Authority to Restrain Government December 1, 2008Posted by federalist in Federalism, Government, Natural Rights.
Americans believe that just and proper government derives its authority from The People and exists only to serve Their interests. Also enshrined in our Constitution and civic philosophy are principles of individual liberty: Natural law reserves to each human being the right to be secure in his life, freedom, and property.
The Founding Fathers tried to constitute a government with checks and balances that would prevent it from transgressing these principles. But today’s United States Government is a far cry from their vision, and we have ample evidence that not only a tyrannical majority but also powerful special interests can usurp gubernatorial power to infringe the liberty of individual Americans.
Thomas Hamilton has a bold proposal for the proper course of action in these circumstances in his recent essay on “What to do when a government exceeds its constitutional bounds or infringes natural human rights.” It’s not quite “revolution,” though our Founding Fathers fully expected that repeated revolution would be necessary to restrain our government. Hamilton’s compelling argument is that a particular government does not have a monopoly on the authority that comes from the consent of the governed. We happen to have a government that claims to be the sole and proper embodiment of the United States Constitution, but that doesn’t make it so.
Hamilton doesn’t advocate the creation of a competing government, but rather proposes that The People have as much of a right to create a separate authority to check the government as they do to establish the government in the first place. He carefully tailors the nature of such a “Second Authority:”
It will only take action to obstruct or ameliorate the action of other agents (regardless of their authority). By its nature and constitution it cannot initiate unprovoked action.
I assert that this qualification, along with the fact that its ideology should be grounded in the U.S. Constitution, makes its emergence plausible in the United States of America: All of the U.S. First Authority agents take an oath to support and defend the Constitution. When the Second Authority credibly asserts that the First is acting in violation of the Constitution agents can in good conscience respect the conclusion of the second.
Essentially, under these criteria a body of citizens can band together to establish an organization that can legitimately oppose the U.S. government — with force if necessary.
Patriots may not like what sounds essentially like armed insurrection. But there is no reason to believe that the existence of checks and balances, democratic action, or any other constitutional mechanism is sufficient to constrain a government from eventually violating human rights. I am not confident that we can depend on our government to correct itself. In practice nothing is perfect, but if checks and balances are working correctly then our government would eventually revert to its proper state, like a pendulum swinging back to center. However I believe that our government has accumulated such power and so many bad precedents that it is now more like a pendulum on a tilting table … or perhaps like a pendulum that fell off a table and is rolling down a steep hill.