A New Message: V. On the General Welfare
SEPTEMBER 01, 1976 by JACKSON PEMBERTON
This continues a series of articles in which the author draws upon the extensive collection of the thoughts of the Founding Fathers and lets them speak to us relative to the problems we face in the United States today.
You may have had occasion to observe, in the course of pondering the troubles of your times, that nearly all of your political abuses come from your federal government, and that most of these problems have come to you under the happy title of the general welfare. In this discussion I wish to remind you of the provisions we made for the general welfare, and more especially to remind you of the provisions we did not make for your individual welfare, when we gave you the Constitution.
You must forgive me if I expound a moment upon some fundamental attributes of law; for it is ignorance of these which, more than any other single thing, has allowed you to be led from your pleasant past to your present trouble.
If all men were perfect in their moral behavior, acting with fairness, benevolence, and in consideration of the rights and liberties of their fellows, then all human government would be just so much unnecessary baggage, and would have been dropped along the road of human progress long since, for in that divine state man would have made the law an integral part of his head and his heart. Every man would see to his own life, that he made no trespass upon his fellows, and that he was only a blessing to them, and hence to himself also.
Such is clearly not the case, at least not yet; and therein arises the necessity of law. Law was not formed to give man his rights; on the contrary, it is because men have rights that law was conceived: to protect those rights from the encroachments of others. This is easily seen if one considers a single human being alone on the planet. Immediately, all the books of law in the world become useful only for convenient stools and warm fires. He has no use for a system which is designed to protect him from something which does not exist, nor could the law in any way enhance his talents, his freedom, or his security.
The law we gave you in the Constitution was to protect you from the abuses of your neighbors and your government; it was for your general welfare (or for the welfare of the people in general, as you would say) to protect you from the abuse of any person or power which might attempt to force you to act against your will, or to restrain you from the righteous use of your liberty. It was also to prevent your government from enacting laws which would benefit some part of society at the expense of the remainder, which is what it must do in order to promote the welfare of individuals. For, when a government can promote the economic status of the individual, it uses that power to build itself into an aristocracy. The aristocracy thus formed uses law to impose its will upon the people through burdensome taxes, arbitrary regulation of private affairs, and control of all types of private property. It uses the substance of the people to maintain its power over them, as in public financing of private political campaigns. This is a pattern as old as human governments, repeated a thousand times in history.
The intent of these illustrations is to show you clearly, so that you may understand without confusion or doubt, that law is a negative instrument. It can do nothing of itself. It produces nothing; indeed it is a consumer. Its only positive value lies in its ability to restrain other negative influences. You may fill your head, your books, and the air with glowing words of the virtues of law, but you can never deny that after all is said, law is only negative force.
The law can protect, restrain, and punish. It cannot create anything nor bring to pass any positive condition. It is possible for law to protect man from dishonesty, but impossible for it to make men honest. It is possible to restrain violations of property, but impossible for it to create property of any kind. It is possible to protect a man’s security, but impossible to give him security. It is possible to minimize injustice, but impossible to create justice. It is possible to restrain man from exploiting his neighbor, but impossible to make him charitable. It is possible to punish unrighteousness, but impossible to make men righteous.
Thus it is with all the positive states of man. The law, a negative instrument, cannot create them, it can only attempt to prevent their opposites. Honesty, equity, justice, opportunity, and charity must spring from the love of one man for his neighbor, or there is none. And furthermore, when the attempt is made to obtain these high human virtues from any other source, only confusing counterfeits result. You now find such all around in your bureaucratic programs which bumble along under the deceptive titles of welfare, equal opportunity, social security, income security, and the like. The reason they fail their noble objectives is that they are founded upon false principles. But it is not difficult to understand how you came to this perplexing state of affairs.
During those glorious years following ratification, we made full use of our great freedoms; those who applied the human virtues most diligently were rewarded most bounteously. Honesty, fairness, toil, intelligence, wisdom, thrift, and sacrifice attracted people, property, and satisfaction to all their practitioners; and the law protected the rights and property of all. This protection by the law gave men confidence to muster all their best efforts and virtues, and to apply their God-given powers with vigor, for they were assured of the opportunity of enjoying the fruits of their labors. The law was so effective in helping the citizens to generate these happy conditions (by preventing their opposites) that they were eventually persuaded that the law was the source of their happiness, whereas it was they who had created it, and the law had only protected it. There, alas, was the turning point.
