The case for free trade 10

President Trump is speaking of imposing tariffs on steel and aluminum to boost domestic production.

To explain the case for free trade, we quote from a speech delivered at the (libertarian) Mises Institute a few days ago by Thomas J. DiLorenzo.

It is not an exaggeration to say that trade is the keystone of modern civilization. For as Murray Rothbard wrote:

The market economy is one vast latticework throughout the world, in which each individual, each region, each country, produces what he or it is best at, most relatively efficient in, and exchanges that product for the goods and services of others. Without the division of labor and the trade based upon that division, the entire world would starve. Coerced restraints on trade – such as protectionism – cripple, hobble, and destroy trade, the source of life and prosperity.

Human beings cannot truly be free unless there is a high degree of economic freedom – the freedom to collaborate and coordinate plans with other people from literally all around the world. That is the point of Leonard Read’s famous article, “I Pencil,” which describes how to produce an item as mundane as an ordinary pencil requires the cooperation and collaboration of thousands of people from all around the world, all of whom possess very specific knowledge … that allows them to assist in the production and marketing of pencils. The same is true, of course, for virtually everything else that is produced.

Without economic freedom – the freedom to earn a living for oneself and one’s family – people are destined to become mere wards of the state. Thus, every attempt by the state to interfere with trade is an attempt to deny us our freedom, to impoverish us, and to turn us into modern-day serfs.

[Ludwig von] Mises believed that trade or exchange is “the fundamental social relation” which “weaves the bond which unites men into society”. Man “serves in order to be served” in any trade relationship in the free market. …

Trade involves the exchange of property titles. Restrictions on free trade are therefore an attack on private property itself and not “merely” a matter of “trade policy”. This is why such great classical liberals as Frederic Bastiat spent many years of their lives defending free trade. Bastiat … understood that once one acquiesced in protectionism, then no one’s property will be safe from myriad other governmental acts of theft. To Bastiat, protectionism and communism were essentially the same philosophy.

It has long been recognized by classical liberals that free trade was the most important means of diminishing the likelihood of war. …

[I]t is not democracy that is a safeguard against war but, as the British (classical) Liberals were to recognize, it is free trade. To Richard Cobden and John Bright, the leaders of the British Manchester School, free trade – both domestically and internationally – was a necessary prerequisite for the preservation of peace. …

As Frederic Bastiat often said, if goods can’t cross borders, armies will. This is a quintessentially American philosophy in that it was the position assumed by George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Thomas Paine, among others. A foreign policy based on commerce,” wrote Paine in Common Sense, would secure for America “the peace and friendship” of the Continent and allow her to “shake hands with the world – and trade in any market.” Paine – the philosopher of the American Revolution – believed that free trade would “temper the human mind”, and help people to “know and understand each other”,  and have a “civilizing effect” on everyone involved in it. Trade was seen as “a pacific system, operating to unite mankind be rendering nations, as well as individuals, useful to each other. . . . “War can never be in the interest of a trading nation.”

George Washington obviously agreed. “Harmony, liberal intercourse with all Nations, are recommended by policy, humanity and interest,” he stated in his September 19, 1796 Farewell Address. Our commercial policy “should hold an equal and impartial hand; neither seeking nor granting exclusive favours or preferences; consulting the natural course of things; deversifying by gentle means the streams of Commerce, but forcing nothing . . .”

The period of world history from the middle of the fifteenth to the middle of the eighteenth centuries was an era of growth in world trade and invention and of institutions suited to trade. Technological innovations in shipping, such as the three-masted sail, brought the merchants of Europe to the far reaches of America and Asia. This vast expansion of trade greatly facilitated the worldwide division of labor, greater specialization, and the benefits of comparative advantage.

But whenever human freedom advances, as it did with the growth of trade, state power is threatened. So states did all they could then, as now, to restrict trade. It is the system of trade restrictions and other governmental interferences with the free market, known as mercantilism, that Adam Smith railed against in The Wealth of Nations. … [He] was defending trade on moral as well as economic grounds by enunciating his doctrine of how free trade was part of the system of “natural justice”.  One of the ways he did this was to defend smugglers and the act of smuggling as a means of evading mercantilist restrictions on trade. The smuggler, explained Smith, was engaged in “productive labor” that served his fellow man (i.e., consumers) …

For the same reason, black markets are defensible.

Despite powerful arguments in favor of free trade offered by [Dr. Francois] Quesnay, [Adam] Smith, David Ricardo, and others, England (and other countries of Europe) suffered from protectionist trade policies for the first half of the nineteenth century. But this situation was turned around due to the heroic and brilliant efforts of what came to be known as the “Manchester School,” led by two British businessmen, John Bright and Richard Cobden. Thanks to Bright and Cobden Great Britain achieved complete free trade by 1850.

