Category: Individual Liberty

Jefferson_Memorial_StatueIf we asked many of our fellow Americans today “What is the purpose of government?,” undoubtedly, we might be barraged with some vexing or comical answers. But I’m not one to believe that a good deal of our citizens can’t answer this question quite intelligibly. Still, I don’t think it would be enough to embody a healthy republic. It is time for our country to ask these basic questions again. It seems as if the looming chaos of our current national mismanagement demands it.

It was a common belief among the American framers that the purpose of government is simply to secure our rights from God. Unfortunately, I think this is largely forgotten now. That much is evident, given the legislative demands we see today, especially in our nation’s capital. Government overreach is the rule, not the exception. Today we see action taken by the government more oriented toward curtailing our liberties. Instead of natural law, we are inundated with legal positivism, especially when characterized by executive orders contrary to our Constitution. Attacks on the Bill of Rights and the current attacks we are seeing on the 2nd Amendment, is really a fundamental argument against the idea of self-government. In his first Presidential Inaugural Address in 1801, Thomas Jefferson declared,

Sometimes it is said that man can not be trusted with the government of himself. Can he, then, be trusted with the government of others? Or have we found angels in the forms of kings to govern him? Let history answer this question.

The idea that humans can govern themselves was a radical notion in 1776. Jefferson eloquently stated,

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. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed . . .

President Ronald Reagan in 1981, would echo Jefferson’s articulation of self government in his Inaugural Address, while facing the monuments to America’s Founders:

From time to time we’ve been tempted to believe that society has become too complex to be managed by self-rule, that government by an elite group is superior to government for, by, and of the people. But if no one among us is capable of governing himself, then who among us has the capacity to govern someone else?

We as a people need to again ask those fundamental questions about our capability for self government. When it comes to the 2nd Amendment or the entirety of our Bill of Rights, should we trust a government that is already hedging and placing limits on trusting us, when in fact, it was entirely meant to be the other way around?

Do most people value electricity and indoor plumbing more than cell phones and the Internet? In his article, Is U.S. Economic Growth Over?, economist Robert Gordon argues that they obviously do, and offers this thought experiment to prove his point:

_blog_images_cell_africaA thought experiment helps to illustrate the fundamental importance of the inventions of [the second industrial revolution] compared to the subset of [computer age] inventions that have occurred since 2002. You are required to make a choice between option A and option B. With option A you are allowed to keep 2002 electronic technology, including your Windows 98 laptop accessing Amazon, and you can keep running water and indoor toilets; but you can’t use anything invented since 2002.

Option B is that you get everything invented in the past decade right up to Facebook, Twitter, and the iPad, but you have to give up running water and indoor toilets. You have to haul the water into your dwelling and carry out the waste. Even at 3 am on a rainy night, your only toilet option is a wet and perhaps muddy walk to the outhouse. Which option do you choose?

I have posed this imaginary choice to several audiences in speeches, and the usual reaction is a guffaw, a chuckle, because the preference for Option A is so obvious. The audience realizes that it has been trapped into recognition that just one of the many late 19th century inventions is more important than the portable electronic devices of the past decade on which they have become so dependent.

Option A does seem rather obvious, even to those who may have to consider the relative merits of Win98 versus an outhouse. But as Kevin Kelly explains, Option A is not obvious at all—at least not to non-Westerners:
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USA Today has a piece today on the HHS mandate battle. What I noticed was not so much the story, but the photo the newspaper chose to run. It’s an AP photo by Derik Holtmann from a rally held last spring, about the same time as numerous other rallies were taking place around the country. Since there is nothing in the story about the photo, I can only assume it was chosen “randomly.”  Here it is:

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I don’t know what you notice, but here’s what I see: A lot of older people. Grey hair. Elderly. The photo — I believe — is meant to give the impression that a few old people showed up to protest against birth control … clearly an issue they don’t have to worry about, right?

Yet, when I Google “HHS Mandate rally,” I get photos like this:

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I didn’t dig for these — they are on the first page of the Google search. I can also attest that at the rally I attended last spring, there were families, high school students, young adults and older folks — a wide range of people from various faith traditions deeply concerned about religious liberty in this country.

Oh, USA Today? I think your media bias slip is showing. Cover up and get with it.

