Founding Pessimism — Part I

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Sep 102012

We Hate Government


Our nation was founded on hate.  It’s a sad truth.  Rebellious English colonists hated the way they were treated by the mother country, and by extension, its crown head (king and country being one under the monarchy, acts by the government were ascribable to His Majesty — though the monarch’s power was no longer absolute even in those days).  They despised the government that took from them privileges to which they felt entitled.  That last bit is important because that was the crux of the issue.  Under the rule of the king, citizens had no rights of their own.  Liberties were strictly privileges granted by the king’s permission.  In England, a powerful noble class had developed upon which the king relied — for money, support, and military might — and he was forced to make concessions in order to keep its allegiance.  These concessions were outlined in the Magna Carta (1215), which required the Crown to forfeit some of its rights and subject itself to the law (the law no longer being whatever the king declared).  A constitutional monarchy slowly developed, wherein His Majesty’s whims were limited and then replaced by the power of a republican parliament which codified entitlements and responsibilities — an effort at regulated and durable jurisprudence.  In 1689, this parliamentary arrangement was formalized in writing in the English Bill of Rights.  As for the colonies, the distance between North America and Great Britain allowed for a good deal of self-direction and initially, the colonies were largely left to their own devices.  The colonists developed a number of their own traditions then — based on necessity and theoretical shifts resulting from their experience in self-governance — and their attachment to these prompted their resistance to efforts to bring them under greater English control later.  They resented the change, and eventually enough of them grew to hate it so badly that actual insurrection by arms resulted.

So it was, a nation was born of hatred of government.  Only, then, the rebels found they needed a government.  They’d justified the split with Great Britain by arguing that human beings are not dependent on any regime for their liberties;  certain privileges are actually rights and they are due to everyone by virtue of their birth.  If it is the case that all citizens (or, white men) are individual sovereigns, what does government do but encroach upon their rights?  It does just this, so it requires careful restriction to keep it from inserting itself too much and into areas in which it does not belong.  Thus, our Founders drafted a Constitution to guide us that would limit government to the least intrusions necessary: conducting international diplomacy, providing for military defense, settling disputes between citizen-sovereigns and various governments, establishing uniform naturalization requirements and copyright/patent protections, and regulating and facilitating commerce.  This is it.  That is, boiled down, the full power of the federal government under the Constitution.  To the administrative branch went diplomacy and defense; to the judiciary, the weighing of suits and review.  What was left was essentially economic power, and it went to the Congress.

The representational legislature was to fund the activities of the other branches and organize them at the outset.  It was to establish those uniform rules that would remove disparities between the states for citizenship and bankruptcies and protect the ownership rights of creative and inventive citizens — who would, of course, then be empowered by the force of law to benefit financially from their products.  This leads to the main of the congressional duties: enabling commerce.  The Founders did not charge the Congress with protecting citizens from domestic dangers or ensuring justice or promoting virtuousness.  Rather, the Founders were mainly interested a federal system that would promote trade (those other duties fell to state and local governments or individuals), and they recognized that the economy required the assistance of government to succeed.  This was no free market ideology.  Theirs was a government whose only legitimate purpose was to aid the public in making money — it was necessarily a patron to the rich, then (as well as, to a lesser degree, others).  Beyond this, governmental intrusion would be tyrannical and oppressive.

Government is evil, then, unless it promotes the pursuit of wealth (that is, the key to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness).  It must secure the nation from attack and promote its interests abroad — and to a good extent these are economic — and facilitate commerce.  Good government is really just a tool for promoting a market economy in this view.  That is its proper purpose, and when it strays from that it becomes monstrous and oppressive and must be opposed.  This negative view of government and it’s narrow value says much about our Founders and the motive behind their anti-government sensibilities.  More so, it belies any claim to a nobler national purpose. This is no City on a Hill, but a storefront in a commercial zone.

“For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil…” 1 Timothy 6:10

 Posted by at 10:20 am