The British public was plundered by the mercantilist “corn laws” which placed strict import quotas on the importation of food. The laws benefited political supporters of the government who were engaged in farming at the expense of much higher food prices, which was especially harmful to the poor. Bright and Cobden formed the Anti-Corn Law League in 1839 and turned it into a well-oiled political machine with mass support, distributing literally millions of leaflets, holding conferences and gatherings all around the country, delivering hundreds of speeches, and publishing their own newspaper, The League. …

From his home in Mugron, France, Frederic Bastiat single handedly created a free-trade movement in his own country that eventually spread throughout Europe. Bastiat was a gentleman farmer who had inherited the family estate. He was a voracious reader, and spent many years educating himself in classical liberalism and in just about any other field that he could attain information about. After some twenty years of intense intellectual preparation, articles and books began to pour out of Bastiat (in the 1840s). His book, Economic Sophisms, is to this day arguably the best defense of free trade ever published. His second book, Economic Harmonies, quickly followed, while Bastiat published magazine and newspapers all over France. His work was so popular and influential that it was immediately translated into English, Spanish, Italian, and German.

Due to Bastiat’s enormous influence, free-trade associations, modeled after one he had created in France and similar to the one created by his friend, Richard Cobden, in England, began to sprout in Belgium, Italy, Sweden, Prussia, and Germany.

To Bastiat, collectivism in all its forms was immoral as well as economically destructive.

Collectivism constituted “legal plunder,” and to argue against the (natural) right to private property would be similar to arguing that theft and slavery were “moral”. The protection of private property is the only legitimate function of government, Bastiat wrote, which is why trade restrictions – and all other mercantilist schemes – should be condemned. Free trade “is a question of right, of justice, of public order, of property. Because privilege, under whatever form it is manifested, implies the denial or the scorn of property rights.” And “the right to property, once weakened in one form, would soon be attacked in a thousand different forms.”

There is no clearer example of how trade restrictions are the enemy of freedom than the American Revolution. In the seventeenth century all European states practiced the policy of mercantilism. England imposed a series of Trade and Navigation Acts on its colonies in America and elsewhere, which embodied three principles: 1) All trade between England and her colonies must be conducted by English (or English-built) vessels owned and manned by English subjects; 2) All European imports into the colonies must “first be laid on the shores of England” before being sent to the colonies so that extra tariffs could be placed on them; and 3) Certain products from the colonies must be exported to England and England only.

In addition, the colonists were prohibited from trading with Asia because of the East India Company’s state-chartered monopoly. There were import duties placed on all colonial imports into England.

After the Seven Years War (known in America as the French-Indian War), England’s massive land holdings (Canada, India, North America to the Mississippi, most of the West Indies) became very expensive to administer and police. Consequently, the Trade and Navigation Acts were made even more oppressive, which imposed severe hardships on the American colonists and helped lead to revolution.

After the American Revolution trade restrictions nearly caused the New England states — which suffered disproportionately from the restrictions — to secede from the Union. In 1807 Thomas Jefferson was president and England was once again at war with France. England declared that it would “secure her seamen wherever found”,  which included U.S. ships. After a British warship captured the USS Chesapeake off Hampton Roads, Virginia, Jefferson imposed a trade embargo that made all international commerce illegal. After Jefferson left office his successor, James Madison, imposed an “Enforcement Act” which allowed war-on-drugs style seizure of goods suspected to be destined for export.

This radicalized the New England secessionists, who had been plotting to secede ever since Jefferson was elected, issued a public declaration reminding the nation that “the U.S. Constitution was a Treaty of Alliance and Confederation” and that the central government was no more than an association of the states. Consequently, “whenever its [i.e., the Constitution’s] provisions were violated, or its original principles departed from by a majority of the states or their people, it is no longer an effective instrument, but that any state is at liberty by the spirit of that contract to withdraw itself from the union.”

The Massachusetts legislature formally condemned the embargo, demanded its repeal by Congress, and declared that it was “not legally binding”. In other words, the Massachusetts legislature “nullified” the law. Madison was forced to end the embargo in March of 1809. …

John Taylor, a noted Anti-Federalist, was a lifelong critic of mercantilism and laid out his criticisms in his 1822 book, Tyranny Unmasked. Like Bastiat, Taylor saw protectionism as an assault on private property that was diametrically opposed to the freedom the American revolutionaries had fought and died for. The tyranny that Taylor sought to “unmask” was the collection of fables and lies that had been devised by mercantilists to promote their system of plunder. If one looks at England’s mercantilist policies, Taylor wrote, “No equal mode of enriching the party of government, and impoverishing the party of people, has ever been discovered.” …

Many of Taylor’s arguments were adopted and expanded upon by the great South Carolinian statesman John C. Calhoun during the struggle over the 1828 “Tariff of Abomination”,  which a South Carolina political convention voted to nullify. The confrontation between South Carolina, which was very heavily import dependent, as was most of the South, and the federal government over the Tariff of Abominations almost led to the state’s secession some thirty years prior to the War for Southern Independence. The federal government backed down and reduced the tariff rate in 1833.

The Northern manufacturers who wanted to impose British-style mercantilism on the U.S. did not give up, however; they formed the American Whig party, which advocated three mercantilist schemes: protectionism, corporate welfare for themselves, and a central bank to pay for it all. From 1832 until 1861 the Whigs, led by Henry Clay and, later, by Abraham Lincoln, fought mightily in the political arena to bring seventeenth-century mercantilism to America.

The Whig party died in 1852, but the Whigs simply began calling themselves Republicans.

We have often praised the Republican Party for its opposition to slavery, but we do not praise it for this:

The tariff was the centerpiece of the Republican party platform of 1860, as it had been when the same collection of Northern economic interests called itself “Whigs” for the previous thirty years.

By 1857 the level of tariffs had been reduced to the lowest level since 1815, according to Frank Taussig in his classic Tariff History of the United States. But when the Republicans controlled the White House and the Southern Democrats left the Congress the Republicans did what, as former Whigs, they had been itching to do for decades: go on a protectionist frenzy. In his First Inaugural Address Lincoln stated that he had no intention to disturb slavery in the Southern states and, even if he did, there would be no constitutional basis for doing so. But when it came to the tariff, he promised a military invasion if tariff revenues were not collected. …

By 1862 the average tariff rate had crept up to 47.06 percent, the highest level ever, even higher than the 1828 Tariff of Abominations. These high rates lasted for decades after the war.

[B]y 1860 England itself had moved to complete free trade; France sharply reduced her tariff rates in that very year; and Bastiat’s free-trade movement was spreading throughout Europe. Only the Northern United States was clinging steadfastly to seventeenth-century mercantilism.

After the war the Northern manufacturing interests who financed and controlled the Republican party (i.e., the old Whigs) were firmly in control and they “ushered in a long period of high tariffs. With the tariff of 1897, protection reached an average level of 57 percent.” This political plunder continued for about fifty years after the war, at which time international competition forced tariff rates down moderately. By 1913 the average tariff rate in the U.S. had declined to 29 percent.

But the same clique of Northern manufacturers was begging for “protection” and persisted until they got it when Herbert Hoover signed the Smoot-Hawley tariff of 1929, which increased the average tariff rate on over 800 items back up to 59.1 percent. The Smoot-Hawley tariff spawned an international trade war that resulted in about a 50 percent reduction in total exports from the United States between 1929 and 1932. Poverty and misery was the inevitable result. Even worse, the government responded to these problems of its own creation with a massive increase in government intervention, which only produced even more poverty and misery and deprived Americans of more and more of their freedoms.

The case for President Trump’s tariffs follows immediately in the next post. …

However, America … Britain must leave the European Union 3

Tomorrow Britain holds a referendum on whether to remain a member of the undemocratic and irredeemably corrupt European Union, or leave it.

Those who want to leave it are already calling 23rd. June UK Independence Day.

President Obama went to Britain to tell the British not to leave the EU.

The excellent conservative historian Andrew Roberts comments on this impertinence. He writes at the Wall Street Journal:

On June 23 the British people will be going to the polls to choose whether they want to continue with the present system whereby 60% of British laws are made in Brussels and foreign judges decide whether those laws are legitimate or not, or whether we want to strike out for independence and the right to make all of our own laws and have our own British judges decide upon them.

It’s about whether we can recapture the right to deport foreign Islamist hate preachers and terrorist suspects, or whether under European human-rights legislation they must continue to reside in the U.K., often at taxpayers’ expense. The European Union is currently experiencing migration on a scale not seen since the late 17th century—with hordes of young, mostly male Muslims sweeping from the southeast into the heart of Europe. Angela Merkel invited them in and that might be fine for Germany, but why should they have the right to settle in Britain as soon as they get a European passport?

Surely — surely — this is an issue on which the British people, and they alone, have the right to decide, without the intervention of President Obama, who adopted his haughtiest professorial manner when lecturing us to stay in the EU, before making the naked threat that we would be sent “to the back of the queue” (i.e., the back of the line) in any future trade deals if we had the temerity to vote to leave. Was my country at the back of the line when Winston Churchill promised in 1941 that in the event of a Japanese attack on the U.S., a British declaration of war on Japan would be made within the hour?

Was Great Britain at the back of the line when America was searching for allies in the Korean War in the 1950s?

When America decided to liberate Kuwait from Saddam Hussein in the Gulf War in the early 1990s, was Britain at the back of the line when we contributed an armored division that fought on your right flank during Operation Desert Storm?

Were we at the back of the line on 9/11, or did we step forward immediately and instinctively as the very first of your allies to contribute troops to join you in the expulsion of the Taliban, al Qaeda’s hosts, from power in Afghanistan?

Or in Iraq two years later, was it the French or the Germans or the Belgians who stood and fought and bled beside you? Whatever views you might have over the rights or wrongs of that war, no one can deny that Britain was in its accustomed place: at the front of the line, in the firing line. So it is not right for President Obama now to threaten to send us to the back of the line.

Britain is the largest foreign investor in the U.S. — larger even than China— so it makes no economic sense for you to send us to the back of the line. Yet quite apart from your economic or strategic best interests, it also makes no moral sense for America to treat your genuine friends (you also see this phenomenon in the case of Israel, of course) as though they are your enemies, while all too often you treat your rivals and enemies — Cuba, China, Venezuela and others — as though they’re your friends. In what sane world does America put Iran at the front of the line for trade deals, while sending Britain to the back?

President Obama might be very clever intellectually …

Oh? What evidence is there for that? Andrew Roberts is just being kind, we guess.

… but he hasn’t grasped the central essence of American foreign policy over the centuries, which is the honorable one of being a strength and beacon to your allies and a standing reproach and constant source of anxiety to your enemies and to the enemies of freedom.

Fortunately, the best kind of Americans instinctively understand that truth, and outside the Obama administration nobody seems to want to relegate my country to the back of the line. Anglo-American friendship is far stronger than any one administration or government. I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve read the obituaries of people who have written the obituary of the Special Relationship. It survives because it lives on in the hearts of our two peoples — who have so much more in common than that which separates us — rather than just in the pages of venerable treaties and history books.

The good news is that the British people don’t seem to have taken much notice of President Obama — indeed, on the day he left the U.K., the Leave campaign actually saw a 2% increase in the polls. (As it’s neck and neck at the moment, perhaps we should invite him back?)

The endless threats about trade deals and GDP per capita from the EU and the IMF and the World Bank and the OECD, instead of cowing the British people, seem merely to have excited their bloody-mindedness. They recognize that they might indeed take a short-term financial hit, but there are some things more important than money.

Imagine if a bunch of accountants had turned up at Valley Forge in that brutal winter of 1777 and proved with the aid of pie-charts and financial tables that Americans would be better off if they just gave up the cause of independence. George Washington would have sent them off with a few short, well-chosen words on the subject — probably derived from the Anglo-Saxon.

Winston Churchill was warned repeatedly by the Treasury that it was bankrupting Britain to continue her lonely and seemingly doomed struggle against the power that utterly dominated the entire European Continent in 1940 and 1941, but he treated all such warnings with his characteristically coruscating ire. That is what people do who love their country, and that is what I hope my countrymen will do on June 23.

And if we do vote to leave the EU on Thursday, I hope that Americans with a sense of history, Americans with a sense of tradition who honor friendship past and future, above all Americans who know what self-government means to a free people, will rally to the cause of an independent Britain.

*

In the leftist Guardian, George Soros the Evil – Obama’s friend – has an article desperately trying to stop Britons voting to leave the EU, on the spurious grounds that the country will experience a disastrous economic crash if they succeed. That should be the final signal to Britain that leaving is definitely the right thing to do.

Irreconcilable visions and the decline of America 4

The proponents of centralized power require a homogeneous “people” to justify expanding government power. Such a “people” will have similar interests that only the central government can effectively identify and serve. Interests like “social justice”, “social duties”, and “social efficiency”, cannot be fulfilled by local or state governments, or by the parochial aims of civil society or the market, or by churches divided by sectarian beliefs. The federal technocrats of government agencies, more knowledgeable than the people about what they really want and need, must be given the power to trump those clashing local interests and manage polices that serve the larger “social” good – as defined not by the people in all their variety and complexity, but by federal bureaucrats and technocrats.

We quote from an excellent article by Bruce Thornton at Front Page.

In 1902 Theodore Roosevelt intervened in a strike by Pennsylvania coal miners, exceeding his Constitutional authority as president. When this was pointed out to him by Republican House whip James E. Watson, Roosevelt allegedly yelled, “To hell with the Constitution when the people want coal!”

This outburst reflected the novel Progressive view of the Chief Executive. Instead of the Constitution’s limited powers focused on specific needs, such as national defense, beyond the capacity of the individual states or local governments to address, the President needed more expansive authority in order to serve the “people”.  Over 100 years later, Barack Obama has governed on the same assumption, one that undermines the Constitution’s structure of balanced powers and limited government, and puts at risk our political freedom and autonomy.

In January of this year Obama famously asserted, much less honestly than did T.R., his willingness to shed Constitutional limits: “We’re not just going to be waiting for legislation in order to make sure that we’re providing Americans the kind of help they need. I’ve got a pen and I’ve got phone.” And he’s been true to his belief during his nearly six years in office. He has changed his own signature legislation, Obamacare, 42 times.

He has also used his “pen and phone” to change immigration laws, gun laws, labor laws, environmental policy, and many other statutes that should be the purview of the legislative branch, to which the Constitution gives the law-making power.

Other presidents, of course, have used signing statements and executive orders. But Obama has pushed this traditional prerogative far beyond the bounds that presidents in the past were usually careful to respect.

But the ideas behind this expansion of power are not peculiar to Obama, and transcend any one man. They come from the Progressive worldview that rejects the Constitution’s philosophical vision of humans as driven by conflicting “passions and interests”,  and eager to amass power in order to gratify both. The Progressives, on the contrary, believe that human nature can be improved, and that technocrats armed with new knowledge of human behavior and motivations can be entrusted with the concentrated power necessary for managing that improvement and solving the new problems created by industrialism, technology, and the other novelties of modernity.

In terms of the federal government, the key to this new vision is the executive branch, led by an activist president. Woodrow Wilson was quite explicit about these ideas. In 1890 he wrote of the need for a “leader of men” who has “such sympathetic and penetrative insight as shall enable him to discern quite unerringly the motives which move other men in the mass”.  He knows “what it is that lies waiting to be stirred in the minds and purposes of groups and masses of men”.  This sympathy is one “whose power is to command, to command by knowing its instrument”, and the leader possessing this “sympathy” cares only “for the external uses to which they [people] may be put”. 

More frightening still are Wilson’s comments further expanding on this “sympathy”.  “Whoever would effect a change in a modern constitutional government must first educate his fellow-citizens to want some change. That done, he must persuade them to want the particular change he wants. He must first make public opinion willing to listen and then see to it that it listens to the right things. He must stir it up to search for an opinion, and then manage to put the right opinion in its way.”

Gone are the notions that free people decide their own political fate and choose representatives to serve their interests and principles, their autonomy protected by the Constitutional structure of checks and balances. Now an empowered elite presumably wiser about human nature will, like Plato’s Guardians, manipulate the people’s opinions so that they make the “right” choice. These ideas are on a continuum that at the extreme end lie Mussolini’s fascism and Lenin’s communism.

Ideas that have been recycled by Cass Sunstein – former Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs  in the Obama White House – with his proposal that people must be “nudged” to do and think as he and his fellow Progressives are certain they should.

We see in Wilson’s writings another Progressive assumption still with us today: defining Americans as an abstract, collectivist “people”.  This unitary “people” rejects the Founders’ recognition of America’s great variety … that characterize the citizens of the United States. …  As John Adams wrote in 1787, the “selfish passions in the generality of men” are the “strongest”.

Knowing that this selfish inclination is rooted in a human nature … and so cannot be improved or eliminated, the Founders sought merely to balance faction against faction so that no one faction can amass enough power to threaten the freedom of all. 

Two visions irreconcilably opposed to each other: that of the Founders’ taking account of  human nature and its natural selfishness and finding the way to accommodate differences while protecting the freedom of each with rules for all; and that of the Progressive elite who would change human nature, homogenize interests, and impose their own vision on everyone, subordinating individual choice to a collective will controlled and guided by themselves.

Go back to Obama’s “pen and phone” statement and read what follows to see this same collectivist vision at work: “And I can use that pen to sign executive orders and take executive actions and administrative actions that move the ball forward in helping to make sure our kids are getting the best education possible, making sure that our businesses are getting the kind of support and help they need to grow and advance, to make sure that people are getting the skills that they need to get those jobs that our businesses are creating.” The president assumes that in a country of some 330 million people, “the help they need” and their views on improving job creation, education, or job training are all the same, and thus one man can formulate policies that advance them, cutting out the several hundred representative of Congress, and state and local governments.

The obvious danger is one evident from the 20th century’s history of totalitarianism from the Bolsheviks to the Khmer Rouge. Elites convinced of their superior knowledge and insight into human behavior and the proper aims people should pursue, demand the coercive power to achieve these goods. But true to the Founders’ vision of a flawed human nature, power is “of an encroaching nature,” as Madison and Washington both warned. It intoxicates and corrupts those who possess it. Moreover, it requires weakening the autonomy and freedom of the people, whose various interests will contradict the “vision of the anointed”, as Thomas Sowell dubs them, who claim to know what’s best for everybody, and use their power to neutralize or eliminate those who resist this superior wisdom.

We need to recognize that for over a century this Progressive vision has revolutionized the federal government, which now has a size, scope, cost, and coercive power that would have horrified the Founders.

The American Enlightenment 6

John Adams said:

The government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.

Thomas Paine said:

The study of theology, as it stands in Christian churches, is the study of nothing; it is founded on nothing; it rests on nothing; it proceeds by no authorities; it has no data; it can demonstrate nothing and admits of no conclusion.

The Bible: a history of wickedness that has served to corrupt and brutalise mankind.

The Christian system of religion is an outrage on common sense.

The Church was resolved to have a New Testament, and out of the loads of rubbish that were presented it voted four to be Gospels, and others to be Epistles, as we now find them arranged.

This is the rubbish called Revealed Religion!

Thomas Jefferson said:

I do not find in orthodox Christianity one redeeming feature.

Religions are all alike – founded upon fables and mythologies.

History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance of which their civil as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purposes.

In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own.

Christianity is the most perverted system that ever shone on man.

George Washington said:

Religious controversies are always productive of more acrimony and irreconcilable hatreds than those which spring from any other cause. I had hoped that liberal and enlightened thought would have reconciled the Christians so that their religious fights would not endanger the peace of Society.

James Madison said:

During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What has been its fruits? More or less, in all places, pride and indolence in the clergy; ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry, and persecution.

In no instance have the churches been guardians of the liberties of the people.

Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprise.

Benjamin Franklin said:

I have found Christian dogma unintelligible. Early in life, I absented myself from Christian assemblies.

