Dylann Roof: The Startling Truth About His Gun

thThe actions of the disturbed Dylann Roof on June 17th set off a chain reaction of sorts, the components of which are driven by political agendas. American history is being washed of anything that might be considered offensive, especially if it has to do with the southern states and their failed attempt to exercise what was then recognized as a constitutional right to secede from the Union.

To those who support such measures and more, it all makes perfect sense. Dylann Roof was a typical southern racist who wore his hatred–and his Confederate Battle Flag–on his sleeve, or his jacket, or his hat. He gained access to a weapon because of America’s inordinate love of guns. If we had reasonable laws it would never have happened.

Simple, except for one thing that came to light last Friday.

We now know Roof secured his .45-caliber pistol because of procedural errors committed at the FBI. On April 11th this dangerous young man walked into a shop to make a gun purchase. He completed the necessary form for a background check and this was referred to the feds. Mistakes were made. Dictates of the law were not properly fulfilled. And when the seller of the weapon had allowed the legal time limit to pass, he completed the sale of the firearm to Roof.  All of this has been confirmed by FBI director James Comey who says on behalf of the entire agency: “We are sick that this has happened. We wish we could turn back time.”

As constitutionalists like me have argued for a long time, we don’t need more laws about guns. We don’t need to limit the access of law-abiding citizens to the tools of self-defense in this world that seems to be constantly on the brink of collapse. We need to ensure that existing laws are respected and wisely acted upon. In this case it didn’t happen. Nine innocent souls in Charleston paid the price for this oversight. All over the country there are others paying a lesser but still emotional price as the truth of our national past is revised and painted in the emotional terminology that always serves as a tool for radical community organizing.

For those who worship at the altar of Federal Government, the horrendous act of Dylann Roof has become an opportunity to finally nail the lid on the coffin of States’ Rights. The reversal of American history is nearly complete. Those who would speak up to correct this mistake are finally being silenced. Their flags are being lowered. They are being ridiculed as nothing more than symbols of racism. Some even propose that the display or sale of them on private property should be forbidden. Even the dead are being driven from their tombs.

In New Orleans and in other locales, wrongly-informed citizens have arisen to speak against the traitorous southerners who rebelled against their nation. They are described as being unworthy of respect. They had no reason for their acts except the pure motive of racial hatred. Their rebellion was against the laws of nation and humanity. The memory of their actions must be obliterated from our national memory. Confederate soldiers may be buried at national parks commemorating our past, but the flags under which they died may soon no longer fly above their remains.

The problem with all of this is that so much of it is revisionist claptrap. The founders of the United States of America did not establish a national government. They explicitly refused to do so. Instead, they established a federated form of government. The nation to which the first Americans owed their allegiance was not the federal government but the particular state where each resided. Virginians owed primary allegiance to Virginia and Marylanders to Maryland.

So insistent were the founders on this point that they decreed in the Constitution that all rights, powers, and privileges not explicitly granted to the federal government remained the preserve of the states and the people who reside there.

Have you heard Barack Obama and others deride the Constitution because of the manner in which it limits federal action? That’s intentional. The founders did it that way for a reason. They knew that despots who have agendas can always raise an army, or send in the police, or agitate a crowd so that the rights of others are disposed of. This realization on the part of our founders caused them to seriously limit the powers of the federal government.

It was understood from the beginning that the Union was a voluntary association. Secession from that voluntary association was often debated and threatened. The states of the southern rebellion were not the first to threaten secession. They were simply the first to follow through with their threat. Even the textbooks at West Point taught that secession was a right belonging to the states.

Some say that the War of 1861-65 was not a rebellion. I heartily disagree. It was a rebellion. It was a rebellion against the growing power of the central state, a power that was not constitutional. The southern states rebelled, but they were not traitors. They were patriots demanding recognition of the original creed of constitutional government.

We they wrong to have slaves? Yes, of course. Let us all agree that slavery is a tremendous evil. But that particular problem was not only in the south. It was a problem that existed prior to the establishment of the United States and prior to the War of Southern Rebellion. Slavery in the US could have been ended peacefully as it was in other nations. Many southern leaders knew that the days of slavery were limited. That is why the Constitution of the Confederate States of America outlawed the importation of further slaves from outside its territory (in other words, there were to be no more slave ships).

th (1)Here’s a lesson from history. Take note of the Seal of the Confederate government. The man on the horse is not Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, or any other Confederate leader. It’s George Washington, first president of the United States of America. That should tell you something.

The director of the FBI wishes he could turn back time. So do I. The deaths of nine innocent people are on the consciences of everyone at his agency. But there won’t be much backlash. Far too many in the country have already found the scapegoat for this tragedy.

