that has not even been asked by President Obama’s most vitriolic Republican opponents. Do the people who were forced to fund the Recovery Act have rights?

President Obama implies that his wonderful largesse was accomplished without taxing anyone, but this is absurd. It may be true that he has not had a tax increase passed in the Congress, but the funding for the Recovery Act can only come from one place. For the portion that was borrowed by the U.S. government from other nations, that money will eventually have to be paid back. The government only has one official source of revenue – taxation. The fact that those who will pay the taxes to underwrite the Recovery Act may not be born yet (although I don’t personally believe that Washington has that much time left) doesn’t change the fact that they will be forced to pay it back.

There is also an “unofficial” source of revenue for the government, and that is inflation. For the portion of the Recovery Act debt that the Federal Reserve merely monetizes, it is no less taxation than is an appropriation from the Treasury. It is merely a more insidious form of taxation, one that does not look its victim in the eye, but rather steals from him silently through depreciation of a currency that he is forced to use by the government. Whether by official or unofficial means, there are individuals whose money will be confiscated by the government so that others may keep their jobs. Again, I ask, do those individuals have rights?

It should not go without mention exactly who these people are whose jobs have been saved by the Recovery Act. According to the president, “there are about two million Americans working right now who would otherwise be unemployed. Two hundred thousand work in construction and clean energy; 300,000 are teachers and other education workers. Tens of thousands are cops, firefighters, correctional officers, first responders. And we’re on track to add another one and a half million jobs to this total by the end of the year.”

Is there anyone among these two million that are not government employees? Perhaps the construction workers, although I’d bet they are working solely on government contracts. In any case, they are all on the receiving end of the taxation, necessitating that others must be taken from in order for them to receive.

The whole concept of the government “saving or creating jobs” is one whose injustice seems to elude everyone. That is probably because a century of “progressive” ideas has completely befuddled us about what a job really is. A job is a contract between a buyer and a seller. The employee is the seller, who sells his services to an employer for a mutually agreed upon price – his wages. This contract is one that both parties enter into voluntarily. The employer purchases the services because he is willing and able to do so. The employee sells for precisely the same reasons. Each has a right not to enter into the agreement, or to terminate it anytime he wishes.

However, when the government “saves or creates jobs,” it completely overrides the voluntary nature of this arrangement. If an employer is no longer willing or able to continue to purchase the services of an employee, the government has only one means at its disposal to change that outcome: brute force. It uses this force to confiscate the property of other people and thereby force them to purchase the services of the employee, since the employer is no longer willing or able to do so himself. The government claims it has saved a job, but it certainly has not secured any rights. In fact, it has acted counter to its purpose. It has destroyed the rights that it exists to protect.

It is the same evil at work in the president’s call for “health care reform.” As part of his plans to “improve the system,” the government will not only annihilate the right of property but liberty as well. While taxing some in order to pay the doctor bills of others, the federal government will ensure that no one can even conscientiously object. Every American will be required to purchase insurance from one of the government’s pet corporations, regardless of whether they want to or not. This amounts to a mandatory fee paid to the government merely for the privilege of being alive. Once the right to property is destroyed, the rights to liberty and even to life are destroyed with them.

Without repeating the analysis for every program that the president described, they all rest upon the same logic. There is some mysterious entity called “society” whose needs outweigh the rights of every individual that comprises it. In fact, it is apparent from the president’s speech (and those of most of his predecessors) that the federal government recognizes no rights of any individual whatsoever. Sadly, there are not many among the citizenry who think any differently. So long as representatives have been democratically elected, their power knows no bounds and recognizes no rights.

America was founded upon exactly the opposite idea. The reason that the U.S Constitution guarantees every American “a Republican form of government,” rather than a democratic one, is precisely because its framers believed that individual rights cannot be voted away. We cannot vote ourselves a right to other people’s property, not even to save millions of jobs (although it is really not possible to do so anyway). We cannot vote away another’s liberty, not even to lower health care costs for those who cannot afford it (although this will not work either). This was the central principle upon which our nation was founded – that we are endowed by our creator with unalienable rights. A pure democracy does not recognize these rights.

Progressives promote the idea that “taxation without representation” was the chief injustice that led to the American Revolution. This is convenient to their agenda, because they go on to justify any tax levied by a democratically-elected body on the grounds that those being taxed were represented in that body.