Theodore Roosevelt said:

To discriminate against a thoroughly upright citizen because he belongs to some particular church, or because, like Abraham Lincoln, he has not avowed his allegiance to any church, is an outrage against that liberty of conscience which is one of the foundations of American life.

President Washington’s Day 1

Poor George Washington. His birthday, spontaneously celebrated since the Revolution and formally declared a holiday in 1879, has slowly morphed into the insipid Presidents Day you’ll hear about today.

This is from the Heritage Foundation, celebrating the greatest President. His actual birthday, they remind us, is on Wednesday, but “let us remember why he deserves a national holiday”:

George Washington, the “indispensable man” of the Revolution who was rightly extolled for being “first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen,” has now been lumped together with the likes of James Buchanan, Jimmy Carter, Franklin Pierce and John Tyler.

Worst of all, with Barack Obama.

It gets worse. Washington’s good name and great legacy are now shamelessly invoked to justify positions that he would never have envisaged.

In a Time Magazine special edition on George Washington currently in newsstands, historian Joseph Ellis matter-of-factly remarks: “He began the political tradition that produced a Union victory in the Civil War, the Federal Reserve Board, Social Security, Medicare and, more recently, Obamacare.”

!?

Washington, who called on Americans to display “pious gratitude” for their Constitution and warned against any “change by usurpation,” is now a partisan of the sprawling welfare state and the unprecedented individual mandate. Ellis even has the gall to hail Washington – the man who gracefully and voluntarily relinquished power after two terms when he could have stayed on for life–as the father of “strong executive leadership” and the precursor to FDR, who stayed in office for an unprecedented 12 years!

The true Washington still has much to teach us, in particular when it comes to the presidency, foreign policy and religious liberty. Although much has changed in the past two centuries, his sage advice and conduct in office have lost none of their relevance, anchored as they are in the timeless principles of the Founding and a sober assessment of human nature.

Washington, like every President after him, swore the followingoath upon taking office: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” Unlike many presidents in the past 100 years, however, Washington took the oath seriously and did not try to place himself above the Constitution.

He understood himself to be the President of a Republic in which the people, through their elected representatives in Congress, make laws – not some visionary leader who must define what Progress requires and lead the unenlightened masses there.

Washington took care “that the laws be faithfully executed”. … He did not try to make the laws himself, either by issuing executive orders that circumvented Congress or by regulating what could not be legislated. He left behind no “signature” legislative accomplishments as we would say today. He only used his vetotwice–once on constitutional grounds and once in his capacity as Commander-in-Chief.

Washington gave, on average, only three public speeches a year while in office – including the shortest ever inaugural address. And, of course, he had to be persuaded to serve a second term.

As a President who took his bearings from the Constitution, Washington devoted considerable attention to foreign policy. Our first President sought to establish an energetic and independent foreign policy. He believed America needed a strong military so that it could “choose peace or war, as our interest guided by justice shall Counsel.”

No survey of Washington’s legacy would be complete without acknowledging his profound commitment to religious liberty. Many today seem to have lost sight of the crucial distinction he drew between mere toleration and true religious liberty. As he explained in the memorable letter to the Hebrew Congregation in Newport:

“All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights.”

But what would he have done about creeping sharia?

Posted under Commentary, liberty, United States, US Constitution by Jillian Becker on Monday, February 20, 2012

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Retrieving liberty 2

Just as happy events and the implementation of good ideas can bring unforeseen bad consequences, so dreadful events and the implementation of bad ideas can result in unexpected good.

Obama’s presidency and a Democratic majority in Congress have brought changes for the worse to America. But they have woken Americans up, reminding them of what their country has been and should be, and rousing many who had never yet felt a need to think about the way the country was governed, to an understanding of what is being taken away from them, and the value of what they had. They join and swell the Tea Party movement. They want to recall or know more about the origins and history of the United States. In the long run that means many more informed and aware citizens will be casting their votes for leaders who truly represent their interests and preserve their hard-won freedom. It would mean that the electorate will likely not make the same mistake again, not in a generation or two anyway, of empowering the enemies of the Constitution – such as Obama, Pelosi, Reid, and others of that kidney.

There’s a story in the Washington Post today that encourages the hope of such a reaction. It’s about hundreds of people gathering to watch “Revolutionary City” re-enactments in the historic area of Duke of Gloucester Street, Williamsburg, Virginia.

Here’s a part of it:

Amid the history buffs and parents with young children wandering along the crushed shell paths of Virginia’s restored colonial city [Williamsburg], some noticeably angrier and more politically minded tourists can often be found.

They stand in the crowd listening closely as the costumed actors relive dramatic moments in the founding of our country. They clap loudly when an actor portraying Patrick Henry delivers his “Give me liberty or give me death” speech. They cheer and hoot when Gen. George Washington surveys the troops behind the original 18th-century courthouse. And they shout out about the tyranny of our current government during scenes depicting the nation’s struggle for freedom from Britain.

