I would like to thank the organizers of the Punta Gorda Tea Party for giving me the opportunity to come here today and speak to you on this joyous occasion. I say “joyous occasion” because I suspect that everyone of you, like me, has at sometime in the past imagined that he or she was the only person in the world who understood that our liberty was in jeopardy, or who cared enough to do something about it. Yet, today, although the danger has never been greater, there is joy in my heart, as I hope there is in yours, because of what this movement has made plainly obvious: we are not alone! In fact, to paraphrase words attributed to Japanese Admiral Yamamoto after the attack on Pearl Harbor, I believe that those who would dare to attack our liberty have merely awakened a sleeping giant.
I would like to take just a few moments to reflect upon the meaning of that which we fight for, to share a few words from those who established this land of liberty, and to humbly suggest to you an idea to carry forward in this sacred fight. I want to start with the question that I began my first book with, which is, “What is freedom?”
234 years ago, a man named Jefferson answered that question for us. I would like to share a few passages from Mr. Jefferson’s favorite philosopher. This man’s writing was so important to Jefferson that he actually had a resolution passed that said,
“Resolved, that it is the opinion of this Board that as to the general principles of liberty and the rights of man, in nature and in society, the doctrines of Locke, in his ‘Essay Concerning the True Original Extent and End of Civil Government,’ and of Sidney in his ‘Discourses on Government,’ may be considered as those generally approved by our fellow citizens of this, and the United States.”
I share this with you not to make some theoretical or academic point, but because the ideas Jefferson refers to have the utmost relevance to the struggle we find ourselves in now. Let me read to you the opening words of the essay by John Locke that Jefferson cites:
“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.”
“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…
You no doubt recognize that this was the source of those famous words, “We hold these truths to be self evident – which means that no proof is required, for these truths can be directly observed in nature – that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights.”
I wanted to read those passages from Locke because they contain a very important point. Our natural liberty is not the license to do anything we wish. We must exercise our will “within the bounds of the law of nature.” But what are those bounds? What is the law of nature?
Locke tells 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.”
So, natural liberty is the right to order our actions AND DISPOSE OF OUR POSSESSIONS as we see fit, as long as we do not harm another person in his life, health, liberty, or possessions. Libertarians today call this “the non-aggression principle,” but it is really the principle of natural liberty itself. It is the fundamental, founding principle of the United States. It is vitally important that the connection between liberty and non-aggression be understood, for it is upon this foundation that the limits on government power rests.
Jefferson confirmed this many times over the course of his life. Whenever he was asked about the role of government in a particular matter, he consistently applied the non-aggression principle. In a letter he wrote in 1816, he said, ““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.”
Of religious freedom, Jefferson wrote, “The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”
On another occasion he wrote, “But rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add ‘within the limits of the law,’ because law is often but the tyrant’s will, and always so when it violates the right of an individual.”
There are many more quotes just like these that I could read, but the point is made. You may ask yourself, “what does this have to do with Obamacare or any of the countless other present incursions into our liberty?” The answer is this: the reason that Obamacare violates our liberty is because it violates the non-aggression principle, which is liberty.
Now, I want to stop here to draw a crucial distinction. Non-aggression is not pacifism. While the principle of liberty forbids us to initiate force, we have a right and a duty to defend ourselves with force, if necessary, against those who commit aggression against us. And so, in order to secure our rights, we delegate this individual power to government – making government the societal use of force. It is also crucial to remember that all government action is backed by the force of arms. When we make laws, they must be followed or he who breaks the law will encounter that armed force. This power comes from us, from each individual – from our right to use force in self defense. However, we cannot delegate a power to government that we do not possess individually, and so the limit on government power is the same as the limit on individual power: that force may only be used in defense against aggression. When government is kept within this limit, its people are free. When it goes beyond this limit, even if the intentions are good, it is initiating force against its people and we call this tyranny.
When one person steals the property of another, we employ the societal use of force – government – to compel that person to make restitution and to accept punishment for the crime. This is consistent with the non-aggression principle. We call this justice.
When a foreign nation attacks us, we employ our military to defend our lives and liberty with force against that nation. This, too, is consistent with the non-aggression principle.
However, when the government makes a law that says that one person must pay the medical bills of another, or purchase a product that he does not consent to purchase, then it is the government that is the aggressor. It is the government that initiates force against someone who has not committed aggression himself. This is a violation of the non-aggression principle – a violation of liberty – and that is why it cannot be tolerated by a free people. No law written by men can violate the law of nature.
I respectfully suggest to all of you that this be the measuring stick against which you judge all acts of government, from its economic policies, to its criminal law, to its foreign policy. It was the non-aggression principle that our founders used to determine the limits of government power. It is the founding principle of our nation. Once you apply it, you will find that our government has violated our liberty for many decades. This has happened under Republican and Democratic rule. At home, it is characterized by the massive redistribution of wealth, not just for welfare for the poor, but for bankers on Wall Street, for farmers, for scientists, for educators, and for every one of us in programs like Social Security and Medicare – all of these are violations of our liberty that we must begin talking about responsibly phasing out, if we are to regain our freedom.
The violation of our founding principle extends to our foreign policy as well, for we fight wars with nations that have committed no aggression against us. This is a threefold violation: against the people of the nation we attack, against the soldier whose life is risked or sacrificed unnecessarily, and against the taxpayer who is forced to pay for it at the point of the same gun that compels him to pay for Obamacare.
Now, I know that the Tea Party movement strongly supports our troops and so do I. God help us if we ever become a nation that does not honor the men and women who walk in front of bullets to preserve our liberty. However, it is not the soldier that takes us to war. He does not make that decision – not because he is incapable of it – but because for a limited time while he serves, he pledges to follow the orders of his civilian leaders about where he will go and whom he will fight. By doing so, the soldier places a sacred trust in those leaders that they will call upon him to fight only when our lives and liberty are truly in danger.
Now, let me ask you one question: Do you truly believe that those same civilian leaders who have given you Obamacare, the Community Reinvestment Act, Fannie Mae, Amtrak – all of which are failed and bankrupt – were suddenly competent when they made decisions about taking us to war? I will suggest this to you: it is not merely incompetence, but a deliberate violation of our founding principle for the purpose of acquiring power that has informed all of their decisions. Remember that Washington, Adams, and Jefferson spent their entire presidencies trying to keep our country out of foreign wars. As James Madison said, “No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.”
My friends, we are in a struggle for the greatest idea that the world has ever known: freedom. You, the Tea Party, are being attacked by the established powers with every weapon at their command, and for one reason only: they are afraid of you. They know that their power over you requires your continued consent and you are no longer willing to be governed without it. I ask you to remember the meaning of that great principle of liberty, the non-aggression principle, and apply it objectively to everything that our government does. You will find that most of what it does today violates that principle. In other words, even after we get rid of Obamacare and send this president and Congress job hunting, we will still have a lot of work to do. It will not restore our liberty to vote out those who commit one form of aggression and replace them with people who will merely commit another. We must select representatives from amongst ourselves who will accept the natural limits of their powers or we will be no freer than we are now. But I am joyful today because we the people have that power. We have slumbered for decades, but we slumber no more. The sleeping giant is awake and we are going to win.
© Thomas Mullen 2010