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The Erosion of Our Freedom
December 27, 2012
Editorial By Tibor Machan
Often when I argue that governments must not violate our rights – they are supposed to be unalienable, after all – statists have a ready retort: Government is already violating them, good and hard, all over the place.
Recently I pointed out that imposing fines and constraints on gun owners who haven't been shown to have committed a crime, not even close, is a case of prior restraint, of unjustifiably depriving a citizen of liberty since only convicted and guilty people may be so deprived. In a free country citizens may not be intruded upon by their governments without having been convicted by methods of due process. Governments, in other words, are supposed to defend the rights of their citizens; that is their proper purpose!
My statist adversaries eagerly point out to me that government is intruding upon us all over the place: We are forced to obtain a driver's license and innumerable permits as we go about living in our communities (building our homes, engaging in businesses, practicing professions, etc.). Nearly everything we do requires a license even though we are legally innocent! Ergo: prior restraint big time!
Now some of this is accurate enough – citizens in America are indeed subjected to prior restraint left and right, up and down. Most of the time the justification given is that government must protect us against possible malpractice and government regulations and licensing are the best way to do this, never mind that our rights are clearly being violated in the process. Unalienable is a nice idea in a document like the Declaration of Independence, but let's get real, please! It is completely impractical in actual life, right?
Wrong. It is not some kind of romantic, impossible idealism to insist that when anyone intrudes upon another person, this must be properly warranted – as it would be in self-defense, for example. Just notice how easily this is grasped when it comes to sexual freedom – no amount of "necessity" or "practicality" overturns the prohibition against rape or even plain sexual harassment. Why is that so simple to grasp? Because it is a form of intrusion that is very close to home, quite direct, not encumbered by fancy-shmancy public policy rhetoric!
Insisting that prior restraint be banned overall is just taking the above line about all uninvited intrusions by some people against others. If the intrusion is indeed invited, no problem – surgeons, dentists, personal trainers and coaches routinely intrude on us but with our permission, so that is unobjectionable.
However, for centuries this was not so. The royal courts and similar oppressive regimes ran roughshod routinely over their subjects (!) since they were actually deemed as their owners (which is how serfdom and slavery managed to be palatable). In time the idea gained currency that such subjugation lacked justification, amounted to coercive imposition based on various fictions of class superiority, etc. Once these were demonstrated to be unfounded, slowly but surely it dawned upon millions – as it is still dawning upon them across the globe – that the oppressors were getting away with a ruse and resisting them is just and right.
It is about time that even the more subtle sorts of oppression, involving the prior restraint I was pointing to above, be abolished. If problems need to be solved, they must be solved without resort to some people coercing others! Again, think how natural this is when it comes to sexual intercourse! It should be plain across the board of all human relations, not confined only to sex. The law and public policy must be adjusted to the principles laid out in the Declaration of Independence, namely, the universality of our basic rights to our lives, liberty and property! No compromise, however imperative it may appear, must be tolerated.
When it was pointed out that the price of liberty is indeed eternal vigilance, the point of that warning was exactly to alert everyone that various sophistical, phony reasons will be used to erode our liberties. Just recall, for instance, what was noted by William Pitt, the elder: "Necessity is the excuse for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of the tyrant and the creed of the slave."