The Danger Of A Government With Unlimited Power

Capitol Hill Coffee House

The Obama administration continues the nation’s travels, since Franklin Roosevelt’s socialist New Deal

in the 1930s, along what Friedrich von Hayek called The Road To Serfdom.

The fundamental thrust of liberal-progressive-socialist governments such as that of President Obama is to abrogate the rights of private property, aiming at the holy grail of their secular religion: redistribution of income and wealth to reduce everyone to an equally low state of economic equality.
But people don’t readily abandon what they have labored to earn and save.  As Lenin purportedly said, “Socialism emanates from the business end of a gun barrel.” Hence the relentless push of liberal-progressives to expand the power of collectivized government in Washington.

The case can be made that, of all our rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights, the Fifth Amendment’s private property rights are the most important.  People who are secure in their own property can maintain their rights to free speech and other aspects of constitutional government.  People in a collectivized, socialistic government lose the will and the ability to fight for their rights.  They slowly sink into dependence upon the political state, just as the German Empire’s Chancellor Otto von Bismarck anticipated when he enacted the world’s first systematic welfare-state program.

Private property rights were formalized as early as 1215 in Magna Carta, then in England’s 1628 Petition of Right and its 1689 English Bill of Rights, the most fundamental elements of the British constitution.
The rights of private property were the defining characteristic of England that set her apart from all other nations.  Those rights were the foundation of the unique individualism of English people, an individualism that took firm root in the colonies.  They were essential foundations of the Constitution when it was written in 1787.
For other commentary on our original conception of limited constitutional government, see:
The Constitution vs Unlimited Federal Power
“Freedom” Brings Servility
Contempt for the Constitution
Equality vs Liberty
Ivy League Realism (a discussion of the doctrine of legal realism that has driven judicial activism, one of the major agents for undermining our original Constitution)

Tom Emerson alerted me to George Will’s essay contrasting the original constitutional understanding, exemplified in James Madison, and the liberal-progressive-socialist understanding, exemplified in the presidency of Woodrow Wilson.

Quotes from Mr. Will’s essay:

…Lyndon Johnson, an FDR protege, promised that government would provide Americans with “purpose” and “meaning.”

President Johnson’s hubristic promise necessarily implies that the secular political state, not our Judeo-Christian Lord God, is humanity’s ultimate salvation.  It is a repetition of the Old Testament’s repeated worship of false gods by kings of Israel and Judah, leading always to terrible retribution.
Providing people with purpose and meaning was never thought to be within the power or function of secular government.  Purpose and meaning was historically to be found in the realm of the metaphysical: philosophy and spiritual religion.

…Lacking a limiting principle, progressivism cannot say how big the welfare state should be but must always say that it should be bigger than it currently is. Furthermore, by making a welfare state a fountain of rights requisite for democracy, progressives in effect declare that democratic deliberation about the legitimacy of the welfare state is illegitimate.

“By blackening the skies with crisscrossing dollars,” Voegeli says, the welfare state encourages people “to believe an impossibility: that every household can be a net importer of the wealth redistributed by the government.” But the welfare state’s problem, today becoming vivid, is socialism’s problem, as Margaret Thatcher defined it: Socialist governments “always run out of other people’s money.”

Wilsonian government, meaning (in Wilson’s words) government with “unstinted power,” is hostile to Madison’s Constitution, which, Madison said*, obliges government “to control itself.”

* James Madison, Federalist 51, February 6, 1788 (extract)
…But the great security against a gradual concentration of the several powers in the same department, consists in giving to those who administer each department the necessary constitutional means and personal motives to resist encroachments of the others. The provision for defense must in this, as in all other cases, be made commensurate to the danger of attack. Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.


One thought on “The Danger Of A Government With Unlimited Power

  1. You write: “The case can be made that, of all our rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights, the Fifth Amendment’s private property rights are the most important.”

    John Adams would likely agree with you: “The moment the idea is admitted into society that property is not as sacred as the laws of God, and that there is not a force of law and public justice to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence. If “Thou shalt not covet” and “Thou shalt not steal” were not commandments of Heaven, they must be made inviolable precepts in every society before it can be civilized or made free.” A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s