The Consent of the Governed

 

Once again I’m looking at the Declaration. In the PowerPoint version of the Declaration, this would be one of the bullet points on the “We hold these truths to be self-evident” slide:

That to secure these rights Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,

“These rights” in question are the rights endowed by our Creator, including but not limited to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Governments exist to secure these rights. Seeing as Jefferson’s just assumed the reasons for the existence of government, I think we can pause for a bit to consider that idea.

The Purpose of a Just Government

The weakness inherent to any argument based on self-evident truths is that someone’s going to come along and claim something else. One can imagine an Ancient Egyptian political scientist arguing that the government, the army, the taxes, all that go to serve and perpetuate the divine Pharaoh. One could also imagine governments instituted to protect its constituents from the Hobbesian war of all against all.

I think trailing off down that rabbit hole is a mistake. We’re talking about a just government here. A government that merely exists to perpetuate itself doesn’t qualify. The next bullet point in the slide is about how it is the Right of the People (his capitals) to abolish governments that are destructive of those ends (‘those ends’ meaning securing the rights of the people). It was the Right of the Egyptian slave to rise up and throw off the tyranny of Pharaoh. One could introduce other governments, but the only ones worthy of being served are just ones. Ones which hold securing the fundamental rights of Man above any and all other objectives.

Note also that this provides a framework for judging government activities. The power to wage war, the police power, these things tie back to securing the citizen’s right to life. The National Endowment for the Arts? I’m not seeing it.

Their Just Powers

Moving on to the second half of the quote, the existence of ‘just’ powers implies the existence of unjust powers. Actually, the surprising thing ought to be that there are any just powers at all. The common lot of mankind has, since the beginning, included governments exercising unjust powers over their unfortunate minions. It’s a bit tautological, but let’s take any ‘just’ power to be one that secures those fundamental rights, and any unjust power to be one that’s exercised for any other purpose.

To take the obvious example, a nobleman exercising his droit du seigneur (not that there’s any evidence that that actually existed) would be using an unjust power since it infringes rather heavily on liberty. One could also see how taxes to beat the Axis would be a just application of the taxing power whereas taxes to fund the arts, however much we might like the arts, would not.

That Our King May Judge Us

For a government to derive its just powers from the consent of the governed then we’ve got to have some idea what it means that the governed are consenting. If you voted for the other guy then does the current office holder have your consent? What if you didn’t vote at all? Let’s take a minute and look at that bit from 1 Samuel I referenced up above:

 Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, “No, but we will have a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.”

Let’s say that two Israelites go to the newly-minted King to dispense justice. When the King renders his judgment one of them is going to win and the other is going to lose. Can the loser then declare that the judgment is illegitimate? Well, we know that anyone can and will declare any old thing, but in this case, he wouldn’t be right about it. (Unless the other guy slipped the King a little consideration on the side, but we’re not getting into that). Consent has to do with how the decision gets made; it has nothing to do with whether or not you like the outcome of the decision.

By the time you get to the voting booth, though, you’ve lost most of the options as to ‘who’. There are only two choices. And maybe (probably) you’re just voting for one because you like the other one less. And then that son-of-a-ballot goes and votes power to an awful agency, who uses it to make rules for how to run your life. Does the government still have your consent?

Jump back to the two Israelites. They mutually agreed to go to the King to dispense justice. The king exercises the government power of administering justice. He’s got the best possible claim to the consent of the governed — they’re standing right there consenting to this act. The awful agency from the last paragraph has a much worse claim on having the consent of the governed. By the time you’ve waded through the caveats you’re up to your neck in the D.C. Swamp. That metaphor might have gotten away from me a bit. Suffice to say that it’s impossible to get the same level of consent in a nation this large as in one where two nobodies can just waylay the king and ask him to hear a dispute.

Justice as a Function of Consent

I don’t think of the consent of the governed as if it’s a switch that just goes “on” and “off”. You can have more or less. The more say the people have in any government decision the greater that consent. And going back to the quote — if government derives its just powers from the consent of the governed — then justice has to depend on that consent. That can’t make an unjust action just, but it can make an otherwise good action illegitimate because the person taking that action doesn’t have the consent of the governed.