“General, when is it appropriate to resort to arms to fight for our liberty?” asked a tourist on a recent weekday during “A Conversation with George Washington,” a hugely popular dialogue between actor and audience in the shaded backyard of Charlton’s Coffeehouse.

Standing on a simple wooden stage before a crowd of about 100, the man portraying Washington replied: “Only when all peaceful remedies have been exhausted. Or if we are forced to do so in our own self-defense.”

The tourist, a self-described conservative activist named Ismael Nieves from Elmer, N.J., nodded thoughtfully. Afterward, he said this was his fifth visit to Colonial Williamsburg.

“We live in a very dangerous time,” Nieves said. “People are looking for leadership, looking for what to do. They’re looking to Washington, Jefferson, Madison.”

“I want to get to know our Founding Fathers,” he added. “I think we’ve forgotten them. It’s like we’ve almost erased them from history.”

It’s a common point of view among tea party activists. They say their unhappiness with Washington reflects how far the federal government has strayed, through taxation and regulation, from the Founders’ intentions. …

The executives who oversee Williamsburg said they have noticed the influx of tea partiers, and have also noted a rise in the number of guests who ply the costumed actors for advice about how to rebel against 21st-century politicians. (The actors do their best to provide 18th-century answers.)

“If people . . . can recognize that subjects such as war and taxation, religion and race, were really at the heart of the situation in the 18th century, and there is some connection between what was going on then and what’s going on now, that’s all to the good,” said Colin Campbell, president and chairman of Colonial Williamsburg. “What happened in the 18th century here required engagement, and what’s required to preserve democracy in the 21st century is engagement. That is really our message.” …

If enough voters come to feel the same way, the Obama presidency will not have been an unmitigated disaster after all.

The Mount Vernon Statement 7

In the following report the names of conservative leaders who will be signing The Mount Vernon Statement today may be found. We have omitted them only to shorten our quotation.

What we also omit are these few words: ‘God, they say, is proudly mentioned – by name – in the Mount Vernon statement.’

We’ve cut them out because God is superfluous

The Framers of the Constitution saw no reason to put God into it, and they did not.

We believe wholeheartedly in the principles which The Mount Vernon Statement declares to be those of American conservatives, while not believing in God.

So plainly, though believers may not like this fact that we boldly and simply demonstrate, belief in a supernatural maker and law-giver is inessential to conservatism.

(In the document itself, God is referred to as ‘nature’s God’;  ie the ‘God’ which Spinoza and Einstein believed in, little more than a euphemism for ‘nature’s laws‘ – also mentioned – with which we have no quarrel.)

From Fox News:

More than 80 of the most influential and respected conservative grassroots leaders in the country plan to recommit themselves Wednesday to constitutional conservatism in an attempt to reunite and reground the movement, following a period when many thought conservatism was adrift.

They have named the document they will sign “The Mount Vernon Statement.” The signing ceremony is taking place at a library that was part of George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate.

The event comes on the eve of annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) which brings thousand of conservatives from around the country to Washington D.C. every year.

The long term goal at CPAC and of the Mount Vernon statement is reestablish First Principles of Constitutional Conservatism.

The more immediate goal is to galvanize — for maximum strength — the various factions of the movement in advance of the 2010 midterm elections.

The statement draws heavily on the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

It will speak directly to the three pillars of the modern movement: economic conservatives, social conservatives, and national security conservatives.

It will underscore the founding principle that constitutional self-government should be moral, responsible, and limited.

While some republicans have suggested in recent years that the GOP moderate it’s social views, or be more tolerant of government growth, or even accept bellicose tyranny overseas, conservatives argue now is the time for more backbone, not less.

Conservatives, republicans, right leaning independents, libertarians and teapartiers are searching for direction and leadership…listen up… today the leadership of some of the biggest grass roots conservative groups are speaking out. …

Organizers say no elected politicians are invited to this.

The signing ceremony harkens back to a similar event nearly 50 years ago at the home of the late William F Buckley in Sharon, Connecticut.

The Sharon Statement was penned at a meeting of 90 young conservatives as they created a group known as “Young Americans For Freedom.”

Their statement amounted to a guideline for young conservatives in the turbulent 60’s that individual liberty, limited government, a free-market, a strong economy, and strong defense are fundamental American ideals conservatives must defend.

There is no doubt today that conservatives again feel compelled to protect constitutional liberty anew.

This document seeks to be a conservative line in the sand against left-wing political advances during democratic control of Congress and the White House.

The Tea Party movement has shown full well that large swaths of previously disengaged Americans fear for the future of the republic.

Organizers say modern constitutional conservatism requires application of the rule of law to all proposals, advancing freedom, and opposing tyranny….

Conservatives now plan to directly challenge the notion that positive change in America means abandoning old ideas for new.

They assert instead that positive change means reaching back and re-embracing founding principles rather than rushing for new alternatives.

By late summer republican politicians in congress hope to lay out their 2010 election agenda.

Today conservatives grass roots leaders hope their Mount Vernon statement shows Republican politicians what should motivate them.

You can sign the document here.

On our masters and commanders 4

Why do some people want power over the lives of others?

