Search powered by Google



Like all the other nations

In I Samuel 8, the Israelites sinfully ask the prophet and judge Samuel to "appoint a king for us to judge us like all the nations." (8:5) Under the direction of the Lord, Samuel explains to them why this desire is not only sinful, but a bad idea, but "the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel, and they said, "No, but there shall be a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations" (8:19-20) The result was disastrous in many ways, as any child with a mother can tell you that jumping off a bridge is still a bad idea even when all the other kids are doing it.

The United States was established after many years of improvement over the older model of government, monarchy. Under monarchy, a single human being ruled every citizen and had absolute power at whatever arbitrary level of detail he pleased. As we've seen, no such centralized authority can satisfy the needs of the whole society.

The United States was set up with certain restrictions on the power of its government. These may be seen in the Constitution. For example, no state was permitted to make anything but gold or silver a legal tender (and given that the Constitution strictly limits the powers of the federal government to those things explicitly included within it, and given that the Constitution permits the Congress to coin money, but not print it, the same is true of the Federal government as well. Unfortunately, while people of the early twentieth century correctly recognized that a Constitutional amendment was required in order to give the federal government the power to ban alcohol, nobody noticed when the government overstepped its bounds on this matter). The federal government was not permitted to pass laws restricting the freedom of speech, or of the press, or prohibiting the free exercise of religion. The Congress could not pass export taxes, or ex post facto laws. Titles of nobility could not be granted.

All of these restrictions on the power of the government were designed to preserve something that we can have only at the expense of the power and size of the government: freedom. Man's concept of government had evolved from the tyrannical monarch, with the power to do anything, no matter how cruel or selfish, to government as "a dangerous servant and a fearsome master" (according to George Washington). Its powers had to be sharply curtailed, or people could not be free. (And as we've seen, if people are not free, they cannot prosper.)

Unfortunately since the days of those wise but fallible men, much wisdom has been forgotten. The idea that government has any limits to its powers is out of vogue. The standard for judging what the nation is permitted to do is not the Constitution, nor any notions of morality, nor even any notions of what is best (Austrian economics has proved that what is best is for government to dissolve itself and get out of the way). Instead it is presumed that, as long as a vote is taken, the government may do anything any other "civilized" nation does.

Actually it didn't take long for people to forget (perhaps deliberately?) the limitations imposed by the Constitution. On your ten dollar bills is a man named Alexander Hamilton, who pressured the United States to establish a national bank, something not permitted. His rationale? All the other nations do it, so clearly this was something "necessary and proper" for a nation to do. He had a bunch of other schemes he wanted the government to enact as well, a philosophy called "The American System," which was really a system of mercantilism, or an early example of cronyism. (It had to be called the "American" system to distinguish it from the systems of all the other nations, upon which it was based.) You can read a bit more about The American System and find out who eventually enacted it with help from Google. By the way, Hamilton's image goes great on that ten dollar bill, which is an unconstitutional form of money specifically left out of the Constitution. And as any of the anti-Hamiltonian founding fathers could have told you, the results of Hamilton's actions is that ten dollars is worth a lot less than it used to be. (Ten dollars was originally defined as one-half of an ounce of gold. Use this link to check the current price of gold and see how much half an ounce is worth now. The gold isn't worth more; what's changed is that the dollar is worth less. All that value was plundered by the government.)

How about all the other great things that other nations do? Socialized health care? We want it. Why does it matter if the Constitution permits it or not? Compulsory education? That was based on the system Prussia had. Originally it had to be a matter for the states alone, because the federal government wasn't permitted to address it, as it was not in the Constitution. But after about two generations of state-level compulsory (socialized) education, nobody remembered why that mattered, and today we pass national education bills without ever consulting a judge or a lawyer or a literate person to see if the Constitution permits it.

In the early days of the U.S., the great desire of every man was to learn from the lessons of history and construct a government that was different from the others. Today, I'm afraid, we sound more like the Israelites. And if we don't ever ask, "Why didn't the founders include this in the Constitution, when other countries thought it was a great idea?" perhaps we, like they, deserve what we get.

No comments: