ALMOST SOLD OUT! COME TO CHARLESTON! The Ron Paul Institute and The Future of Freedom Foundation are co-hosting a conference on U.S. foreign policy in Charleston, SC, on Sunday, April 29, from 1-5 pm. Speakers: Ron Paul, Dan McAdams, Richard Ebeling, and Jacob Hornberger, with special guest Congressman Mark Sanford. Details here.
A progressive friend of FFF — one who donates to FFF because he respects our work — sent me a critical response to my article “Freedom and Income Taxation Are Opposites.” He writes:
Jacob, Not true. When we citizens vote, through our duly elected representatives, to employ an income tax to fund government that we, as citizens through our elected representatives decide to fund, it is perfectly compatible with a free democracy.
My friend’s point provides a perfect opportunity to show how freedom and democracy are different concepts. In fact, as our American ancestors so clearly understood, democracy is actually a grave threat to freedom, which is undoubtedly why it isn’t even mentioned in the U.S. Constitution.
Let’s change my friend’s statement to the following:
When we citizens vote, through our duly elected representatives, to require everyone to attend Catholic Mass on Sundays, it is perfectly compatible with a free democracy.
Most Americans would have serious objections to that proposition, even if the vote was, say, 80%—20% in favor of it.
Of course, one objection would be: “Jacob, that wouldn’t be legal because the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits it.”
But doesn’t that objection beg some questions: Why does the First Amendment prohibit our elected representatives from enacting such a law? Why shouldn’t people be free in a democracy to enact any laws they want? If people, operating through their elected representatives, are prohibited from enacting certain laws, then how can they truly be considered free?
The answers to such questions are found in the Declaration of Independence, which should be read in conjunction with the Constitution. As Thomas Jefferson pointed out, every person (i.e., not just Americans) has been endowed by nature and God with certain fundamental, inherent rights, rights that preexist government.
No one, including government officials, has the legitimate authority to control, regulate, manage, restrict, infringe, or destroy these fundamental, natural, God-given rights.
In fact, the only reason that people call government into existence is to protect the exercise of these fundamental, natural, God-given rights.
The big problem, of course, is that government officials inevitably decide to use their power to do what they are not supposed to do. They begin controlling, regulating, infringing, or destroying people’s rights. Sure, they oftentimes have a good excuse for doing so — like “national security” or “keeping us safe” — but the fact is that they inevitably end up doing what they are not supposed to do.
That’s how we got the First Amendment — to prohibit government officials from destroying our rights even in the name of things like “national security,” “keeping us safe,” or a serious “emergency” or “crisis.” Notice something important about that amendment: It doesn’t give people any rights. That’s because our rights don’t come from government or the document that called the federal government into existence. They come from nature and from God. Government is our servant and its mission, again, is to protect our rights, not control, infringe, regulate, or destroy them.
Thus, the First Amendment prohibits Congress from enacting any law respecting the establishment of religion or abridging the free exercise thereof. It doesn’t matter if the vote is 80% — 20%, or even 90% — 10%, or even unanimous. What people decide to do with respect to religion is beyond the power of democracy, beyond the power of the vote. Fundamental rights cannot be touched by the majority. They are immune from democracy.
If it was the other way around — if democracy prevailed over the exercise of fundamental rights — freedom obviously would be non-existent. Most everyone can see that if a government, including one that is operating through elected representatives, can enact laws that force people to go to church on Sunday, that cannot be considered a genuinely free society.
This brings us to income taxation. The fruits of your earnings belong to you. You earned them by providing goods and services that other people are willing to pay for (or inherited your money, or received it a a gift, from people to whom it belonged). Your right to keep the fruits of your earnings and your right to decide to do with your money are fundamental, natural, and God-given rights, just like what you do with your choices regarding religion.
Therefore, just as our elected representatives cannot legitimately enact a law dictating our religious activities, they also cannot legitimately enact a law that takes our income from us or dictates what we are to do with what belongs to us.
Oh sure, it’s true that the federal government does that with income taxation and welfare-state programs, just as governments in different parts of the world do that with people’s religious choices. But that doesn’t make it legitimate. It simply means that people living in such societies are not free, no matter how much the government convinces them that they are free.
The word “democracy” is not even mentioned in the Constitution. That’s because the aim of the Framers was freedom, not democracy. They understood that the only real advantage to democracy was that it provided people with a peaceful means of changing their government. At the same time, however, our ancestors also understood that democracy posed a grave threat to freedom, which is why they enacted the Bill of Rights — to protect the country from a democratically elected government.
What happens when a government engages in the destruction of people’s rights? Jefferson gave the answer in the Declaration: It is the right of the people to alter or even abolish that government and to institute new government, one that protects, not destroys, their rights.