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The Truth About Truth

Time Saving Truth From Falsehood and Envy, by Francois Lemoyne (1737)

Time Saving Truth From Falsehood and Envy, by Francois Lemoyne (1737); in retrospect, perhaps it’s a bit of political irony that the day after completing this piece, the artist tragically committed suicide

Last night, while channel surfing, I happened upon a documentary about the flooding of Venice, Italy. According to one city official interviewed on the program, about 100 times a year the tide rises higher than normal and floods the city. The waters of Venice are beautiful when they stay in their canals, but troublesome when they visit themselves upon homes, businesses, and historic cathedrals. Never mind that the Venetians have had problems with their lagoon for centuries or that their city rests atop wood pilings. The producers of this video claimed to know the cause and they proclaimed it passionately. Venice is undoubtedly flooding, they said, because of anthropogenic (human-caused) global warming. It’s worse than that, however. In their own words, “the world is sinking.”

I sympathize with the good people of Venice. But they’ll find an answer to their water problems as they always have. Their history is loaded with past examples of flooding (and taxation to pay for its remedy). In great part this is because its underwater foundation slips a bit lower every year. Even those who believe in human-caused global warming have to admit that “the greatest threat to the city” for most of its history has been “earth subsidence.” In other words, its wooden foundation is slipping deeper and deeper into the mud below.

As a popular science-fiction program once reminded us with the start of every episode, “the truth is out there.” Yes, it certainly is. But to get to it there are a few things you need to understand about the truth. In other words, there is some truth about truth that you need to know–truly!

First, let’s realize that we humans are “wired” to find explanations for things. That, along with our advanced brains, has given us a biological advantage over the other species on the planet. They may be bigger and stronger, but we’re smarter. We’re driven to find answers.

Before you become too proud of your genetic superiority, remember a second important point. We humans are also, in a sense, sociological herd animals. We move in psychological “packs.” Rather than doing the hard work of thinking for ourselves, we often accept what others believe. This can happen for any number of reasons (affection, political preference, religious belief, admiration, physical attraction, etc.). I confess to having a strong distaste for this tendency. As a child, when I did stupid things, my father wisely challenged me. His challenges stuck with me. When I see a parade of others following a “Pied Piper” of any sort, I shy away to watch … and to learn.

A third truth about truth that we must recognize is that money changes everything. Even truth–or what is presented as truth. There are plenty of people who would sell their souls for money. There are even more who would manipulate data for money or accept funding with “strings” attached. When billions and billions in government funding is involved, there simply is no way to know how deeply the influence and corruption have drilled themselves into a search for truth. Big money can come from big government or big corporations. Sometimes both.

Finally, let’s remind ourselves that there is no such thing as pure objectivity. Perhaps Leonard Nemoy’s Mister Spock came close, but even he was half human. We humans are motivated by all sorts of things, and not all of them are bad. Please don’t interpret my words to suggest that I’m a pessimist or misanthrope (a people hater). I’m not. But I am a realist. Call it sin, or imperfection, or simply human reality–but let’s face it. We humans aren’t perfect. Sometimes we respond to our base instinct for self-preservation. Sometimes we’re selfish or greedy. Other times we act with real generosity. Quite often we are a mix of “good” and “bad” at the same time. (As an aside, it strikes me as odd that when government starts doling out money to those “in need,” our human failings are no longer suitable for discussion.)

Lack of objectivity isn’t a bad thing. It’s a very human thing. The problem isn’t that objectivity is lacking. The problem is that we’re not honest about its absence. Wouldn’t it be nice if people claimed their biases so that when they speak of their greatest beliefs and philosophical commitments we can understand where they’re coming from?

Imagine a Fox News broadcast beginning like this:  “Good evening. We here at Fox believe that Barack Obama is the devil. Now on with the news.” Or imagine that CNN begins its nightly programs in this way: “In the interest of honesty, the broadcasters of CNN wish to remind you that we believe that conservatives, Republicans, and Tea-Party people are selfish bastards who want to screw Mexican immigrants and the poor. Here are this evening’s highlights.”

I always find such honesty to be quite refreshing, actually. It’s one of the reasons I named this blog “The Liberty Professor.” If you’re looking for absolute objectivity, you won’t find it here. The truth is that you won’t find it anywhere. But I’m honest about that. Get it?

With all of these caveats in mind, here are a few of the so-called “truths” that I have rejected. I speak only for myself, but I do so after reasoned reflection and research. Each of the issues described is what Patricia King and Karen Kitchener refer to as an “ill-defined problem.” If you’re a teacher or have a philosophical bent, you might enjoy their book entitled Developing Reflective Judgment. In it they argue that an ill-defined problem has more than one possible outcome (as opposed to a well-defined problem with an easy solution).

Let there be fanfare and the blast of trumpet … here are some “truths” that I robustly reject!

1. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) was intended by its creators to lower healthcare costs and “fix” what’s wrong with America’s healthcare system. Nope. Not even close. It was designed to move us toward a single-payer healthcare system in which the federal government is financier and supervisor. Promises were made about how much it would cost and how much freedom would be granted to those who already have health insurance. Guesses, estimates, and even lies were offered to us for our mental consumption. The most recent estimate I heard is that it will cost three times as much as promised in the first ten years. In addition, its thousands and thousands of pages of regulations are going to cause premiums to go up for nearly everybody, especially young men. Remember the promise of Barack Obama about your own health insurance? “If you like it, you can keep it,” he insisted. Maybe. If you can afford it. Most of us won’t be able to. We–along with our employers–will be forced to drop private coverage to move into the single-payer (federal) system. The entire law was designed with this in mind. As they say, “out with the old and in with the new.” Don’t forget the words of Barack Obama to the Illinois AFL-CIO in June of 2003: “I happen to be a proponent of the single-payer, universal healthcare program.”

