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News ::
Permanent principles of liberty
27 Oct 2001
I found this story and another one which I will post later about maintaining our liberty during these times when every government cockroach will crawl out of the gov't woodwork to seize power.


Our current national travails have provoked much talk of a new spirit of "trusting government." Certainly, it is important and desirable that the citizens of a nation at war have confidence and trust in their government. We should be mindful, however, that this need for trust cuts both ways. War tends necessarily to increase the concentration of power in the federal government, and particularly in the executive branch.

In a free republic, such times as war increase as well the necessity that citizens trust their own judgment. Even as we willingly accept the increased energy of the government in those areas where it is truly necessary, we must increase as well our vigilant insistence that government power respect the permanent principles of liberty. The particular danger in times of war or crisis is that the legitimate need for energetic government action will provide cover for those who, from vice or ignorance, seek to expand government power at the expense of the very liberty which it is government's purpose to secure.

The wartime atmosphere of trusting government brings opportunists to the fore. We should expect that every desirable as well as every questionable project to enhance government power will be advanced by some to take advantage of this moment. Already on the table are bad ideas from national ID cards to fake "stimulus" programs that would hijack our free economy into the swamp of socialist planning. Such proposed government action must be met not by blindly increased citizen trust, but by energetically increased citizen vigilance.

The citizens of the American republic must be persistently intelligent, or we will lose our liberty to the government we have made. There's really not anything new in this situation, however. Our founders thought highly of republican government after all, they worked extremely hard to make one. And they knew then that making any government was like lighting a controlled burn in the middle of a country of bone-dry brush the only way to fend off an uncontrolled and deadly fire is to light a controlled one, and use it in the service of life.

Even a controlled burn has its dangers, however. And our founders worried that even the government they so carefully crafted could escape the control of the people. They worried about tyranny, about government escaping from its real purpose, as the people's instrument of self-government, and becoming the instrument of a faction or private interest.

The solution, as our founders also understood, is eternal vigilance of mind and political action to keep government restricted to its proper tasks. A government pursuing its rightful duties can be, and must be, trusted. Government that departs from this path is a threat to liberty and must be opposed. Particularly in time of war, when we must of necessity permit, even help light, an unusually intense, controlled burn of government power, we must be extraordinarily vigilant against the danger of wildfire.

What is the line that separates legitimate from illegitimate use of government power in America? When does the controlled burn of government become the first flames of tyranny? The answer is simple: The just powers of our government are those, and only those, that are consistent with a profound and permanent confidence in the capacity of the citizenry to conduct its own affairs, to govern itself. Our government must treat all of us with the presumption not merely that we are innocent of wrongdoing, but that we are morally responsible and competent and, hence, must be treated with a corresponding respect. This simple test can serve quite readily to identify government actions inconsistent with liberty.

National ID cards are inconsistent with liberty because they demonstrate a government presumption that the citizenry must be tracked and monitored by political authority. The income-tax system, and the usual range of redistributionist economic policies that pass for economic wisdom in Washington, are inconsistent with liberty because they embody a government presumption that the people cannot be trusted to conduct their economic affairs in dignified privacy. And so on.

Anthrax terrorists, among other objectives, have attempted to disrupt the deliberations of the people's representatives in Congress. Whatever their motives, we might well take the attack as a reminder that the disruption of our national deliberation regarding the appropriate use of government power cannot be suspended, even in time of war, without placing our liberty in the gravest danger. Let us indeed trust our government. But let that trust flow from our confidence that we have continued, and intensified, our vigilance to restrain government within its proper bounds as the instrument of our secure and dignified liberty.

Be sure to visit Alan Keyes' communications center for founding principles, The Declaration Foundation.

Former Reagan administration official Alan Keyes, was U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Social and Economic Council and 2000 Republican presidential candidate.
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