Welfare state should not be an option
In a previous piece, I discussed the tragedy of the graduated income tax as an example of how the improper, yes, even immoral, use of government power has degraded our constitutional system of enumerated powers and individual rights.
The second American tragedy was the imposition of military conscription – the draft. Begun by President Lincoln during the Civil War, it is yet another example of our willingness to allow government to use violence against its own citizens in order to accomplish a goal, which in more cases than not, wasn’t in the vital interest of the United States.
Yes, it is in our interest to be protected from foreign enemies, and the Constitution empowers the government to raise an army, but never specified conscription as the means.
In most cases, the reason for its use was to allow the government to pursue a war when the expense of raising a paid volunteer army would have been prohibitive (Civil War and World War I come to mind).
What makes this particularly tragic is that we fought a civil war to abolish involuntary servitude (see the 13th Amendment), yet when conscription was finally challenged in World War I, the august justices of the Supreme Court refused to even consider the 13th Amendment as applying to the case (Arver v. U.S., 245 U.S. 366), pleading instead that the need for emergency powers trumped all other considerations.
The third tragedy is the abuse of the rule of law. Ignoring the limitations of the enumerated powers and explicit and implicit individual rights and protections in our Constitution, all three branches of government have embarked on using the law (actually thousands upon thousands of laws) for the purpose of accomplishing social goals and what some groups consider the perfection of society.
I humbly submit that the purpose of the law should be to deal with criminality, protect the rights of the individual, and provide a means for settling disputes. Any other use of legislation should be considered an abuse.
Beginning in the second half of the 19th century, with the impetus of the philosophical movements of pragmatism and utilitarianism of John Dewey, William James et al., and the political progressives, the limitations and protections of the Constitution were torn asunder by legislators and jurists alike with various group interests being favored or disfavored with impunity.
Many of our implicit rights (see the all-important 9th Amendment) which previous courts had held sacrosanct, like the inviolability of voluntary contracts, went by the wayside in this period. Current attempts to persuade banks to adjust mortgage terms pale beside the Supreme Court decisions in the 1930s supporting state laws which simply prohibited foreclosures.
In almost every case in which important rights and protections were abrogated, the court did not rely on precedent, but instead ignored precedent and offered new justifications and rationalizations that were based on progressive notions of how things ought to be. The entire New Deal command-and-control economy was based on such notions.
Now, despite the fact that this an opinion piece, let me make this assertion: The concept that our Constitution was primarily intended as a restraint on governmental powers and mandated a very limited government is fact, not opinion. Anyone who reads both the document and the expressed philosophy of the founders and comes to any other conclusion is guilty of gross intellectual dishonesty.
Liberals, leftists and progressives frequently hang their hat on the so-called “general welfare clause” in the preamble to justify the leviathan government we have. Read what James Madison, a pre-eminent founder, had to say in a 1789 communication to Congress on the occasion of vetoing some proposals for the general welfare:
“If Congress can employ money indefinitely to the general welfare, and are the sole judges of the general welfare, they may take the care of religion in to their own hands; they may appoint teachers in every state, county, and parish and pay them out of the public treasury; they may take into their own hands the education of children, establishing in like manner schools throughout the Union; they may assume the provision of the poor … Were the power of Congress to be established in the latitude contended for, it would subvert the very foundations, and transmute the very nature of the limited government established by the people of America.”
It is indeed time for a change, but not the kind proposed by a Hillary Clinton or an Barack Obama, for their thinking is the incarnation of all our tragedies.
Rob Chrisman lives in Nevada City.
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