Why We MUST Invoke Our Individual Rights—Now
|By Genevieve LaGreca|
|Wednesday, 03 December 2008 06:48|
The country that defended property rights now seizes 40-percent of our income in a myriad of taxes imposed by all levels of government—with even larger levies on incomes, profits, investments, and savings on the horizon.
The country that championed capitalism now vilifies our industries, cripples them with regulations, seizes their profits, then declares that the free market has failed and government must take over.
The country that made possible the great industrial titans—the Henry Fords, Thomas Edisons, and others whose productive genius moved mankind forward—now thinks that government can run things better, and that government should own, operate, and finance our corporations, deciding which will survive and which will die, creating a new kind of soup kitchen where emaciated companies stand in a bread-line waiting for their bailout.
The country that protected the individual now protects polar bears, spotted owls, caribou, and the wilderness at the expense of human life.
The country that fought a revolution to end the abuse of power now elects politicians who wallow in power like hippos in mud. Examples are members of congressional subcommittees who hold hearings threatening the prosperity or very existence of American business firms, and then let the hearings end with little or no result when the hapless firms make sufficient contributions to the reelection campaigns of the congressmen.
The country of the American eagle, flying proud and free, now pens its people up like chickens in a coop, waiting to feed at the welfare state’s trough.
America is a nation whose government is on the ascent and whose people, consequently, are on the descent.
What can explain our alarming plunge into statism? At the dawn of our country we held a powerful weapon to fight our first battle for liberty, an ideological weapon that emboldened an upstart group of colonists, against all odds, to topple the British Goliath and to ignite a firestorm of liberty that in time led to the abolition of slavery, the suffrage of women, and the spread of freedom around the globe. What ideal ushered in a glorious new age for mankind?
This year’s award-winning mini-series on HBO, John Adams, captures the answer. It portrays the moment when Adams reads the stirring document that is the soul of the new nation, the Declaration of Independence, and exclaims to its author, Thomas Jefferson: “This is not only a declaration of our independence, but of the rights of all men!”
The weapon that toppled a king and transformed the world, America’s shining sword, was the doctrine of individual rights.
Our Founding Fathers were imbued with the spirit of the Enlightenment, with the glory, power, and moral rightness of the individual unshackled and free. America’s great distinction is that it reined in government to unleash individual liberty.
The result was amazing. America triggered an explosion of scientific and industrial advancement and a standard of living unmatched in history. The American Dream became the worldwide symbol of boundless opportunity and achievement. A great civilization arose, a country of confident, resourceful, hard-working, wealth-creating, and life-loving people.
All of this rested on a bedrock of liberty—on a government that protected the rights of the individual.
But things changed. The doctrine of individual rights was not always expressed unambiguously or applied consistently in our founding. Cracks in our armor, such as clauses in the Constitution allowing Congress to regulate interstate commerce and to promote the general welfare, gave the Dark Side of Statism an opening to enlarge government far beyond its original purpose.
Our enemies on the Dark Side got stronger as Western thought turned its back on the individual and his right to exist unencumbered by the state. Later thinkers claimed that a person must serve a purpose allegedly higher than his own life and happiness, a purpose dictated by the government. This notion led to communism and fascism. Sadly, it has now spread across America.
Barack Obama states in the Chicago Reader, “Individual actions, individual dreams, are not sufficient. We must unite in collective action, build collective institutions and organizations.” John McCain urges in his speeches that Americans serve “a national purpose that is greater than our individual interests.” Is there any fundamental difference between these exhortations of the candidates of our two major parties and that of the Nazi Party’s “the common good before the individual good”?
Today America has dropped its saber of individual rights. We stand disarmed and vulnerable to what could be fatal wounds to our liberty. This is why we urgently need to rediscover the meaning of our rights and rekindle our devotion to them. Then we must define a strategy for picking up our sword again, sharpening it, shining it, and using it adroitly to win the most important battle of our age, the battle to rescue our lives and liberty from the Dark Side of Statism. So, let us begin.
The Meaning of Our Individual Rights
The Declaration of Independence proclaims that our rights include “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” or as described in one state document, the 1784 Constitution of New Hampshire, our rights include “enjoying and defending life and liberty; acquiring, possessing, and protecting property; and in a word, of seeking and obtaining happiness.” What does this really mean? The following are ten characteristics of individual rights.
1. Our Rights are Unalienable.
2. Our Rights are Rights to Take Action
They are not entitlements to the free goods and services of other people. In a letter to Isaac Tiffany, Jefferson defines liberty as “unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others.” This means we may work for the things we want. We may earn money and buy a house, but we may not expect the government to seize taxpayers’ money to provide us with a house for free.
3. The Pursuit of One’s Own Happiness is a Right
A person is not a pawn in the service of the state’s aims. When Hillary Clinton, echoing her party’s platform, declares in a San Francisco speech, “We’re going to take things away from you on behalf of the public good,” how can this mean anything other than her intention to seize your property and infringe on your happiness so that she and her party’s voting base can pursue their happiness at your expense?
4. The Majority Cannot Violate the Rights of the Individual
5. There are No Rights of Groups
6. Our Rights Include the Right to Property
Without property rights, no rights are possible. If the state can seize the fruits of your labor, doesn’t that make you “a laborer legally bound to and obliged to serve a master,” which is the definition of a serf? And if you are a business owner, with the state now regulating virtually every aspect of your enterprise, doesn’t that make you “someone whose actions are controlled by the will of others,” which is the definition of a puppet?
7. Our Rights Include the Right to Intellectual and Spiritual Independence
8. Our Rights Rest on Reason
9. Our Rights are Violated Only by Force
10. Government’s Sole Job is to Protect Individual Rights
Six Strategies for Using Individual Rights in the Fight for Freedom
To win the battle for freedom, we must invoke individual rights, and we must invoke them now, before it’s too late. The statists have become emboldened by their recent election victories; their ranks have degraded to include officials that talk like thugs; their attacks on our rights have become more open and virulent. This brings us to what could be a watershed moment in American history. We must invoke individual rights because they bring morality to our side, and the moral argument is the most powerful weapon of all. The person whose position stems from correct and compelling moral principles will win any argument, just as our Founders won their cause in establishing America. Let’s examine six strategies for employing individual rights in the fight for freedom. These six points will be formulated using the word RIGHTS, which, conveniently for us, contains six letters.
R = Reason with Moral Principles, Not Just Practicality
For example, consider the draft (and the same arguments would hold for other forms of obligatory “national service,” which Mr. Obama seems to be entertaining). When we periodically hear calls for a military draft, the friends of freedom often argue that a volunteer army is more efficient. This is true and definitely deserves to be said. However, giving only the bad consequence (the inefficiency) of an act of government usurpation without explaining why the policy is wrong in principle reduces the argument to a mere practical discussion of the effectiveness of different armies, with no pressing moral issue at stake to rally the public to one side or the other. If the statists can raise plausibility that the draft is efficient, then the friends of liberty have no leg to stand on.
Giving the practical argument from the inefficiency of a draft is like trying to walk with one leg. Adding the moral argument from individual rights gives us two legs—plus a spine. The argument from individual rights asserts that the draft is wrong because it represents involuntary servitude, i.e., it violates a person’s right to life and liberty. A person has the right to decide for himself what he wants to do with the precious years of his life. Government exists to protect that sacred right, not to violate it. A person is free to choose his employment, including a job with the government, especially one that could risk his life. It would be clearly tyrannical for the state to draft its public school teachers, police officers, or mail carriers against their will. How then can the government claim the power to compel someone to serve in the military?
Furthermore, the argument from rights strengthens the practical argument by giving the underlying reason why the draft is inefficient, namely, because people do not perform well when their rights are violated and they are working under compulsion.
The argument from rights deals a mortal blow to the statists. It elevates the issue from a technical matter of military efficiency to a moral issue involving nothing less than our fundamental Constitutional rights. The moral argument is unanswerable, unless you want to be on the side that violates individual rights. This is what we are aiming at—a moral crusade for the sanctity of individual rights as our answer to the statists.
I = Invoke Private Solutions to Life’s Problems
Living in a free society means that we citizens take care of ourselves, and we relish doing so. We’re Americans, the most resourceful people on earth. Each of us is master of our fate and captain of our soul, and that’s the glory of life. Because the nanny state destroys self-esteem and self-reliance, we need to help people discover that they can blow their noses without the nanny holding the handkerchief. Here are just a few self-help tips for living in a free society:
—If you don’t go to school and don’t work hard to get ahead, then don’t expect the same rewards as those who do. You haven’t earned them.
—If you default on a loan, lick your wounds and don’t make the same mistake again. But don’t expect the government to bail you out with money fleeced from taxpayers who pay their debts on time.
—If you want to develop a new enterprise, invention, or source of energy, then work for the removal of all government regulations standing in your way and convince private investors to support you, but don’t try to get a billion-dollar government boondoggle. Be an entrepreneur, not a leech.
—In short, don’t expect any free lunches. Everything worth having in life requires effort to obtain. And there are no guarantees. You can lose your job, your investments can fail, and your fiancé can leave you. Stop trying to use the government to shield you from life’s risks. Take the plunge and feel the tingle of life.
In fighting for freedom, hold people responsible for their own lives.
G = Get Behind Capitalism
We must defend the free market because it is the expression of our individual rights in the economic and material sphere of life. By pursuing profit, we further our lives and happiness. By engaging in economic activities unfettered by the government, we exercise our liberty. As Ayn Rand observed: “A free mind and a free market are corollaries.”
The Dark Side’s resentment of capitalism is unrelenting. Capitalism is to a socialist what a stake in the heart is to a vampire. It is the living proof of the power of freedom to create unlimited wealth and prosperity, without the need for power-hungry politicians to run things for us. This is why the Dark Side’s attacks on capitalism are so virulent, and why we must resoundingly defeat them.
For example, consider a CEO’s pay. The statists call for government to limit a CEO’s compensation. Friends of freedom explain that a company is unable to attract the best candidate for CEO with a salary lower than the person can obtain elsewhere. Furthermore, they explain, CEOs deserve their salaries because they bring additional revenue into the company that vastly surpasses their pay, revenue that expands the business, creates more jobs, increases wages of employees, and lowers prices for customers. This argument is crucial in educating the public on the remarkable benevolence of the free market and on its unmatched effectiveness in bringing prosperity to everyone. We need to disseminate this information in order to combat the countless misconceptions of capitalism and ignorance of economics that poison our culture.
But, we can’t stop there. We need to strengthen our case for capitalism by adding the argument from individual rights, which asserts the following: Any government regulation to cut a CEO’s pay sends a message to all Americans to beware. If you make too much, you’re no longer covered by the Constitution; your rights to your life and property are no longer protected; they’re subject to seizure by the police force of the state. Where would it stop? What about a baseball player, or a rock star, or a brilliant surgeon—are they too successful? Does their pay also need chopping by Congress? Will the government seize their livelihood and destroy the American Dream for them, too? CEOs are citizens, which means they have rights, including the right to accept any compensation offered to them. Would the government use its police power to cut the salary of a janitor? If the janitor is free to work for the highest possible salary he can get, then why would the Constitutional rights be different for a company executive? Why would the janitor’s rights be protected, but the CEO’s rights trampled?
The argument from rights shows how government tampering with anyone’s pay represents a tampering with the Constitution and bedrock of America.
H = Hammer the Government for Using Force Against Innocent Citizens
The more we unmask the use of force, the more people will see the thuggery involved in the regulated state.
During a Congressional hearing with oil company executives, Congresswoman Maxine Waters of California castigated them for the rise in gasoline price and threatened a complete government takeover of their industry. Based on this incident, can anyone fail to see the thin line that exists between the welfare state and the police state? The answer to Maxine Waters should be something like this:
The property rights of the millions of shareholders who own these corporations are guaranteed by the Constitution and are unalienable. That means there is never a situation in which you could expropriate that property, even if the price of gasoline hit $1,000 a gallon. This hearing should be adjourned and another one started to remove you from office because you are threatening a level of tyranny characteristic of communism, namely, a police-state seizure of an industry. The rights of every American are at risk with you in office.
If enlightened citizens speak out like this, maybe next time a company executive will have the courage.
T = Talk Straight and Unmask the Enemy’s Evasions
We must translate the honey-coated language of the Dark Side into plain English.
“Redistributive justice” means looting and plundering those who produce in order to give benefits to those who haven’t earned them.
“Government investments in new technology” means replacing real investments—private people taking careful risks with their own money and expecting results—with government squandering of taxpayers’ money in subsidies, grants, and boondoggles that need never turn a profit, that need never show results, with every special-interest group under the sun in line for the bounty.
The most honey-coated of all the statists’ expressions, their constant refrain, is: “We just want to help people.” The notion of government, the exclusive wielder of police force, as a helper in the peaceful affairs of citizens is absurd. Government intrusion necessitates the use of compulsion. As George Washington is reputed to have said: “Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master. Never for a moment should it be left to irresponsible action.”
When politicians say they just want to help people, they neglect to mention that they are garnering dangerous, unchecked powers for themselves and destroying our liberty in the process. We must not allow them the excuse of good intentions. No one can take away our rights, be their intentions good or bad.
For example, the daughter of a presidential candidate appears on television to say: “My dad is a wonderful man. He wants to give free healthcare to the people.” What’s the answer to this? What about giving their rightful freedom to the people? What about the freedom of doctors? Are they now excluded from the Constitution? Do they no longer have the liberty to practice their profession by their own judgment and conscience? Under state-run medicine, doctors lose this freedom and must take orders from bureaucrats.
Another scenario involves farm subsidies. I saw a kind and gentle Republican senator say on television: “We only wanted to help farmers.” She didn’t realize that ethanol mandates for gasoline would contribute to rising prices of gas and food and would lead to food riots in the world. We must translate her words into plain English for the good senator: You mean you only wanted to rob the taxpayer to pander to the farm vote. You wanted to pass regulations favorable to farmers but disastrous to other citizens. The Constitution does not give you the power to take money out of my pocket and put it into a farmer’s pocket. And the Constitution does not give you the power to meddle in somebody’s business, mandating what goes into a product.
We need to find principled public officials to defend our rights, rather than the typical Republicans, who accept the statists’ premises because they want to please everyone and never raise eyebrows. The first Americans had the courage to face the enemy musket to musket. The least that officials on our side can do is summon the courage to raise a few eyebrows.
S = Stand as One People Against the State, Not as Pressure Groups Against One Another
Today the vast majority of politicians are invested in their special interest groups, which means they are intensifying the welfare state and stifling our liberty. They are breaking us into warring tribes—pitting the seniors against the young, the patients against the doctors, the consumers against the oil companies, the home buyers against the mortgage companies—with more and more government regulation as the alleged answer to our woes. We must see beyond this scam. We must take up the sword as one people in one fight against statism.
Defending any person’s individual rights is scoring a point for all of us. Therefore, we need to be the one non-special interest group that places the individual in the center of the battle for liberty. In each instance in which we want to fight for freedom, we need to ask ourselves two questions:
—1. Whose individual rights are being violated?
—2. What can I say or do to defend them?
For example, instead of the typical practice of businesses lobbying for regulations favorable to their enterprises or detrimental to their competitors, imagine if a consortium of companies banned together in a massive media campaign addressed to the public, not to the legislators, asserting the individual rights of each of them to operate without government interference. How shocking it would be to learn that business owners have Constitutional rights and they are asserting them! The consortium must risk vehement denunciations by the Dark Side and hold its ground. Such a battle would refocus the American people on the true meaning of rights, educate the young (who apparently never learned of America’s greatest legacy in school), and eventually win the country. Wouldn’t that be a better way to spend millions of dollars than to obtain some range-of-the-moment concession from the statists while reinforcing their system of political pull?
And in education, instead of parents’ groups fighting each other over what curriculum should be taught in public schools, what if the enlightened among them banned together to fight for the right and responsibility of every parent to control his child’s education? This would be a fight to privatize schools and establish a free marketplace of education. Such a fight would rescue the precious minds of the young from the control of the state.
We have now refreshed our understanding of individual rights, the only doctrine that stands between us and tyranny and that makes a civilized society possible.
There is much concern that we are losing our distinctive American values, and we are right to feel this concern, because we are losing them. However, the exact nature of the values that made us the greatest country in the world often eludes us. Let us always remember with pride that our unique American values are: a respect for individual rights and all that implies—i.e., limited government, personal liberty, and laissez faire capitalism.
We have established six strategies for asserting and defending our rights in the battle for freedom. These six strategies can be condensed into a single battle cry: Argue from individual rights. In your letters to the editor, op-eds, articles, calls to radio talk-shows, e-mails to television news shows, discussions with your town councils, neighbors, family, and friends, argue from individual rights. For those holding or seeking public office, in your campaign speeches, in the positions you take, and in your presentations in the halls of government, argue from individual rights. It is the only way to win the battle for freedom. It is the only way to rescue our lives and country. And may the force of this powerful and noble weapon be with you.
Why We MUST Invoke Our Individual Rights—Now by Genevieve LaGreca
Copyright © 2008 by Genevieve LaGreca. Gen LaGreca is the author of Noble Vision, a ForeWord magazine Book-of-the-Year award-winning novel about liberty. Permission is given to post or publish this article with attribution to the author and to www.georgereisman.com/blog/.