One can differentiate then between levels of consent that a given decision has. People vote for Congress, therefore Congress has a better claim on the consent of the governed than an agency empowered by Congress does.

Without trying to work out precisely where the government loses the consent of the governed we can still derive some interesting results from thinking of justice in that fashion. Note that these are all scored along a scale of “more just” or “less just”.

A) The Same Act Can Be More Just or Less Just Depending on Who Performs It

And here I’ve got to insert a quick apology; I try to keep the discussion as general as I can because I don’t want to get anyone stuck on a hobby-horse. I’d much rather you decide whether or not you agree with my logic than go haring off after an example. But this particular example illustrates the question so well…

Trump asks Congress to provide the funds to build a border wall. Congress declines. Trump declares an emergency and goes ahead and builds the wall anyway. Trump is acting off of authority that Congress delegated to the Executive to declare emergencies. Is this just? I’d argue that it’s less just because of the use of that emergency power. If Congress has the Constitutional authority then Congress ought to be the one using the power. Even if the President has the legal authority to use that power the fact that he’s doing it and not Congress moves it one step further from the consent of the governed, and hence makes it less just. That’s completely independent of whether or not you think a border wall is a good idea.

B) The More Local the Government the More Just the Action

If there’s any way that I can be said to be giving my consent to the government it’s when I cast my ballot. Consequently, my consent is proportional to the amount of influence my ballot had on events. (All cast ballots are treated as equal in this regard, winning and losing.) My vote has less influence on what the Congress does (seeing as it’s vying against every other vote in the nation) than it does on what the State Legislature does (where I’m only up against everyone else in Wisconsin.)

Consequently, the same action taken by the EPA is less just than that action taken by the state Department of Natural Resources; because the EPA is further from me, the governed, than the state DNR. This idea comes with a couple of corollaries:

  1. Any given problem of government should be solved at the lowest level of government possible.
  2. Constitutional restrictions ought to be at their strongest against the Federal government.

C) Primary Processes Ought to be as Transparent as Possible

Again, if I’m giving my consent to the government through the ballot then it stands to reason that the names that appear on that ballot are important. One can easily conjure up a Boss Tweed character who ensures that his guy always gets in office because all the names on the ballot are actually his guy. In that sense, Trump might be the most legitimate President we’ve had in a while. The way he was substantially different than all the other 2016 primary candidates gave the voters a larger range of choices than they usually get.

D) Acts of the Government may be Legal but Unjust Because of their Remove from the Consent of the Governed.

Jumping back to Jefferson for a moment:

He [George III] has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in a Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to Tyrants only.

For suspending our own Legislatures and declaring themselves [Parliament] invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

Parliament, which had a theoretical right to order the affairs of any Englishman, even if he wasn’t represented in the body itself is clearly a bridge too far for justice.

Back to the present hour, the regulatory shell game in the Capital. Congress writes a law to create an agency to regulate a thing. The agency is staffed by bureaucrats from who knows where doing who knows what. Their whims still have the force of law. You can go to jail for neglecting them. But they still have the consent of the governed because somewhere down the chain the voters voted for something?

It is my opinion that Congress delegating the ability to write laws to agencies is fundamentally unjust. The Constitution should be amended to forbid Congress from delegating its powers to any other.

A couple of corollaries on this point as well:

  1. The power to write laws was not assigned to judges. Judges should therefore only pay attention to the law and the Constitution. For example, the Judge overturning Proposition 8 in California should not have done so, whether or not he or I think that referendum was a good idea or not.
  2. A deep state which ignores the voters becomes unjust because it’s completely cut off from the consent of the governed regardless of how wholesome their actions may be.

A Note on Unfettered Democracy Before I Go

All along I’ve been assuming a republican form of government. If justice is a function of the consent of the governed then shouldn’t we cut out the middle man and live by mob rule? By no means!

The consent of the governed is a necessary but not sufficient condition for an act of the government to be just. Suspending elections is unjust whether or not you have the people’s consent. Similarly the typical example of Athenian democracy voting to deploy an admiral and then voting to execute him, that’s unjust even if everyone wanted it.

I remain perfectly open to the arguments for the republican government to act as a check on the mob. I should note that whenever one acts as a check against the will of the people that one should take great care. It’s one thing to temper the more violent passions of the mob; it’s quite another to decide that all their ideas are wrong and you should steer the government by your will alone.

