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The Reactionary Utopian
October 24, 2014

Shrinking Our Rights
A classic by Joseph Sobran
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[CLASSIC: 09/22/1994] — Last weekend, in the great city of Boston, I met Paul and Louise Desilets, a Catholic couple who are being accused of a civil rights violation for exercising what used to be their civil rights. They are defendants in a suit brought by an unmarried couple to whom they refused to rent their private property because they believe that fornication is immoral.

Note that the Desilets’ private property isn’t necessarily protected by the “privacy” liberals have found in the “penumbras” and “emanations” emitted by the radioactive Fourteenth Amendment. Nor is their free exercise of religion a sufficient bulwark against claims of “discrimination.” Don’t they have a right to apply their faith to their lives outside the doors of their church?


Many Americans live more in fear of the government than of criminals. The reason is that when a criminal comes to rob you, you’re allowed to defend your money and property. But if you try to defend yourself against the government, you yourself may become the criminal.

 

 

The rights of religion and property are rights on the wane — especially when they come up against “civil rights,” which aren’t civil rights at all in the classic sense, but demands that the government further curtail the freedom of association, another dwindling right.

Isn’t it true that we now intuitively understand “civil rights” as a synonym for coerced association, an enlargement rather than a diminution of the state’s power to push us around?

It seems that bad rights, like bad money, crowd out good. Freedoms we used to take for granted keep shrinking as the state — particularly the un-American centralized nation-state — expands. Even a left-wing friend of mine has had it with the federal anti-smoking campaign, which makes him sound like a raging Tory. I guess he assumed that when the revolution came, the boys in the Politburo would be sitting around puffing their cigars as of old. It’s one thing to expropriate the capitalists, but when the bureaucrats start snatching the weed right out of your mouth, well, to paraphrase Marx, chain-smokers of the world, unite!

Somehow the idea of representative government has gotten lost. We were supposed to know our rulers and representatives personally. But that isn’t possible when power is centralized and enlarged to the point where it has to be delegated to hundreds of thousands of petty unelected officials, the only agents of the state most of us have any contact with. The elected few make the promises; we rarely meet them. The unelected many handle the collections; they make house calls, as they did at Waco last year.


As things now stand, the Tenth Amendment might as well say: “The enumeration in the Constitution of certain powers shall not be construed to deny any other powers the federal government may choose to assume.”

 

 

Many Americans live more in fear of the government than of criminals. The reason is that when a criminal comes to rob you, you’re allowed to defend your money and property. But if you try to defend yourself against the government, you yourself may become the criminal.

The critical change in our form of government came with the New Deal. It was then that the federal government ceased to depend on delegations of power through the Constitution. It became something new in America, though very old elsewhere: a self-enlarging entity. It became endowed with the anti-constitutional privileges of expanding its own power and redefining the people’s rights. The Constitution became a “living document,” whose meaning could be effectively changed by the very people it was meant to restrain!

The original principle was that the federal government could have only those powers clearly given to it, while the rights of the people weren’t limited to those listed in the Constitution. Liberals have done a splendid job of obscuring this simple point. Today most Americans vaguely believe that the federal government may take any power it isn’t actually forbidden to take, while they have only the rights listed. And the steady advance of federal gun control calls even those rights into question. The federal courts expand some individual rights, but only those that also tend to increase federal power over states and localities. The wolves are acting as guardians of the rights of the sheep.

As things now stand, the Tenth Amendment might as well say: “The enumeration in the Constitution of certain powers shall not be construed to deny any other powers the federal government may choose to assume.”

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Copyright © 2014 by the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation. All rights reserved. This article was originally was published by Universal Press Syndicate on September 22, 1994.

Joe Sobran was an author and a syndicated columnist. See bio and archives of some of his columns.

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