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CHRISTOPHER TAYLOR'S BOOKS

Monday, November 22, 2010

FOUNDATIONAL THOUGHTS

"Charity is no part of the legislative duty of the government."
-James Madison

One of the things that came up several times during the last election was the idea that strict constitutionalist conservatives are somehow crazy or weird. When a strong conservative said something like "the constitution does not permit us to spend money on Social Security" people ran around screaming and calling them a lunatic and a radical, fringe, extremist.

From the perspective of the left, this is pretty crazy stuff. They've probably never even considered whether or not legislation has to be constitutional or whether welfare spending is legal. The good intent of such legislation sanctifies it; meaning well negates the need to justify it constitutionally. We saw that again and again with the Government Health Insurance Takeover Act (aka "health care reform") in which congressmen confronted on the question of its constitutionality either had no answer or absurd, vapid answers. It hadn't even occurred to them to ask.

Yet if you read the founding fathers - especially Jefferson and Madison, who were political enemies - the principles of constitutionally restricted government were foremost. That was their driving passion and the entire point of the American Revolution. Here's a few samples of their thoughts on the matter:
"A wise and frugal government ... shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government."
-Thomas Jefferson

"They are not to do anything they please to provide for the general welfare.... [G]iving a distinct and independent power to do any act they please which may be good for the Union, would render all the preceding and subsequent enumerations of power completely useless. It would reduce the whole instrument to a single phrase, that of instituting a Congress with power to do whatever would be for the good of the United States; and as they sole judges of the good or evil, it would be also a power to do whatever evil they please."
-Thomas Jefferson

"Our tenet ever was that Congress had not unlimited powers to provide for the general welfare, but were restrained to those specifically enumerated, and that, as it was never meant that they should provide for that welfare but by the exercise of the enumerated powers, so it could not have been meant they should raise money for purposes which the enumeration did not place under their action; consequently, that the specification of powers is a limitation of the purposes for which they may raise money. "
-Thomas Jefferson

"[T]he powers of the federal government are enumerated; it can only operate in certain cases; it has legislative powers on defined and limited objects, beyond which it cannot extend its jurisdiction.
-James Madison

"To take a single step beyond the boundaries thus specifically drawn around the powers of Congress is to take possession of a boundless field of power, no longer susceptible of any definition."
-Thomas Jefferson

"I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents."
-James Madison

"With respect to the two words 'general welfare,' I have always regarded them as qualified by the detail of powers connected with them. To take them in a literal and unlimited sense would be a metamorphosis of the Constitution into a character which there is a host of proofs was not contemplated by its creators."
-James Madison
Now, why would they argue this way? What was the concern of these men that drove them to consider the constitution to only allow government to act in specific, limited ways as granted them by the document rather than anything they wished except what the document prohibited?

They understood something that we can see happening almost every year:
"Where an excess of power prevails, property of no sort is duly respected. No man is safe in his opinions, his person, his faculties, or his possessions."
-James Madison

"We still find the greedy hand of government thrusting itself into every corner and crevice of industry, and grasping at the spoil of the multitude. Invention is continually exercised to furnish new pretenses for revenue and taxation. It watches prosperity as its prey and permits none to escape without a tribute."
-Thomas Paine

"It will be of little avail to the people that the laws are made by men of their own choice, if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood; if they be repealed or revised before they are promulgated, or undergo such incessant changes that no man who knows what the law is today can guess what is will be tomorrow."
-James Madison
Government is rapacious and endless in its hunger for power and money. This is almost always presented to us in terms of something for our own good, or to help those in need, yet it always results in less liberty and more power for the federal government.

And it wasn't like the idea of helping those in need was never considered by the founding fathers`:
"Charity is no part of the legislative duty of the government."
-James Madison

"I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents."
-James Madison

"When the people find that they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the republic."
-Benjamin Franklin
They simply understood that the constitution wasn't designed that way, and what's more it wasn't designed that way on purpose. Helping others in need was always important to them, but they understood that if you give the federal government the power to do this, you necessarily restrict the liberty of the people, and that was not a price worth paying to the founding fathers.

