In the absence of government, anarchy sets in. In the presence of an all powerful government you have totalitarianism. In both cases a man’s attention must be focused on attending to the immediacies necessary for survival. In the former, dangers can be found around any corner as everyone fends for themselves. In the latter, dangers can be found around every corner as the government controls and sees all. When your entire existence is focused on surviving one day to the next, it’s difficult to focus on things like science, leisure or any of the myriad other things we take for granted in civilized society.
As such, the natural condition of human interaction demands governance of some sort in order to have more than simple survival. Government typically starts as a result of groups of individuals seeking to bring order out of chaos who form a governing body of limited power. As time goes by, governments tend to move from one side of the control spectrum to the other as they slowly begin to accumulate more and more power. Eventually a government will become sufficiently oppressive that its subjects revolt. How that revolt plays itself out can take many forms. In some cases it’s an even more brutal regime – think Iran – in some cases it can bring a return to anarchy – the French Revolution – or in others it brings about something in between – the signing of the Magna Carta.
It is from this cauldron of constantly morphing social and governmental forms the United States was born. After the misstep of the Articles of Confederation, the nation found its footing with the Constitution. The beauty of the Constitution was that it was written specifically to limit the power and reach of the government while giving that same government sufficient power to accomplish the tasks delegated to it. Unfortunately, over the last seventy five years the government has blasted through many of those fundamental limitations.
The result has been far too much regulation. When a statist like President Obama says as much in the Wall Street Journal, it must be obvious. Today there are more government regulations than at any point in our history. (Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama are not solely to blame for this however; after all, Richard Nixon gave us the EPA…) Indeed, before Obama FDR was the patron saint of regulation. Imagine, in 1934 alone the federal government generated over 10,000 pages of new law, four times what had been generated during the combined history of the country’s first 150 years of existence! Today laws with thousands of pages seem to be as common as the Sunday paper.
The problem with all of this? It’s the polar opposite of what our country was founded on in the first place. When it comes to the foundation of the United States, the Declaration of Independence is the why and the Constitution is the how. When government expands across the control spectrum to the point where it regulates (read: controls) everything its citizens do, then the ability of the citizens to pursue the original intent of the founders (Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness) is lost. And it’s not necessarily the laws themselves but their breadth and incomprehensibility. When one has a tax code that is 60,000 pages the sheer uncertainty of what is legal and the fear of penalty for making the wrong guess can be debilitating.
At what point does a government cross the threshold to be considered totalitarian? If it stops you from speaking? If it stops you from reading or writing books? If it stops you from practicing your religion? Most people would answer yes… obviously. What about if it decides it can tell you how and where you must spend your money? What if it seizes citizen’s property on a whim without providing you with just compensation? What if it suggests you might be a threat to national security simply because you once served in its military? What if it makes laws then exempts its friends from obeying them? If the government can do just about anything it wants, is it any less totalitarian just because its stormtroopers are not yet kicking down your door?
Americans have been bequeathed the greatest gift that any nation has ever been given. Our Constitution, albeit imperfect, provides an unparalleled framework for a nation to grow while almost perfectly sheltering its citizens from the chaos of anarchy or the choke-hold of totalitarianism. Over the last 75 years however, as Americans have been beguiled by the siren song of government protection from all manner of risk, the Constitution has been allowed to fade into a quaint anachronistic set of guidelines rather than a solid foundation for the rule of law. A constitution is merely words on a piece of paper. It can’t stop bullets, it can’t make you happy and it can’t feed your family. Our Constitution is only as strong as those who believe in its words and understand that it is a framework for letting citizens pursue happiness within the balance between anarchy and dictatorship.
Have we as nation become so enamored with government largesse and “protections” that we are unable to see that the distance between a government that recognizes no limits on its law making is not so far from a government that will use its police powers to enforce the resulting legislation? The Tea Party movement suggests that there remain some people who recognize the value of a strong constitution and a limited government. Let’s hope the energy from 2010 can be sustained through 2012 and beyond.