Speaking of which, one final caveat. All the above assumes good and faithful public servants. An action taken for corrupt reasons does not become just because that person had the Constitutional authority to take that action.

Revolution

Jefferson’s last self-evident truth states

That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and institute new Government, laying it’s foundations on such principles and organizing its powers in such forms, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

One of those things about our totems of patriotism like the Declaration of Independence is that we occasionally forget that it’s talking about something so revolutionary as… well, revolution. Jefferson is laying out these self-evident truths because he’s going to demonstrate that ‘the present King of Great Britain’ has ‘become destructive of these ends’. An unjust government gets altered or abolished. While it’s a mistake to take any modicum of injustice and declare it cause to overthrow the system, it should also be noted that patience with an injustice does not mean countenancing it forever.

This is another reason I worry that civil war is inevitable.

There are 23 comments.

  1. James Gawron Thatcher

    Hank Rhody, Meddling Cowpoke: If there’s any way that I can be said to be giving my consent to the government it’s when I cast my ballot. Consequently my consent is proportional to amount of influence my ballot had on events. (All cast ballots are treated as equal in this regard, winning and losing.) My vote has less influence on what the Congress does (seeing as it’s vying against every other vote in the nation) than it does on what the State Legislature does (where I’m only up against everyone else in Wisconsin.)

    Hank,

    Recently, I have come to the conclusion that instead of seeing “the consent of the governed” as a kind of pure democracy active governing by the people, it makes more sense to consider your vote as the veto power of the people. Either the government does a decent job representing the interests of the people or it will get booted out of office. I know this seems like a lower test of “the consent of the governed” but I think in application it focuses us on a more realistic assessment of what really goes on.

    My major interest recently is the EU. An obvious test for my version of the consent of the governed is whether the Supreme executive of a governing body is subject to the people’s veto (direct election). Juncker can do whatever he likes because he will never face reelection never having been elected in the first place. The EU’s behavior to Great Britain, Poland, Italy, and a host of other member state examples over the last 20 years has been brutal and dismissive. If the EU executive had been faced with the need for reelection by all of the people of the so-called United States of Europe, I am quite sure the behavior would have been quite different.

    The consent of the governed = the people’s veto = an election. Well, it isn’t as poetic as Thomas Jefferson but it gets the point across.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #1
    • March 5, 2019, at 8:27 AM PDT
    • 8 likes
  2. Hank Rhody, on the blockchain Contributor

    James Gawron (View Comment):
    My major interest recently is the EU. An obvious test for my version of the consent of the governed is whether the Supreme executive of a governing body is subject to the people’s veto (direct election). Juncker can do whatever he likes because he will never face reelection never having been elected in the first place. The EU’s behavior to Great Britain, Poland, Italy, and a host of other member state examples over the last 20 years has been brutal and dismissive. If the EU executive had been faced with the need for reelection by all of the people of the so-called United States of Europe, I am quite sure the behavior would have been quite different.

    Indeed. I worry mostly about America, but the question applies just as well to the EU.

    • #2
    • March 5, 2019, at 8:33 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  3. Matt Balzer, Imperialist Claw Member

    Hank Rhody, Meddling Cowpoke: This is another reason I worry that civil war is inevitable.

    Or perhaps we’re already in one and we don’t realize it yet.

    • #3
    • March 5, 2019, at 8:35 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  4. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… Member

    Good post.

    I do not agree that the more local the government, the more just the action. There are costs and benefits to this approach. State and local governments are more subject to capture by special interests, as they are smaller units, and are much more apt to be parochial and enact laws and regulations that favor insiders over outsiders. I agree that there are some benefits to state or local control over certain issues, but the idea that it is always better to push regulation down to the lowest feasible level, advocated notably by Jonah Goldberg, often strikes me as a way of avoiding difficult decisions. There is a serious risk of balkanization that must be balanced against the problems of central control.

    I think that the “liberty” and “pursuit of happiness” portions of the formulation in the Declaration, while a high-sounding turn of phrase, must be understood rather narrowly. Otherwise, there is no basis for law or regulation at all, which was not the intent.