2. Federal gun-control initiatives are being designed to reduce crime and protect our children from violent criminals. Even I have to say that this sounds nice. It’s a feel-good proposal if ever there was one. But that’s not the primary factor for the unconstitutional gun grab taking place before our very eyes. (It has hit some temporary road blocks, but as with Obamacare, its proponents won’t stop until they get what they want.) The real goal is to have a nation in which guns are in the hands only of government officials and to outlaw them for everyone else. When that happens the government will have little to fear from dissenters, and only outlaws will be armed. Everyone with a weapon, whether it’s used in a crime or not, will be subject to arrest and punishment. In addition to maneuvers in Washington, international pressure is being put upon Mr. Obama to sign the UN Arms Trade Treaty. That treaty, like all treaties, will require Senate approval. We can look for one heck of a mud slide when that battle comes. Obama is widely expected to sign the treaty since it moves us one more step toward his goal, and since it provides cover for the confiscation of many types of civilian-owned weapons as well as a UN-supervised, international gun registry. That’s right. According to the president of Iowa Gun Owners, if allowed to keep my .38-caliber pistol I’ll have my name on a UN list as well as a US list.

3. IRS officials did nothing wrong when they targeted conservative groups,Tea-Party organizations, and groups favoring Israel for special scrutiny. Oh, really? That must be why IRS division director Lois Lerner invoked her Fifth-Amendment right against self-incrimination when called to answer questions before Congress. That’s a constitutional perversion of the highest order. Here’s why: She is a government employee called before the people to answer for her actions. The Fifth Amendment of the Constitution was enacted to protect the people from the government, not the other way around. She and her minions at the IRS have the power to pry, to search, to seize, to confiscate, and to order the arrest and imprisonment of citizens. They carry guns. When we, the people, call her to an accounting she suddenly wants to invoke her constitutional rights. She needs to be held in contempt of Congress and the investigation into the matter must continue. Without a doubt, the trail will end in the Oval Office. White House visitors’ logs already demonstrate this.

4. Global warming is a rising disaster caused by human industrial and economic activity. Look, I reject this proposition. But I don’t reject the idea that we should be responsible stewards of our environment. Another of Dad’s witty and wise sayings recognizable to many fellow Southerners is that one should never put fecal material on the handle of the water pump! But the global-warming hype isn’t being controlled by reasonable people who care for the environment. It’s being directed from the upper echelon of government for the sake of raking in more tax money, penalties, and fees to fund bigger government. The “science” behind human-generated global warming is tainted with government money. As some very bright but mistaken academics have argued, the scientific consensus is that human-caused global warming threatens the planet (not just Venice). They insist we need severe limits on economic activity, travel, and energy production; we need more taxes and government-controlled carbon credits. My own research brings me to the conviction that global warming is entirely natural and that the recent warming trend is tapering off. We are probably entering a new period of global cooling. It wouldn’t be the first time, as historians recognize from recent history. Perhaps our children and grandchildren will be subjected to overblown predictions of a new Ice Age!

5. The solution to our economic problems and social injustices is to be found in more government activism. So said Benito Mussolini, Joseph Stalin, Mao Tse-tung and a veritable host of central planners. But when central planning fails it fails big. Guns are needed to keep people in line. Perhaps you’re seeing a pattern? American constitutionalists do not reject all centralized government activity. The Constitution makes provision for the activities of the federal government. But once it’s engaged, the power at the top tends to be centripetal. In other words, it exerts a pull toward itself. Power exercised at the top tends to increase and multiply toward the top, or toward the center of power. The founders of the United States recognized this fact. They had overwhelming historical precedent for it. That’s precisely why power was invested primarily in citizens organized by states, not in the federal government. It’s also why they chose a federated system and not a national government (there is a difference). Only a small number of powers were granted to the federal government. Was it a perfect system? No. It didn’t recognize the rights of slaves, for instance. But its inspiration (that everyone is “created equal” in rights, not abilities) would eventually blossom to repair this immorality as well as other defects.

6. Fatty foods are making us fat and high blood cholesterol is putting us at risk for heart attack. So says an official US government blog and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the CDC). There is even a new government push to monitor the cholesterol of children and to put them on statin drugs if necessary. Research is moving us rapidly away from this thesis. Fat isn’t making us fat. Carbohydrates and sugar are making us fat. They increase inflammation and cause heart disease. Among the scientists and medical doctors now arguing for a new approach to the matter can be counted Dr. Jonny Bowden and Dr. Stephen Sinatra. Check out their excellent and well-researched book, The Great Cholesterol Myth. According to them, the “four horsemen” of the cardiac apocalypse are inflammation, oxidation, sugar, and stress. Dangerous statin drugs, they insist, should be used only by those who already have heart disease. They show strong evidence that statins are useful only because of their anti-inflammatory properties and that lowering cholesterol isn’t the proper approach for stopping heart disease. In their opinion statins should never be given to children. To get the updated research full disseminated, the tie between big pharmaceutical companies and big government must be broken. And doctors who treat patients should never be paid advocates for particular companies or brands. The ties between these entities amount to a contemporary medical mercantilism or corporatocracy–similar to the military-industrial complex that guides so much of our foreign policy.