Thomas Jefferson went so far as to say that if the federal government did something that was unconstitutional, it was meaningless and void:
"[The purpose of a written constitution is] to bind up the several branches of government by certain laws, which, when they transgress, their acts shall become nullities; to render unnecessary an appeal to the people, or in other words a rebellion, on every infraction of their rights, on the peril that their acquiescence shall be construed into an intention to surrender those rights."
-Thomas Jefferson

"Whensoever the General Government assumes undelegated powers, its acts are unauthoritative, void, and of no force."
-Thomas Jefferson
He didn't believe these laws were unjust and foolish, he thought they were without validity. That they were nonsense, laws which people should just ignore because they were wholly without legal weight. Now, over time, the states took this a bit far, claiming this nullification principle to mean that the states could totally ignore anything the federal government said which they didn't care for, but the truth is, Jefferson has a point.

If the government does something it has no authority or power to do, people have a responsibility to ignore that law, treat it as if it doesn't exist. Because it shouldn't exist, and there's no authority granted the federal government to even attempt it.

There's good reason to do this. We not only have to fight the government's tyranny, but there's a high price for not doing so. Author William Somerset Maughn puts it this way:
"If a nation values anything more than freedom, it will lose its freedom; and the irony of it is that, if it is comfort or money it values more, it will lose that too."
The thought that we should give up liberty for comfort and ease, and surrender our independence for a bit more money is suicidal: ultimately you'll have neither, when the government either goes broke or abandons all pretense of democracy in the name of doing right.

That's why we need candidates and pundits and writers and teachers and all sorts of people to stand up and say unpopular, shocking things about the constitution and liberty. We need them to be willing to say things that will cause the left to call them nuts and sluts.

Did it hurt candidates to be honest and accurate in their constitutional understanding? Absolutely, this is odd to modern ears, something people don't care to hear. Yet it has to be said and there are few platforms more powerful than that enjoyed by a serious political candidate during an election. They can get ideas and concepts out to the people in a way no one else can, in a time when the press will actually print what they say and talk about it rather than simply ignore or bury it.

So the loss of these candidates means they can't govern properly, but it is offset by the fact that they're getting word out and ideas out which have laid buried under layers of socialist tyranny for over a century and need to be heard once more. The change we need cannot happen overnight or with a single election; the word has to get out more and more. Convincing, persuading, and teaching is a long-term proposal, it will take time to reach people and make any changes, if possible.

The big mistake of voting for President Obama was the idea that he could really do all the stuff he campaigned on, that he'd really fix things in Washington, and everything would be all better, if only we voted for this one guy. That's not how it works, and this is going to be a long, painful fight.

That's why I'm disappointed by right-leaning sites such as Ace when I read something like this:
Miller also talked up privatization of Social Security, which is admirable and all, but certainly he would be in a better position to advance his ideas in this area if he had... sugar coated it? Been evasive? Been dishonest?

Yes, candor is all well and good but it tends to be punished at the polls.

Why not just take a less-committed position on something that really will have to involve a Great National Debate and say "I'm looking at various reforms?" Not really dishonest, per se, so much as... less forthcoming than he could be.

Did it hurt his election? Probably, but it also served a greater purpose than one more (R) in the Senate. This kind of rhetoric moves the national dialog along and exposes people to concepts long forgotten by America, concepts we have to understand to survive as a republic.

Its not that I don't understand his frustration at the way the government has been acting and desire for guys like this to win, but the truth is one election, or two or even ten aren't going to fix this. The elections are the result of real change, which happens at home, with individual voters. Putting the Right Guys© in power won't make the changes we need to have happen in this country.

That was the mistake the left made in 2008. They thought with the Right Guys©, they could get all the Right Policies© in place, and everything would be wonderful. Who could stop them? They had all the power they needed! Except they didn't factor in the people, who fundamentally disagreed with what they were trying to do. Unless and until people learn what must be done, understand the constitution, recognize the needed policies and restrictions of government power, it doesn't matter who gets elected, whether "completely honest" or not. Or as a judge put it:
"Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can save it; no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it. "
-Judge Learned Hand
We can't win this struggle by putting guiys in power, we have to win at the cultural, the educational, the entertainment, the family and the social level. Individual voters have to understand what's right and be willing to sacrifice personally to achieve it. Anything else will simply fail, and as I keep saying this is a long fight, one that cannot be won with an election.

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