October 30, 2014

America’s Choice: Ron Paul or Unlimited Government

No matter how acrimonious the Republican primaries get, all of the candidates agree on one thing: Barack Obama must be defeated in November 2012. For 3 of the 4 remaining candidates, that is virtually the only important issue in the Republican primary race. Obama must be defeated and the only issue to resolve in the primaries is who has the best chance of doing so. Only Ron Paul asks the questions that should follow logically: Why is it so important to defeat Obama and what will you do differently from him?

In response, most of the Republicans offer only platitudes. “Obama believes in taking from one person and giving to another. He wants to turn the United States into a European social democracy with a massive welfare state, etc.” I happen to agree on these points with one caveat – the United States already is a European-style social democracy. That boat sailed many decades ago. With a welfare state measured in trillions that dwarfs the entire economies of most nations of the world, the United States is a poster child for social democracy and is now listed 10th on the Index of Economic Freedom.

However, assuming that Barack Obama is supportive of this and the Republican candidates are not, there must be fundamental philosophical differences between them and Obama that would translate into tangible policy differences. However, if one listens closely to what they actually say, none of the Republican candidates actually disagrees with Obama in principle on any single issue or identifies a specific power of the presidency that they would exercise differently – except for Ron Paul.

If Obama really is uniquely terrible as a president, there must be actual things he has done that make him worse than previous presidents. During the 2010 elections, the Tea Party movement focused on Obamacare. The Tea Party-fueled 912 Project was able to draw hundreds of thousands of people to Washington to protest this one program. Yet, with Medicare and Medicaid alone accounting for 1/3 of all healthcare spending in the United States and total government spending likely accounting for over half, why was Obamacare such a fundamental change?  Measured in terms of dollars, Obamacare was rather insignificant as an increase in government involvement in healthcare. If government-provided healthcare is really bad in principle, then opponents of it should object to all of the programs, especially Medicare, which costs about 6 times as much as Obamacare. But they don’t – except for Ron Paul, who has a clearly defined and funded plan to let workers entering the workforce opt out of Medicare.

Of course, there is one aspect of Obamacare that is different in principle and that is the individual mandate. Tea Partiers have made many eloquent speeches about how antithetical to freedom this central plank of Obamacare is. Again, I agree, but do the Republican candidates for president? Romney certainly doesn’t. Romney’s Massachussetts plan that inspired Obamacare is also centered around an individual mandate. Romney openly defends the principle to this day. His problem with Obamacare? That it is administered by the federal government and forced upon all 50 states. While his support for federalism might be admirable, Romney does not recognize any individual right not to be forced to purchase government-approved health insurance. If the state government imposes that obligation, Romney has no objection.

Gingrich doesn’t even object to an individual mandate at the federal level. While Santorum does seem to oppose this aspect of Obamacare, he has already voted for the prescription drug program, which expanded Medicare by as much in dollars as Obamacare costs in total. There is only one candidate that makes any argument or has any tangible plan to get the government out of the healthcare business completely – Ron Paul.

The same can be said for government spending in general. Yes, all of the Republican candidates rail against excessive spending, deficits, and debt. They decry Obama’s unholy deficits and say that they will cut spending and push for a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution. That’s all fine, but what exactly are they going to cut? This is where those striking differences from Obama start to dissipate. None of the candidates will actually name programs that they will cut beyond infinitesimally small ones like the National Endowment for the Arts – except for Ron Paul. Paul has already published the first budget that he will submit to Congress and it cuts $1 trillion during his first year as president.

This budget not only saves money but indicates the philosophical difference between Ron Paul and the rest of the candidates. By actually assigning funding of zero to the Departments of Education, Commerce, Energy, Housing and Urban Development, and the Interior, Paul makes two philosophical statements that the other candidates do not. The first is that the government should have no role whatsoever in the areas that these departments regulate. They represent areas of life that should be left to voluntary cooperation between free people, not coercive mandates from the government.

The second is that Paul recognizes that these are functions that the government has no legitimate authority to tax individuals to fund. For the rest of the candidates, there is nothing that the government cannot tax people for, as long as it fits in with their plan. They may suggest cutting unsubstantial amounts here or there, but none of them cuts these functions to zero. They all believe that individuals can be taxed to fund government regulation and/or subsidization of all areas of human activity – except for Ron Paul.

All of this is rooted in a fundamental difference between Ron Paul and any other candidate for president in 2012, Republican or Democrat. It concerns the role of government. Only Ron Paul actually uses the words “role of government” in speeches or debates. Why? Because only Ron Paul believes that the role of government in society is limited. You will hear the other Republicans use the terms “small government” or “smaller government,” but rarely, if ever, will you hear them say “limited government.” On this principle, there is no difference at all between Obama, Gingrich, Romney, or Santorum. Santorum has actually said this explicitly (about the 1:20 mark), while the others demonstrate it through their positions on the various issues. Only Ron Paul argues that there are limits on the power of the government. The rest merely argue about how that power should be exercised.

This concept of limited government is so absent from modern American political discourse that it is necessary to define it. If Americans still truly believe that certain rights are inalienable, then there are certain things that the government is simply not allowed to do, not even with the support of a majority vote. In other words, those inalienable rights cannot be voted away, because they do not belong to the majority. They belong to each individual. That is limited government. Only Ron Paul defends it.

Nothing illustrates this better than Ron Paul’s position on what is supposed to be the fundamental principle around which American society is organized, liberty. Ron Paul defends liberty unconditionally while his Republican opponents openly attack it, just as Obama does. Many of them use the term “individual liberty,” but once it comes to specifics they are in lockstep with Obama.

Liberty has a definition and it is not “the ability to do whatever you want.” There is a natural limit to liberty that precedes the government. It is not created by the government. The natural limit of liberty is the equal rights of others. In other words, an individual has the right to do whatever he pleases as long as he does not invade the person, liberty, or justly acquired possessions of others.

This means that the individual might do things that others don’t approve of, like use drugs, watch pornography, or practice a religion that is antithetical to their own. Others are free to disapprove of these activities, but they are not justified in using violence against the people who engage in them – and all laws are backed by the threat of violence. In fact, since these activities do not invade the person, liberty, or property of another person, individuals have an inalienable right to engage in them. Governments at all levels should be powerless to prohibit them. That is, if the society really is organized around liberty. “No man has a natural right to commit aggression against the equal rights of others ,and that is all from which the law ought to restrain him.” That was how the author of the Declaration of Independence defined liberty. You either agree with him or you don’t. There is no middle ground.

At the federal level, the defense of liberty is defined by the first 10 amendments of the U.S. Constitution, popularly called the Bill of Rights. If there is anything of substance that makes America freer – in the real world – than the average banana republic, it is these limits on government power. Yet even on these most basic principles, only Ron Paul takes a stand for liberty. The other Republican candidates agree with Obama that these protections can be sacrificed in the name of security.

Romney stated that he would have signed the NDAA bill which granted the government the power to detain U.S. citizens without due process. In explaining his position, Romney made the ludicrous, counterintuitive argument that Americans have a right to due process unless they commit acts of terrorism. Excuse me, Mitt, due process is the means by which we determine if the suspect committed the crime or not. That is the whole reason for due process – to determine guilt or innocence. Romney doesn’t undestand that or doesn’t care. This should horrify any lucid American.

Newt Gingrich made this same argument in a previous debate in defending the Patriot Act. In fact, he thinks that the powers granted to the federal government in that law should be expanded. Rick Santorum doesn’t substantively disagree. Make no mistake, these are not fine points of law that are being argued here. They are the fundamental constitutional principles that define America as a free country. They are under all-out assault by both the Obama Administration and every Republican presidential candidate except for Ron Paul. That the other candidates get loud cheers in debates when arguing to abolish these constitutional protections of liberty should send a shiver up the spine of every American. Recall the words of the Star Wars character, “So this is how liberty dies, with thunderous applause.” Without exaggerating, it has come to that.

Americans do have a choice in this election, but it is not between Obama and one of the other Republicans. There is no substantive difference there. The true choice is between Ron Paul and unlimited government, which is government under Obama, Romney, Gingrich, or Santorum. That means a government that can tax you for anything it wishes to, can detain and search you without warrant or probable cause, and can send soldiers to arrest you and imprison you indefinitely without legal representation, a hearing, or a trial. It is a government whose power knows no limits, that can forcefully control every area of your life and force you to pay for its domination of the entire globe. Whatever happens in the years ahead, Americans cannot say that they did not have an opportunity to choose liberty over tyranny. This may be their last chance.

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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Is the Patriot Act Unpatriotic?

Republican presidential hopefuls Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul had an interesting exchange at the National Security Debate hosted by CNN on November 22nd. Not surprisingly, Gingrich supported the Patriot Act, going so far as to say that it should be “strengthened.” Paul argued that “the Patriot Act is unpatriotic,” because the legislation undermines American liberties. He thinks it should be abolished. Both men did well making their points and each got enthusiastic applause from their supporters. But who was right?

At first glance, it might have seemed as if Paul had stumbled into a “gotcha” by bringing up Timothy McVeigh. In supporting his assertion that one must never give up liberty for security, Paul argued that Timothy McVeigh, the terrorist who blew up a federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995, was prosecuted, convicted, and executed under the existing laws, without the “tools” that the Patriot Act provides to law enforcers. Gingrich replied:

“Timothy McVeigh succeeded. That’s the whole point. Timothy McVeigh killed a lot of Americans. I don’t want a law that says after we lose a major American city, we’re sure going to come and find you. I want a law that says, you try to take out an American city, we’re going to stop you.”

Paul responded:

“This is like saying we want a policeman in every house, a camera in every house, because we want to prevent child beating and wife beating. You can prevent crimes by becoming a police state. So, if you advocate the police state, yes, you can have safety and security and you might prevent a crime, but the crime then will be against the American people and against our freedoms and we will throw out so much of what our revolution was fought for. So don’t do it so carelessly.”

It is likely that uncommitted observers – those not passionately for Paul or Gingrich – thought that both men made good points and that the right answer is “somewhere in the middle.” To be moderate is always viewed as being more reasonable. But is that really true? I believe that the question debated here between Paul and Gingrich is a fundamental question and compromise is impossible. To use a well-worn but appropriate cliche, Gingrich wants America to cross the Rubicon. Once we do, there is no going back.

The crux of the matter is preemptive government. Not just preemptive war, but the ability of the government to act preemptively in any situation. Paul takes the libertarian position that is based upon the non-aggression principle. Government force may never be employed against anyone until that person has invaded the person or property of another. Gingrich takes the more Hobbesian-conservative position: if the government is not all-powerful, we will all be killed.

If “patriotic” means the love of one’s country’s ideals, the highest being liberty for Americans, then you have to agree with Paul. That’s because not only is non-aggression the libertarian position, it’s the founding principle underlying the Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights. The meaning of the word “liberty” is to be free from coercion, which is free from other people initiating force against you. Once the government or anyone else is legally empowered to do so, rather than limited to responding with force in defense against an aggression that you’ve already committed, then liberty as Thomas Jefferson understood it is gone.

Non-aggression is the concept expressed in the statement that “no person shall be…deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” In other words, the government can’t use force against you until it is not only asserted but proven that you have committed an aggression against the person or property of someone else.

If you’re reading this to mean that the government is powerless against individuals until after they’ve committed a crime, then you’re correct. That is the price of liberty and there really is no way to compromise it. Force must always be initiated by someone. To be free means that it is never initiated against the innocent, at least not with the endorsement of the law. A person is innocent until they actually commit a crime. You cannot prosecute someone for what might be in his mind – at least not in a free country. As Paul argued, once you throw out the principle of liberty, you have invited the police state, complete with ubiquitous surveillance, unwarranted searches, curfews, and the rest. It is astounding how much of it is already in place in a nation that calls itself “the land of the free.”

The obvious concern with this line of reasoning is that it would seem that to be free, one must set oneself up as a sitting duck for criminals and terrorists, powerless to resist them until it is too late. Ed Meese cited the “42 terrorists attacks, amied at the United States…thwarted since 9/11,” and went on to say, “Tools like the Patriot Act have been instrumental in finding and stopping terrorists.”

I don’t know how Meese arrived at that number, but it doesn’t jibe with reality. I suspect that it includes all of the entrapment schemes that have been perpetrated by federal law enforcement officers, whereby an undercover agent poses as a terrorist and approaches a mentally unstable person for the purpose of convincing him to participate in a phoney terrorist plot. Once the hapless “terrorist” agrees, the undercover agent arrests him and charges him with a crime.

All of the attempted terrorist attacks that the American public know about since 9/11 have defeated the Patriot Act and other security “tools” insituted since that crime was committed. The shoe bomber and the underwear bomber were both overpowered by private citizens acting in their own defense, after the would be terrorists had defeated the security measures within the Patriot Act and the TSA. Even on 9/11, with the federal government already in charge of security, albeit without the “tools” of the Patriot Act, the only crime that was prevented was the one that would have been perpetrated using Flight 93. Again, it was private citizens acting in their own defense and defense of their neighbors that thwarted the attack. While they were unsuccessful in defending their own lives, they prevented the loss of many, many more.

This illustrates another fundamental element of liberty – the right of each person to be allowed to provide for their own defense. The right and duty of each individual to defend themselves to the best of their ability replaces absolute power in the hands of the government. Consistent with this idea, Paul has been a staunch advocate of the 2nd amendment, while Gingrich, although he supports the right to bear arms in rhetoric, also voted for the Lautenburg Gun Ban and the Criminal Safezones Act, sponsored by Nancy Pelosi.

Gingrich tries to qualify his position on the Patriot Act by drawing a conceptual line between criminal law enforcement and national security. He says that “criminal law – the government should be on defense and you should be innocent until proven guilty. National security – the government should have many more tools in order to save our lives.”

