What happened to our healthy distrust of government?
The most basic principle of liberty is that it is impossible to create or maintain a government that protects freedom without understanding human nature. Despite that, the political class in this country wants us to completely ignore everything we know about the flaws of human nature when it comes to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA).
For example, it’s in our nature to take advantage of each other and do bad things. Think of how toddlers play – they don’t have to be taught to steal. It’s just natural for them to go over to other children and take what they want. They have to be taught not to steal.
Most of us learn to control those kinds of instincts, but not all of us do. Because of that, if you give the government an opportunity to grab more power, sooner or later it is going to do it. To protect against these flaws in human nature, we must write our laws with the assumption that the government is run by bad people who will try to abuse those laws. That way, when someone comes along who does have bad intentions there are already safeguards in place.
Despite all of this, those in the political establishment have chosen to label anyone who raises a concern over NDAA or SOPA as paranoid conspiracy theorists. It’s as if they are so preoccupied with sounding “rational” that they’ve lost all common sense.
Side note: Who is the political class or political establishment? It’s the group of people who arrogantly argue for the status quo as the only reasonable option. The mainstream media and leadership of both political parties are made up almost entirely of establishment types.
Identifying people with this mindset is simple. It’s like the old theory on the crazy people in your family. Everyone has at least one crazy person in their family. You’re thinking of them right now… and if no one immediately comes to mind, look in the mirror.
If you read my mention of the political establishment, chuckled smugly and said, “What political establishment?”, well…
Is it really that hard to imagine – given all that we’ve seen throughout our history – a crisis happening that allows politicians to point to NDAA to say, “Gosh, we really don’t want to detain American citizens… but we have to for security purposes.” Never let a good crisis go to waste, right?
Or with SOPA, access to a web site can be blocked simply on the accusation that it is enabling copyright infringement. Not after it has been proven. Or after the owner of the site has the opportunity to face his accuser. The site can be blocked simply based on an accusation.
Is it that hard to imagine that a politician who is dealing with a particularly critical web site during campaign season might find a way to “accuse” that site of enabling copyright infringement in order to get it blocked?
Are these scenarios likely? No. But they are certainly plausible. And that‘s enough to prove that these bills need to be rewritten.
Can there really any question that there are politicians will take every opportunity we give them to abuse their powers at a time when the president is desperately trying to bastardize the term “recess” in an attempt to get around the separation of powers?
This is the same president who recently announced that he was scouring through law books looking for every opportunity he has to circumvent Congress and do what he wants. So it’s not “paranoid” or “conspiratorial” to believe that politicians will look for loopholes or poorly worded laws that they can exploit for their own benefit.
These two incidents of presidential over-reach ought to serve glaring examples of exactly why we need to be cautious about any power that is granted to government.
Our self-proclaimed intellectual betters in the political class seemed to have forgotten two very important lessons:
1. Politicians who intend to take away your freedom rarely come out and announce it beforehand. If they did, they would run into a lot of resistance – which would make it tougher for them to achieve their goal. That’s why they tend to disguise oppressive measures in laws that seem benign on the surface.
Sure, proponents of these bills might claim that they address very worthwhile problems, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be suspicious of them. It’s always wise to question what the government is doing – especially when it is being given more power.
2. Dangerous legislation is often passed by politicians who have the best of intentions. Today’s members of Congress may be 100% sincere in their belief that the NDAA and SOPA will be good for the country. But the fact that this group of politicians plans to use them honorably doesn’t stop the next administration – or the one after that – from exploiting the sloppy way in which these bills were written.
It is for these reasons that – during the Virginia Ratifying Convention in 1788 – William Grayson warned us that:
“Power ought to have such checks and limitations as to prevent bad men from abusing it. It ought to be granted on the supposition that men will be bad; for it may eventually be so.”
Unfortunately, NDAA and SOPA have been written with the completely opposite mindset. They seem to assume that politicians will always be good and never try to take advantage of the openings these bills provide for oppressive, political enforcement.
The need to understand human nature didn’t end when the Constitution was finished. We need to keep it at the front of our minds as we create legislation today as well. It’s only when we understand the flaws of human nature that we are able to create laws that will protect our freedom in the long run.
Granted, writing laws that take human nature into account and aren’t open to abuse takes a lot of time and effort. But maybe members of Congress could find the time to do that if they focused on crafting a few good laws each session instead of trying to ram as many 2,000 page monstrosities down our throat as possible.
As it stands, NDAA and SOPA are sloppily written and leave open the possibility for abuse. In a situation where the penalty for sloppiness is the potential destruction of our freedom, I expect a whole heck of a lot more clarity that what we’ve gotten with these bills. If the political establishment wants to interpret that concern over the flippant attitude Congress has take toward our liberty, well, that explains a lot about why our country is in the shape it is right now.