Thinking that the law was the source of their blessings, men asked the law to give them other blessings such as equal opportunity, employment security, and so on; all with the false hope that they could enjoy liberty, equality, and security by the passage of laws through the Congress. Only now are you beginning to fully realize that the security the law can give is found in the absence of freedom, and the economic equality the law can give is in the absence of the incentives of production.
But there is still another and more fundamental reason for the failure of the law to provide you with these wanted gifts, for the problem is not only that the law is strictly a negative operator, but also that the Congress has sought by law to endow the government with prerogatives which it cannot rightly possess. The government has been given powers which even individual citizens do not have, and has been made to thus infringe upon the rights it was designed to protect. Let me explain.
Suppose, for the moment, that you possess three horses while I have but one. I have no right to take one of yours, since your abundance is likely the result of your labor and frugality, while my deficiency is the result of my study of the clouds over my dooryard. Lacking the right to steal your horse, I might approach the local magistrate and grant him the authority to transfer one of your horses to me.
What authority? I have no such right, and yearn as I might for that power, the prerogative is clearly not mine to give. Then suppose the officer took it upon himself to give your horse to me with neither my request nor your consent. Whence is his authority to appoint himself an agent to steal your property and break the law he was commissioned to enforce? He has even less authority (if that were possible) than before, for he would violate the rights of both of us: your right to your property and mine to my independence.
Now, should you have excess and I have actual need, we might both be blessed by your generosity, but to force you to give me your property can only cause you to revolt and me to shrink. Nay, only you have the right to your property; and connive, plan, and commission as I may, if I obtain your horse by any initiative but your own, you have been robbed.
Thus your government has presumed to create rights unto itself, by which it takes from one and gives to another under the ill-formed principle of coercive charity. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine concepts more self-contradictory than those of charity by force, or equity by theft; or to find in all history a system more subtly destructive of the human spirit.
It would be better if your government saw only to the welfare of the genuinely misfortunate; but alas, it has long since outdone that activity and now plunders the property of the intelligent, the frugal, the diligent, and yes, the fortunate, and doles it out to the lazy, the spendthrift, the foolish, and yes, the unfortunate. How will you build prosperity by punishing the prosperous? How will you encourage production by destroying the ambition of the producer? By heavy overlapping taxes and unwarranted meddling regulations your government has shackled the worker, and then if that did not suffice to put an end to his labor, it has tempted him to the deceit of pretended idleness by offering a good living in exchange for an artificial unemployment.
If it is prosperity for all you desire, then every man must find it to his advantage to be industrious. To be industrious he must be an eager worker, and he will not be eager without cause. History has manifest abundantly that the freedom to earn, own, and control material goods is the most compelling cause to ever provoke the human spirit to its highest potential of productivity. Was it not manifest most clearly in your own history? The records of nations overflow with the failures of welfare states, and you see even now in your own society the warning signs of an economy overburdened by the natural extravagance of welfarisms.
But there is more than just the material aspect of this question: the very spirit of man is in jeopardy. The rich should be filled with compassion and concern for the poor, and the poor ought to be humble and gracious when they receive assistance; but the plan of your politicians who purchase the votes of the poor have taught them to be haughty and defiant in their demands for the bread of the rich, and your rich have learned to resent and despise the poor. Thus your people are under the same misguided principle of false charity that has destroyed nations before you; for when the rich have been pillaged to the limit of their patience, and the poor are fully ripened in their lust for the just reward of labor, then is your nation but a breath away from the ravages of civil war, where it will be brother against brother, and family against family, and city against city; where production will cease and prosperity become a dream. This thing must be stopped before it is allowed to run full course and consume you!
"But," exclaim your self-styled social saviors, "it is not fair for one to be rich and another poor, especially when he came by his poverty honestly, through misfortune and not by any lack of diligence." Shall you make the poor more honest by giving them the fruits of their neighbors’ toil? Will you raise the poor by injury to their self-esteem and independence? And why will you fine the rich because of the poor? And what is more, where will you obtain the right to do either?