In other words, if the government decides that “national security” is threatened, you are  no longer innocent until proven guilty. He also says that Americans must “build an honest understanding that all of us will be in danger for the rest of our lives.”

Do the math.

This exchange between Paul and Gingrich represents a fundamental choice that the American people have to make. They can take personal responsibility for their security and take power back from the federal government or they can hand unchecked power to the federal government along with their liberty. There is no “centrist” or “moderate” position, because once the principle is conceded, liberty is gone.

As Benjamin Franklin warned, the choice between liberty and security is a false one. No, there were not nuclear weapons in 1755, but to think that the existence of nuclear weapons changes the principle is counterintuitive. Franklin spoke those words in 1755 because the same choice existed then as now. Those who sacrifice liberty in the hopes of greater security deserve neither and will get neither. The most immediate threat to one’s security is always the closest one – the government itself.

In deciding who was right in this debate, Americans are really deciding whether liberty is something they cherish or whether Franklin, Jefferson, Adams and the rest were wrong. If they were wrong or if we’ve decided that there is something fundamentally different today that trumps those timeless principles, let’s at least dispense with the notion that we live in the “land of the free.” At the next sporting event, let the singer end with “o’er the land of the secure, and the home of the safe.” It may not be pleasing to the ear, but neither is Gingrich’s plan for a “secure” America.

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

© Thomas Mullen 2011

Centralization Is Insane

The latest much-ado-about-nothing crisis passed, with a result that should seem familiar. In 2008, Americans were told that if the TARP bill (a $787 billion taxpayer-funded welfare handout to large banking institutions) wasn’t passed, the stock market would crash and massive unemployment would follow. After an unsuccessful first attempt to pass the bill amidst angry opposition from constituents, the bill passed on a second vote. Subsequently, there was a stock market crash followed by massive unemployment.

This time, our political/media cabal told us that if Congress was unable to pass a bill to raise the debt ceiling, that the government would not be able to meet its short term obligations, including rolling over short term bonds with new debt. U.S. debt would be downgraded from its AAA status, and a default would be imminent. After the melodrama, Congress passed the bill raising the debt ceiling. Standard and Poor’s subsequently downgraded U.S. Treasury debt anyway, and deep down everyone knows that a default is coming as well, one way or another.

We are seeing the end of a paradigm. Thomas Kuhn argued in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions that anomalies eventually lead to revolutions in scientific paradigms. His argument holds equally true for political paradigms as well.

A paradigm is a framework within which a society bases its beliefs. For example, people at one time believed that the forces of nature were the work of a pantheon of gods. Sunlight came from one god, rain from another. The earth was a god, as was the moon. With nothing to disprove the premises of the paradigm, it persisted. People went on believing that sunlight and rain were the work of sun and rain gods because there was no compelling reason for them to believe otherwise.

However, within any paradigm there are anomalies. Anomalies are contradictions – phenomena that cannot be explained within the framework of the paradigm. People have a startling capacity to ignore or rationalize away these anomalies. While it may defy logic to continue to believe that rain comes from a rain god even after evaporation and condensation has been discovered and proven, people would rather ignore the anomalies and cling to the paradigm than face the fact that the paradigm is false.

Once there are too many anomalies, the paradigm fails, and a new one must take its place. This new paradigm renders the old one absurd, even crazy. At some point in the future, people will look back on the political paradigm of the 20th and early 21st centuries in just this manner. There is at least one thing that will be quite obvious to them: centralized government is insane.

Consider the premises upon which this present paradigm relies: All facets of society must be planned and managed by experts. The judgment of the experts trumps the rights or choices of any individual. The choices made by the experts will result in a more orderly society and greater happiness for the individuals who comprise it. There will be better results from one small group of experts controlling everyone than multiple groups of experts controlling smaller subgroups of society.

Of course, libertarians reject every one of these assumptions on its face. A free society does not tolerate “planning” or “management” by anyone. All choices are left to the individual, as any attempt to plan or manage his affairs amounts to either violation of his liberty, looting of his property, or both. However, let’s assume that the first three assumptions of the present paradigm are valid and merely examine the last. Even that does not hold up to scrutiny.

Suppose an entrepreneur starts a business. At first, his market is local. He opens retail outlets that are managed by store managers. The entrepreneur is the CEO of the company and manages the store managers. Even at this point, the CEO must trust day-to-day decisions to his managers. He has no time to make everyday decisions as he tries to grow his business. The managers do this for him and he concentrates on strategic goals.

His business is successful and soon he begins opening outlets outside of the original market. He now has a need for regional managers to manage the store managers. He manages the regional managers and leaves the details of how they operate within their regions to them.

The business continues to grow. With retail outlets in every state, there are now too many regions for the CEO to manage directly. The CEO appoints executive directors to manage larger regions, each comprising several smaller ones. There is an executive director for the west coast, another for the Midwest, and another for the east coast. Of course, the CEO has the assistance of his corporate vice presidents who manage sales, operations, human resources, and other company-wide functions from the corporate office.

Now, suppose that one day the CEO decides to fire the executive directors, the regional managers, and the store managers. He will now have the salespeople, stock clerks, and cashiers for thousands of retail outlets report directly to him and his corporate vice presidents. Would anyone view this decision as anything but insane?

As silly as this proposition sounds, this is a perfect analogy for how we have chosen to organize society for the past century. The paradigm rests upon the assumption that every societal problem can better be solved if the CEO and his corporate staff manage the cashiers and the salespeople directly. Like all failed paradigms, anomalies are piling up that refute its basic assumptions.

This paradigm assumes that centralized government can provide a comfortable retirement with medical benefits for average Americans, yet Social Security and Medicare are bankrupt. It assumes that a central bank can ensure full employment and a stable currency, yet the value of the dollar is plummeting and unemployment approaches record highs (especially when the same measuring stick is used as when the old records were set). It assumes that the national government’s military establishment can police the world, yet the most powerful military in history cannot even defeat guerrilla fighters in third world nations. It assumes that the central government can win a war on drugs, yet drug use is higher than at any time in history. It assumes that experts in Washington can regulate commerce, medicine, and industry, yet we get Bernie Madoff, drug recalls, and massive oil spills.

Hundreds of years ago, the prevailing medical science paradigm assumed that illnesses were caused by “bad humors” in the blood. Based upon that assumption, doctors practiced the now-discredited procedure known as “bleeding.” They would literally cut open a patient’s vein in an attempt to bleed out the bad humors. As we now know, this treatment often killed the patient, George Washington being a notable example. Most rational people today view the practice of bleeding as nothing short of lunacy.

Ironically, this is a perfect analogy for the paradigm of centralized government. The very act of a small group of experts attempting to manage all of society drains its lifeblood. It is the un-coerced decisions of millions of individuals that create all of the blessings of civilized society. It is the attempt by a small group of people to override those decisions that is killing society before our very eyes. Someday, people will look back on our foolishness and laugh as we do now at the misguided physicians who bled their patients to death. The present paradigm is dying. The revolution has begun.

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

© Thomas Mullen 2011

Tom Mullen Interviews Ron Paul 7-7-2011

Tom Mullen, author or A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America interviews Congressman and Republican Presidential Candidate Ron Paul. You may enjoy the 10 minute version here or watch the full version below:

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>Liberty Is An Absolute

>“Our legislators are not sufficiently apprised of the rightful limits of their powers; that their true office is to declare and enforce only our natural rights and duties, and to take none of them from us. No man has a natural right to commit aggression on the equal rights of another; and this is all from which the laws ought to restrain him.”

– Thomas Jefferson (1816)[1]

Over the past week I’ve made two round trip flights by air, which means I have had the distinct pleasure of passing through airport security four times in seven days. It may be my imagination, but I believe that our friendly neighborhood TSA officers are getting more authoritarian. While the officer at the podium still exhibits call center courtesy, those charged with seeing that people make their way through the canvass rope maze and show up with their license and boarding pass ready have taken to shouting orders as if managing a chain gang. Of course, this characterization isn’t far from the truth. However, I don’t really blame the officers personally that much. Their job is to get people to act in a completely unnatural manner – partially disrobing in a crowded room full of strangers just for starters – and with the exception of frequent travelers they are never going to do it right.

So, as the days go by and thousands of new travelers shuffle in and forget to have their licenses ready, forget to take their suntan lotion out of their carry on, try to go through the metal detector with their jackets on, and do a thousand other things that innocent people would never think twice about doing, the frustration must build with these foot soldiers in the War on Terror. “I just told you yesterday that you can’t bring liquids through security!” they must think, forgetting that the little old lady they are snarling at is not the same little old lady from yesterday or the day before or the day before that…

However, my sympathy does not go so far as to let me forget what is happening each time I remove my shoes and render my person, papers, and effects insecure against unreasonable searches. Regardless of the chirpy greeting by the uniformed agent with the infrared flashlight or the bizarre signs attempting to characterize this shakedown as some type of customer service (Rather be molested in private? Just ask…), I always remember what is really going on: I am being investigated for a crime.

There is no probable cause, no writs, no warrants sworn by oath or affidavit. In fact, for the 90-year-old gentlemen in front of me who just put his cane through the x-ray machine and is now holding onto the glass wall as he tries to stumble through the metal detector without it, there is no scenario that any reasonable person could imagine where he would or could harm anyone. Yet he is a suspect, too.

Most sane people who observe spectacles like this immediately conclude that law enforcement is going too far. Surely, there must be a better balance than this between liberty and security. However, in thinking this they have already made an error. When it comes to liberty, there can be no balance. Liberty abides no compromise. Liberty is an absolute.

For generations, Americans have been conditioned to believe that there are no absolutes. The truth is always the synthesis of the extremes and compromise is the supreme virtue. These ideas proceed from the “intellectual class” that dominates our education system – a breed that long ago abandoned Reason for the Hegelian confusion that allowed them to embrace communism. It is from this quarter that the spurious arguments against liberty proceed. “Absolute liberty is anarchy” or “you must balance liberty with the needs of society” or Bill Clinton’s infamous “When personal freedom’s being abused, you have to move to limit it.” All of these arguments are groundless, and those who make them do so because they do not know what liberty is.

Today, what we used to call “liberty” has been given a sterile, quasi-clinical 20th century name. We now call it “the Non-Aggression Principle.” This is by no means an inaccurate name, but hardly as poetic or stirring to the soul as Liberty. While it is useful in making arguments (I do so myself all of the time), I often wonder if this name allows the great majority of people to relegate this most sacred of rights to the small libertarian and objectivist constituencies who champion it. It is much easier to say “there are more important things than the Non-Aggression Principle” than it is to say “there are more important things than Liberty.” However, Liberty and the Non-Aggression Principle are one and the same.

The passage from Jefferson is not meant to suggest that it originated with him or our founders. They got it from Locke, who developed his ideas from ancient sources. As Locke said, men are naturally in “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.”[2] The natural right to liberty is absolute within a natural limit: the law of nature. What is this law? The law of nature is Reason, which “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]

Thus, a state of absolute liberty “is not a state of license.”[4] People exercising their right to liberty do not have an unqualified right to do whatever they wish, regardless of the consequences. There is a clear and unambiguous limit to even what a person in an absolute state of liberty may do. He may do anything that he wishes as long as he does not harm another in aggression, which he absolutely may not do.

Therefore, it is just more politicians talking gibberish when we hear arguments for more or less liberty or balancing liberty with security or other priorities. Liberty does not conflict with any proper functions of government. When there is conflict between government and liberty, it is always government that is in the wrong. Most importantly, as our founding document clearly states and Reason demands, liberty is a right. It is for no one to limit, regulate, or balance with anything. The minute that any limit on human action is put in place beyond “the bounds of the law of nature,” liberty has ceased to exist. One is either free or not free. You cannot enslave someone a little.

Once liberty is properly understood, there are a few conclusions that one can draw about the purpose of government. First, government cannot at the same time secure the right to liberty and prevent crime. The minute that it acts before a crime has been committed, it has destroyed liberty in the process. Since they have committed no aggression, those restrained by the government crime prevention policy should be free to do whatever they choose, but they are not.

In order to preserve liberty, government may only prosecute and punish crimes after they are committed, except in those rare instances when a law enforcement officer happens to be at the scene of a crime as it is taking place. Even military action is something that our founders understood was only justified when a state of war already existed, which I wrote about in more detail in an article last year. That is why they granted Congress the power to declare war. By definition, to declare something presupposes that it already exists.

An understandable first reaction to this idea is that non-aggression must mean that in order to be free we must offer ourselves up as sitting ducks to criminals and foreign armies, only able to take action once the damage has been done. This is refuted by the second conclusion one must draw from an understanding of Liberty: that each individual has not only a right but a responsibility to defend himself. While this may sound frightening at first, it is not. If the truth be told, this is really the only choice that you have whether you live in a free society or not. In all but the rarest of cases, the government simply is not there at the moment that you are attacked. You must defend yourself the best that you can and try to survive. It is only after the fact that the law can come to your aid. This is only one reason that liberty and the right to bear arms are inseparable from one another.

Finally, you must conclude that in addition to destroying your liberty in the process, crime prevention will always fail. A just law is one that prohibits aggression, such as the law against murder. However, once an aggressor has decided to violate this just and natural law, he is certainly not going to be dissuaded by some societal rule of conduct that attempts to prevent him from having the opportunity to commit the real crime. He will simply break that law, too, as so many murderers do when they use “illegal” firearms to commit murder. Only the innocent are punished by attempts to prevent crime. They either follow the unjust law and surrender their liberty or are unjustly punished when they break the law while committing no aggression.

This inevitable failure gives rise to the most ominous aspect of government’s misguided attempt at crime prevention: its equally inevitable expansion. With each new failure, the preventative measures must be increased in intensity to prevent further failure. The actions of all must be more and more limited until all opportunity to commit a crime is eliminated, which even under martial law can never be achieved. So, it is a steady march onward, with a police state as the only logical end. Each new failure in the war on drugs or the war on terror takes us another step down that road.