Hell hath no fury like a tax-and-spend liberal scorned“  -Me (like ten minutes ago)

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In the on-going debate between proponents of Big v. Limited government, it can often be too easy to dismiss the other side on partisan, emotional grounds. The Left accuses the Right of possessing callous hearts toward the poor, indifference toward the “infrastructure” of our nation, and a blind allegiance to nefarious, shadowy 1%-ers who pull the strings of Big (insert any word but “Government” here). The Right views the Left as being naive about mankind’s fallen state, indulgent with other peoples’ money, and un-serious about the, shall we say, “troubling” fiscal position our nation (and many of our states) finds itself in.

Mixed up and lost in all the hyperbole and high emotions are actual facts, figures, and dollar amounts. Regardless of someone’s religiosity, most Americans want to be good stewards of the unprecedented wealth we’ve been blessed with. In fact, many who embrace the most fiscally-detrimental tax-and-spend policies are the most certain they are living out our Lord’s call to look after “the least of these.”

With all of that said, please consider this recent Bloomberg News article on the economic upswing taking place in Texas:
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Blog author: ehilton
posted by on Tuesday, January 8, 2013

It’s that time of year: we’re making resolutions to get on the treadmill, join the gym, eat an apple every day. And yet, Americans are getting fatter and fatter. Is it the government’s fault? Dr. Jenna Robinson, at The Freeman, believes so. The food pyramid, farm subsidies: it’s all failing us.

In the 1990s, American women blindly gobbled up low-fat Snackwells desserts masquerading as sensible treats. After all, Snackwells cookies met government standards: they were low in fat and contained “safe” sugar. Parents send their kids to school assuming school lunch contains healthy fruits and vegetables—never stopping to ask what their kids are actually eating each day.

Government recommendations also dissuade private nutrition groups from attempting to compete with “official” advice. Consider Dr. Atkins’ critical reception when he wrote Dr. Atkins’ Diet Revolution; although a best-seller, it was panned by the nutrition establishment. The USDA’s Agricultural Resource Service still warns that the diet started out as a “gimmick” and hedges on whether it’s ultimately “worthwhile or worthless.”

Over the years, government recommendations have contributed to the replacement of lard with trans-fats (the latter of which are now considered deadly), the substitution of butter for margarine and back to butter again, and conflicting recommendations about eggs, orange juice, vitamins, certain types of fish, and the temperature at which it’s safe to eat meat. Is it any wonder that Americans are no closer to their health goals?

Nicholas Freiling offers three helpful suggestions for how advocates of liberty can defend the free market:

1. Raising questions is always better than giving answers.

Capitalism defends itself. It is logical, coherent and well-supported. The last thing it needs is your careless, back-of-the-napkin arguments that can sometimes do more harm than good.

Instead of arguing defensively with your friends, try raising some interesting questions. Ask them about their beliefs. Why do they think like they do? What do they think about our economic future? How do they propose the government deal with things like inflation, student loan debt and gun control?

If you’re like me, you’ll quickly find that questions build bridges and create mutual understanding. If you’re lucky, your friends will begin to seriously consider their own opinions, and will become more open to listening to alternative points of view. Helping others come to their own opinions will create more lasting change than asking them to adopt yours.

Read more . . .

Even though the crowds stop paying attention, most fads never completely disappear. Just like Beanie Babies, Furbies, grunge music never really went away, some other 1990s fads—like campus speech codes and absurd political correctness—still haunt us:

From free speech codes and zones that quarantine unpopular speech to freshman orientation programs that force a left-wing world view on impressionable students to outright censorship and threats by Administrators to expel students and fire professors, Lukianoff’s new book, Unlearning Liberty, details dozens of blatant violations of the First Amendment and due process.

For instance, the University of Cincinnati attempted to corral Young Americans for Liberty to a free speech zone totaling an area less than 0.1% of the university’s 137-acre campus. With the help of FIRE and Ohio’s 1851 Center for Constitutional Law, students sued the university, and a federal judge overturned UC’s blatant violation of the First Amendment.

But not all violations make it to court. Lukianoff explains that FIRE often uses the court of public opinion to put pressure on universities to change policies before pursuing legal action.

