Published Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Should your personal life be an affair of state? That’s what divides libertarians and true conservatives from the modern Jacobins who falsely wear the label of "liberal" or "moderate."

The libertarian/true-conservative position is that your private and personal affairs are not the business of the state as long as you refrain from applying force or fraud against your fellow citizens. The Jacobin position is that your life belongs to the state and that your personal interests may be sacrificed for the common good, which, of course, the Jacobins will define.

The most recent example was the U.S. Supreme Court decision that the state may take your property, not for any traditional public purpose, such as a school or road, but simply because the politicians want to hand it over to developers who will put more expensive buildings on it. The fact that a family might have worked a lifetime to acquire their home or small business, faithfully paid their taxes and obeyed the laws means nothing. To the Jacobin, the end always justifies the means.

Jefferson Davis, one of America’s greatest statesmen, said after the Northern victory that a question settled by force will always arise again in another form and in another time. He was right. The same division that was present at the Constitutional Convention, that was argued almost continuously during the early days of the republic and that led to war between the North and South remains with us yet.

That question is: Do you want a strong central government or a weak central government acting as an agent for sovereign states with clearly defined and limited powers? The North stood for the central government, the South for the confederation. Unfortunately, manpower and industrial might decided the issue in favor of a centralized government. Just as several Confederate leaders predicted, this quickly evolved into empire and imperial wars.

The next war was indeed a war for empire – the Spanish-American War – and was immediately followed by another war that put the lie to the claim of liberating people from Spain. That war was the Philippine Insurrection, in which we crushed those who wanted true independence. It was, by the way, far bloodier than the war against a very weak Spain. Every war since has been a clash of empires, including World War II.

What Americans need to realize is that it is impossible to increase government power without decreasing individual liberty. Government power, after all, means coercing people into doing some things and into refraining from doing other things. Every law says to the citizen, "You must," or "You shall not." Thus, liberty is lost incrementally, law by law. Dictatorships do not arise from dictators’ telling people what terrible things they plan to do; all dictatorial power is built on a promise of good things – safety, security and prosperity.

Power rests either with the people or with the government; it cannot reside in both at the same time. Power is like electricity and is never still. It is always flowing in one direction or the other. Power is more seductive and addictive than cocaine. These are basic principles based on human nature and are as true today as they were in classical Rome.

As a true conservative with a strong libertarian streak, I fear government more than terrorists and criminals. Random acts by random individuals with no army and no air force can be dealt with much more easily than actions by a government backed up by military and police power. In recent years, federal law enforcement has expanded to the point where there is now an equivalent of five military divisions armed and invested with the power to make arrests.

The problem with freedom is that it is a two-sided coin. On one side is the liberty to make decisions; on the other is responsibility. I pray we have not reached the point where more Americans fear responsibility than love liberty. As many have said before, those willing to sacrifice freedom for security will end up with neither.

Copyright © 2005 The Columbia Daily Tribune

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