7. If you love someone you’ll never hurt their feelings. Well, you might not hurt their feelings intentionally–but that’s a whole different matter. Love isn’t a feeling. As Jesuit theologian William O’Malley has pointed out, love is a conscious and active commitment to the well-being of someone. I bring up this point because too many people these days, when arguing politics, seem to be guided less by intellectual consideration and more by emotion. They decide what’s right based upon how their proposals make them feel. The Christian virtue of love is shared by many religions. One doesn’t have to foist one’s Christianity on others to love them, but love nonetheless is a terrific guide for making political decisions. Too often our political debate is framed as if it’s a choice between the people who care for others (the “liberals”) and those who don’t (the “conservatives”). That’s just downright stupid. There are people on both sides of that divide who genuinely care to increase the well-being of others. My complaint is that we can’t decide what’s best based upon how it makes us feel. We need to think and think hard.

So there they are. Seven “truths” that I reject because I don’t think they are true at all. There are others, such as immigration reform (the real reason for which is to secure votes). Each of these is an ill-defined problem with adherents who passionately argue that I’m wrong. So be it. As Martin Luther is reputed to have said, “Here I stand. I can do no other.” But my stance isn’t based upon any attempt to be hard-headed or belligerent. It’s based upon my appropriation of the best information I can find. Don’t take my word on any of it. Do your own research. If I found the information, you can find it as well. I make my own choices and live with the consequences. You must do likewise. Gosh, we don’t hear that too often, do we?

In the final analysis, remember one thing, please. Only in a free society can divergence exist when it comes to values, beliefs, and ideologies. Wherever you stand on the issues, I beg you to be consistent and to be honest with yourself. Don’t give a pass to politicians or government bureaucrats just because they share your preferred political agenda–especially not if they have the privilege of carrying government-issued sidearms.

Avoid schadenfreude. That German word describes the human tendency to take pleasure in the suffering of someone else. If it pleased you to see certain groups targeted by the IRS, remember that it may one day be a group you admire. It could even be you. Political winds blow where they will.

Tyranny hurts us all. Even when it’s applied to our political adversaries.

Sex, Love, and Liberty

THE KISS, by Francesco Hayez, 1859, oil on canvas (located in the Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan)

The Kiss, by Francesco Hayez, 1859, oil painting on canvas (located in the Pinacoteca di Brera, the primary public gallery of Milan, Italy)

As I have often remarked to my students, the most fascinating topics of human existence are sex, religion, and politics (not necessarily in that order). Each is imbued with layers of meaning. Each can be a source of profound liberation and joy, but each can also be used by manipulative individuals for unhealthy control over others. From my perspective as a Christian, the moral quality of all three is enhanced by the presence of genuine love, accurately defined by Jesuit theologian William O’Malley as a conscious and active commitment to another person’s well-being.

All three topics (sex, religion, and politics) merge into a sometimes volatile intersection as Americans debate the issue of gay marriage. After months of reflection, the Liberty Professor has decided to weigh in on the topic. I have hesitated for some time now simply because I recognize that this is a controversial and sensitive subject–and my parsing of the details and components involved will probably offer to everyone something about which they will be unhappy. As the French remind us, c’est la vie.

I trust that my readers come here for honest, libertarian commentary–not necessarily to find total agreement on all issues of the day. My goal in this post is to untangle some of the many threads that combine to make this issue so contentious. It is a complicated subject; the political outcome of the debate, no matter how it ends, will have consequences. The liberty-minded citizen must move cautiously in these waters in order to remain faithful to his or her constitutional values.

1. Let us begin by reminding ourselves that we live in a society of profound moral diversity. This is nothing new. What is new is described by psychologist Kenneth Gergen as “social saturation.” Technology, social mobility, and ease of travel have resulted in a world in which it’s more difficult to withdraw into moral and religious enclaves where we can ignore those whose views differ from our own.

Dealing with such diversity of beliefs has been a hallmark of the American experience from our very beginnings as a people. It resulted in a form of federalism (not nationalism) that intended to leave most decisions in the hands of localized entities (sovereign states) and which forbade governmental favoritism or prohibition in matters of religion. In other words, citizens do not have to agree with one another on the greatest issues of human existence, but they must tolerate one another and refrain from infringements upon one another’s rights.

2. Since I am not an anarchist (neither do most Americans identify themselves as such), let me also propose a second foundation for our discussion on gay marriage: human society functions best when the rights and obligations of its citizens are delineated clearly and fairly enforced. This is not an argument for bigger government. Far from it. What I intend by this statement is to say that citizens have the right to freely enter contracts and agreements as they wish, whether it be for personal or professional reasons. They also have the right to refrain from such contracts, even to their own detriment.

With the perspective of a strict constitutionalist, I argue that government should stay out of those private agreements unless invited in by one or more of the parties involved due to fraud, misrepresentation, or default resulting in damage or loss. This attitude applies even when people enter contractual agreements that I believe to be unwise (such as poor business choices), immoral (such as prostitution), or potentially dangerous (such as the use of an experimental drug). The key to this point is full disclosure and personal freedom. I’m arguing that adults of full mental capacity have the right to arrange their lives and their moral activities as they see fit, with a minimum amount of governmental interference. When such interference is necessary (such as the just hearing of grievances between parties), it should take place on the most local level possible, with only a small and enumerated list of powers being exercised on the federal level (as proposed by the Constitution).

3. Sexuality is an inevitable and vital part of the human experience. It is one of the legitimate pleasures emerging from the fact that humans have bodies. It is also a powerful and mysterious procreative reality–one that should not be used to cause harm to others. Some social prohibitions upon sexual behavior are urgently necessary. The first to come to mind is protection of children against pedophiles. When it comes to fully-informed, consenting adults such as those described in the paragraph above, I am of the opinion that government entities should mostly refrain from the attempt to regulate behavior.

4. Evidence (both scientific and anecdotal) increasingly supports the understanding that genuine, exclusive or predominant homosexual orientation is not experienced as a choice but as a given. My reading of science and my experience with friends and students who self-identify as gay has led me to believe that when it comes to lifestyle “choices,” sexual orientation is not a choice. It’s a situation that must be dealt with by the millions of people who experience it. At this point in the discussion I refer the reader back to point #2, above. I do not find it necessary to address the question of morality here since the decision about this issue doesn’t rest with me. It rests only with those who find themselves in the particular situation being addressed.

5. Speaking philosophically, I believe that the Constitution must be read in light of the Declaration of Independence. In proposing the constitutional thesis that individuals must be allowed to live by their own beliefs and morals, I understand this to be based upon the differing opinions we citizens have with regard to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” (that phrase comes from the Declaration). Constrained only by the few limitations listed in point #2 (above), citizens should be free to live as they choose so long as they cause no harm or loss to others (there are exceptions to this). In addition, it is the constitutional role of the federal government to treat citizens with equal rights before the law (though it is not the role of government to force all businesses or employers to give identical benefits or services).

6. Both marriage and homosexuality have been around for a long, long time. Their presence cuts across human cultures; I have encountered both in every society that I have ever studied, from primitive to postmodern. Cultures have handled homosexuality in differing ways throughout history. Some have been intolerant of it while others have provided a comfortable niche for it.

Some societies have distinguished between male and female homosexuality. Some cultures have assigned special religious roles to homosexual persons. Even among those societies that find it acceptable, homosexual relations have been distinguished from marriage, with marriage understood as a relationship between man and woman. This understanding was present even in polygamous societies (those where men could have multiple wives) and also in societies where married men were allowed to have male lovers (such as in ancient Greece). In other words, with or without social approval, homosexual relations were deemed to be distinct from marriage. Not surprisingly, it was understood as a different kind of relationship–even when it was given social and religious recognition.

Now let’s get to the crux of my point. Let me spell it out as clearly and as precisely as I can. As a constitutionalist I believe that government should not be in the business of giving benefits to some citizens while denying them to others. As a steadfast general rule, I’d like to see government (especially federal government) do less, interfere less, spend less, dictate less, and possess far less power than it does now. If it’s true that well-ordered relationships are good for society as a whole (such as marriage in which duties and rights are clearly delineated and the relationship is supported by law), then I can find no constitutional reason to deny that same protection to gay couples who freely choose to establish similar relationships.

In other words, I’m arguing for nothing more than equal status before the law for all citizens, including gay couples. To do this, however, government does not have to change the definition of marriage–a definition that seems to be as old as humanity itself. Nor should it. 

Gay couples should have the same legal rights and opportunities as all other citizens. Married couples have a right to see the definition of their relationship remain the same as it was on the day they entered that relationship. This distinction does not constitute an act of bigotry or hatred.

As cultures and societies around the globe have recognized for thousands of years, there are different kinds of relationships. Changing the definition of marriage is not the way to guarantee equal rights before law. It will open the door to limitations on liberty, not to an increase in liberty. If we truly wish to live in a society that tolerates moral diversity, we must refrain from using the law to enforce moral uniformity.

Let’s allow people, associations, and religious congregations to make their own decisions about how to understand these different relationships. Should the federal government try to redefine marriage, it will open the door to legal actions against the very institutions we cherish most by further eroding the constitutional limits placed upon that government. This realization explains why there are voices condemning the proposal–even among our fellow citizens who happen to be gay.

Moral Action and the State

untitledPublic-service announcements are everywhere.  For some time now it has been common for them to repeat a moral proverb that goes something like this: “You can judge a society by how well it treats its weakest members.” There are variations on this theme, but what they have in common is the idea that we have a moral duty to those who are unable to care for themselves or defend themselves.

Great civic and religious leaders have reminded us of this in different ways.

According to the gospels, Jesus of Nazareth argued for the rights of the poor and the necessity for his followers to be generous in offering assistance to them (Matthew 25:45f). Mohammed insisted on the practice of giving assistance to the poor; it is one of the five most important “pillars” of Islam to this day (Qur’an 9:60). Gandhi described poverty as “the worst form of violence.”  In all of the great religious traditions of humanity we find an emphasis on compassion, kindness, and mutual care.

These enlightened traditions are arguing for a sense of human community–a recognition that none of us is here alone and therefore, how we live our lives affects one another.  They encourage us to act in solidarity (for mutual responsibility) rather than solipsism (acting as if the only thing that matters is the self).

At the risk of sounding like a preacher, let me share with you what I believe at the very depths of my being.  I believe in God and in the overflowing goodness of God.  To my understanding, the entire cosmos is infused with divine possibility.  Following the teaching of my favorite theologian (Jesuit Karl Rahner), I believe that the human person has an unlimited capacity for the divine, both in our experience of living and our capacity to act.

I also believe that kinds words and small actions can make a world of difference.  In fact, I know it from experience.

But I also know from experience that people can be shallow, selfish, uncaring, and foolish in their choices.  The great religions of the world have dealt with this reality as well. Christians often refer to it as original sin. Another Jesuit theologian, William O’Malley, has gone on record saying that original sin is the only Christian doctrine that you can see on the front page of the newspaper every day. Recent events in Newtown, CT and closer to home in Lucedale, MS demonstrate that O’Malley is correct.

Believe it or not, I’m actually trying to live my life as a person of peace, as a person who fosters the dignity of others, as a person who is compassionate. Though I may not always succeed, in my work and in my personal affairs I actually try to do a bit more than expected, to reach out to those who are hurting, to make a real difference for the betterment of the lives of others.

That’s our moral duty.  Or so I believe.

I’m willing to bet that lots and lots of my neighbors believe likewise. We’re called to lives of moral activity. And by that I don’t just mean that we should stay out of trouble. As the Boy Scouts like to say, we should leave the place better than we found it. My Jewish friends refer to this as tikkun olam, “repairing the world.”  In my system of belief I am responsible for this. You are responsible for this. We are responsible for this.

So why do we cede this personal responsibility to the state?  I realize that Jesus said to “give to Caesar that which belongs to Caesar,” but I can find no evidence in the gospel accounts to justify the idea that we should give to Caesar so that Caesar can provide for the needy. It seems that Caesar isn’t doing a very good job of it, anyway.

When did it become the duty of the state to care for our neighbors? When did we decide that government bureaucrats could better care for the poor than churches? Why are those on the so-called “progressive” side of American politics considered to be the compassionate ones while those who argue for limited government supposedly have hard hearts and unreasonable demands? How did the insistence that laws, taxes, and regulations be applied equally and not to special parties become misrepresented as a preferential option for the rich?

Let’s get back to morality for a moment.

I truly believe the things that I enunciated above.  I think many others believe those things, too. But the problem with morality–like religion–is that it’s very subjective. I may believe that my moral standards are universal and should apply to everyone. You may disagree. You may have different universal standards. Whose will prevail? Who gets to tell everyone else how to live, how to work, and how to spend their money?

The great wisdom of our nation’s founders was that they recognized this inherent problem. They also recognized that ceding moral responsibility to centralized government necessarily implied the expansion of force. The more you authorize government to do, the greater must be its power to enforce its way. This would appear to be one more reason for limiting the power of government to essentials.

Obviously, in our federal system, certain prerogatives must be delegated to the federal government. The Constitution severely limits those things, and for good reason. Once they are ceded power, governments tend to accumulate more and more of it (both at home and abroad). Because of our history and our understanding of governmental power as based upon the will of the people, we Americans have generally been comfortable with the exercise of governmental regulation.

In my view it’s unfortunate, however, that we have now come to equate our society’s moral goodness with how much money government is taking from some to give to others.

This is not what the great religious traditions have in mind when it comes to their teaching on moral action. There is nothing inherently moral about bloated bureaucracies, wasteful spending, or specialized taxation aimed at particular segments of our society. If federal taxation is necessary, and it seems that it is, then it should be accomplished fairly, evenly, and with an eye to funding only the responsibilities specifically delegated to the federal government by the Constitution.

Anything else is immoral, especially when it has resulted in $16 trillion in debt–a debt that is already harming the poor and destroying the economic future of our children (meaning an increase in future poverty).

Obama the Avenging Angel

untitledHere in the South we have an old saying that comes to mind in times like these:  “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”

When Barack Obama was elected to the presidency in 2008, he pulled off the greatest political hoax of all time. Then he did it again in 2012, to an even greater and more damaging degree.  In 2008 most Americans didn’t know who he really was or what he stood for.  They elected him in spite of this.  By 2012 they did know–and they re-elected him anyway.