Theodore Dalrymple writes in a discussion of privileged eduction in France and whether the state should provide ‘equality of opportunity’ – which is to say, a discussion of socialist thinking – that he is mystified by this question.

The heart of the problem lies in the unassailability of the term ‘equality of opportunity,’ and the unthinking assent it commands. I was once asked on Dutch TV whether I was in favour of it, the interviewer assuming that I must be so in spite of all my other appalling opinions; and when I said that I was not, and indeed that I thought it was a truly hideous notion, his eyes opened with surprise. I thought he was going to slip off his chair.

Only under conditions reminiscent of those of Brave New World could there be equality of opportunity. But, of course, the very unattainability of equality of opportunity (in any sense other than that of an absence of formal, legal impediments to social advance) is precisely what recommends it as an ideal to politicians such as President Sarkozy, and indeed to most other western politicians, virtually irrespective of their putative political stripe. The fact that, reform notwithstanding, there are always differences in outcomes for different groups or classes of human beings in any society means that there is always scope, in the name of equality of opportunity, for further interference and control by politicians and bureaucrats. Not permanent revolution (to change the communist metaphor from Stalinism to Trotskyism), but permanent reform is the modern western politico-bureaucratic class’s route to lasting power and control.

Why anyone should want lasting power and control is to me a mystery: I suppose it must be the answer to a deep and insatiable inner emptiness.

And Bill Whittle at PJTV (here) seeks an answer to the question: ‘What type of person wants to run for office?’ He cites two men in history who attained supreme power and did not cling to it. Each of them saw his position as a temporary job, the exercise of power as a duty he owed to the people, and when he had done what was needed, stepped down from high office and returned to private life. One was the (5th.century B.C.E.) Roman leader Cincinnatus, and the other was George Washington.

If there are any politicians now who consider taking on elected office only as a service, they would be found (and it’s really not very likely that they exist) on the conservative right. Leftist politicians want above all to command, manipulate, control people, even force them to change their nature. There’s an old and ongoing debate among political philosophers of the left as to whether The Revolution will bring about a transformation of human nature, or whether it is necessary for human nature to be reconstructed first in order for The Revolution to be accomplished. (An infamous example of a Commie who fretted over this artifiical problem is Herbert Marcuse, guru of the 1968 New Left in Europe.)

Right now, ‘progressive’ bureaucrats in New York see it as their  business – and of course their pleasure – to interfere not just in New Yorkers’ but the whole nation’s private lives by dictating what people may eat or not eat.

Daniel Compton writes in OpenMarket.org:

On Monday, city officials rolled out an initiative to curb the salt content in manufactured and packaged foods. But the idea behind it — that salt intake has reached extreme levels in America — is a myth, and this “solution” wouldn’t work, anyway.

City Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley aims to lead a national campaign to reduce the amount of salt in manufactured foods by 25 percent over the next five years. Cutting salt intake is supposed to reduce hypertension-related health problems. But while doctors may advise particular patients to cut down on salt, the science tells us that this is not a public-health problem. …

In other words, Farley’s trying to fight a problem that doesn’t exist. Worse, his new guidelines say that daily sodium intake for most people shouldn’t exceed 1,500 mg — which is a ridiculous 45 percent below the bottom of the normal consumption range [a] UC Davis study identified, and a full 60 percent lower than the worldwide average. …

The UC Davis study also cites surveys showing that sodium intake in the United Kingdom has “varied minimally” over the last 25 years, despite a major government campaign to reduce it.

Overall, the researchers found, salt intake “is unlikely to be malleable by public policy initiatives,” and attempts to change it would “expend valuable national and personal resources against unachievable goals.”

The New York guidelines are voluntary — for now. But the city’s ban on trans fats started that way, too. And the federal Food and Drug Administration has also been looking to get in on the action — it may classify it as a “food additive,” subject to regulation, sometime this year.

Then he comes to what all this regulation-for-our-own-good is really all about:

But this campaign isn’t about public health — it’s about grandstanding on a pseudo-issue ginned up by activists, when science clearly shows that there’s neither a crisis nor a way for the government to actually alter our salt intake.

All these initiatives do is win headlines for ambitious policymakers (New York’s last health commissioner parlayed his trans-fat activism into a promotion to FDA chief), while making food slightly more costly and leaving a bad taste in the mouths of consumers — literally.

Of course, if (or is it when?) the state is the sole provider of health care, it will claim justification for dictating to us what we may eat and how we must live, on the grounds that as it pays for our cures it has the right or the duty to instruct us to stay healthy. That’s why Obama and the Democrats so desperately want their health care legislation to be passed: not really to help keep us alive, but to have the means and the pretext for controlling us. As always with the left, they will boss us about in the name of a benign intention and an essential need.

The despotic personality is hard if not impossible for libertarians to understand. Individualists are appalled by the totalitarian vision of collectivists. Speaking for ourselves, in no conceivable circumstances would we want to organize a community. We find in the weakness of our unreconstructed human nature that it’s hard enough to run even one life – each our own.