Of course, this begs the question, “Why did the founders specifically instruct Benjamin Franklin not to under any circumstances accept an offer of representation for the colonies in the British parliament?” Perhaps we should be so wise. Secession anyone?

Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.

>The Natural Law Provides the Answers

>There are many well-intentioned people that invoke the Constitution of the United States when looking for the solutions to what they believe (or are led to believe) are “dilemmas” confronting America today. This results in spirited debates about what the framers of the Constitution might have intended when writing it, in spite of the fact that there are hundreds of essays by our founders that explain what they intended beyond any reasonable doubt.[1] However, establishing the specific meaning of each article or phrase in the Constitution cannot supply the answers to the questions confronting us now. The Constitution is not a philosophical document. It is a legal one. As such, it does not express the philosophy upon which our nation was founded. In other words, it does not answer the question, “What will our government attempt to do?” but rather, “How will our government attempt to do it?”[2]

The answer to the former question, “What will our government do?” or, more precisely, “What should our government do?” is answered by the other of our founding documents, The Declaration of Independence. Some mistakenly dismiss the Declaration because “it does not have the force of law,” which it does not. This completely misses the point. The law is merely the attempt to codify the underlying principles of justice – to put the philosophy into practice. However, it is the Declaration that articulates that philosophy. Like the Constitution, the statements made in this document are clear and unambiguous. While often mistaken for platitudes that are left open to subjective interpretation, each statement in the Declaration of Independence actually has a specific, objective meaning that must be known in order for the whole to be understood.

The very first sentence of the Declaration contains one of its most important philosophical concepts: the laws of nature and of nature’s God. Before one proceeds any farther, it is vital to determine exactly what the law of nature is, for it is the foundation for all that follows. The law of nature is clearly defined in John Locke’s Essay Concerning the True Original Extent and End of Civil Government.

“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…”[3]

Reason is the law of nature that the Declaration refers to. It was reason that allowed Locke and our founders to observe the self-evident fact that all men are created equal, to conclude based upon that observation that they are endowed with certain unalienable rights, and to further conclude that the sole purpose of government is to secure these rights. These were not articles of faith, but reasoned conclusions based upon empirical evidence.

That it was Locke’s philosophy that our founders adopted is also clear. They did not conclude, as Hobbes did, that man should give up his natural rights upon entering society in return for the security that an absolute monarch could provide. Neither did they conclude that man must subordinate his rights to the “general will,” as Rousseau thought necessary for civil society. Rather, they clearly stated, as Locke did, that the purpose of government was to secure our rights.

There are further conclusions that proceed directly from this. First, we do not have “Constitutional rights.” Our rights are neither granted by the U.S. Constitution nor by its first ten amendments, commonly referred to as the “Bill of Rights.” Our natural rights precede the government and the Constitution. The so-called Bill of Rights does not grant rights but rather prohibits certain violations of our rights by the government.[4] The Constitution is a means toward an end: the end of securing our rights. To the extent that it does so it is a useful instrument. To the extent that it fails to do so it is not.

Similarly, we must also conclude that we cannot lose our inalienable rights. The very meaning of the word “inalienable” means that they cannot be taken away, not even by majority vote. Regardless of any Supreme Court decision or new legislation, our rights will not and cannot ever change. No Constitutional Amendment can revoke our rights or grant us new ones. Those rights may be violated by unjust laws, rulings, or Constitutional amendments, but they remain our rights nevertheless. It is appropriate for us to demand that they be respected and it is our duty to defend them, for the exercise of our natural rights is the essence of being human.

Finally, our Declaration answers the question that is ultimately asked whenever our present difficulties are truly understood. “What can I do?”

Our Declaration also answers this question.

