Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Ruminations on Jefferson's Thought

The anniversary of Thomas Jefferson's birth always presents an opportunity to ruminate on his thought. The happy problem is that it was so rich it would take a book to even begin. So, I'm going to limit myself to commenting on one quote that is particularly apt these days:
"All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression."

- Thomas Jefferson: 1st Inaugural, 1801
Given the recent amplification of assaults on liberty, viz. on individuals living peacefully and minding their own business without being forced to be a caretaker to others, it's useful to remind everyone that individuals have rights, not the mass.

While it's true that, in the case of HR 3590, a clear majority of citizens opposed its passage, one Progressive argued that we haven't had a Federal election since November, 2008. Therefore, anything the majority of Congress decided to do was legitimate, since the majority of people chose them. If those who disagreed didn't like it, they should shut up until November 2010, then express their views at the ballot box.

Nothing could be more pernicious, more injurious to liberty, or even more just plain false.

Let's ignore for the moment that this is wholly impractical advice. Pro-liberty advocates could never hope to elect anyone they favor if they remained silent and did nothing but vote. That Democrat certainly knew that, but nice try at intimidation.

Ignore, too, just now, all the dirty tricks Democrats pulled to pass the bill. Republicans' hands are plenty dirty in that regard, as well. And, anyway, such has always been the method of men given too much power in the first place, of any party.

No, I want to go farther and side with Jefferson, by recognizing that Democracy itself — while far from the worst possible method of choosing representatives — contains a serious flaw if applied to what those representatives may do.

When the majority come to believe — as it's safe to say today it does — 'anything goes', so long as it's done lawfully and by vote, then even the idea of a Republic is in great danger of ceasing to exist. (The fact was gone some years ago.)

Fortunately, there are more and more every day coming to recognize ever more clearly the nature and extent of that danger. Jefferson would unquestionably be troubled at what Progressives of both parties have done with his co-invention. But, if the pro-liberty faction continues to expand — and gets even clearer about the reasons it deserves to succeed — we may yet be able to celebrate a few more birthdays of the man who said:
A bill of rights is what the people are entitled to against every government on earth, general or particular, and what no just government should refuse.

- Jefferson in a letter to James Madison, Dec. 20, 1787, and
"To preserve the independence of the people, we must not let our rulers load us with perpetual debt. We must make our election between economy and liberty, or profusion and servitude."

- Thomas Jefferson to Samuel Kercheval, 1816

"Considering the general tendency to multiply offices and dependencies, and to increase expense to the ultimate term of burden which the citizen can bear, may it never be seen here that, after leaving to labor the smallest portion of its earnings on which it can subsist, government shall itself consume the residue of what it was instituted to guard."

- Thomas Jefferson: 1st Annual Message, 1801 [ibid]

"To take from one, because it it is thought that his own industry and that of his fathers has acquired too much, in order to spare to others who,or whose fathers have not exercised equal industry and skill, is to violate arbitrarily the first principle of association "The guaranty to every one of a free exercise of his industry and the fruits acquired by it."

– Thomas Jefferson, letter to Joseph Milligan, 6 April 1816 [ibid]

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