Life in a state of liberty is not perfect. It makes no guarantees other than the opportunity to pursue your happiness. You may prosper or you may be poor. You may be safe or you may come to harm. Chance will certainly have some effect on your life – we all deal with unexpected circumstances that we cannot control, both good and bad. However, liberty gives you the ability to act upon those things in life that you can control in the way that you believe will be the best for you and those you care about. Without liberty, you can control nothing, and it is only a fool who believes that any government can guarantee that he will never be poor or will never come to any harm. There is only one thing that life without liberty does guarantee: you will never truly be able to pursue your happiness. Robbed of that, why live at all?

© Thomas Mullen 2009

[1] Jefferson, Thomas Letter to Francis Walker Gilmer June 7, 1816
[2] Locke, John Second Treatise of Government Hackett Publishing Company, Inc. Indianapolis, IN (1980) Pg. 8
[3] Locke, John Second Treatise of Government Hackett Publishing Company, Inc. Indianapolis, IN (1980) Pg. 9
[4] Ibid

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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>Life, Liberty, and Property Are Inseparable

>

The reason why men enter into society, is the preservation of their property; and the end why they chuse and authorize a legislative, is, that there may be laws made, and rules set, as guards and fences to the properties of all the members of the society, to limit the power, and moderate the dominion, of every part and member of the society: for since it can never be supposed to be the will of the society, that the legislative should have a power to destroy that which every one designs to secure, by entering into society, and for which the people submitted themselves to legislators of their own making; 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.

- John Locke[1]

Life, liberty, and property were the central, inalienable rights that formed the foundation of the great experiment in self government called the United States of America. The founders of our country never broke apart this sacred triumvirate, because each one of these rights is inextricably bound to the other. No one of these three can exist without the other. Moreover, when all three are secured, it is almost impossible for injustice to exist. Wherever one does find injustice, one invariably finds a violation of one of these three basic rights at its root.

While it is certainly true that today the rights to life and liberty are grossly violated in innumerable ways, they are nevertheless at least spoken of by our politicians. However hypocritically, they at least say that they value life and liberty, even as they pervert those sacred rights as justification for their wars and plunder.

Yet, they never even hypocritically evoke the right to property. No journalist ever challenges them based upon it, and honestly, most average Americans don’t talk about it either. As a principle, property has vanished from our consciousness. However, as all of the great philosophers throughout history have understood, there is no right to life or liberty without property. In fact, property is part and parcel of life itself.

What is property? It is that which an individual rightfully owns. Included among every human being’s property are his mind, his body, his conscience, and his actions. Every act of mind and body undeniably belongs to the actor, including that act which he engages in more than any other: his labor. To deny someone’s right to ownership of his mind, body, or labor is to make him a slave.

It is labor that allows each individual to sustain his existence and pursue his happiness. All consumption must be preceded by production. Production can only be achieved through human labor. In fact, there is no way for an individual to pursue any goal, whether material, intellectual, or spiritual, without exertion. Even the search for God requires an intellectual and spiritual effort – it cannot commence without labor.

For most of us, the bulk of our labor is devoted to providing the basic necessities of life for ourselves and our children. Some portion of it also provides the extras – the toys, the vacations, or the dining out that enriches our lives and adds to our happiness. A further portion is devoted to study, prayer, or just simple reflection – the quest for meaning and purpose in our lives. None of these things are possible without labor; our labor provides them all. Every item in every store is the product of someone’s labor. Every phone call you make is made possible by someone’s labor. Healthcare is someone’s labor, as is education.

However, the actual effort of mind and body is not the most precious aspect of labor. If human beings were immortal, we could afford to spend our labor and its fruits indiscriminately, consuming as much as we wished and providing anything to anyone who asked it of us. If a shoemaker were able to make shoes for the rest of eternity, then certainly there would not be a bare foot on the face of the earth. If the land developer were immortal, we would all live in a mansion.

However, we are not immortal, and it is this fact that places such a premium on our labor. Our labor is not just composed of the exertion of mind and body that is necessary to produce some good or service. That exertion happens over time, the hours or days of the laborer’s life. Every hour of our labor is an hour of our life from a limited supply which cannot be replenished. Whatever we have produced with our labor now contains that portion of our life which we have sacrificed to produce it.

So, when human beings trade their goods or services with one another, they are really trading pieces of their lives. If they have exchanged their labor for money with an employer or customer, that money now contains some part of their lives – a part that can never be reclaimed. That is why the same verb is used for both money and time – both are “spent” in exchange for some benefit. Both also represent each individual’s means of self determination.

Therefore, it is impossible to call a person free if he does not own his labor and all the product of his labor. It is only through his labor that he can provide better food, clothing and shelter for himself and his family, send his children to better schools, or realize the leisure time necessary to grow intellectually and spiritually. His labor is his means to determine the course of his life. Without self determination, there is no liberty.

Furthermore, to deny a human being ownership of his labor is also to deny his right to life itself. Since his labor is his means of sustaining his existence, once his right to ownership of his labor is denied he lives only at the arbitrary whim of whoever has claimed ownership of it. For such a person, life is now a privilege granted by someone else, rather than a right.

To the founders of the United States of America, all of this was self evident. When one reads the writings of Samuel and John Adams, Jefferson, Madison, or Locke, one finds one word that is used many times more often even than liberty: property. Recognizing property as nothing more than the individual’s labor and/or the product of his labor, the founders placed the protection of property as the very highest priority of government. In fact, they often stated that it was the only priority of government. While no high school history book or Hollywood biopic even hints at this fact, merely reading the words of the founders for oneself puts any debate on this point to rest.

Let us apply this concept to a contemporary issue. The unambiguous statements in the Declaration of Independence that all human beings have unalienable rights and that government’s sole purpose is to secure them should absolutely beg at least one timely question from most Americans today. Why did the founders not provide for the right to health care? Why did they not establish Medicare or Medicaid? Given a whole system of government whose purpose was to secure individual rights, why was this right so glaringly overlooked?

Of course, the answer to that question is that the founders recognized that health care was not a right. Health care, like every other good or service, is someone’s labor. No one but the laborer can have a right to it. To say that people have a right to health care is really to deny the health care provider a right to his own life, for it is impossible for both he and his patient to have a right to ownership of his labor. It is no less a crime to forcefully rob the health care provider’s fee from a third party (the taxpayer), for that simply denies the taxpayer’s right to his own life. In either case – whether the health care provider is forced to treat the patient for free or a third party is forced to pay the bill – someone’s labor, some part of someone’s life, is being stolen from him. This is the specific crime that government exists to defend its citizens against. By instead committing this crime, government becomes the most grotesque absurdity imaginable.

This is not to imply that we are at some sort of crossroads because President Obama and his pet Congress are closing in on expanding government healthcare. We came to that crossroads decades ago and quite undeniably took the wrong road. Until our philosophy changes and we recognize that retirement benefits, health care, research grants, corporate subsidies, investment in alternative energy – all money, goods, and services – are really pieces of someone’s life that cannot be seized from them without their consent (not even by majority vote), we will never restore the liberty that we have lost. Instead, we will continue to be the most pitiable form of slave, not bound to one master, but to everyone.

