I was going to write a Fourth of July post, but it kept looking like my past Memorial Day effort, so, since I am in France and ready to go consume more food, I will take a shortcut this holiday:
Every Memorial Day, I am assaulted with various quotes from people
thanking the military for fighting and dying for our right to vote. I
would bet that a depressing number of people in this country, when
asked what their most important freedom was, or what made America
great, would answer "the right to vote."
Now, don't get me wrong, the right to vote in a representative
democracy is great and has proven a moderately effective (but not
perfect) check on creeping statism. A democracy, however, in and of
itself can still be tyrannical. After all, Hitler was voted into power
in Germany, and without checks, majorities in a democracy would be free
to vote away anything it wanted from the minority - their property,
their liberty, even their life. Even in the US, majorities vote to curtail the rights of minorities all the time, even when those minorities are not impinging on anyone else. In the US today, 51% of the population have voted to take money and property of the other 49%.
In my mind, there are at least three founding principles of the
United States that are far more important than the right to vote:
- The Rule of Law. For about 99% of human
history, political power has been exercised at the unchecked capricious
whim of a few individuals. The great innovation of western countries
like the US, and before it England and the Netherlands, has been to
subjugate the power of individuals to the rule of law. Criminal
justice, adjudication of disputes, contracts, etc. all operate based on
a set of laws known to all in advance.
Today the rule of law actually faces a number of threats in this
country. One of the most important aspects of the rule of law is that
legality (and illegality) can be objectively determined in a repeatable
manner from written and well-understood rules. Unfortunately, the
massive regulatory and tax code structure in this country have created
a set of rules that are subject to change and interpretation constantly at
the whim of the regulatory body. Every day, hundreds of people and
companies find themselves facing penalties due to an arbitrary
interpretation of obscure regulations (examples I have seen personally here).
- Sanctity and Protection of Individual Rights.
Laws, though, can be changed. In a democracy, with a strong rule of
law, we could still legally pass a law that said, say, that no one is
allowed to criticize or hurt the feelings of a white person. What
prevents such laws from getting passed (except at major universities)
is a protection of freedom of speech, or, more broadly, a recognition
that individuals have certain rights that no law or vote may take
away. These rights are typically outlined in a Constitution, but are
not worth the paper they are written on unless a society has the desire
and will, not to mention the political processes in place, to protect
these rights and make the Constitution real.
even in the US, we do a pretty mixed job of protecting individual
rights, strongly protecting some (like free speech) while letting
others, such as property rights or freedom of association, slide.
- Government is our servant.
The central, really very new concept on which this country was founded
is that an individual's rights do not flow from government, but are
inherent to man. That government in fact only makes sense to the
extent that it is our servant in the defense of our rights, rather than
as the vessel from which these rights grudgingly flow.
of all stripes have tried to challenge this assumption over the last
100 years. While their exact details have varied, every statist has
tried to create some larger entity to which the individual should be
subjugated: the Proletariat, the common good, God, the master race.
They all hold in common that the government's job is to sacrifice one
group to another. A common approach among modern statists is to create
a myriad of new non-rights to dilute and replace our fundamental rights
as individuals. These new non-rights, such as the "right" to health
care, a job, education, or even recreation, for god sakes, are
meaningless in a free society, as they can't exist unless one
person is harnessed involuntarily to provide them to another person.
These non-rights are the exact opposite of freedom, and in fact require
enslavement and sacrifice of one group to another.
Don't believe that this is what statists are working for? The other day I saw this quote from the increasingly insane Lou Dobbs (Did you ever suspect that Lou got pulled into a room a while back by some strange power broker as did Howard Beale in Network?):
Our population explosion not only detracts from our quality of life but
threatens our liberties and freedom as well. As Cornell's Pimentel puts
it, "Back when we had, say, 100 million people in the U.S., when I
voted, I was one of 100 million people. Today, I am one of 285 million
people, so my vote and impact decreases with the increase in the
population." Pimentel adds, "So our freedoms also go down the drain."
In a society with a rule of law protecting individual rights, how does
having a diluted vote reduce your freedom? The only way it does, and therefore what must be in the author's head, is if
one looks at government as a statist tug of war, with various parties
jockeying for a majority so they can plunder the minority. But in this
case, freedom and rule of law are already dead, so what does a
dilution of vote matter? He is arguing that dilution of political
power reduces freedom -- this country was rightly founded on just the
opposite notion, that freedom requires a dilution of political power.
At the end of the day, our freedoms in this country will only last
so long as we as a nation continue to hold to the principle that our
rights as individuals are our own, and the government's job is to
protect them, not to ration them. Without this common belief, all the
other institutions we have discussed, from voting to the rule of law to
the Constitution, can be subverted in time.
So to America's soldiers, thank you. Thank you for protecting this
fragile and historically unique notion that men and women own
themselves and their lives.