    • #4
    • March 5, 2019, at 8:35 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  5. Hank Rhody, on the blockchain Contributor

    Arizona Patriot (View Comment):
    State and local governments are more subject to capture by special interests, as they are smaller units, and are much more apt to be parochial and enact laws and regulations that favor insiders over outsiders.

    Hank Rhody, Meddling Cowpoke: All the above assumes good and faithful public servants. An action taken for corrupt reasons does not become just because that person had the Constitutional authority to take that action.

    A highway town setting up a speed trap in order to fleece passers-by is unjust before you get to the question of the consent of the governed.

    If there’s a class of problems which can’t be solved at the local level then I could see kicking it up a level and seeing if it could be solved there. If you’re arguing that all local government is subject to capture then I think I’m going to have to default to “it’s subject to re-capture as well”.

    • #5
    • March 5, 2019, at 8:47 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  6. Hank Rhody, on the blockchain Contributor

    Arizona Patriot (View Comment):
    I think that the “liberty” and “pursuit of happiness” portions of the formulation in the Declaration, while a high-sounding turn of phrase, must be understood rather narrowly. Otherwise, there is no basis for law or regulation at all, which was not the intent.

    Probably. But great attention should be paid to that definition too. Otherwise there is no basis for law or regulation at all.

    • #6
    • March 5, 2019, at 8:57 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  7. Hank Rhody, on the blockchain Contributor

    Matt Balzer, Imperialist Claw (View Comment):

    Hank Rhody, Meddling Cowpoke: This is another reason I worry that civil war is inevitable.

    Or perhaps we’re already in one and we don’t realize it yet.

    For what it’s worth Trump’s election slowed down my estimate for when a Civil war would strike.

    The fact that Trump won means there’s political spoils to be divided among the Republican party. If Trump had lost the party would have split. Moreso than it has anyhow. 

     

    • #7
    • March 5, 2019, at 9:02 AM PDT
    • Like
  8. Mark Camp Member

    You make familiar arguments, but also give answers to self-evident questions that are often ignored, or regarded by cynics as fatally unanswerable questions for any people trying to form a true republic.

    I agree strongly with everything you said, at least after a first reading.

    But the most powerful points regarded the answers which are needed to the hard questions. Your answers acknowledge that there are more‘s and less‘s in the definitions of consent and justice, especially.

    Americans didn’t just create the one principled nation on earth. They also created a nation that was pragmatical about the incomplete knowability or the regrettable imperfection of principles that apply to forming a government in the real world.

    You captured that very well.

    • #8
    • March 5, 2019, at 9:03 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  9. Hank Rhody, on the blockchain Contributor

    Mark Camp (View Comment):
    Americans didn’t just create the one principled nation on earth. They also created a nation that was pragmatical about the incomplete knowability or the regrettable imperfection of principles that apply to forming a government in the real world.

    Once again, the answer can be found in the Declaration.

    Prudence indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience has shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government and provide new Guards for their future security.

    I don’t mind taking a pragmatic approach to getting a better government. I don’t mind it (as much) when politicians are simply wrong about things. As long as they’re not disastrously, socialistically, wrong about things. I do very much mind when governments move to disallow interference from the common man. The EU’s structure that Mr. Gawron brought up above, for example.

    • #9
    • March 5, 2019, at 9:17 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  10. Old Bathos Member

    Dude, the Declaration and the Constitution are like so five minutes ago. Shouldn’t government like do good stuff, take care of stuff and all so we don’t have to get all into it and have free speech imposed on us and have corporations and rich people allowed to talk to Congress and judges. The whole politics and elections thing seems so totally in the way of getting stuff .

    • #10
    • March 5, 2019, at 10:03 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  11. James Gawron Thatcher

    Hank Rhody, Meddling Cowpoke (View Comment):

    Mark Camp (View Comment):
    Americans didn’t just create the one principled nation on earth. They also created a nation that was pragmatical about the incomplete knowability or the regrettable imperfection of principles that apply to forming a government in the real world.

    Once again, the answer can be found in the Declaration.

    Prudence indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience has shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government and provide new Guards for their future security.

    I don’t mind taking a pragmatic approach to getting a better government. I don’t mind it (as much) when politicians are simply wrong about things. As long as they’re not disastrously, socialistically, wrong about things. I do very much mind when governments move to disallow interference from the common man. The EU’s structure that Mr. Gawron brought up above, for example.