When a fellow human being offers to buy your product or hire you for your services, he has paid you the highest compliment imaginable. That person has offered a piece of his life to you in exchange for something that you have to offer, which is itself a piece of your own life. He is saying that you have value and that what you offer is worth hours or days of his life that he can never reclaim. This consensual interaction between free people is the most beautiful aspect of civil society and has been responsible for every improvement in the quality of human life that has ever occurred throughout history.

Conversely, when a fellow human being points a gun at you and demands that you provide him with some good or service, he commits the most egregious crime imaginable, short of pulling the trigger and ending your life at that moment. For in reality, he is really stealing a piece of your life that you can likewise never reclaim. He may be committing this crime because he wishes to increase his wealth without earning it, or he may desperately need whatever he takes from you, but it is the same crime nonetheless. This interaction is the most evil aspect of civil society and has been responsible for every war and human misery that has ever occurred throughout history.

Government can only be organized to fulfill one of two purposes: to protect your property or to take it from you – for whatever purpose government or its constituents deem fit. There is no third choice. To organize society around competing groups stealing from one another is to create a society whose citizens exist in a perpetual state of war with one another – for the use of force to obtain another’s property without his consent is the definition of the state of war.

Such a society cannot endure indefinitely. Ours has come to the beginning of its inevitable end. Countless empires throughout history – some much more preeminent in their worlds than we are in ours – have disintegrated for exactly the same reason. We can still choose justice over injustice but our philosophy must change. We must again institute a government that secures our rights, rather than annihilates them in the attempt to provide us with the property of others.

This will not happen by any act of government itself. Whether we elect a liberal or a conservative, we will never achieve different results by continually electing different people or parties but asking them to do the same thing – provide us with the property of others. It must be the people who change their philosophy and then demand that government assume its appropriate role according to that philosophy. Our government ultimately gives us what we ask for. For the past century, we have increasingly asked it to make us slaves, seduced by the siren’s song of comfort and security without responsibility. This can only be provided to each of us at another’s expense and can only be provided to others at ours. Once we reject the idea that we can claim a right to another human being’s life, the chains that bind us will be broken. Then, it will matter not who makes our laws.

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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[1] Locke, John Second Treatise of Government Hackett Publishing Company, Inc. Indianapolis, IN (1980) Pg. 111

>The Lost Philosopher

>For high school or undergraduate college students, it is probably difficult to imagine how the dusty old books they are forced to read are relevant to their lives. Who can blame the average teenager for caring little about what lights up the face of his eccentric professor, regardless of the passion said professor may exhibit for Aristotle, Cicero, Aquinas, or Locke? Yet, despite the understandable lack of interest in the worldview of philosophers of several hundred years past, this is probably the last real chance the young student will have to consider them. Once out of school and faced with the realities of life and making a living, there is little time or motivation for one to go back and explore the world of ideas. Ideas and philosophy are for dreamers. This is how a society forgets what it is trying to do.

The enlightenment that inspired our founding fathers was a period of explosive creativity and learning. Newton, Bacon, Sidney, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Smith – these giants were all children of the enlightenment that inspired Jefferson, Adams, Franklin, and the rest to create a society based upon reason which recognized that all men were created equal. Today, we tend to think about both the enlightenment and our founders as if they all shared one, homogenous philosophy and one vision of man and society. However, this is far from true.

“The enlightenmnet” did not produce one archetypal philosophy, but three. They were all quite well known to our founders, but only one of them informed the philosophy of liberty that made America the freest, most prosperous nation in history.  It has been the gradual erosion of those founding principles and their replacement by tenets of the rejected philosophies that has led America to the edge of ruin.

The first to talk about “the social contract” during the enlightenment was Thomas Hobbes. Hobbes believed that man in the state of nature (the absence of government or any higher authority) was in a state of perpetual war, or as he put it, “war of everyone against everyone.” This was the result of Hobbes assertion that in that state, man had “a right to everything,” following from his opinion that reason dictated only that man is restricted from doing anything to harm himself. Thus, for Hobbes man was ultimately a depraved creature who needed a strong government – an absolute ruler – to save him from himself. While for Hobbes the law of nature dictated that man should seek peace, man would never find it by employing reason, which would only ensure that he tried to preserve his own life against the “violent death” that threatened his every living moment. The purpose of government, then, was to protect man from his own depraved nature and that of his neighbors with a strong, paternal hand, sanctioned by God.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s vision of man and the purpose of government was quite different from that of Hobbes. Rousseau asserted that the idea of a “state of nature” was a purely academic one, having likely never actually occurred in human history. However, he did use the idea of a state of nature as a philosophical tool to develop his ideas about man in society and the purpose of government. For Rousseau, man had to give up his natural rights when entering society, and while society granted him individual rights, they could be set aside when the needs of society outweighed them. In his own words,

“Each of us puts his person and all his power in common under the supreme direction of the general will, and, in our coporate capacity, we receive each member as an indivisible part of the whole.”

Therefore, government’s purpose for Rousseau was to accomplish the “general will” and achieve the common good, which included economic equality, as Rousseau recognized man’s property rights to end at what he needed to survive. “Having his share, he ought to keep it, and can have no further right against the community.”

John Locke represented yet a third philosophy of man and society. Locke’s view of man in the state of nature was vastly different from that of Hobbes, as was his definition of reason. As he said,

“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.”

So, for Locke, reason did not merely dictate self-preservation, but the Non-Aggression Principle as well. While Locke recognized that man was not safe from harm from other people in the state of nature, he believed that the laws of nature preceded man and society, and thus individual rights were inalienable. Man did not give up those rights when entering society, but instead entered society solely for the purpose of defending them. He had a right to as much property as he could legitimately acquire, whether that resulted in more property than possessed by his neighbor or not. So long as he did not harm another in their “life, health, liberty, or possessions,” he was free to “order his actions as he pleased.” The purpose of government for Locke was to protect life, liberty, and property as the societal extension of the individual right of self defense.  This was also government’s strict limit.

It is interesting to consider how these three philosophies played out during the 18th century. In America, our founders chose the philosophy of Locke, specifically excluding the other two in writing our Declaration of Independence. However, our founders were not of one united mind on their vision of the most effective form of government. In fact, there was a deep divide between two factions, led by Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson, respectively.  Jefferson believed in the philosophy of Locke, whom he on more than one occasion named (along with Newton and Bacon) “one of the three greatest men who ever lived.”

Hamilton’s view of man and society was much more Hobbesian. As Jefferson put it, Hamilton was “honest as a man, but, as a politician, believing in the necessity of either force or corruption to govern man.” To Jefferson’s assertion that Locke, Bacon, and Newton were the greatest men the world had ever produced, Hamilton replied, “the greatest man that ever lived was Julius Caesar.” While Jefferson asserted that the power of the government was limited to defense against aggression, Hamilton advocated a “more vigorous government,” with the ultimate instrument of control at its disposal – a central bank.