Internationally, Barack Obama intends to put the United States in its place.  Domestically, he intends to fix what has been wrong with the nation since its founding.  American capitalism is a gangrenous limb to him that must be amputated, even if the patient doesn’t recognize its poison.  For the next four years he will be relentless.  He will saw, hack, and chop off anyone and any institution that stands in his way.  Helping him in his hell-bent mission are his union and corporate minions whose pockets are stuffed with government cash disguised as “stimulus funding” and “quantitative easing.”

Nothing matters to him but his goal:  certainly not truth or honesty.  He is not interested in governing for the good of all.  He seeks only to divide us into competing constituencies where he can demonize those whose personal sacrifice has brought them success.  Those who have built businesses, earned salaries, and saved for retirement have done it by unjust treatment of others.  They have accomplished these things by harming, depriving, and cheating others whose backs were the stepping stones to their wealth.  So he believes.

You see, for Barack Obama, capitalism is not a form of economic freedom.  It’s not a way of social interaction for the sake of mutual benefit.  It’s a system of theft.  It’s dishonest.  It’s diseased.  It must be cut out.

And how does he propose to do it?  The first stage is already complete.  He has stolen from free-market enterprise the very language that explains it.  Back in July the president reminded us that “if you were successful somebody along the line gave you help.”  He went on to say that “if you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that.  Somebody else made that happen.”  Then, in October, he offered this insight: “As Abraham Lincoln understood, there are some things that we do better together.”

For all of his limitations, Obama is a master political strategist.  He learned his strategy from the very best of socialist agitators.  He is, after all, a community organizer.  His talents are to be found in primarily one area:  mobilizing mobs who make demands while threatening with the possibility of violence.  He does this by hijacking the message of his political adversaries, reframing that message and then turning it against them.

Let me make it clear in the examples I gave from Obama’s campaign speeches earlier this year.  He says there are some things we do better together.  He says we need each other to be economically successful.  He says we need the expertise and talents of others to build businesses.  Those of us who believe in economic liberty (free-market exchange of capital) already know this.  We understand that we can only build our businesses with the help of others … that’s why we put them to work, paying higher wages to the best and brightest.  That’s why business competitors are always offering more incentives and greater benefits to workers!

When Barack Obama says “we,” he doesn’t mean “we free people.”  He means “we the government–we the ones with the armed power of the state who can take what we want from anyone we wish.”  He means “we who will tax, spend, and redistribute as we wish.” He also means “we who will allow you keep an appropriate amount of what you’ve earned, saved, or inherited.”  This is the all-wise, all-powerful “we” of tyrannical government. This is the very government that is seizing control of healthcare, inserting its bureaucrats into your medical decisions, raising taxes, destroying the value of the dollar, and making plans to confiscate private retirement funds.

To accomplish all that he hopes, President Obama must have the backing of the people as willing accomplices in his tyranny.  He can only get this cooperation if he convinces enough Americans that their dream of freedom and economic success was a nightmare from which they must be awakened.  It appears he may have already accomplished this.  Our nation’s founders feared this tyranny of the majority and attempted to establish a governmental system that would prevent it.  We have chipped away at the precautions they left us.

Obama’s goal is simple:  tax, spend, and create fiat money so fast and ferociously that the entire economic and financial system implodes.  When it does, the president will calmly step forward with his head held high and his chin thrust forward. “All is well,” he will tell us. “We, the government, will make all of this right for you.”  In their fear and panic, most Americans will agree to anything that appears to give them security.  Governmental power, already at a dangerous all-time high, will increase exponentially.  The remaking of America will then be complete.

Like I said, you ain’t see nothin’ yet.

Happy Thanksgiving!

On this day of national thanksgiving, take a moment to remind your loved ones of those whose sacrifice has made it possible for us to enjoy what liberty still remains.  Recommit yourself to the Constitution, and to the principles of limited government that served as the hallmark for our nation’s founding.

Forget politics for the day.  Relish your family and friends. Thank a member of the armed forces.  Hug a person whom you love.

Finally, please accept my sincere thanks on this anniversary.  The Liberty Professor’s blog is one year old.  In honor of this day I leave you the following prayer composed by George Washington at the end of the Revolutionary War.  It was forwarded to the governors of the thirteen, newly-independent states.  In sending it Washington addressed those governors as “your Excellency” because of his reverence for the sovereignty of their states.  Note as well that although Washington prays for “a spirit of subordination and obedience to government,” his vision of government was one that was severely limited in its scope and powers.  That was the only thing that truly made it valid.

The “Earnest Prayer” of General George Washington
at the Disbanding of the Continental Army
June 14, 1783

I now make it my earnest prayer that God would have you, and the State over which you preside, in his holy protection; that he would incline the hearts of the citizens to cultivate a spirit of subordination and obedience to government, to entertain a brotherly affection and love for one another, for their fellow-citizens of the United States at large, and particularly for brethren who have served in the field; and finally that he would most graciously be pleased to dispose us all to do justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that charity, humility, and pacific temper of mind, which were the characteristics of the Divine Author of our blessed religion, and without an humble imitation of whose example in these things, we can never hope to be a happy nation.

