What does it mean to have a government described by Webster and Lincoln as having been derived “of the people, by the people and for the people?” Explicitly it means that the power to govern the people is and should be derived from the consent of the governed as our founders stated in the Declaration of Independence. It therefore follows that the only power that such a government can possess is power originally possessed by the people and voluntarily transferred to the government within the restrictions contained in the contract establishing that government.
For the American people over the last couple of centuries, this has been the Constitution of the United States. As the 44th president, Barack Obama, correctly pointed out in a 2001 interview, the Constitution is a document of negative powers. Though he meant it as a criticism, it was actually the intent of the founders to create such a constitution in order to protect the most vulnerable minority – the individual. In other words, the Constitution tells you what the government cannot do to its individual citizens rather than instructing it on what to do for them. The government is limited to specific actions and not allowed to do anything else with the powers not assigned to it as those powers remain with the people or the state in which they freely choose to reside. This is the foundation of the greatest experiment in human governance – individualism!
Why is the Constitution a document of negative powers? It is because the government cannot possess powers that the individuals creating it do not themselves possess. Do I have the right to take your money from you and arbitrarily give it to someone else? Do I have the right to prevent you from planting cabbage in your garden or to prevent you from consuming raw milk or freely selling that raw milk to another citizen? Then how can I transfer that power to another individual? Power not possessed individually is also not possessed collectively. The foundation for America is individualism – not collectivism in any of its myriad forms from monarchy to oligarchies, from national socialism to global communism, or from any variation of these tyrannical forms be they soft or hard.
If individualism is the foundational construct, why do we form governments then? There are several valid reasons for which individuals may choose to work cooperatively with each other. The most compelling reason among these is of course defense of person and property. It is a power owned by the individual and thus can be individually granted to the various levels of government in order to defend the persons and property of all members of the community, state and nation in turn. It is the right of the individual to protect himself from the robber, so he has the ability to apportion some of that power to that city. It is the right of the individual to protect himself from invasion or coercion by more powerful individuals or groups, so he has the ability to apportion some of that power to the state. By granting to state or city to act on his behalf in defense of his life and property, he in no way lessens or limits his own ability to defend his own life and property.
I do not have the right to arbitrarily demand a portion of your wealth, your property or your productivity to use as I deem beneficial for myself, the community or the state. I do have the right to use any of my wealth, property or productivity to accomplish any task I deem beneficial to the community or state, but only in my free will and as long as it is entirely voluntary on my part. There is a word for taking someone’s wealth, property or productivity without their consent to use at the discretion of someone else – slavery. Any attempt, however noble and beneficial it is made to appear, to strip unwillingly a person’s wealth, property or productivity from them is an attack on that individual’s freedoms and rights and violates their sovereign agency.
But what is the purpose for confiscating that wealth is for a very good cause? Again, it does not matter how beneficial or charitable the cause itself may be, robbing or enslaving someone to accomplish a good deed is still not defensible. Will this approach not lead to greater suffering and harm in the world? No, because people will then have the ability to choose to willingly give of their wealth, property or productivity to help others. Taxation – robbery, has no place in the society of free people.
For those powers, such as defense, where the people have granted some portion of that power to the city or state, they must willingly provide the means for such defense of their own free will. If it is not enough to defend them, then they bear the result of that lack of foresight as well. This means that the very production and retention of weapons and other items of a defense nature reside with the individual as well. The community can choose to possess certain defensive armaments as a shared community resource, but the cost and care must be supported voluntarily by the individual members of the community. If an individual either creates or buys a weapon for personal or family defense, it is as much their own property as any other item and cannot be restricted or confiscated by the community or state.
An individual does not possess the right to educate another family’s children, the right to determine what another individual should be allowed to read or view, the right to determine who another marries, the right to determine who works for someone else, the right to prohibit or promote the expression of religion of another, the right to censor the speech or expression of another, the right to force another to associate with people they do not want to associate with and thus neither can any state possess these types of powers. Since neither the state nor the individual possess such rights, they also do not have the right to confiscate anyone’s wealth, property or productivity to accomplish these ends either.
This even applies to health care. You do not have the right to take from my wealth, property or productivity the means to provide yourself with healthcare. If I am a doctor, I am not compelled to work for you at your whim for free or even at a cost arbitrarily set by someone else. I have the right to choose who I treat or do not treat and I have the right to charge what I consider a fair wage or barter for my services to you. Otherwise, if another person has the right to determine when I work, what I work on, who I work for and what I earn for my effort, I am a salve. Let me repeat – that is slavery! It is the preferred societal arrangement of the Democrat party since its inception and still advocated in a more modern “soft” form through societal obligation and “entitlements”. You can readily identify these power grabs as they call for “minimum” standards, “minimum” wage or some other version of authority stealing in the name of “fairness” or “equality”. Again, if I do not possess the power, the state cannot wield that power in my name even if it is for my supposed benefit.
The government does not possess powers not possessed by the individual, not does the existence of a government presuppose any obligations on the part of individuals. For example, I am not responsible for providing an education for any other person outside of my family. Therefore, leaving familial responsibilities aside, I cannot be robbed to provide a degree in feminine empowerment studies for an aggrieved social justice warrior nor must I bear the cost of a degree in molecular science for a genius level student. If I do not have an individual obligation to provide for another’s education, the state cannot carry or impose such an obligation either. No matter how beneficial to society the education of that individual may be, an obligation cannot exist collectively where one does not exist individually. If an individual decides on a voluntary basis to cooperate with his neighbors in providing a shared educational experience for the benefit of the community, that is another matter entirely as it does not violate an individual right.
Additionally, individualism flows both ways. For example, no individual taking action either corporately or in concert with other individuals in business or government (regardless of being elected, appointed or hired) possesses any rights or protections not possessed by an individual. Thus, the concept of a corporate entity or government entity existing separate from the officers of that company or members of that political body is a fallacy. They make decisions and take actions as individuals and therefore bear individual (i.e. personal) responsibility and restrictions as well. If the actions of a corporation or government entity cause harm to another individual, all members involved with that act within that corporation or government entity bear a personal responsibility for that harm. Again, the principle of individualism demands that if an individual doing a harmful action would be responsible than a group of individuals committing the same act would also be individually responsible. We will get more into the myths of society in our next video.
To recap, we covered three points today – If legitimate government derives its power from the consent of the governed, then government cannot possess powers the individual does not possess. Or to restate its converse, the individual cannot grant to government any power that that individual does not himself possess.
If your government has powers that an individual does not possess and therefore could not transfer, then you do not have legitimate government, you have some degree of tyranny where rulers have taken for themselves unjust powers over the lives of individuals and subjugated them into some form of slavery no matter how cozy or comfortable such a state may be for some.
And the last point is that acting corporately or collectively does not remove individual responsibility for the actions of individuals involved.
Thank you for reading and I hope you better understand the right to govern as defined by individualism!
Ron, excellent post, good grief, how far we have come from the Founders original intent! Perhaps one if the most pressing questions is, how to get more people in America to understand the value of individual liberty.
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