    Hank,

    Ahhh…I really like the passage you’ve quoted from the Declaration. I call it the Prudence Passage. Really it is also expressing my sense of Democracy in general. Wise people do not run around having revolutions at the drop of a hat. However, “when a long train of abuses…” then it’s time to act. The same might be said of the electoral process. Wise people do not vote their congressperson out for no reason just to see a new pretty face (or right gender, right color, right ethnic background..etc.) However, “when a long train of abuses…” like ignoring their interests and values becomes clear. Then it is time to give your congressperson the boot.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #11
    • March 5, 2019, at 10:18 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  12. Misthiocracy grudgingly Member

    One issue is that (oftentimes) the people with the most power to govern the lives of individual Americans don’t think of themselves as “the government” but instead think of themselves as “the governed”.

    For example, the federal civil service. They would like to do all sorts of things they aren’t allowed to do but they cannot because their actions are limited (i.e. governed) by the President, even though they did not provide consent to be so governed.

    Many (most?) of ’em don’t get that they are the government, and the President is delegated by the voters to provide or withhold the consent of the people.

    • #12
    • March 5, 2019, at 11:19 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  13. philo Member

    An excellent read from start to finish. I cannot resist a little additional context on, not only the details you dive into but, the overall construct and content (but clearly not the poetic license) of The Declaration as being long-established and broadly “self evident” (at least among the thinking Revolutionary Class):

    Historians generally agree that Jefferson was picked to draft the Declaration of Independence principally because of his writing skills, but also because the more prominent men in the endgame, John Adams and R. H. Lee, had seemingly greater tasks to perform… – Page 433-434

    In 1822, reacting to a comment by Adams that “there is not an idea in it but what had been hackneyed in Congress for two years before,” the Virginian did not disagree. … … – Page 435

    Or, as I like to say: “Let the young lad who talks so pretty write this stuff down while we get back to work.” (Sorry, could resist a favorite jab at one of the worst Vice Presidents we ever had…and that bar is very low.)

    Seriously though, a full year before the famous Declaration, another document was largely penned by Mr. Jefferson titled: Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms. (I guess timing and proper marketing are key.) And the litany of abuses continued to mature from there:

    In the spring of 1776, Jefferson was again drawn to Virginia, which was about to draft a constitution to guide its independent and republican future. Here his “black Catalogue of unprovoked injuries” moved center stage, because the king had to be made tyrant enough to justify revolution. …much of the indictment quickly reappeared in his Philadelphia drafts of the Declaration of Independence. – Page 434

    But I prefer to go back yet another half year (early 1775) to The Farmer Refuted by Alexander Hamilton (a personal favorite). I will come back to it more extensively in my next comment, but here I just want to add that where you say “Parliament, which had a theoretical right to order the affairs of any Englishman, even if he wasn’t represented in the body itself is clearly a bridge too far for justice,” Hamilton’s long, rambling document spells out the extreme complexities across the colonies associated with that somewhat simplified historical reference. At 53 pages as I printed it out, it is quite a slog but well worth the read.

    • #13
    • March 5, 2019, at 2:36 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  14. Hank Rhody, on the blockchain Contributor

    philo (View Comment):
    At 53 pages as I printed it out, it is quite a slog but well worth the read.

    I’ve slogged through more pages for less value. I’ll give it a read.

    There’s a great deal that can be learned from reading the Declaration itself, but one is often left head-scratching over some of the references.

    For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighboring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries, so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule in these Colonies:

    Clearly he’s referring to the neighboring province of C_______.

    • #14
    • March 5, 2019, at 2:49 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  15. Hank Rhody, on the blockchain Contributor

    philo (View Comment):
    But I prefer to go back yet another half year (early 1775) to The Farmer Refuted by Alexander Hamilton (a personal favorite).

    This thing is fantastic!

    I should, almost, deem the animadversions, I am going to make, unnecessary, were it not, that, without them, you might exult in a fancied victory, and arrogate to yourself imaginary trophies.

    Someone was wrong on the internet.

