“If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.” – James Madison, Federalist Papers
Obama “Negative Liberty” Argument: Much has been said recently by the progressive liberals about the need for a “living constitution,” adaptable to political and cultural climates of a modern evolving world.
Add Mr. Obama’s comment calling the US Constitution a “charter of negative liberties” in his criticism for the need to have the “can do’s” vs. the “can’t do’s” available to government. The US Constitution was intentionally structured to keep the government from infringing upon people’s rights as found in the Constitution and Bill of Rights. “Negative liberties,” from Mr. Obama’s scholarly view, means that the Founder’s formula for less government—what government may not impose—means restricting big government power and behavior.
Big Government Has a Problem: This is problematic to the ideologues of “big government” who detest restrictions upon power or behavior. Because our Constitution set up a “people’s law” vs. “ruler’s law” authority, it insures limits upon big government perspective which encourages whims-of-the-day lawmaking. These boundaries imposed by the Constitution are indeed “positive” liberties reserved to the people.
Common Sense: If God or angels were in charge, we’d presumably have a benevolent, all knowing, perfectly thoughtful-of-the-smallest-needs, ruler. Instead we have a proven 222 year run with an inspired Constitution resulting in the greatest health, wealth, and freedom to a citizenry the world has ever known.
Not bad for a “charter of negative liberties.”
Moral Behavior and Governance: A well-known story illustrates a point worth remembering.
When Moses first came off Sinai, he was carrying the highest law God could offer; you might say the commandments of “Yes” – simple stuff like loving God and neighbors with all your heart; in short the freeing principles of selfless behavior and service.
But because it had been awhile since the hosts of Israel had last seen the good leader who dealt directly with God and angels—providing leadership, food, and direction—they became fearful. Left to their own devices, they resorted to ultimate self-serving behavior.
Moses did return, of course. Upon seeing the people in their self-destructive debauchery he angrily smashed the tablets and headed back up the mountain. When he came down again, he appeared with the new stone tablets familiar to us all; the ten “thou shalt not’s.”
These Ten Commandments were Israel’s first Constitution of sorts; a common sense charter for civility and restraints all well-ordered societies rightfully demand from their citizens.
When “NO” Means “YES” to Freedom: It’s basic. The collective conscience of all societies say murder, immorality, stealing, coveting, greed, etc. lead to extraordinary lists of personal and societal problems, not the least of which is a loss of peace and freedom for all.
The Founding Fathers were students of past history and human nature. They knew that when a little authority is given a King, magistrate, or master over the affairs of men, the temptation exists to continually seek more power until fundamental freedoms may ultimately be lost.
They also intuited that this new land required a Constitution which would be workable as Benjamin Franklin declared: “Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious they have more need of masters.”
Our Constitution and Bill of Rights has said “No” to government imposition over fundamental citizen rights, and “masters.” This “No” means “Yes” to maximum individual and societal freedom.
A Return to Honor: We the people are responsible for our freedoms. If good conduct is to be expected of Federal and State leaders should it not arise from us first? Should we not then elect representatives based upon honor and virtues we expect and stay vigilant over them?
Given daily revelations about the public and private corruption, lies, mocking of our sacred charter of liberty, what does that say about us who elects these caretakers of precious freedoms?
The words of John Adams would serve us well to insure the people we elect remember a Constitutional “No” always means “Yes” to freedom:
“What is to become of an independent statesman? One who will bow the knee to no idol, who will worship nothing as a divinity but truth, virtue, and his country? I will tell you; he will be regarded more by posterity than those who worship hounds and horses, and although he will not make his own fortune, he will make a fortune for his country.”
James Michael Pratt is a New York Times bestselling novelist and non-fiction author of nine works, CEO of PowerThink Publishing, public speaker, and Founder of Reagan Revolution 2. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.