Monday, April 27, 2009

Why the "Land of the Free" can't be free

From John Stuart Mill's "Representative Government"

Thus a people may prefer a free government, but if, from indolence, or carelessness, or cowardice, or want of public spirit, they are unequal to the exertions necessary for preserving it; if they will not fight for it when it is directly attacked; if they can be deluded by the artifices used to cheat them out of it; if by momentary discouragement, or temporary panic, or a fit of enthusiasm for an individual, they can be induced to lay their liberties at the feet even of a great man, or trust him with powers which enable him to subvert their institutions; in all these cases they are more or less unfit for liberty.


Our great sins begin with apathy, extend to aversion, and fall finally to ignorance and greed. How many times do we hear about the "intent of the Framers" of the Constitution as an argument towards broadening the powers of government? Are we so foolish as to believe, and so blind not to read? Today we cling to the feeble protection of the Bill of Rights, as if these amendments were ever the sole barrier between Liberty and government run amok. But hear what the Framers said who didn't even want to include the Bill of Rights:

I go further, and affirm that bills of rights, in the sense and in the extent in which they are contended for, are not only unnecessary in the proposed constitution, but would even be dangerous. They would contain various exceptions to powers which are not granted; and on this very account, would afford a colorable pretext to claim more than were granted. For why declare that things shall not be done which there is no power to do? Why for instance, should it be said, that the liberty of the press shall not be restrained, when no power is given by which restrictions may be imposed? I will not contend that such a provision would confer a regulating power; but it is evident that it would furnish, to men disposed to usurp, a plausible pretense for claiming that power.


Alexander Hamilton in The Federalist No. 84.

No comments: