Independence Day about natural rights, not privileges bestowed by politicians

Photo courtesy Fabi Fliervoet, flickr

Photo courtesy Fabi Fliervoet, flickr

On July Fourth, Americans celebrate the ideals of the Declaration of Independence — life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But these three principles aside, we often forget the underlying, truly radical ideas the Declaration is built upon.

The Fourth of July isn’t just about feel-good words and ideas that politicians invoke to gain the “consent of the governed.” Independence Day is about the freedom and duty of citizens to assert our natural rights — rights that are ours because we are human beings, not privileges bestowed upon us by the authorities.

It’s easy to forget that radical notion, that governments derive “their just powers from the consent of the governed.” The Declaration also warned that “whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government.”

The Declaration was a call to revolution against a regime that repeatedly violated these core rights. Modern politicians and, perhaps, even most Americans are confused about the concept of rights. They believe that “positive” rights — such as the “right” to health care or education — are of the same kind as those “negative” rights — essentially, the right to be left alone — defended by the American founders.

For instance, the right to free speech is the classic negative right that the founders sought to uphold. We, as Americans, have a right to air our grievances and criticize our government. While we can huff and puff endlessly about unchecked government power, not unless we air our grievances in the public sphere can we expect any satisfactory resolution or redress. We fail as citizens when we passively allow government to abridge our rights, restrict our freedom or inhibit our pursuit of happiness.

In our euphoric celebrations, we may forget that the Fourth isn’t about guaranteeing our happiness. The government’s purpose, rather, is to ensure that we have the opportunity and ability to pursue whatever form of happiness we choose, as long as we do not violate another citizen’s rights.

Nor is the Fourth about assuring equality. To the founders, freedom — not equality — was the crux of independence. The idea of equality was peripheral and only received a six-word blurb in the Declaration: “that all men are created equal.” By equal, the founders meant that we are equal before the law, not equal in our talents and material blessings.

Nineteenth-century French political philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville posed freedom and equality in opposition to one another, predicting that Americans’ love for equality would ultimately undermine and eclipse their freedom. That, unfortunately, was among Tocqueville’s many prescient observations.

Similarly, the Fourth isn’t about the triumph of democracy. To the founders, democratic government could be just as damaging as monarchies to individual rights. Just because we elect our leaders doesn’t make them less likely to trample on our natural rights. Freedom is best protected through limits on governments, the rule of law and the separation of powers.

Ponder that as the barbecues blaze, and the fireworks fill the air.

This editorial originally appeared in the Orange County Register on July 4, 2008.

JFK or Patrick Henry?

U.S. President John F. Kennedy reports to the nation on the status of the Cuban crisis from Washington, D.C. on Nov. 2, 1962. He told radio and television listeners that Soviet missile bases "are being destroyed" and that U.S. air surveillance would continue until effective international inspection is arranged. U.S. government conclusions about the missile bases, he said, are based on aerial photographs made Nov. 1. (AP Photo)

May 29 marked the 100th anniversary of John F. Kenney’s birth, which has triggered multiple Camelot retrospectives. Seldom do they omit JFK’s power to inspire, often illustrated with his most famous quote: “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” However, while many find it inspirational, it has been put to more ominous use. And comparing those words with those of Patrick Henry, who shares the same birthday, illustrates why.

Kennedy’s speech was inspired by a Kahlil Gibran article whose Arabic title translates as “The New Frontier.” It said, “Are you a politician asking what your country can do for you, or a zealous one asking what you can do for your country? If you are the first, then you are a parasite; if the second, then you are an oasis in the desert.” But Kennedy dramatically altered its meaning.

Clearly, politicians who benefit by abusing their positions are parasites. In America, with Washington supposedly limited by the Constitution to few, enumerated powers solely to advance the general welfare, such abuses are even more blatant. The same holds for everyone seeking special government treatment.

However, extending “ask what you can do for your country” from politicians and special treatment seekers to citizens turns America’s foundation on its head. Asking citizens to sacrifice for the country, with the government a misleading proxy for society, implies we were made for government’s benefit, rather than it for ours.

That is how “ask what you can do for your country” has been employed to create innumerable government policies helping some by imposing involuntary burdens on others, sacrificing America’s broad interests to political causes and favorites.

Kennedy was also addressing “what together we can do for the freedom of man.” But financing the unjustifiable policies that dominate politics sacrifices others’ life, liberty and pursuit of happiness rather than advancing freedom. And America’s federal government was explicitly limited to the few goals we actually share, such as defense against aggression and invasions of our common, inalienable rights, which describes liberty, not goals where some with shared interests force the costs of advancing them onto others, which is diametrically opposed to liberty. As Milton Friedman once put it, the latter is “at odds with the free man’s belief in his own responsibility for his own destiny … .[It] implies the government is the master … the citizen, the servant.”

The words of Patrick Henry, America’s “Orator of Liberty,” reinforces the large gap between JFK’s “ask not” and the liberty which inspired both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Consider some of them:

Liberty ought to be the direct end of your government.

We wish to be free … we mean to preserve inviolate those inestimable privileges for which we have been so long contending.

Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!

Liberty is the greatest of all earthly blessings.

In the language of freemen, stipulate that there are rights which no man under heaven can take from you.

Guard with jealous attention the public liberty. Suspect everyone who approaches that jewel.

When the American spirit was in its youth … liberty, sir, was then the primary object … the foundation of everything.

The Constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people, it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government – lest it come to dominate our lives and interests.

No free government, or the blessings of liberty, can be preserved to any people but by … frequent recurrence to fundamental principles.

If our descendants be worthy of the name of Americans they will preserve and hand down to their latest posterity the transactions of the present times … to preserve their liberty.

Many have found JFK’s “ask not” inspirational. But it has been utilized for many purposes that are directly opposed to American liberty. That is why we need to also remember the unmatched potential and inspiration liberty offers us, which Patrick Henry’s words make clear. We must recognize that rhetoric, however inspirational, does not advance American’s interest when it leads us away from liberty

Gary M. Galles is a professor of economics at Pepperdine University, an adjunct scholar at the Ludwig von Mises Institute, a research associate of the Independent Institute, a member of the FEE faculty network and the Heartland Institute’s Board of Policy Advisors. His books include “Apostle of Peace” (2013) “Faulty Premises, Faulty Policies” (2014) and “Lines of Liberty” (2016).

A Pattern for Revolt is better than a revolting pattern

2016 has already given Americans a truly unique presidential campaign, with more almost assuredly to come. Many have claimed to be revolted by it, for reasons ranging from obvious absence of decorum to apparent policy dementia. Sadly, though, attention soon leaves why we should be revolted, and what might hold out the promise of real improvement, to the latest political dirt and horse-race questions.

Pattern of RevoltA very instructive means to turn back toward such more impactful questions is easily available, however. It can be found in Leonard Read’s 1948 Pattern for Revolt. In striking contrast to what we are now witnessing, in which, except for occasional boilerplate obeisance to freedom, no one now proposes anything remotely near it, it offers examples of campaign statements that a true lover of liberty might offer, following Thoreau’s advice to “Let every man make known what kind of government would command his respect…[as] one step toward attaining it.”

Pattern for Revolt has been described as “strong meat, probably too strong for stomachs that have long fed on government pap and can’t imagine how they can get along without it.” Yet while it would be panned by panderers who love power far better than liberty, it is well worth reading for anyone “who loves liberty better than power.”

The all-authoritarian state marches on…not only unhampered and unchecked, but aided and abetted by an ever-increasing number of gravy-trained citizens.

The people [have] no choice except between power-seeking personalities and groups, each offering a superior administration of government-as-master. Such a choice…is no choice at all.

Party leaders…are asking today “What must we say and do to win votes?”…a truly liberal party…would have been asking “How can we liberate the individual from the tyranny of the State?”

The mere changing of parties or personalities is not important. The transfer of power…is important only if the ascending party has principles which it is important to substitute for the principles of the party in power.

Not only will [an] office-seeker resort to expediency to attain office, but…A man who seeks and secures public office…will try to make it a bigger and more powerful office. Government should not be so expanded…Men in government, therefore, should be those who aim at making government as unnecessary as possible. Contraction, not expansion, should be the aim.

Freedom is an assertion of man’s God-given free will, a resurrection of man from deadening arbitrary authority…The principles which brought America to the greatest heights of freedom yet known on earth are easily forgotten…[but] what will our collectivistic opponents be able to do in extending their authority over the people if the people subscribe to the principle of liberty?

Our assignment is to cultivate an understanding of freedom—in ourselves and in others.

In every field where arbitrary authority is imposed we shall inquire how it may be removed and replaced by a reliance on the initiative and enterprise of individual citizens. We must give to the art of self-government its American renaissance… We need patriots who will stand against wrong even though they cannot see the time when right will triumph.

As liberals and individualists…we do not want to be led…we do not want to “lead” by force…The only way to guard freedom is to remove, to destroy, unwarranted restrictions and coercion.

There was [once] a general acceptance of the idea that governments should have only limited powers and functions…Today, however…Opponents of freedom… have pre-empted the language of freedom so extensively that we how attempt to speak on behalf of freedom now find it difficult to convey our meaning.

Our plunderstorm economy is a matter of common knowledge…The first reason is a deep-rooted conviction on the part of millions that they have, by reason of their existence on this earth, a right to share in the property of others. The idea that this is a wholly immoral notion has never occurred to most of them.

The result is this group-thirst for political plunder…there is no cure at all except to re-establish in the minds of people the normal boundaries of personal right. The present situation calls for an understanding of where personal rights end and infringement on the rights of others begins.

In the hope of plundering more from others than others succeed in plundering from us, we have voted away the inestimable benefits for which government and law were originally instituted.

We founded our government…on the premise that the individual citizen has certain inalienable rights and that government and law should protect those rights …While it is perfectly obvious that we should restore government and law to their proper functions, limit them as we originally intended they should be limited, it is equally obvious that this is not impossible until false ideas are removed…As long as people entertain these false ideas about rights and property, so long will they seek their fulfillment though government and the law…The choice is only one of going on with the filthy business or getting out of it entirely.

In a variety of ways this nation has legalized plunder…we seek prosperity by the fruitless process of picking each others’ pockets.

Coercion is my first objection…No man has ever lived who has been big enough or competent enough to apply it, justly and wisely, to any responsible adult person, arbitrarily…Tyranny is only arbitrary coercion carried to its logical consequence.

Using governmental coercion to protect your goods from a thief is proper. Using it to protect a thief in the taking of your goods is improper. It makes no difference whether the thief be a thug or a legally recognized pressure group, using the democratic process.

Given freedom of opportunity, protection from fraud, violence and predation and a dependence for our welfare on our own initiative, we can and will look out for ourselves better than will any other person or any government agency.

[Government’s] failure…was their guarantee to meet “human needs” and their inability to meet the ever-growing demands and impossible responsibilities to which they thus exposed themselves.

The real reasons for most of the…recent distress inhere in the suppressions of liberty, in the sabotaging, wittingly or unwittingly, of the free competitive economy, which alone produces general prosperity. Re-establishing a free economy is the only road to progress…Free enterprise can be re-established only by the repeal of those laws, rules and regulations which impede it. I stand for their destruction.

I am a spokesman for the philosophy of government which is an American heritage… Nowhere else have men so successfully escaped from arbitrary authority…This American philosophy of government is premised on our countrymen being free men. This is what our birth as human beings gives us a right to be; that is what we ought to be; it is the object to which our Constitution commits us—all of us.

I do not desire to reorganize the lives of other people under the pretext of doing them good…It is now time to turn your hopes from this place on the Potomac as a source of livelihood. It is the most unproductive spot in these United States…May your federal government no longer be condemned for what it plunders from some. And may it never have applause because of the loot it bestows on others.

In a day-and–night contrast with our modern political cacophony of promises to violate moral principles and other people’s property on an indescribable scale, Leonard Read recognized that “Nothing is in our nation’s capital except that which is taken from individuals.” His Pattern for Revolt, though written long ago, offers both a bracing reminder of what has been lost and motivation to reclaim it. It merits attention from anyone who, “If given the opportunity…would revolt against all of those political devices and ideas incidental to government in the role of master.”

Gary M. Galles is a professor of economics at Pepperdine University and research fellow with the Independent Institute. His books include Lines of Liberty (2016), Faulty Premises, Faulty Policies (2014), and Apostle of Peace (2013).

They Do Not Own Us As Property

Lysander-SpoonerIn recent years, Americans have been burdened with historic expansions in government control, with a proliferation of fees, regulations, czars and bureaucracies, along with profligate spending that guarantees higher future taxes. Such dictates violate Americans’ inalienable self-ownership.

That is why Lysander Spooner, born January 19, deserves renewed attention. Spooner laid out why our natural right of self-ownership, combined with its implied right to enter voluntary arrangements, made government coercion of peaceful people illegitimate. Since we are rapidly accelerating away from that moral standard, we need to rediscover Spooner’s vision. In particular, his 1870 No Treason illuminates our current situation:

That men may rightfully be compelled to submit to, and support, a government that they do not want … [is] self-evidently false … a man, thus subjected to a government that he does not want, is a slave. And there is no difference, in principle … between political and chattel slavery. [Each] denies a man’s ownership of himself and the products of his labor; and asserts that other men may own him, and dispose of him and his property, for their uses, and at their pleasure.

A man’s natural rights are his own … any infringement of them is equally a crime … whether committed by one man, calling himself a robber or by millions, calling themselves a government.

To say that majorities, as such, have a right to rule minorities, is equivalent to saying that minorities have, and ought to have, no rights, except such as majorities please to allow them.

The principle that the majority have a right to rule the minority, practically resolves all government into a mere contest between two bodies of men, as to which of them shall be masters, and which of them slaves.

How does [a man] become subjected to the control of men like himself, who, by nature, had no authority over him … as if their wills and their interests were the only standards of his duties and his rights … force, or fraud, or both.

A man finds himself environed by a government that … forces him to pay money, render service, and forego the exercise of many of his natural rights, under peril of weighty punishments.

Governments … [are] tyrannies to that portion of the people … compelled to support them against their will.

Getting the actual consent of only so many as may be necessary to keep the rest in subjection by force…is a mere conspiracy of the strong against the weak … a presumption that the weaker party consent to be slaves.

Government, like a highwayman, says to a man: “Your money, or your life.” [But] The highwayman … does not pretend that he has any rightful claim to your money, or that he intends to use it for your own benefit.

No government … can reasonably be trusted for a moment, or reasonably be supposed to have honest purposes in view, any longer than it depends wholly upon voluntary support.

If [Congress] own us as property, they are our masters, and their will is our law. If they do not own us as property, they are not our masters, and their will, as such, is of no authority over us.

On what ground can those who pretend to administer [The Constitution] claim the right to seize men’s property, to restrain them of their natural liberty of action, industry, and trade … at their pleasure or discretion?

A tacit understanding between A, B, and C, that they will, by ballot, depute D as their agent, to deprive me of my property, liberty, or life, cannot at all authorize D to do so. He is none the less a robber.

In an era where what remains of our self-ownership is threatened with further evisceration, rediscovering Spooner’s vision, which Murray Rothbard called “a great bulwark against the State’s eternal invasion of rights,” is crucial. Coerced obedience cannot be derived from our natural rights or our Constitution. The individual, rather than the ever-more-powerful State, must be re-established as the basis of our society.

Gary M. Galles  is a professor of cconomics at Pepperdine University.

Still Thankful for Liberty in 2015

Statue of Liberty seen from the Circle Line ferry, Manhattan, New York

With the recent terror attacks against France, America’s oldest ally, most Americans are rightfully concerned for the welfare of our friends abroad as well as our own safety.

With the French, we share a common heritage of a dedication to liberty. The Statue of Liberty that stands proudly in the harbor of New York is a gift from the people of France.

Acknowledging the contributions of French officer the Marquis de Lafayette to the success of our revolution, Lieutenant Colonel Charles Stanton a commander of the American Expeditionary Force in WW I, told Parisians on arrival, “Lafayette, we are here!”

While Americans and the French are victims of terrorism because of our beliefs and way of life, both nations continue to value and be grateful for our republican form of government that allows citizens to elect their representatives. And we share a common conviction that we will prevail over adversity.

In California, there is a tendency for taxpayers to see the elected Sacramento political class as working against the interests of average citizens. Nonetheless, we are grateful for elections that allow us to rehire or fire our elected representatives. As Proposition 13 author Howard Jarvis said, “The people we elect are not the bosses, we are.” Howard did not believe that complaining would solve problems, we, the people, had to take responsibility. If we don’t like the service we are receiving from the politicians, he reminded us, it is up to us to fire them and hire a better class of representatives.

Taxpayers are also grateful that over the last year, despite an anti-taxpayer majority in the Legislature, a strong coalition of grassroots citizens led by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association succeeded in defeating all the attacks on Proposition 13. Taxpayers are grateful to every one of these citizen activists as well as those lawmakers who stood firm in defense of the interests of taxpayers.

Although proposals to repeal or weaken Proposition 13 will return in January, the coalition to protect Proposition 13 remains intact, and for this, too, we are thankful.

Howard Jarvis liked to quote the last line of our national anthem, “The land of the free and the home of the brave.” “This means” he would say, “that people cannot be free if they are not brave.” This remains true in the face of international terror as well as when struggling over fundamental principles of government at home.

Finally, it has been said that America has the worst government in the world – except for all the others. And while complaining about government is an American birthright, we must remember that billions of souls around the world risk imprisonment or death for speaking out against their despotic governments or leaders. So, in keeping with the season, let us be thankful that we live in a country that, despite her faults, remains the last, best hope for mankind.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis  Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.

CARTOON: Death of Vaccination Referendum

vaccination cartoon

Mandatory Vaccination Bill Quickly Advancing Through Legislature

vaccine2After a fractious debate, the California Senate passed a revised draft of the controversial bill that would largely eliminate the state’s religious and personal belief exemptions for child inoculation. With the bill on a likely track for passage in the Assembly, momentum has begun to gather for even more muscular pro-vaccine legislation.

Sweeping changes

As previously reported, state Sens. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, and Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica, had to rewrite key passages of the bill’s language in order to head off potential constitutional challenges to its treatment of kids without the specified vaccinations.

The bulk of the original bill remained intact, however, sweeping away California’s longstanding and generous rules permitting parents to keep their children vaccine-free. “Several Republican senators tried to stall the bill by introducing a series of amendments that would have reinserted the religious exemption and required labeling of vaccine ingredients,” according to the Sacramento Bee. But Democrats moved swiftly to shut them down.

For some critics, barring unvaccinated children from public school remained a bone of contention. “It’s clear that a large portion of concerned parents will likely withhold their children from public schools because of their concerns or lack of comfort from the vaccination process,” said GOP state Sen. John Moorlach, according to the Christian Science Monitor.

But some carveouts were set to remain. “The legislation only addresses families that will soon enroll their children in school,” as Newsweek observed. “Under the proposed law, children who aren’t currently immunized are not required to get vaccinated until seventh grade. The law still allows families to opt out due to medical reasons, such as a history of allergies to vaccines and inherited or acquired immune disorders or deficiencies.”

The so-called grandfather clause represented a major concession to parents’ groups, which had succeeded in stalling Pan and Allen’s legislation once before. Now, as the San Jose Mercury News reported, “more than 13,000 children who have had no vaccinations by first grade won’t have to get their shots until they enter seventh grade. And nearly 10,000 seventh-graders who today aren’t fully vaccinated may be able to avoid future shots because the state does not always require them after that grade.”

Regulatory momentum

Despite the lenience built into the advancing legislation, the pro-vaccine logic that propelled it has already increased momentum for an even more assertive approach to enforcing inoculation.

As KQED News has noted, “two other vaccine-related bills are making their way through the Legislature a bit more quietly. One would require preschool and child care workers to have certain vaccinations; another seeks to improve vaccination rates for 2-year-olds.”

“If SB792 becomes law, California will be the first state in the country to require that all preschool and child care workers be immunized against measles, pertussis and the flu.”

Supporters of the ratcheted-up regulation sought to head off more controversy by downplaying the invasiveness and inconvenience of their approach. “We certainly aren’t out to arrest people who aren’t vaccinated,” said Kat DeBurgh, executive director of the Health Officers Association of California, a group that sponsored SB792. “We wanted to make this just like any other violation of code that an inspector would look for. If you don’t remediate, then there is a fine to the day care center.”

At the same time, pro-vaccination analysts have speculated that the Golden State will save money the more it ensures vaccination. Referring to a recent study showing that Iowa’s health care spending would double if it added a personal belief exemption, Tara Haelle suggested that California’s “health care cost savings would be far more substantial” once its exemption was eliminated, although, she conceded, “no thorough analyses are currently available.”

Originally published by

The Enduring Principles of Liberty

This month some UC Irvine students removed a U.S. flag from the student government area. That triggered a controversy including criticisms that our flag was associated with nationalism, colonialism, imperialism, American exceptionalism, racism, xenophobia and other sins against leftist orthodoxy. It mainly showed how far America has “progressed” since the Second Continental Congress authorized a new American flag.

Criticism that the U.S. is an imperfect country is true. But imperfections shared by the history and some members of every country does not justify condemnation reserved for America. More importantly, it is not the flag, but those who deviate from the principles it represents, who are tarnished by our failings.

Perhaps the most inspiring view of our flag was given in an 1861 address by Henry Ward Beecher, described as “the most respected and idealized religious figure of the day” and “America’s leading moral and spiritual teacher.” At a time when many have lost touch with the ideals of our experiment in freedom, it is worth revisiting:

[O]ur flag…means just what Concord and Lexington meant, what Bunker Hill meant. It means the whole glorious Revolutionary War…the rising up of a valiant young people against an old tyranny to establish the most momentous doctrine that the world has ever known–the right of men to their own selves and to their liberties. It means all that the Declaration of Independence meant. It means all that the Constitution of our people, organizing for justice, for liberty, and for happiness, meant.

Unfortunately, many today do not see that in our flag. Some, reflecting our cynical age, see anything valuable it once represented as now lost. Others see it as a symbol of a system they wish to blame for their frustrations and failures, rather than themselves. Political correctness makes still others see nothing, afraid of any implication that they might think one set of beliefs could be better than others. Beecher found all those approaches faulty.

A thoughtful mind, when it sees a nation’s flag, sees not the flag only, but the nation itself…the principles, the truths, the history that belongs to the nation that sets it forth…the American flag is the symbol of liberty, and men rejoiced in it. Not another flag has had such an errand, carrying everywhere, the world around, such hope for freedom–such glorious tidings.

Still other Americans attack, rather than defend, what our flag represents, because many who have been part of our government have abandoned or fallen far short of America’s ideals. That is true, if unsurprising, in a government of fallible people. But it in no way detracts from our country’s ideals.

Our flag carries American ideas, American history, and American feelings…it has gathered and stored chiefly this supreme idea: Divine Right of Liberty in man. Every color means liberty; every form of star and beam or stripe of light means liberty; not lawlessness, not license, but organized institutional liberty–liberty through law, and law for liberty.

Those who, because America falls short of its ideals, have mixed or even hostile feelings toward our flag and the country it represents are misplacing their idealism and efforts. If they recognized, with Beecher, that “The history of this banner is one of Liberty,” and put their energy into reclaiming our founding vision of providing the broadest possible canvas for human freedom, they could reshape the world for the better instead of endlessly repeating grievances.

This American Flag was the safeguard of liberty. … It was an ordinance of liberty by the people, for the people. That it meant, that it means, and, by the blessing of God, that it shall mean to the end of time!

Henry Ward Beecher’s vision of America, symbolized in our flag, echoed our founders’ ideals “that every man shall have liberty to be what God made him, without hindrance.” Americans have too often abandoned that vision. But violations of high principles do not justify rejecting such principles; they demonstrate why they are essential.

Gary Galles is a Professor of Economics at Pepperdine University

Defending Liberty in All Its Forms

Americans pay ritual obeisance to liberty. But daily, they say “there ought to be a law” that restricts it. They have only the dimmest awareness of our founders’ views on this central issue and no knowledge of friends of freedom beyond our shores. That is a pity, because such investigation would yield much insight.

A good example is Belgian-born philosopher/economist Gustave de Molinari, born March 3, nearly two centuries ago. He has been described as defending “peace, free trade, freedom of speech, freedom of association, and liberty in all its forms.” His touchstones were private property and unrestricted markets–i.e., liberty–made possible by government limited to securing life, liberty and property.

A few examples cannot do justice to Molinari’s half-century defense of liberty, based on each person’s self-ownership. But it is worth reflecting on his vision of a world where government sovereignty, enforced via coercion, is replaced with individual sovereignty wherever possible.

[G]overnment should restrict itself to guaranteeing the security of its citizens…the freedom of labor and of trade should otherwise be whole and absolute.

Society is heavily taxed in the increased costs which follow government appropriation of products and services naturally belonging to the sphere of private enterprise.

[The enlarged] functions of the State…is the real explanation of the grossly inadequate performance of their first duty–protection of life and property of the individual.

The sovereign power of governments over the life and property of the individual is, in fact, the sole fount and spring of militaryism, policy, and protection…the abolishment of that “state” is the present, most urgent, need of society.

[A] careful examination of the facts will decide the problem of government more and more in favor of liberty…

Sovereignty rests in the property of the individual over his person and goods and in the liberty of disposing of them…naturally limited by the rights of equally sovereign individuals…

[G]overnment has abused its unlimited power over individual life and property…

However seriously he might be declared sovereign master of himself, his goods and life, the individual was still controlled by a power invested with rights which took precedence of his own…The sole possible remedy—to curtail this subjection with its priority of claims over those of the sovereignty of the individual…

Government must confine itself to the naturally collective functions of providing external and internal security.

[P]rogress will be…secured by measures extending the sphere of individual self-government…

What is the interest of the individual? It is to remain the absolute proprietor of his person and property and to retain the power to dispose of them at will…It is, in a word, to possess ‘individual sovereignty’ in the fullest…Each individual sovereignty has its natural frontiers within which it may operate and outside of which it may not pass without violating other sovereignties. These natural limits must be recognized and guaranteed…such is the purpose of “government.”

Sovereignty rests in the property of the individual over his person and goods and in the liberty of disposing of them…

The individual appropriates and possesses himself…This is liberty. Property and liberty are the two aspects or two constituents of sovereignty.

[T]he ills [ascribed] to liberty–or, to use an absolutely equivalent expression, to free competition–do not originate in liberty, but in monopoly and restriction…a society truly free–a society relieved from all restriction, from all barriers, unique as will be such a society in all the course of history–will be exempt from most of the ills, as we suffer them today…the organization of such a society will be the most just, the best, and the most favorable to the production and distribution of wealth that is attainable by mortal man.

The true remedy for most evils is none other than liberty, unlimited and complete liberty, liberty in every field of human endeavor.

Gustave de Molinari learned of “the destructive apparatus of the civilized State” from the French Revolution, “naively undertaken to establish a regime of liberty and prosperity for the benefit of humanity, end[ing]…in an increase in the servitude and burdens.” That inspired him to a long life of opposition to the destruction that goes with coercion, always looking forward to “an era of assured liberty.”

Molinari brought a natural rights objection to government abuses of their citizens that should not have been considered radical, but was—that “no one has ever thought that the laws which apply to [government] are the same as those which apply to the others.” He did so because he saw that “Everywhere, men resign themselves to the most extreme sacrifices rather than do without government and hence security, without realizing that in so doing, they misjudge their alternatives.” He saw that the alternatives included a vast expansion of liberty, and an accompanying explosion of human potential and the human spirit. That is something our age needs to be inspired toward, as well.


Blacklisting the Boy Scouts

California judges can belong to the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Organization for Women, Veterans of Foreign Wars, the NAACP, La Raza, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Alcoholics Anonymous, the Sierra Club, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the NRA, and even the North American Man/Boy Love Association. But thanks to the state’s radical Supreme Court, judges will soon be barred from participation in the venerable Boy Scouts of America. Why? Because the Boy Scouts promote, among other things, heterosexuality as a norm—a view shared by a majority of Americans. Effective next January, California state judges can no longer serve as scoutmasters, assistant scoutmasters, committee chairs, or in any other volunteer positions with the BSA that requires “membership” in the organization. Judges wishing to serve as adult leaders in the BSA will soon have to abandon their First Amendment rights as a condition of employment. Legal challenges are certain.

The committee contends that its blacklisting of the BSA will “promote the integrity of the judiciary” and “enhance public confidence” in the impartiality of the judiciary. Not likely. This decision illustrates how out of touch (and intolerant) the legal establishment’s ruling elite has become. That the Boy Scouts—chartered by Congress in 1916—could be formally shunned in this manner should disturb all Americans who cherish freedom of association and a pluralistic society.

To ensure their fairness, impartiality, and integrity, California’s judges and judicial officers—the largest state judiciary in the nation, numbering more than 2,100 members—are subject to a code of ethics for their conduct on and off the bench. An 11-member Commission on Judicial Performance determines violations, and judges may be subject to discipline ranging from formal admonishment to removal from the bench. Canon 2C of the code states: “A judge shall not hold membership in any organization that practices invidious discrimination on the basis of race, sex, gender, religion, national origin, ethnicity, or sexual orientation.” On January 21, the California Supreme Court voted unanimously to eliminate an exception to Canon 2C that had permitted judges to belong to a “nonprofit youth organization,” even if it otherwise fell within the scope of the prohibition. The change was clearly focused on the Boy Scouts, which bars adult leaders who are “open or avowed homosexuals.”

“Sexual orientation” was first added to Canon 2C’s list of protected characteristics—accompanied by the “nonprofit youth organization” exclusion, branded by some the Boy Scout loophole—in 1996. LGBT activist groups immediately began a campaign against the Scouts. The state Supreme Court declined to eliminate the exception as recently as 2003, which shows how much California’s political and cultural landscape has shifted over the past decade. Fifteen years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court expressly recognized, in Boy Scouts of America v. Dale, that the organization had the constitutional right to exclude certain people on free association and expression grounds.

Last year, in an effort to end the controversy regarding its stance on gays, the national Boy Scouts organization modified its policies. Now youths may participate in scouting regardless of sexual orientation. Unfortunately, the BSA’s compromise merely signaled weakness. LGBT groups will only accept full capitulation, which the state Supreme Court’s action will hasten.

Canon 2 defines “invidious discrimination” as “arbitrary,” but by conflating the BSA’s longstanding membership policies with, say, a country club that excludes blacks, the court’s decision shows contempt for traditional views shared by most Americans. The canon’s premise is logically flawed: a judge can hold opinions, and even belong to organizations that share those opinions, without harboring animus or lacking impartiality toward litigants (or lawyers) who hold different opinions. An atheist judge is not necessarily biased against believers, and vice versa; a liberal judge is not necessarily biased against conservatives, and a tee-totaling judge not necessarily biased against drinkers, and so on. Being an adult leader in the Boy Scouts does not, in and of itself, make a judge biased against homosexuals. The court’s decision is the essence of intolerance—banishing dissent for the sake of conformity.

Since the Boy Scouts of America was founded in 1910, more than 110 million young men have participated as members. The BSA currently has more than 2.6 million youth members and more than 1 million volunteer adult leaders. Eagle Scouts have landed on the moon (Neil Armstrong), served as president of the United States (Gerald Ford), and excelled as athletes (Henry Aaron), businessmen (J. Willard Marriott, Sam Walton), and filmmakers (Steven Spielberg). Norman Rockwell, who began his prolific career as an illustrator for the Boy Scouts’ handbooks and art director for Boy’s Life magazine, is one of America’s beloved artists. The Scouts do extraordinary work with inner-city kids, providing them with skills and a sense of structure, and instilling discipline. The BSA is one of the most successful youth organizations in history.

Blacklisting this iconic organization is vindictive, mean-spirited, and profoundly insulting to generations of Americans who have participated in scouting. Traditional moral beliefs cannot be arbitrarily banished from the public square, and judges cannot be denied their constitutional rights of free association in order to serve on the bench. This unwarranted rule change—a triumph of political correctness over liberty—brings dishonor to the California judiciary.