The Truth About Liberalism

Ludwig von Mises, Founder of the "Austrian School" of Economics, and Proponent of Free-Market Capitalism

Ludwig von Mises, Founder of the “Austrian School” of Economics, and Proponent of Free-Market Capitalism

What is liberalism?  What is a liberal education?  Why do college students receive degrees in something called “liberal arts”?  Has liberalism always been what it is today?  These are fascinating questions.

Many people fail to understand that what is now referred to as “liberalism” was once known more by the terms “statism” and “socialism.”  The original version of liberalism–which is often known as classic liberalism–is now found among those who prefer smaller government and free markets.  As the power of monarchies in old Europe came crashing down with the Enlightenment and the dawn of modernity, the “liberals” back then were those who argued that government is valid only when it receives the approval of the people.  Those classic liberals understood that if economic freedom was granted to everyone, wealth could be pursued by all and would no longer be the prerogative of a few powerful lords and ladies.

We Americans are inheritors of this vision.  It came from the great thinkers of Europe and is enshrined in the founding documents of our nation.  “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” are specifically mentioned in the Declaration of Independence.  There we are told that the power of government is derived from “the consent of the governed.”  If government no longer assists us in securing these aims, “it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it.”  Note that there is no mention in the Declaration that government should make us happy or give us the things that secure our happiness.  That is up to us.

Liberalism as originally defined was freedom from many evil things:  the powerful grip of royalty, excessive taxation, limits on legitimate business, forced enlistment in the army or navy, and from the destitution caused when economic power is held only by a privileged few.  Those early liberals were apostles of freedom.

The right of kings and princes to rule was a divine right, one granted by Almighty God–or so the people were told.  Who told them that?  The princes and kings, of course.

The first people who engaged in the free exchange of goods or services put a kink in the armor of the powerful.  All it took was for one person to trade something to someone else, not because they were told to do so, and not because a feudal prince demanded it.  They did it because it was of economic benefit to themselves and their loved ones.

With that first exchange the notion of economic liberty was born.  The Genie of Power and Control was out of the bottle.  Kings, princes, and sometimes even popes have been trying to put that genie back ever since.  You see, it’s not just the genie that has a name.  The bottle also has a name.  It’s called Government.

The freedom of making one’s own economic choices has proved its power to make the lives of everyone better.  With its arrival a new light burst upon the affairs of humanity.  As economist Ludwig von Mises wrote in his book Liberalism, “a magnificent economic development took place.  The release of man’s productive powers multiplied the means of subsistence many times over.”  The ideas of classic, original liberalism dropped the infant mortality rate, increased health, and destroyed “the barriers that in earlier ages had separated the lords and serfs.”

But woe to the growing middle class!  When there is creation of genuine wealth, the tax collector is never far behind.  Princes may be rare today or may supposedly be curtailed by constitutions, but we humans lose our abilities to reason when it comes to the hard work and wealth of others.  Under the guise of guaranteeing equality, the monarch has returned to America but with a new name:  the federal government.

Government feeds upon the anxiety and greed of the people who would rather know immediate gratification than long-term security.  As Mises tells us, the light of a free economy emancipated humanity from a society where power was in the hands of “the special interests of certain classes.” In response, what did powerful government do?  It involved itself in those formerly free transactions and once again granted power to its chosen classes of special interest.

This was done, of course, under the guise of securing equality.  What was really guaranteed was not equality but statism, powerful centralized government that increasingly meddled in the affairs of citizens at all levels.  Then, insult was added to injury:  powerful statists and their socialist supporters hijacked the name “liberal.”  Twisting the facts, statists repainted the world to convince the greedy that the free exchange of goods and services was the cause of all the world’s misery and poverty.  The truth was just the opposite.  Those who tried to point this out were labelled as “dangerous” and “radical.”

These days, it would appear that Ludwig von Mises was right:  “nothing is left of liberalism but the name.”  Today’s liberals–who have stolen the name “liberal” from those who value freedom–spend their time condemning the advocates of free markets.  Capitalism, they claim, promotes “only the special interests of certain classes.”  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  Only government has the necessary power to guarantee the success or destruction of any class of people.

America has come full circle.  Is it an economic monarchy that we want?  Call them presidents, senators, congressmen, or bureaucrats–if they wield excessive power they might as well be princes or kings.

Imagine an economic and social system where powerful people constantly tell you what to do, and how to do it.  Imagine that these powerful people live extraordinary lives of privilege.  Imagine that they have armed men and women to enforce their will.  No matter how often they tell you that their actions are “for the common good,” it still sounds like monarchy to me.

Do you duty as a free citizen tomorrow.  Revolt.  Do it peacefully, but revolt.  Remind the political elites that you are not a serf.  We don’t have princes in America.  We don’t have kings.  And we don’t want them.

Mises was inspired by the legendary character Faust, taking for himself the immortal words with which I leave you.  I beg you to remember them tomorrow as you vote:  “No man deserves his freedom or his life who does not daily win them anew.”

Quotations from Ludwig von Mises are drawn from the introductory chapter of the 2012 reprint of his 1962 edition of Liberalism (Important Books imprint, first paperback edition).  The text is also found online, compliments of the Ludwig von Mises Institute at Auburn University.  To access the online version, click HERE.