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Thursday, May 16, 2013
Why we should mistrust the government
It should come as no surprise that President Obama told Ohio State University students at a graduation ceremony last week that they should not question authority and they should reject the calls of those who do. He argued that “our brave, creative, unique experiment in self-rule” has been so successful that trusting the government is the same as trusting ourselves; hence, challenging the government is the same as challenging ourselves. He blasted those who incessantly warn of government tyranny.
Yet, mistrust of government is as old as America itself. America was born out of mistrust of government. The revolution that was fought in the 1770s and 1780s was won in the minds of Colonists in the mid-1760s when the British imposed the Stamp Act and used writs of assistance to enforce it. The Stamp Act required all people in the Colonies to have government-sold stamps on all documents in their possession, and writs of assistance permitted search warrants written by British troops in which they authorized themselves to enter private homes ostensibly to look for the stamps.
These two pieces of legislation were so unpopular in the Colonies that the British Parliament rescinded the Stamp Act and the king’s ministers reduced the use of soldier-written search warrants. Still, the searches for the stamps turned the tide of Colonial opinion irreversibly against the king.
The same king also prosecuted his political adversaries in Great Britain and in the Colonies for what he called “seditious libel” — basically, criticizing the government. That criticism often spread and led to civil disobedience, so the British sought to punish it at its source. The prosecutions were so unpopular in the Colonies and so contrary to the spirit of what would become the Declaration of Independence that when the British went home, the Constitution was written and the Bill of Rights was added, the First Amendment assured that the American government could not punish speech.
Yet barely 10 years into “our brave, creative, unique experiment in self-rule,” Congress, at the instigation of President John Adams, criminalized free speech that was critical of the government through the Alien and Sedition Acts.
How did it come about that members of the same generation — in some cases the very same human beings — that declared in the First Amendment that “Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech,” in fact, enacted laws that did just that?
As morally wrong, as violative of the natural law, as unconstitutional as these laws were, they were not historical incongruities. Thomas Jefferson — who opposed and condemned the acts (he was Adams‘ vice president at the time) — warned that it is the nature of government over time to increase and of liberty to decrease. That is why we should not trust government. In the same era, James Madison agreed when he wrote, “All men having power should be distrusted to a certain degree.”
The Alien and Sedition Acts were the beginning of a long train of government abuses visited upon people in America as a consequence of the “experiment in self-rule.” I am not quoting Mr. Obama’s Ohio State speech to nitpick, but rather to establish a baseline for my argument that he rejects core principles and historical lessons and, most troubling, the natural law itself when he opines that government should be trusted because it has gained power via self-rule.
Self-rule alone is hardly a basis for governmental legitimacy, unless it is accompanied by fidelity to the natural law and to the rule of law. The rule of law here means fidelity to the Constitution, that all laws are just and apply to everyone, so no one is excused from obeying the laws, and no one is excluded from their protections. Yet, self-rule here has been unjust and has brought us the tyranny of the majority. That tyranny has brought us slavery, unjust wars, Jim Crow laws, domestic concentration camps in wartime, slaughter of babies in the womb, domestic spying without search warrants, torture and death by drones — just to name a few examples.
The reason Mr. Obama likes government, and the reason it is “a dangerous fire,” as George Washington warned, and the reason I have been warning against government tyranny in my public work is all the same: The government rejects the natural law because it is an obstacle to its control over us. The natural law is divinely embedded in our souls. It is manifested by the universal yearning for freedom and justice. It consists of areas of human behavior — thought, expression, religion, self-defense, travel, acquisition and use of property, and privacy, for example — in which our behavior is subject only to the exercise of our free will and not the permission of our neighbors or regulation by the government. The natural law, properly understood, is a restraint on the government.
Yet government in America — whether it consists of Congress protecting the slave trade, or John Adams, Abraham Lincoln or Woodrow Wilson prosecuting political speech, or Franklin Delano Roosevelt incarcerating Japanese-Americans, or George W. Bush promising immunity for torturers and domestic warrantless spies, or Mr. Obama killing whomever he chooses with drones — has never hesitated to reject the natural law. All of these violations of the natural law were approved by the majority when undertaken. The government’s persistent and systematic rejection of the natural law is alone sufficient to mistrust government and reject Mr. Obama’s Ohio State advice.
The government that has come about by self-rule derives its powers from the consent of the governed. Because the tyranny of the majority can be as dangerous to freedom as the tyranny of a madman, all use of governmental power should be challenged and questioned. Government is essentially the negation of liberty. If we fail to challenge government at every turn, there will be no liberty remaining for us to defend when the government tries to negate it.
Andrew P. Napolitano, a former judge of the Superior Court of New Jersey, is the senior judicial analyst at Fox News Channel. Mr. Napolitano has written seven books on the U.S. Constitution. The most recent is “Theodore and Woodrow: How Two American Presidents Destroyed Constitutional Freedom.”
"Aristotle the Hun" was the name given to me more than 30 years ago when a friend noticed that in spite of my intellect I was still an Iowa farm boy.
Rev. Sam Sewell, is Director of Best Self USA, a Pastoral Psychotherapist, serves on the faculty of Naples Community Hospital as an instructor for Clinical Pastoral Education, President of the Theological Center in Naples, a member of Mensa where he serves as Gifted Youth Coordinator, a U.S. Navy Veteran, and a Member of the Association For Intelligence Officers. He is a frequent commentator on mental health and religious issues.His award winning research on family issues is published in several languages. Member of Sigma Delta Chi Honor Society
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"Though defensive violence will always be 'a sad necessity' in the eyes of men of principle, it would be still more unfortunate if wrongdoers should dominate just men." - St. Augustine
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"War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things; the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks nothing worth a war, is worse. A man who has nothing which he cares more about than he does about his personal safety is a miserable creature who has no chance at being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself." John Stuart Mill
"A free people ought not only to be armed and disciplined, but they should have sufficient arms and ammunition to maintain a status of independence from any who might attempt to abuse them, which would include their own government." ~~~George Washington
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"Conservatives are enemies of the government. Liberals are enemies of the nation because they are not enemies of the government." Aristotle the Hun
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INTEGRITY: The highest courage is to dare to be ourself in the face of adversity. Choosing ethics over convenience and truth over popularity means there is never a wrong time to do the right thing.
Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies.
The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.
They may be more likely to go to Heaven for good intentions yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth. This very kindness stings with intolerable insult. To be “cured” against one’s will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level of those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals.~ C. S. Lewis
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