Keith John Sampson, a nontraditional student who worked as a janitor at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, was brought up on charges of “racial harassment” for reading a book titledNotre Dame vs. the Klan: How the Fighting Irish Defeated the Ku Klux Klan. The book jacket depicts Klansmen burning crosses against a backdrop of Notre Dame’s campus.

The book details a 1924 confrontation between students and Klansmen in which the students prevailed. IUPUI administrators judged the book by its cover, and Sampson with it. Only after receiving public pressure from FIRE, media outlets, and bloggers did the university reverse its decision and publicly apologize.

Read more . . .

One hundred and fifty years have passed since President Abraham Lincoln issues one of the most extraordinary proclamations in our nation’s history. The Emancipation Proclamation declared:

That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom.

Slavery in the United States did not end with the proclamation, but document nevertheless proved to be an important step toward ending one of history’s greatest evils.

On the 150th anniversary of the proclamation, Law and Liberty’s Liberty Forum has published several essays “evaluating the constitutional legitimacy of the document and the larger questions of liberty, power, and justice raised by it.”

• David Nichols, “The Emancipation Proclamation: Abraham Lincoln’s Constitutionally Modest Proposal”

• Marshall DeRosa, “So Much Power in So Few Hands: Reevaluating Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation”

• Allen Guelzo, “A Complicated and Constitutional Act of Liberty and Justice”

Benjamin West - Choice of Hercules between Virtue and Pleasure

The Choice of Hercules between Virtue and Pleasure

Eli Horowitz over at Rust Belt Philosophy takes up my post from earlier this week, “The Christ Child and a Culture of Birth.” For the moment we can leave aside the accusations of racism latent in my view, as my demographic concerns are related to replacement levels and not to the question of majority/minority demographic shifts.

I do want to address one claim from Horowitz about the nature of cultural privilege, though.

His basic complaint against my view is that my “idea for the culture is distinctly not one in which people get to choose between many options, none of which is privileged above any other.”

Some clarification is in order, I think. Privilege in terms of positive law and in terms of cultural norms are two distinct things (although not unrelated, of course). That is, permitting something legally is distinct from giving that thing moral approbation.

And this is precisely where many left-libertarians, who exult in the culture of naked choice, often run aground. On this view, only must there be protection of their “choices” in law, but there must also be an egalitarian culture of choice, so that there can be no moral disapproval expressed publicly about any of the panoply of choices that might be made. Anything like this is perceived as “taking women’s choices away and forcing them into a very narrow lifestyle.”

My blog post and the related commentary function exclusively at the level of cultural critique and commentary. Nothing in them should be construed as direct advocacy for a particular policy regarding family and childbirth (although particular policies would cohere to a greater or lesser extent with the views expressed).

I do, in fact, think that it is better for a society to have children rather than not, and as such it is not a sign of a healthy culture “wherein it’s equally acceptable to have kids and not to have kids.” Here I will simply reiterate Arthur Brooks’ point: “The future of a prosperous society depends on a lot of things, but the fundamental currency of the success of any society is people, is humans. When you stop having the humans, your life is limited and your prosperity is doomed.”

This is my basic point about a “culture of birth,” and in that sense I do think it can be seen as contrary to a “culture of choice” advocated by Horowitz.

The National Catholic Register and Associated Press are reporting that Justice Sonia Sotomayor has denied Hobby Lobby (and a related company, Mardel, Inc.) its request to opt out of the HHS mandate to provide abortifacients as health care to employees. Justice Sotomayor’s decision stated that Hobby Lobby did not meet the legal standard for preventing them from complying with the government mandate. However, David Green, CEO and owner of Hobby Lobby disagrees, saying the lawsuit violates his family’s faith.

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is representing Hobby Lobby as well as a number of other organizations and groups that have filed lawsuits against the contraceptive mandate, said in a Dec. 20 press release that “the Green family’s religious convictions prohibit them from providing or paying for the abortion-inducing drugs, the ‘morning-after’ and ‘week-after’ pills, which would violate their most deeply held religious belief that life begins at conception.”

Said the Becket Fund, “The business’s lawsuit acts to preserve its right to carry out its mission free from government coercion.”

If the ruling stands, the decision will cost Hobby Lobby approximately $1.3 million in fines daily. The company currently employs about 18,000 people, operating over 500 stores in 41 states.