“That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

This also comes from Locke, who wrote,

“…whenever the legislators endeavour to take away, and destroy the property of the people, or to reduce them to slavery under arbitrary power, they put themselves into a state of war with the people, who are thereupon absolved from any farther obedience, and are left to the common refuge, which God hath provided for all men, against force and violence. Whensoever therefore the legislative shall transgress this fundamental rule of society; and either by ambition, fear, folly or corruption, endeavour to grasp themselves, or put into the hands of any other, an absolute power over the lives, liberties, and estates of the people; by this breach of trust they forfeit the power the people had put into their hands for quite contrary ends, and it devolves to the people, who have a right to resume their original liberty, and, by the establishment of a new legislative, (such as they shall think fit) provide for their own safety and security, which is the end for which they are in society.”[5]

Based upon these passages, one might be tempted to conclude that we have no alternative but armed rebellion. To be sure, it is the right of every individual to defend himself by force when his natural rights are violated, for violation of those rights is the definition of the state of war. However, before loading our weapons, we should stop to consider whether our government has truly acted against the will of the people or not. Has it truly acted against our will in establishing massive redistribution programs that violate each individual’s right to property and bankrupts us as a whole? If so, then what of the tens of thousands cheering President Obama as he promised universal health care and the tens of millions who voted him into office? Has our government truly acted against our will in creating and expanding our military empire and tyrannical security/police state? If so, then what of the tens of thousands cheering President Bush and the tens of millions who voted him into office?

In truth, reason should force us to recognize that our government has not become the monster that it is by acting contrary to our will, but by giving us exactly what we have asked it for. As a people, we now openly refer to government as a “provider of services” rather than a “securer of rights.” We have elevated Democracy to an ideal, allowing the majority to grant the government power to violate the very rights that it exists to protect, most consistently property, which is the means of both life and liberty. This was anticipated by our founders, who warned us specifically against the dangers of democracy.

“Wherever the real power in a Government lies, there is the danger of oppression. In our Government, the real power lies in the majority of the Community, and the invasion of private rights is chiefly to be apprehended, not from acts of government contrary to the sense of its constituents, but from acts in which the Government is the mere instrument of the major number of Constituents.”[6]

We have forgotten that the “checks and balances” written into our Constitution were put there to protect us from democracy. We no longer have any concept of what our natural rights are, much less how best to secure them or even that we should be trying to secure them. If anything, we have come to believe that man in civil society has what Hobbes mistakenly believed he possessed in the state of nature – a right to everything, which is why he equated the state of nature with the state of war. Our society now exists in that state of war of “everyone against everyone” that Hobbes described in his state of nature, for most of us believe that we have a right to everything and that we can bring the force of government to bear against our neighbors to secure that right. To engage in armed defense of what we think are our rights amidst such confusion would result in a bloodbath of unprecedented proportions, which is no small statement considering the wars of the last century. As important as rediscovering our true natural rights is the understanding of what we do not have a right to – namely the life, liberty, or property of any other human being.

It is not the majority that determines what our rights are, but it is the majority that makes the laws that are supposed to protect them. We must rediscover our founding philosophy and persuade our fellow Americans to again accept it as our creed, with a written Constitution as its supporting code.[7] For any one of us to regain our freedom, we must “educate and inform the whole mass of the people.[8]” While they are ignorant of the law of nature, they are a force of tyranny that cannot be overcome, no matter how just the cause or how committed the patriot. Once reacquainted with this most fundamental of laws, they are equally irresistible as the “only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.[9]” When the inhabitants of America are again guided by reason to reclaim their natural rights and to defend those rights for everyone, we can institute new Government without firing a shot. What could be more progressive than that?

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[1] These are, of course, the Federalist Papers and the rebuttals to them called the Anti-Federalist Papers.

[2] Even the preamble, which states “in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense…,” is really a list of objectives, rather than a statement of the ultimate goal.

[3] John Locke Second Treatise on Civil Government Ch. 2 Sec. 6

[4] Neither are the rights specifically protected in those amendments an exhaustive list of our rights. To ensure that there would be no confusion on this matter, the Ninth Amendment clearly states that the “enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”

[5] Locke, Second Treatise Ch. 19 Sec. 222

[6] Madison, James to Thomas Jefferson October 17, 1788

[7] This wonderful characterization of the Declaration of Independence as our American Creed and the Constitution as its corresponding Code was suggested to me by my friend and respected colleague, David R. Gillie.

[8] Jefferson, Thomas Letter to James Madison December 20, 1787 Memoirs, Correspondence, and Private Papers of Thomas Jefferson: Late President of the United States Vol. 2 edited by Thomas Jefferson Randolph Henry Colburn and Richard Bentley New Burlington Street London 1829 Pg. 277

[9] Ibid.

© Thomas Mullen 2009

Check out Tom Mullen’s new book, A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America. Right Here!