This was the great struggle of ideas in early America. Very generally, it was a struggle between Hobbes and Locke. While Hamilton was able to accomplish many of his goals while serving in Washington’s cabinet, Jefferson’s vision ultimately prevailed by he and his successors winning the presidency, paying down the national debt, and eliminating the central bank (an accomplishment that had to be repeated by Jackson a few decades later). It was his Lockean vision that dominated, albeit under constant challenge, during the great century of innovation and prosperity that followed.

Rousseau’s philosophy did not find footing in early America, but did in France. While America’s revolution was based upon Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, drawn from Locke’s Life, Liberty, and Property[1], France’s revolution was based upon Liberty, Fraternity, Equality. It is no accident that one revolution was wildly successful and the other devolved into a bloody reign of terror and eventual despotism. The French had the same results trying to achieve economic equality through the force of government that later collectivist societies would under communism.[2]

While America lived by Locke’s principles, she enjoyed a meteoric ascent, leading the industrial revolution and creating much of what we now call the modern world. The explosion of prosperity for common people that occurred during America’s first century has been unequaled in human history. Indeed, while many are quick to point out that mass production was invented in America, let us not forget mass consumption – the enjoyment by the common people of the bounty that living by Locke’s principles of freedom and individual rights had provided.

By now, the relevance of these three philosophies should have jumped off the page. While all three competed during the enlightenment, only two have informed the political parties in America for the past century. It is no coincidence that today virtually all Americans feel that they must vote for “the lesser of two evils” when choosing representatives in their government. It is because they are choosing between the Hobbesian Republicans, with their strong, central government, sanctioned by God to save people from themselves, and the Rousseaian Democrats, still striving to use the force of government to achieve their perverse vision of economic equality, despite the tens of millions that have died as a result of that same vision. Gone are the individual rights, liberty, and Non-Aggression Principle of Locke, and with Locke’s philosophy has gone America’s greatness.

Most ominously, the two parties that previously followed either Hobbes or Rousseau are now merging together into a terrifying hybrid, finding common ground in their mutual belief in the absolute sovereignty of the state over the individual. While they may have appeared radically different in decades or centuries past, these two philosophies have always had this in common. In the end, that makes them for all practical purposes the same.

However, all is not lost. While Locke has completely disappeared from the American ethos, his philosophy can never really die. Very soon, the artificial society created by the Hobbes/Rousseau hybrid is going to collapse upon itself, a victim of its own systemic flaws. The supreme justice in the universe is that society cannot violate natural rights indefinitely. Just as market forces eventually reassert themselves in economics, natural law eventually does so in the organization of society as a whole. When the use of force can no longer sustain society, as it ultimately never can, voluntary exchange will take its place. As the illusion of legitimacy disappears from the present paternal state, the Non-Aggression Principle will reemerge to replace it. Do not fear the coming collapse. Embrace it. When the moment comes, let us seize it and shout joyously, not for equality or security, but for liberty.

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[1] Property being implicit in “the Pursuit of Happiness”
[2] Tragically, the cause and effect relationship between the economic policies that accompany a government striving to achieve economic equality (at the point of the sword) and the subsequent famine, war, and destruction that result still eludes us. It was demonstrated in France in the 18th century, Russia in the early 20th and China later in the 20th, yet history seems to have taught us nothing. The voices crying for government-enforced equality, perhaps this time under the guise of “spreading the wealth,” are louder than ever.

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

>Liberty’s Greatest Commandment

>“Our legislators are not sufficiently apprised of the rightful limits of their powers; that their true office is to declare and enforce only our natural rights and duties, and to take none of them from us. No man has a natural right to commit aggression on the equal rights of another; and this is all from which the laws ought to restrain him.”

– Thomas Jefferson (1816)[1]

The great spiritual movements of history have imparted spiritual truth to those who “had ears to hear.” Inevitably, religions have commandeered those movements and replaced that spiritual truth with authoritarianism. The great spiritual masters (real and legendary), such as Krishna, Paul, Jesus, Mohammad, and Buddha (just to name a few), have all offered their followers the chance to live a better life, to become more than they were, and to set themselves free from the physical bonds that limit their mortal lives and spiritual growth. Too often, those who have come after the masters have replaced their sublime wisdom with a myriad of rules, rituals, and mysticism that ultimately confuses or even contradicts the original message.

As just one example, Jesus was able to condense all of the laws and commandments of the Hebrew Scripture into two simple principles, recognizable at once to most Christians,

“The first is this: ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”[2]

This short passage contains all that Jesus thought necessary in instructing his followers on how to live. Indeed, the scribe that asked him which commandment was the greatest is so impressed by what Jesus says, that he replies that following these two precepts “is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”[3] Unfortunately, the Catholic Church that evolved from this movement did not adhere to this philosophy, as it became one of the most oppressive in history in the ensuing centuries. While the gospels depict small groups of seekers gathered around an enlightened master, the Catholic Church organized itself into an authoritarian hierarchy, often using the threat of eternal damnation to gather earthly wealth or power. While Jesus instructed his followers to break the rules when the rules stood in the way of virtue,[4] the Christian religions, like so many others, have confused the rules with the intentions behind them, and the dogma for the spiritual truth. In fact, the edifice of ritual built up by the various Christian churches arguably impede their followers from finding God, and one need not look far for examples of those churches violating the second great commandment over and over again. Unfortunately, the Christian churches are in no way unique in this respect.

Liberty, too, has suffered this fate. Like the great religions, Liberty was a movement that once set people free. It was founded by an enlightened group of masters, named Locke, Jefferson, Adams, and Paine. Like the great religions, Liberty also had a central principle – a greatest commandment – that could inform its followers in every aspect of their lives. We have come to know this precept as the Non-Aggression Principle, which is the principle that each individual has the right to do whatever he or she wishes, as long as he or she does not violate the equal rights of others. Today we mistakenly associate this principle exclusively with libertarians or objectivists.[5] However, as the quote from the subtitle of this passage demonstrates, the Non Aggression Principle did not originate with either of these 20th century movements. In fact, not only is the Non Aggression Principle explicit in the writings of Jefferson and Locke, it is actually the definition of Liberty itself.

Like Christianity, Judaism, and the ancient spiritual movements that came before them, Liberty was a great spark of light in its infancy. Never before had men in society proclaimed to the world that all men are created equal, and that they are endowed by their Creator with unalienable rights. Never before had people actually put the Non Aggression Principle into practice, and attempted to limit the laws of society to its standard. Never before had people attempted to truly live together as equals, and come so close to true freedom and justice.

Jesus gave two greatest commandments, because he was instructing his followers in living two different lives. His first commandment applies to the inner life – the spiritual life. His second commandment applies to the outer life – life on earth and among men. While Liberty’s great commandment only explicitly speaks to the latter, it is consistent with not only both of Jesus’ two greatest commandments, but with the spiritual and moral teachings of all spiritual movements. In this way, the Non Aggression Principle transcends religion, as it excludes none and supports the moral teachings of all.

Religious freedom is implicit in the Non Aggression Principle. As the thoughts, prayers, and beliefs of one person can of themselves do no harm to anyone else, following the Non Aggression Principle necessarily grants religious freedom to all. As Jefferson put it,

“The legitimate powers of government extend so 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.”[6]

Here Jefferson both succinctly restates the Non Aggression Principle and draws its obvious conclusion about religion: no man’s inner life can harm another, and thus is outside the reach of government. Therefore, the Non Aggression Principle allows everyone to follow the spiritual teachings of any religion he wishes, or no religion at all. His inner life belongs to him and to no one else.

Regarding man’s outer life, the Non Aggression Principle is consistent with Jesus’ second commandment, and with the moral teachings of virtually all religions. It is not a very far reach to say that to “love your neighbor as yourself” is substantively the same as “to grant your neighbor the freedom to do what he pleases, as long as he harms no one else.” Nor is this message much different from those of the great masters of the other religions. Despite the outwardly different (and often antagonistic toward each other) institutions that have grown up around the other great spiritual movements, the great masters behind all of them exhorted us to love our neighbors (even our enemies), to do charitable works, and to respect each other’s property.

Unfortunately, Liberty has follwed the same trend as these movements. Those who came after the great masters have forgotten the true meaning of Liberty, and have instead built up a great, authoritarian hierarchy, complete with its own labyrinthine set of rules and dogma that consistently violates Liberty’s central principle. As the Catholic Church of late antiquity and the Dark Ages routinely violated Christianity’s central axioms, the greatest crimes in history are now committed under the sacred name of Liberty. None are more egregious than the current wars of aggression that purport to be “liberating” their victims, just as the Inquisition purported to be “saving” the victims of its sadistic tortures.

At home, the government of the so-called “land of the free” grows more authoritarian each day, routinely violating Liberty’s great commandment by seizing property to protect privileged financiers, to realize its perverse vision of forced economic equality, to punish victimless “crimes” that the members of a small, wealthy oligarchy find distasteful, and to tighten its control over every aspect of our lives.

As has been the case with religions throughout history, the time has come for the true believers in Liberty to reject the false teachings of the established clergy and resurrect the true message of the founding masters. While our own Sadducees and Pharisees (Republicans and Democrats) would have us believe that our problems are terribly complicated, they are not. They can be solved one and all by applying one simple principle: the principle of Liberty. If we were to at least limit the government to the limits set by Jefferson and Locke, every problem we currently consider paramount would disappear. For example:

Legal tender laws force U.S. citizens to accept U.S. dollars as payment, and forbid contracts to be denominated in gold. Using alternative currencies doesn’t represent aggression against anyone, so according to the Non Aggression Principle those laws would have to be repealed. This would immediately break the hold of the Federal Reserve over the economy, and would quickly end the problem of inflation. Prices would begin falling again, as they did throughout the 19th century. 100 years from now, the general price level would be half what it is today, as it was half what it was in 1800 by 1912. Can you imagine a world in which you could tell your grandchildren, “I used to have to pay twice that much for what you just bought?”

Applying the Non Aggression Princple means ending Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and the rest of the wealth redistribution programs, because the money is forcibly taken from taxpayers to fund them. This would solve a myriad of problems. First, it would return $1.5 trillion in savings/capital to the economy, taking the United States from a negative savings rate to an over 11% savings rate. In addition, the artificial demand created by government in the healthcare sector would disappear, allowing prices to fall back to their natural levels. Healthcare would be affordable without insurance, as it would be subject to the same market forces that keep the prices of more necessary products like food and shelter affordable (to the extent that they too are not distorted by government).

This also means cutting at least 70% of our military expenditures, as we would have no business stationing troops anywhere but at our own borders. Without our military presence antagonizing the dispossessed overseas, the motivation for terrorism would quickly fade. We would add another $400 billion or so in savings/capital to the economy which is currently being devoured by government. Most importantly, hundreds of thousands of people, including over 4,000 of our own brave men and women, would be alive today to celebrate the holidays with us.

The Non Aggression Principle forbids laws against drug use, freeing about 2/3 of our prison population. Contrary to government propaganda-induced public opinion, this would not set off a crime wave, as the vast majority of these people have never committed a violent crime. In addition, the funding source for most of our criminal gangs would dry up, making it impossible for them to arm themselves the way they currently do. Like the prohibition of the 1920’s, the Drug War has resulted in a huge black market and criminal industry to supply the outlawed contraband. Without the Drug War, drug dealers and criminal gangs would go the way of the bootlegger. Last but not least, add 41 billion more to the savings/capital column.

In addition to not allowing the government to seize property from one person and give it to another, the Non Aggression Principle would not allow government to use taxpayer money as collateral for loans, as it does with Fannie Mae mortgage loans and student loan programs. This would eliminate two more huge bubbles caused by government-created artificial demand. We have already seen the housing bubble burst. The next big bubble to burst will be student loans.[7] Only because of government distorting the market with artificial demand – and in violation of the Non Aggression Principle – could tuition prices ever have risen so high. Both students and their parents are now going deep into debt in order to finance college tuition, which students at one time could finance with summer and part time jobs. If government was not allowed to guarantee the loans with taxpayer money (by force), the prices would be limited to what the market could bear.

One could write volumes on government’s violations of the Non Aggression Principle, and the wonders that could be achieved simply by adhering to it. However, solving the problems of inflation, healthcare costs, housing, education, war, terrorism, and recessions is a pretty good start. If you take the time to think it through, you will find that this principle – Liberty – can solve every societal problem we face, no matter how insoluble our politicians try to make them seem. Only our refusal to reason through them allows these problems to persist.

So, as we enter another holiday season, let us look past ritual and custom to the true meaning behind the spiritual movements we follow, and may each of us find our own inner path to salvation. Outwardly, let us revive the true meaning of Liberty. Let us cast the money changers out of our American temple, and put our swords back in their sheaths, both in dealing with our neighbors in other countries and here at home. Let us reject the false teachings of our political priesthood and return to the lessons of Liberty’s great masters, who warned us of the evils that presently afflict us but taught us the secret wisdom that can defeat them all. It is within our ability to make this New Year a rebirth of our American spirit, our freedom, and our prosperity. For this transformation to occur, we merely need to keep one New Year’s resolution: to live by Liberty’s Greatest Commandment. Free people need nothing more than this.

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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[1] Jefferson, Thomas Letter to Francis Walker Gilmer June 7, 1816
[2] Mark 12:29-31
[3] Mark 12:33
[4] Luke 6:9
[5] Followers of Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism
[6] Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia, Query XVII 1782
[7] With the unemployment that will accompany the coming depression, it is inevitable that a much larger percentage of these loans will begin defaulting, creating a new leg to the crisis. The positive consequence of this would be the necessary adjustment in tuition prices that would take place if the market were left alone by the government. Unfortunately, government has repeatedly shown that it will do everything in its power to fight these necessary price adjustments, which only serves to prolong the crisis.

>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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