Dying to be left alone?

In a post at Tech Central Station (via InstaPundit), Professor Bainbridge does an excellent job of defending Ronald Reagan's small government philosophy:

Reagan was a proponent of negative rights; most notably, Reagan espoused the right to be left alone.
Bainbridge takes issue with so-called "positive rights" -- the nonsensical notion that there is (or should be) a "right" to have something at the expense of others.

This right to be left alone is the most fundamental of all rights, and it is what the constitution -- with its central idea of limited government -- was designed to protect. Reagan saw correctly that the role of government had grown way out of hand, and I think he tried to do what one president could to roll it back. But that was nowhere near enough; in the years since he left office, the federal government has continued to grow in size and power, and no matter who's president, he's about as powerless to stop it as King Canute.

That's because the one thing that once stood in the way of large government -- the constitution -- has been rendered meaningless.

If you think I'm exaggerating, well, I do keep a copy lying around, and I read it occasionally when I can stand it. Enumerated powers? Ninth and Tenth Amendments?

Amendment IX

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Amendment X

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.

What a laugh! I see examples daily. There isn't anything which isn't regulated by the federal government, which must give permission to whether, where, and how we are allowed to work, how we live and die, how much we are to be paid, what we are allowed to eat, drink, ingest, or even hear, where we are allowed to live and what we are allowed to build. (Last night some neighbors told me the federal government forbids them from putting a pool anywhere in their two acre yard because it's too close to a local creek and therefore a "federal wetland.") The federal government now must approve every sale of every private home.

Show me how the Tenth Amendment isn't now just a joke and I'll stop laughing.

Anyway, what Ronald Reagan said twenty years ago was absolutely right then, and it still looks pretty good when you read it today.

It's just that it didn't happen.

Look at the numbers showing the hopelessly, constantly metastasizing federal government.

And it isn't just about money. While our freedom would be safer if they just piled up the money and burned it, unfortunately, that money goes directly into oppressive regulatory programs that strangle freedom:

Our out-of-control budget also erodes personal freedom. When government grows, as Thomas Jefferson once famously put it, "liberty yields." Dollar by trillion dollar we are voluntarily giving up our liberties for a government that promises us, in return, a blanket of protection from cradle to coffin. Republicans are steering us in the direction of the "workers' paradise" of a European socialist welfare state. The reply from the Democrats is faster, faster.
Long ago, we lost the right to be left alone. We're all crowded together on a one-way train towards a paradise of positive rights -- a world in which we are all our brother's keeper, whether we like it or not. A world in which no one has the right to be left alone.

We can't vote whether to get on or off the train; the only purpose of voting is to elect people who will set its speed to slower or faster.

Reagan couldn't stop it. Can anyone?

UPDATE: Megan McArdle offers more on positive "rights" and the tactics of Newspeak:

make revolution unthinkable by making it impossible to communicate contrary thoughts
I don't need a dictionary to tell me that "the poor" have no more right to my property than did the British king. I have no duty to either. No amount of obfuscation over the definition of rights can transform one's right to property into a right of others to take it.

posted by Eric on 06.09.04 at 08:49 AM


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Dying to be left alone?:

» The United States Federal Government: The Imperial Super-State from Jim Lynch: On the Soapbox
Classical Values (one of my favorite blogs) has a great entry up about the growth of government. He hits the nail on the head about the ridiculous size of the federal government and how much it governs every freaking facet of our lives these days. I... [Read More]
Tracked on June 9, 2004 11:37 PM


"Inter-state commerce" as an excuse for federal government is a serious problem. If I was American and thought about it too much I could see retreating with my arsenal to a shack in Montana.

Ghost of a flea   ·  June 9, 2004 10:10 AM

Excellent post. I hate to say it but, no, I don't think anyone can stop it. We live under the authority of an imperial federal government than does whatever the hell it wants to do. The Constitution was shredded a long, long time ago and nobody seems to be able to fix the problem.

Certainly the Republicrats aren't doing anything to fix it. And our society is filled with busybodies who try to mind everybody else's business. We have the Religious Right (the Holy Rollers I call them) and the PC Leftists both trying to jam their ideology down everybody else's throats.

I don't see the situation getting any better in the years ahead. In fact, I see it getting worse. On and on and on it has gone and it will continue to do so for the forseeable future.

Jim Lynch   ·  June 9, 2004 11:46 AM

A few judges in the 1930s (frightened by FDR's court-packing plan) made bad law, but no one dares get rid of it, as it is the cornerstone of modern federal power.

As to your shacks, they don't meet building codes. Any "arsenals" are likwise subject to massive government regulation.

Eric Scheie   ·  June 9, 2004 11:49 AM

Yet another excellent post. You are absolutely right. The most fundamental right, the _only_ right, is the right to be left alone. All of the rights in the Bill of Rights (both enumerated and non-enumerated) are variations on that theme.

It's like inflation, where the government printing out more and ever more dollar bills makes your money worthless. The manufacture of more and ever more phony "positive rights" (to a guaranteed job, housing, health care, education, and on and on...) destroys our real rights.

"What is to be done?", as our enemy Lenin asked. Well, he did plenty. It looks like we need a counter-Lenin, just as Ayn Rand was in many ways the counter-Karl Marx. We need another Reagan, another Goldwater, another Lincoln, another Adams, another Madison, another Jefferson, another Washington, another Marshall. But where are we to find such men? Hmmm....

I think, as Rand once said, that "it's earlier than you think". Before we can have a political counter-revolution, we need a jurisprudential counter-revolution, a philosophical counter-revolution, a spiritual counter-revolution. As a young Bircher once said, the solution is difficult.

This was _too_ good a post! I should have put my comment in S&G form. Hmmm....

The answer is to flee and establish new colonies, starting perhaps in the oceans. With a fresh constitution...

Tom Robinson   ·  June 9, 2004 8:31 PM

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