You who are the producers, if you will go to battle now and regain the rightful control of your property, you may leave your weapons behind and have the matter settled in a short time. But then, when you have unburdened yourselves of the indolent poor, you will do well to remember the misfortunate poor, for it was partly your lack of compassion which gave the socialists excuse to plunder your goods in the first place. If you will share your prosperity with the aged and the unfortunate by humility and graciousness, you may bless both yourselves and them.
You who think you are poor, but are drunk with the wine of idle affluence, you have been wronged perhaps more than your unwilling patrons, for you have been dishonored, demeaned, and addicted. Your well-to-do friends have mostly an angry complaint, but you likely suffer from damage to your very character. But there is a happy side to your condition, for although your disease is the more serious, it is the sooner remedied. All you need do is stop accepting the unearned gifts of a too-patronizing government. That exercise may prove inconvenient for a time, but the sooner you set about it the sooner you may trade idle entertainments for the deeper satisfactions of building your own life through the exercise of your own strengths.
Some of you, when your unearned income ceases, will be tempted to behave unseemly, to create a vigorous uproar, to claim it unfair and an infringement upon your rights, for you have enjoyed the dole so long you feel you have a right to it. You will feel alarmed because you have lost confidence in your ability to provide for yourself. You will feel angry because you will have to work to care for your needs. You will find it difficult to thank those who have sustained you during your dependence upon their labor, and you will feel moved to destroy the property which was given you. Such is the depth of the damage done you by the so-called blessings of equal opportunity and welfare. You must exert all your energy to act with the restraint and the graciousness which befits a human being, and shun the temptation to demand a continuation of your free-loading and to thus grovel before your patrons as miserable beggars.
I wish you well, both of you, in your struggle to free yourselves; you must not faint nor fail; it is a cause every whit as significant as ours was. Be careful to put down the desire to obtain what seems to be your share of the public booty, remembering that the government can give you nothing without first taking it from you and keeping a portion for itself. Be aware that you must dismantle a bureaucracy which was the favorite child of its creators, and you will not be allowed to succeed without opposition, but be also assured that your victory will be worth far above its price.
It is a strange and sad contradiction that our nation now displays; for on the one hand you have learned to carefully discover and obey the laws of physical nature which let you put men on your moon, but the laws of human nature which have been known for centuries you cease not to violate. You lift your rockets by strict obedience to natural law; if you will be equally strict in your observance of the laws of •uman conduct, you may do the same for man. There is no other way. Man will never reach full development of his potential until he learns to place the same faith in the divine laws of right living as he places in the equally divine laws of physics. This is not a matter to be lightly laid aside with a false hope that your national character will soon improve without your best effort! Nay; hear me! You are in the path that has taken many nations down to destruction. No one can deny it! It is written in your histories.
Oh that I had the power to awaken you to a full realization of your condition, and to enlighten your minds to a full understanding of these crucial principles! But it is you, my Sons of Liberty, who must arise and throw off the drugs of false security, learn wisdom of history, and apply it in your lives. Let each man begin with himself, to reestablish the due honors of personal integrity, and to provide for himself and his own; then let him do his duty to his posterity to protect the divine rights of man by reasserting the principles of the Constitution! They came to you through the inspiration of the Almighty, the Author of liberty. He will inspire you again in its restoration when you seek His guidance with humility and singleness of heart. VV
Next: VI. On Political Philosophy
We act as if the State can feed us when we are hungry, heal us when we are ill, raise wages and lower prices at the same time, educate our children without costs, give us electricity by passing laws, and improve the game of baseball with regulations. We need just pass a law and then stand back and be overwhelmed with all the goodness of life.
Let’s try to be sensible for awhile. It is the differences in people that make possible our progress. The object in education is to develop your own special abilities to their utmost, not to conform. We as individuals have rights that the majority cannot take away from us.
It is time we used our common sense. Hard work, not legislation, makes production. Production, not regulation, makes prosperity. The legislature cannot amend the laws of economics anymore than it can the law of gravity.
–STEVEN J. SCHNEIDER