The biggest threat to liberty is government

The biggest threat to liberty is government

And Esau said: ‘Behold, I am at the point to die; and what profit shall the birthright do to me?’ And Jacob said: ‘Swear to me first’; and he swore unto him; and he sold his birthright unto Jacob. (Genesis 25:32-33.)

What is the birthright of Americans? It is enshrined in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

I am increasingly concerned that we, like Esau, are in the process of selling our birthright for a mess of pottage.

For me it all hinges on liberty, for what is life without liberty? Without liberty, there can be no pursuit of happiness.

There is a famous quote attributed to Alexander Fraser Tytler:

A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the majority discovers it can vote itself largess out of the public treasury. After that, the majority always votes for the candidate promising the most benefits with the result the democracy collapses because of the loose fiscal policy ensuing, always to be followed by a dictatorship, then a monarchy.

Looking at the polls, I wonder whether the majority of Americans are willing to give up their liberties, their birthright, for the largess of the public treasury, their mess of pottage. If so, as Tytler forecasts, that way leads to dictatorship.

President Ford said it another way, “A government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take from you everything you have.”

The Founders believed in Natural Law, the “Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God,” which entitle people to the unalienable rights upon which American society and government was founded. Natural Law sits above man-made law and, by definition, its principles are universal, but can be reflected in man-made law, such as the Constitution.

I characterize myself as a conservatarian, an amalgam of conservatism and libertarianism. Let me tell you about my libertarian side.

Libertarianism is the outgrowth of 18th-century classic liberalism. There are various branches but the common themes are minimizing coercion and emphasizing freedom, liberty, and voluntary association. Libertarians generally advocate a society with significantly less government compared to most present-day societies.

A few weeks ago, I was invited to attend the annual Bastiat Prize for Journalism Dinner, sponsored by the Reason Foundation. Among those attending were Judge Andrew Napolitano, the emcee, and Walter Williams, professor of economics at George Mason, the speaker. A handout at the dinner was Bastiat’s 1850 pamphlet, The Law, with a preface by Williams, a must-read for all those concerned with liberty.

Until that dinner, I never heard of Frederic Bastiat, a 19th-century French economist and deputy to the Legislative Assembly. He did most of his writing during the period surrounding the Revolution of February 1848 in response to France’s turn to socialism.

Like the Founders, Bastiat was a believer in Natural Law. Echoing the Declaration, he wrote, “Life, faculties, production — in other words, individuality, liberty, property — this is man. And in spite of the cunning of artful political leaders, these three gifts from God precede all human legislation, and are superior to it.”

Williams notes that Bastiat recognized the biggest threat to liberty is government, which Bastiat accused of “legal plunder,” i.e. theft. “See if the law takes from some persons what belongs to them, and gives it to other persons to whom it does not belong,” he wrote. “See if the law benefits one citizen at the expense of another by doing what the citizen himself cannot do without committing a crime.” Williams observes that this describes most government activities, including ours.

If so, Bastiat continued, “[t]hen abolish this law without delay, for it is not only an evil itself, but also it is a fertile source for further evils because it invites reprisals.”

Bastiat’s view of the law was concisely summarized in the preface to his pamphlet, “The law, I say, not only turned from its proper purpose but made to follow an entirely contrary purpose! The law become the weapon of every kind of greed! Instead of checking crime, the law itself guilty of the evils it is supposed to punish!”

Look how far we have strayed from the type of government envisioned by the Founders and Bastiat. We are on what Friedrich von Hayek called “the road to serfdom.” The Founders were concerned with this possibility because the Declaration states, to secure the rights of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness, “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

The conditions developing in America are those about which Bastiat warned. We have programs to redistribute wealth, stimulus packages, “too-big-to-fail” safety nets, crony capitalism, and entitlements.

Do we, as Esau, want to sell our birthright and give up our liberties for a mess of pottage?

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