Burke Chester

The Idea of Rights

26 posts in this topic

The problem is how to implement that when the natural tendency of government is to increase its power. The Constitution was an attempt because the Founding Fathers knew that that is what the government was founded for. But once a politician is in office with the ability to pass laws that control people's lives, pressure groups will naturally arise. By the 1890's, government was not an agent of force, it was an agent of the people to protect them from economic hardships and greedy business tyrants.

The deterioration of rights had already started by the 1790's with the famous rift between the Jeffersonians and the Hamiltonians under the Hamiltonian doctrine of "implied consent" for government powers not enumerated in the Consitution. The first major scandals were the national bank and the Federal suppression of the 1794 "Whisky Rebellion" against the discriminatory Federal taxes imposed on western farmers -- both under under Hamilton's economic nationalism in the Washington administration -- and the 1798 Alien and Sedition Acts punishing free speech and used by the Adams administration to persecute Republican editors and political leaders. Under the Alien and Sedition Acts it was a Federal crime from 1798 to 1801 to "write, print, utter or publish, or shall cause or procure to be written, printed, uttered or published, or shall knowingly and willingly assist or aid in writing, printing, uttering or publishing any false, scandalous and malicious writing or writings against the government of the United States... with intent to defame the said government... or to bring them... into contempt or disrepute; or to excite ... the hatred of the good people of the United States, or to stir up sedition within the United States, or to excite any unlawful combinations therein, for opposing or resisting any law of the United States, or any act of the President of the United States, done in pursuance of any such law, or of the powers in him vested by the constitution of the United States, or to resist, oppose, or defeat any such law..." And that despite the First Amendment. Can you imagine how far the government would have gone without the Bill of Rights?

The systematic trend towards increased government power despite the lack of Constitutional authorization is described by Arthur Ekirch's very interesting but very sad The Decline of American Liberalism covering the period from before the Revolution into the 1950s. Every Forum member should read that book and it should be required reading in history.

But I would not say the historical trend has been a "natural tendency"; it has been the tendency by those whose philosophy of life does not include a proper conception of rational self interest and does not preclude the use of force against others to get what they want, increasingly bolstered by the elevation of that mentality into a full fledged political philosophy encouraged by Hegelianism in the US in the late 1800s, followed by Pragmatism, and increasingly adopted in a feeding frenzy by the "Progressives" ever since.

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