|Language of Liberty|
Thursday, January 5, 2017
Understanding Your Most Fundamental Rights: Part 2
by Bill Norton, Center for Self Governance Administrative Staff
Suppose you, as a good neighbor, noticed an imbalance between a couple of families down the street. The Smiths — husband and wife, no kids, yet they have two cars. Then there is the Jones family — husband and wife, five kids and no car. A difficult life the Joneses have, hard to get to work or to the store, difficult to get the kids to school. You would like to help, because you are a kind, compassionate and merciful individual, but you only have one car for yourself, your wife and three kids.
You decide one day to talk to Mr. Smith about this perceived injustice. “I have a suggestion for you Mr. Smith,” you say. “Why don’t you give one of your cars to the Joneses?” “Well, that’s a suggestion alright,” he responds, “but I think I will keep my cars.” This infuriates you because you cannot understand his lack of compassion. “Actually, I insist,” you exclaim. “You insist” objects an exasperated Mr. Smith? “Get out of here! I’m not going to just give a car to the Joneses.”
This situation has you quite flustered. You can’t even sleep at night. So, you get up late one evening, go to the Smith’s, hot wire their car and drive it over to the Jones. You knock on the door and out comes Mr. Jones to see his new gift. “For me?” he asks. “Sure,” you say.”Now you can get the kids to school easier, get to work and the store easier, sorry I don’t have a key, but if you just touch these two wires together…”
You go home feeling so good, because you are a kind, compassionate, merciful individual and you sleep like a baby. Suddenly, at three in the morning, you are awakened by a knock on the door. It’s the sheriff. “Your finger prints are all over that car!” You say, “Well of course they are, you would have done the same thing if you were as kind, compassionate and merciful as I am.” But the sheriff wanted to hear none of that and he hauls you off to jail.
After serving five to six years in jail, you return home to find that nothing has changed. The Smiths: two cars. The Joneses: none. But you have a plan. There are 100 homes in your neighborhood. You pass around a petition that Mr. Smith must give one car to Mr. Jones. Each home gets one vote and because of your kind, compassionate and merciful message the results are 99 for and 1 against. Wow! Now that is a “mandate.” You can’t refuse the voice of the people. So, 99 of you go to Mr. Smith’s, hotwire the car and take it to the Joneses.
If you were to do this in your neighborhood, what happens next? 99 people go to jail.
Suppose instead of using the petitions locally, you bring them to the state legislature and convince a majority to pass a law requiring Mr. Smith to give his car to Mr. Jones. One day, soon after the law passes, the sheriff knocks on Mr. Smith’s door. Now, the very individual that at one time protected Mr. Smith’s property, is confiscating it.
What is wrong with these scenarios? Do we have the authority as an individual to take from one neighbor and give to another? No.
Do we magically get the authority when we get together collectively to take from one neighbor and give to another? No.
Do we have the authority to ask government to take from one neighbor and give to another? No. In 1850, French economist Frederic Bastiat called this “Legal Plunder”.
If we are to operate under the premise that government gets its authority from the people, which ours does, then government cannot give authority which we do not already have ourselves. If we do not have the authority to take from one neighbor and give to another, as individuals or collectively, we do not have the ability to delegate that to government. We can only delegate that which is ours.
What is the only way we can get Mr. Smith’s car over to Mr. Jones? Take it? No. The only way the car can be transferred is if Mr. Smith consents to Mr. Jones having it, either by giving it to him or selling it to him. No matter the method, Mr. Smith must consent.
What is it that binds Mr. Smith so closely to his property that only he can consent to it leaving his possession? How does the fact that it is his property bind him to it? What binds our property to us?
Property is inseparably connected to life and liberty because we use our life and liberty to purchase our property. It is important to recognize that property itself is not sacred, but the life and liberty connected to that property is sacred.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice George Sutherland once told the New York State Bar Association, “…the individual (the man) has three great rights, equally sacred from arbitrary interference: the right to his LIFE, the right to his LIBERTY, the right to his PROPERTY... The three rights are so bound together as to be essentially one right. To give a man his life but deny him his liberty, is to take from him all that makes his life worth living. To give him his liberty but take from him the property which is the fruit and badge of his liberty, is to still leave him a slave.”
The protection of property, therefore, is the purpose of government. If we pass laws that protect our property, those laws are also protecting our life and liberty. Property becomes that great measuring device to determine where our freedom lies. If we do not have the total right and control of our property because of too high taxation, oppressive regulation, and the like, we know we are too far toward tyranny. If we do not have the total right and control of our property because of theft, fraud, and lawlessness, we know we are too far toward anarchy.
When we have the total right and control of our property we know that we have found the balanced center between tyranny and anarchy—we have found Liberty!