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The Hypocrisy of Civil Discourse

“…nor suffer yourselves to be wheedled out of your liberty by any pretences of politeness, delicacy, or decency. These, as they are often used, are but three different names for hypocrisy, chicanery, and cowardice.”

John Adams (1765)[1]

There is a politeness, a delicacy, a decency – perhaps what might today be called a “political correctness” – that is nothing more than the hypocrisy, chicanery, and cowardice that Adams warned of. It is both mistakenly practiced by the innocent and maliciously utilized by the guilty. It is an evil falsehood masquerading as a noble truth. It is a rotten vice disguised as an exalted virtue. It is one more device of the tyrant used to persuade the people to enslave themselves. Like so many of the mantras repeated ad nauseum by our political machine, it is universally accepted as wisdom when in fact it is the most ludicrous logical fallacy.

It is the erroneous axiom that all opinions should be respected.

Already the reader is experiencing a conditioned repulsion similar to that felt by the religious fanatic when confronted with what he believes to be some great heresy. From the time we are old enough to understand (perhaps before), we are taught that it is the ultimate ignorance, arrogance, or stubbornness not to respect all opinions. Our minds are enriched and our reasoning powers sharpened by considering different perspectives. It is only the fascist or the despot that does not grant to all people that they are “entitled to their opinion.” Often polite adversaries will conclude that they “agree to disagree.” Other costumes that this fraud may don are “civil discourse,” “spirited debate,” and “diverse perspectives.” In the well-mannered company of yuppie pseudo-intellectuals, it is at the very least impolite and may even approach grotesqueness to deny anyone the right to their opinion, no matter what that opinion may be.

Having been raised Cheektowaga, N.Y., I am grateful that I have been provided with no more manners than the bare minimum that I need to survive. Therefore, I will speak the unspeakable and let the reader either confront the truth or retreat in horror. As a warning to the politically correct, what follows is not suitable for the overly accommodating or the timidly polite.

There are some opinions to which you are not entitled.

You are not entitled to the opinion that you may use the threat of violence (government) to prevent me from doing what I please, provided that I harm no one else.

You are not entitled to the opinion that the government may use my tax money and risk my life to prosecute wars of aggression.

You are not entitled to the opinion that you may extort the fruits of my labor in order to provide yourself or someone else with healthcare, retirement benefits, or other stolen property.

You are not entitled to the opinion that you may use the threat of violence to prevent voluntary exchanges of property between free individuals (a.k.a. “economic policy”).

You are not entitled to the opinion that the coercive power of government can be used for anything other than the protection of my life, liberty, and property.

To put the above statements more succinctly, you are not entitled to the opinion that you have the right to make me a slave, whether fully or by some degree. THIS is the underlying assumption supporting all of these opinions.

I suppose that you could answer this entire argument with the sickeningly passive-aggressive refrain, “we will just have to agree to disagree.” I do not agree to disagree. You are either ignorant of our relationship or trying to obfuscate it, so let me make it perfectly clear. If you hold one of the aforementioned opinions, you have openly declared a state of war to exist between us. You have become an aggressor and have given me every right to defend myself by whatever means necessary in order to prevent the crimes which you have stated that you intend to perpetrate against me. You have made a threat of violence which I have no reason to believe that you will not carry out if I do not take immediate action to prevent it.

There are only two reasons why I respond with words at all, instead of action. One, I have a genuine wish to resolve differences peacefully, if they can be resolved in such a manner. I do not wish for nor condone violence, nor do I condone any violent rebellions against our American government. However, these principles do not eliminate my own instinct for self-preservation, nor will they prevent me from defending myself. Two, since the triumph of democracy over republicanism has given tyrannical power to your majority; it has occurred to me that the odds are too great against me in defending my rights against your acts of aggression, however justifiably. Therefore, I may have to capitulate to your tyranny until such time as I have a more reasonable hope of success in defending myself.

However, let there be no mistake about what our relationship is. You are the criminal and I am the victim. You are openly engaged in acts of armed theft, violence, and enslavement against me. I will no longer allow you to hide behind quaint sophistries to characterize this relationship as a mere “difference of opinion.” Do not insult my intelligence by misrepresenting your declaration of war as “civil discourse” or “spirited debate.” Perpetrate your crimes if you feel you must, but at least have the decency to acknowledge them. Be warned of the risks that accompany your actions.

[1] Adams, John A Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law 1765

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