Sunday, August 24, 2008

Please, trouble me with too much freedom.

Here's another nice little quote from Franklin. He was asked at the end of the Constitutional Convention what had been wrought. “A republic, if you can keep it.”
I'm also going to borrow from Jefferson real quick. “I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences of too much liberty than those attending too small a degree of it
Keep in mind also the quote from Franklin on liberty and security.
All three of these quotes can be seen as warnings from the two men most responsible for the philosophy and arguments that lead to the Declaration of Independence and the Revolutionary War. Benjamin Franklin was advocating more freedom and liberty from a very young age, and Thomas Jefferson was the foremost legal mind of his time. It was his arguments on the nature of Law and the British government that provided the Colonies with their philosophical and legal legitimacy.
Mike tells us to consider the Constitution in full. The purpose of the Constitution was to bring the many States of America together into a stronger Federation to ease trade and provide for the common defense. It was not a philosophical document, as was the Declaration, it was a legal one. It gave the enumerated order under which the States would be United into a true Federation. This is one of the major reasons that when speaking philosophically on the nature and purpose of Government, I'm likely to fall back on the Declaration or other works by Jefferson (and sometimes John Locke, Jefferson's inspiration) and not the Constitution.
Now, here a few questions that should probably be answered. Just what do we mean by 'republic?' A republic, in it's most basic form, is a form of government where the deciding body is meant to provide representation of the society as a whole, and the individuals of that body are representing particular sections of that society. I'm sure that most people, right here, are wondering just how that might differ from democracy. In a democracy, all governmental decisions are done through the whole of the population of citizens. In ancient Athens (the only known pure democracy I can remember right now) this was done by calling a meeting of the Senate, in which the group was the first people there up to a certain number. Day to day functions were carried out by offices chosen by lottery. The other major difference between democracy and a republic is that in a republican government, the government provides a check against the passing desires of the people to help ensure that all laws passed are good for the current and future society. This necessitates that the government itself is controlled through some action so as to not aggregate power to a particular person or body, or to the government in general. A country can call itself a 'Republic' very easy. But only when the government is in constant check against power aggregation can it be said to be an accurate statement (I'm looking at you, China).
So, what then does Franklin mean when he says that a republic has been wrought if we can only hold on to it? Franklin's meaning is quite clear: do not trust the government to keep itself in check. Don't give it an inch, for it will take a hundred miles (and desire a light-year). Yes, I mean that even the smallest power given to the government for the sake of 'order' (or 'the good' or 'the children') will lead to an ever increasing aggregation of power at the expense of our freedoms.
This leads me to the quote from Franklin on freedom and security. Mike calls it 'one of the most foolish things he ever said', and argues that because an amount of security is necessary to provide for freedom (true) it only follows to reason that some freedom be 'trimmed' such that security can be provided. However, he misses Franklin's warning. The trading of essential freedom for security provides the government that inch it needs, and so the taking begins. I'll use an example to express my meaning: the registration of sex offenders.
Seems like a good idea, right? Let people know that there is a serial pedophile in the neighborhood so that the people can protect themselves and their children from his perverted ways. I'm going to ignore for the time being the illogic of releasing a person that is still such a danger to society and others that his freedoms must be restricted in such a fashion. This is about government expansion, not about government incompetence. It started with serial pedophiles. Then serial rapists (okay, still good...) had to register. Then came those convicted of a single rape (uh...). And now? Now we're threatening twelve year olds with being put on the lists without trial or conviction because they swatted a female classmate's butt in play.
Want another one? Let's talk taxes. The Sixteenth Amendment confirmed that Congress could tax income at it's discretion (Congress had already attempted to do so and got struck down by the Supreme Court) in 1913. Originally, it was a set, flat tax of 4% on all earnings over $4,000. I don't know all the steps involved, but by the 1970s we had top tax rates at over 80%, and even today we have a single volume of law that counts over 66,000 pages and is enforced by the largest single agency of the United States government. This agency is so powerful that it can operate completely separate from judicial oversight, needs provide no evidence to charge, investigate, and begin prosecution for tax evasion. Not only that, but if an agent of the IRS provides you with incorrect tax advice, you, the citizen, are held accountable and can still be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
How about welfare? The first welfare program (still in effect, anyway) was the Families with Dependent Children program. It was designed to provide extra money to widows of World War II servicemen who had children. Today? Entitlement speeding totals over 1.7 trillion dollars, or about 62% of the Federal budget of approximately 2.9 trillion dollars. (That figure includes Medicare and Social Security, which total around 1 trillion and make up the bulk. This wouldn't be nearly so bad if we actually had a SS trust fund the way we were promised back in the '30s.)
This is exactly what Franklin's dual warnings are all about. We're loosing our republic because we allow power aggregation for the 'good' and for 'order'. And as we loose the republic, or freedoms go with it.
And with our freedoms, our security.
Please, trouble me with too much freedom.

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