    Candour obliges me to acknowledge, that you possess every accomplishment of a polemical writer, which may serve to dazzle and mislead superficial and vulgar minds; a peremptory dictatorial air, a pert vivacity of expression, an inordinate passion for conceit, and a noble disdain of being fettered by the laws of truth. These, Sir, are important qualifications, and these all unite in you, in a very eminent degree.

    You’d get smacked down by the CoC talking to someone this way on Ricochet, but I could read that all day.

    • #15
    • March 5, 2019, at 3:02 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  16. Matt Balzer, Imperialist Claw Member

    Hank Rhody, Meddling Cowpoke (View Comment):

    philo (View Comment):
    But I prefer to go back yet another half year (early 1775) to The Farmer Refuted by Alexander Hamilton (a personal favorite).

    This thing is fantastic!

    I should, almost, deem the animadversions, I am going to make, unnecessary, were it not, that, without them, you might exult in a fancied victory, and arrogate to yourself imaginary trophies.

    Someone was wrong on the internet.

    Candour obliges me to acknowledge, that you possess every accomplishment of a polemical writer, which may serve to dazzle and mislead superficial and vulgar minds; a peremptory dictatorial air, a pert vivacity of expression, an inordinate passion for conceit, and a noble disdain of being fettered by the laws of truth. These, Sir, are important qualifications, and these all unite in you, in a very eminent degree.

    You’d get smacked down by the CoC talking to someone this way on Ricochet, but I could read that all day.

    The last thing I want to hear about is your pert vivacity of expression.

    • #16
    • March 5, 2019, at 3:06 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  17. philo Member

    Hank Rhody, Meddling Cowpoke: Their Just Powers

    A wonderful section of your report. Here is where I wanted to pull in some selective Hamilton greatness (in my humble opinion) from the document I mentioned earlier:

    Hence, in this state of nature [inviolable right to personal liberty, and personal safety], no man has any moral power to deprive another of his life, limbs, property, or liberty; nor the least authority to command, or exact obedience from him; except that which arose from the ties of consanguinity.

    Hence also, the origin of all civil government, justly established, must be a voluntary compact, between the rulers and the ruled; and must be liable to such limitations, as are necessary for the security of the absolute rights of the latter; for what original title can any man or set of men have, to govern others, except their own consent? To usurp dominion over a people, in their own despite, or to grasp at a more extensive power than they are willing to entrust, is to violate that law of nature, which gives every man a right to his personal liberty; and can, therefore, confer no obligation of obedience.

    When the first principles of civil society are violated, and the rights of a whole people are invaded, the common forms of municipal law are not to be regarded…In short, when human laws contradict or discountenance the means, which are necessary to preserve the essential rights of any society, they defeat the proper end of all laws, and so become null and void. – Alexander Hamilton, The Farmer Refuted (1775)

    I always note the inclusion of “property” in the list of inalienable rights here and throughout his document. I often feel that the trade for this at the loss of a little poetic flow in The Declaration would have been worth it.

    But it is the passage about “…or to grasp at a more extensive power than they are willing to entrust, is to violate that law of nature, … and can, therefore, confer no obligation of obedience” that I like to focus on. As I read that, he doesn’t say “to take” or “to assume” more power, just to grasp at…to exhibit the willingness to take without permission…may be sufficient to void the just powers or presumption of authority under the voluntary compact. Hot headed? Immature? Maybe, but what a concept. I don’t think the current beltway class would be so cavalier about doing such violence to my/our rights if there were some real consequences involved. Alas, I don’t think that Hamiltonian spirit exists anymore. Modern Americans prefer silly musicals and only top tier statesmen (or stateswomen) like this:

    • #17
    • March 5, 2019, at 3:06 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  18. John Hanson Thatcher

    Hank Rhody, Meddling Cowpoke: A) The Same Act Can Be More Just or Less Just Depending on Who Performs It

    I have concerns over the meaning of this. I can agree with your logic that congress would be more just.

    But if we extend beyond a definition of “who” meaning different government parts defined by the constitution with particular powers and extend to two persons holding the same office (allowed by the common meaning of A), the definition fails.

    For example Obama or Trump to say if Obama did this, it is more “just” than if Trump does that, with the same issue, then this extension is fatally flawed relying on personalities and /or ideology rather than principle.

