Hornberger's Blog

Hornberger's Blog is a daily libertarian blog written by Jacob G. Hornberger, founder and president of FFF.
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Needed: An Enlightened Citizenry That Values Liberty


President Obama has unilaterally decided to deploy U.S. troops to Iraq, where they will be embroiled in Iraq’s civil war by helping the government side kill the anti-government side.

But where in the Constitution is such a power delegated to the president?

Keep in mind that when the Constitution called the federal government into existence, it was with the understanding that the government’s powers would be limited to those enumerated within the document itself and to those implied powers that would be necessary to carrying out the enumerated powers. If a power wasn’t enumerated, then the federal officials simply would not be authorized to exercise them.

This is what was meant by the concept of “limited government.” The concept entails limitations on the part of the president, the Congress, and the judiciary, which were the three branches of government established by the Constitution.

The alternative to limited government is dictatorship — that is, a government with no restrictions on power. With dictatorship, the ruler decides what his powers are and when he is going to exercise them.

So, here is the situation: Our American ancestors decide to bring the federal government into existence, but on the condition that its powers are limited to those enumerated within the Constitution. The Constitution does not authorize the president to embroil the United States in a foreign civil war. Nevertheless, Obama is deploying troops to Iraq.

So, how can Obama’s unilateral decision be reconciled with the Constitution and the concept of limited government?

It can’t be so reconciled. It is much more consistent with the concept of dictatorship, the system by which a ruler, democratically elected or not, decides the nature and extent of his own powers, a system in which the ruler will not permit himself to be constrained by the Constitution or, for that matter, duly enacted law.

This isn’t the only place, of course, in which this phenomenon is occurring. Americans now live in a country in which the president, through the military and the CIA, wields the authority to take people, including Americans, into custody, incarcerate them in military dungeons or concentration camps, torture them, execute them, or simply assassinate them, all without impunity so long as they say it’s for “national security.”

On top of all that, we have the NSA, by which the president places massive, secret surveillance schemes on the American people, recording their telephone information, reading their emails, and monitoring their Internet activity, and who knows what else.

No such powers are delegated to the president in the Constitution. The president, with the help of the Pentagon, the CIA, and the NSA, is simply wielding them and exercising them.

Does that look like a free society to you? Does it seem like limited government to you? Why didn’t the Framers delegate such powers to the president? Why did our ancestors expressly prohibit the exercise of such powers in the Bill of Rights? Why, even the much ballyhooed concept of “national security” isn’t even mentioned one single time in the Constitution.

Don’t forget, also, that the president now wields and exercises the power to wage war against other nation states without the constitutionally required congressional declaration of war. He makes the call, notwithstanding the fact that the Constitution states that Congress makes the call.

One problem is that much of this can be traced to the nature of people who are drawn to power. The love of power is in their DNA. They will come up with any excuse or rationalization they can find to justify what they are doing. Or they’ll provoke crises to provide them with the excuse to enlarge their power, influence, and money. Our ancestors understood that, which is why they used the Constitution and Bill of Rights to enumerate the government’s powers.

A second problem is what we know as the national-security state apparatus, which was grafted onto our constitutional order after World War II, without even the semblance of a constitutional amendment. It consists of a vast military establishment, an overseas empire of bases, a CIA with the authority to engage in covert interventionism, and an overall philosophy of empire and interventionism.

A third problem is the federal judiciary’s decision to abrogate its responsibility to enforce the Constitution against the president, the Pentagon, and the CIA with respect to foreign wars and foreign interventions.

The judiciary, of course, has concocted all sorts of legal mumbo-jumbos to justify its abrogation of responsibility—concepts like “the political question doctrine” or the “state secrets doctrine,” or “national security,” none of which are in the Constitution itself.

Why did the judiciary do that? The most likely reason is that when it comes to foreign affairs, the judges knew that the president, the military, and the CIA wouldn’t comply with judicial rulings anyway, especially given the ever-growing power of the military and the CIA to resist the enforcement of judicial rulings.

The biggest problem, however, lies with the American people. No matter how well-written a constitution is, while it might forestall dictatorial tendencies of public officials for a time, it will never do so in the long run so long as the citizenry either don’t care about liberty or are willing to surrender their liberty for the promise of “safety” or “security.”

Thus, what matters most of all is a knowledgeable and aware citizenry that is passionately committed to liberty, knows what it means, and isn’t willing to surrender it for anything, a citizenry that is able to recognize big government scams for what they are, a citizenry that understands, as the Framers and our ancestors did, that a national-security state apparatus, a foreign policy of empire and intervention, and a standing army, a CIA, and a NSA are all antithetical to the principles of a free society.


This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.