The Corner

Liberty, If You Can Keep It

I think we spend much too much time fretting about things like political candidates, presidential advisers, and other transitory ephemera, and not enough time pondering what sort of nation we are turning ourselves into – with the enthusiastic consent of many of the governed. And on this Fourth, it’s not a pretty sight. From my New York Post column today: 

Now, everyone can recall the stirring preamble to the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights…” The entire American experiment in personal liberty is predicated upon them.

What’s often forgotten, though — especially by the likes of Pelosi — is what comes next: the bill of particulars against King George III that justified the colonial rebellion. And it’s helpful to recall how we got here — and what we must always be on guard against.

“He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance,” reads one of Jefferson’s indictments against the king. Today, those words nicely cover big government, the intrusive leviathan state and its army of unelected regulators and unaccountable bureaucrats who really run the country.

Recent and still unfolding scandals involving the Internal Revenue Service (now hiring some 16,000 new agents to enforce ObamaCare’s mandate that everyone buy health insurance or pay a “tax” for noncompliance) show just how much we have to fear from politicized agents acting not on behalf of the nation but of the government.

Throw in the National Security Agency’s warrantless snooping through the metadata of millions of Americans and foreigners in the name of “national security,” and you have a potential tyranny far more dangerous than anything the Hanoverian monarchs ever dreamt of.

It’s rare that I’ve ever found myself in agreement with a Democrat, but one I’ve long admired for his ruthless amoralism is my fellow Irish-American, George Washington Plunkitt, a sachem of Tammany Hall back in the Wigwam’s glory days in the first couple of decades of the 20th century. His most famous aphorism — “I seen my opportunities and I took ‘em” — is justly famous as the purest defense of what Plunkitt called “honest graft,” but the great man was also a staunch opponent of the civil service and its baleful effect on participatory democracy. The very notion that there exists among us selfless human beings who can act without fear or favor as disinterested functionaries in the service of the state could only be believed by a modern Regressive; even the father of such fatuous idiocy, Jean-Jacques Rousseau (one of history’s great villains), wouldn’t have fallen for that one. 

A land conceived in individual liberty — not group identity — and in like-minded community organizations, such as churches and social clubs — not the top-down handiwork of Alinskyite “community organizers” — is morphing into a country of supplicants, always on the lookout for the next handout.

What the left ignores or denies is that there is no such thing as group liberty, group rights or group anything — that favoritism to one protected class must necessarily come at the expense of some other group. That “communities” spring not from outside agitators trying to pit various classes of people against one another, but from the souls of the people who voluntarily form them.

That “regulation,” in its original sense, meant facilitating matters to let individuals prosper, not micro-managing peoples’ lives from Washington.

That, in short, liberty is either for everyone, or for no one.

It’s hard to see how individual liberty can be preserved with the Feds setting loose swarms of officers to harrass our people and eat out their substance — and with half the nation cheering them on. That’s not democracy, or even a representative Republic. It’s mob rule. Somehow, I don’t think that’s what the Founders had in mind.

Michael Walsh — Mr. Walsh is the author of the novels Hostile Intent and Early Warning and, writing as frequent NRO contributor David Kahane, Rules for Radical Conservatives.

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