    • #18
    • March 6, 2019, at 2:56 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  19. Western Chauvinist Member

    This is just excellent, Hank.

    But, at the risk of derailing the conversation (forgive me!), I have to point out that, if the role of government is to secure our God-given rights, and if Congress has failed over decades to secure our national and individual sovereignty (life, liberty, property) by securing the border from illegal invasions crossings, isn’t it “just” for the President (whoever he is) to exercise his legal authority to do so? He, also, has sworn to uphold the Constitution.

    • #19
    • March 6, 2019, at 8:09 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  20. Hank Rhody, on the blockchain Contributor

    John Hanson (View Comment):

    Hank Rhody, Meddling Cowpoke: A) The Same Act Can Be More Just or Less Just Depending on Who Performs It

    I have concerns over the meaning of this. I can agree with your logic that congress would be more just.

    But if we extend beyond a definition of “who” meaning different government parts defined by the constitution with particular powers and extend to two persons holding the same office (allowed by the common meaning of A), the definition fails.

    For example Obama or Trump to say if Obama did this, it is more “just” than if Trump does that, with the same issue, then this extension is fatally flawed relying on personalities and /or ideology rather than principle.

    Fair point and acknowledged. I’ve got no intention of getting caught up in a cult of personality, whomsoever is leading it.

    • #20
    • March 6, 2019, at 8:17 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  21. Randy Weivoda Moderator

    Arizona Patriot (View Comment):
    I agree that there are some benefits to state or local control over certain issues, but the idea that it is always better to push regulation down to the lowest feasible level, advocated notably by Jonah Goldberg, often strikes me as a way of avoiding difficult decisions.

    One way or another, someone will be making the decisions, the question is who. Since the people of Bugtussle, Kentucky or rural Michigan probably don’t want to live under regulations that the people of San Franciso favor, doesn’t it make for the satisfaction of a greater number of people to let issues be decided as locally as possible? Then the people of Bugtussle and San Francisco can both be happier than when there is one rule for the entire country. It seems to me that the founders of the country wanted a federal government with limited powers, and it wasn’t because they didn’t want to have to make difficult decisions.

    • #21
    • March 9, 2019, at 12:45 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  22. The Reticulator Member

    Randy Weivoda (View Comment):

    Arizona Patriot (View Comment):
    I agree that there are some benefits to state or local control over certain issues, but the idea that it is always better to push regulation down to the lowest feasible level, advocated notably by Jonah Goldberg, often strikes me as a way of avoiding difficult decisions.

    One way or another, someone will be making the decisions, the question is who. Since the people of Bugtussle, Kentucky or rural Michigan probably don’t want to live under regulations that the people of San Franciso favor, doesn’t it make for the satisfaction of a greater number of people to let issues be decided as locally as possible? Then the people of Bugtussle and San Francisco can both be happier than when there is one rule for the entire country. It seems to me that the founders of the country wanted a federal government with limited powers, and it wasn’t because they didn’t want to have to make difficult decisions.

    If by “avoiding difficult decisions” we mean avoiding situations where we cram uniform rules down the throats of unwilling citizens, then yes, pushing regulation to the local level is a way of avoiding difficult decisions. And that’s a good thing.

    • #22
    • March 9, 2019, at 1:18 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  23. CarolJoy, Above Top Secret Coolidge

    Hank Rhody, Meddling Cowpoke (View Comment):

    James Gawron (View Comment):
    My major interest recently is the EU. An obvious test for my version of the consent of the governed is whether the Supreme executive of a governing body is subject to the people’s veto (direct election). Juncker can do whatever he likes because he will never face reelection never having been elected in the first place. The EU’s behavior to Great Britain, Poland, Italy, and a host of other member state examples over the last 20 years has been brutal and dismissive. If the EU executive had been faced with the need for reelection by all of the people of the so-called United States of Europe, I am quite sure the behavior would have been quite different.

    Indeed. I worry mostly about America, but the question applies just as well to the EU.

    Most people in the USA have no idea that the top officials in the EU are often the very people who could not win in elections in their home country. These officials get appointed, not elected. That aspect of the EU needs an overhauling.

    • #23
    • March 9, 2019, at 11:40 PM PDT
    • 4 likes