Saturday, May 20, 2017

Constitutional Republicanism: A Counter-Argument to Barbara Rank’s Ode to Democracy

In an Iowa town hall meeting defending his vote in favor of the Republican’s American Health Care Act, which would repeal or alter parts of ObamaCare, Congressman Rod Blum attempted to explain his vote before a screaming, jeering, disrespectful crowd. The Washington Post reported on this episode in A congressman said making a man get maternity insurance was ‘crazy.’ A woman’s reply went viral.

One woman, retired educator Barbara Rank, didn’t participate in the shouting. Instead, she thoughtfully composed a rebuttal letter, which was published in Iowa’s Telegraph Herald under the title Why should I pay indeed?. Someone subsequently posted the letter on line, where it was viewed by tens of thousands of people. Rank wrote:

Congressman Rod Blum in a Dubuque town hall (Monday) night asked, “Why should a 62-year-old man have to pay for maternity care?”

I ask, why should I pay for a bridge I don’t cross, a sidewalk I don’t walk on, a library book I don’t read?

Why should I pay for a flower I won’t smell, a park I don’t visit, or art I can’t appreciate?

Why should I pay the salaries of politicians I didn’t vote for, a tax cut that doesn’t affect me, or a loophole I can’t take advantage of?

It’s called democracy, a civil society, the greater good. That’s what we pay for.

Why, indeed? Why should anyone be forced to pay for bridges, sidewalks, libraries, flowers, parks, or art—or any material economic benefit one cares to add to that list—against her will? The only moral answer is, she shouldn’t. (We’ll leave aside, for now, the issue of taxes and politicians’ salaries.)

Yes, “It’s called democracy”—and Rank’s is one of the the clearest and most devastating indictments of democracy one can encounter. Political power is the power of the gun. That power can be used for the protection of liberty, or to destroy it. Democracy is the latter. Rank is right, though she doesn’t realize it. Democracy is a “cold” civil war of predatory pressure groups and electoral factions fighting for the political power—control of the government’s guns, the legislative process—to extract by force benefits and favors paid for by other factions; each faction, in turn, defining its latest scheme for “free” stuff as “the greater good.”

Rank’s viral letter begs the political philosophy question, What is America?

There is nothing civil about democracy. Democracy denies the rights of the individual, the most vulnerable in any society, to live according to her own judgement. But what greater good can there be than the liberty, inalienable rights, and dignity of the individual, living under a government that protects, equally for all and at all times, those rights? That, in fact, was the original American system—not a democracy, but a constitutional republic based on individual rights and limited, right-protecting government. Fully and consistently applied, all bridges, sidewalks, libraries, flowers, parks, art, et al, are privately owned and funded, and governed under the rule of law established according to the principles of constitutional republican government.

Democracy contradicts America. As the Chinese Communist Mao ZeDong understood, "Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun." The American Founders well understood that as well. But the goal of the Founders and the goal of the Maoists were opposite, with opposite results. The Founders sought to establish a free constitutional republic with ironclad limits on societal and government power based on the principle of individual rights—the moral principle that subordinates society to the moral law that each individual owns his own life, and cannot be anyone’s slave. Mao established a Marxist democratic republic of unlimited, totalitarian government power, under which the individual is subordinate to society, which can do with her as it wants. Once we accept the principle that the government’s guns are the tool of predatory factions rather than a tool to protect the individual against the predatory factions, we arrive at the result achieved by Mao, ”All things grow out of the barrel of a gun.” Then we have arrived at the point of universal predation and mutual suspicion and resentment, as every election poses a threat to each other's’ lives, freedom, and property. With each election, who knows what we will be forced into in the name of “the greater good.”

In an 1864 address, Abe Lincoln sought to clarify the meaning of liberty in the American context. As Niles Anderegg observes:

Lincoln goes on to give us two basic definitions of liberty.  He notes that “with some, the word liberty may mean for each man to do as he pleases with himself and the product of his labor” while with others liberty is where men are free to “do as they please with other men and the product of other men’s labor.”  He goes on to point out that these two definitions are incompatible.  

Lincoln was applying the parable of “the Wolf and the Sheep”—first citing the sheep’s version of liberty, and second the wolf’s. Lincoln came down squarely on the side of the sheep. Democracy is, essentially, two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner. It is the wolve’s version of “liberty” that democracy stands for. It is the wolf’s version of liberty that Rank is promoting. It is not the sheep's version.

Let Rank’s letter serve as a warning to all those who wish to advocate for a free society, and who seek to roll back statism in America: You can’t have it both ways. You can’t say “you must pay for my library” in the same breath that you ask “Why should I have to pay for your maternity care?” Rank shows why it’s impossible to answer her viral response to Blum’s question unless we are ready to challenge her core fundamentalist democracy principles. Ayn Rand was right. The only ultimate way to save America from totalitarian socialism, democratic or otherwise, is to hold up the only opposite ideal, clearly and without reservation—a fully consistent constitutional republic of individual rights and its political/social expression, laissez-faire capitalism.

Observe that Rank never answers Congressman Blum’s question, “Why should a 62-year-old man have to pay for maternity care?” She simply rationalizes, “because I have to pay for all of that other stuff.” But where does it end? The same argument can be used to justify any grab of other people’s money for whatever we’re told is “the greater good.” As we can see with ObamaCare’s mandates, piled as they are on top of all of the other state-level mandates, it will never end. Under this thing called democracy, there is nothing any of us can’t be forced into, because democracy—ballot-box rule—is an open-ended principle. Where do you draw the line?

Far from leading to a civil society, democracy leads to a proliferation of predatory factions, as well as factions seeking to protect themselves from the predators, resulting not in social harmony but an increasingly divided and polarized citizenry where the ballot box permeates and threatens every aspect of our lives. I offer, as evidence, the intolerant behavior of the crowd at Blum’s townhall. I offer, as evidence, a sample of the comments; “calling out ignorant so-called public servants like Rod Blum of Iowa”—this smear, for merely advocating a bit of freedom of choice. I offer, as evidence, the treatment of New Jersey Republican Rep. Tom MacArthur at a similar town hall. Civil society, anyone? No, democracy in action. Democracy is mob rule—cold ballot-box civil war that sooner or later turns hot. It can be no other way—not when you accept the principle that mere numerical superiority trumps justice. Disrespect and force are built into the DNA of democracy.

We can’t do anything about "public" parks and roads, and all of the other stuff that Rank doesn’t use but is forced to pay for, at this time. That’s part of a wider battle. We can do something about the injustice of forcing 62 year old men to buy maternity insurance—or forcing women to buy prostate cancer insurance. No, Ms. Rank, two wrongs—or 10 or 100 wrongs—don’t make a right, no matter how many wolves you have in your pack. The subject on the table is health insurance. We can start righting the wrongs, and we can start with health insurance. benefit mandates are wrong. Individual consumers and insurers have a moral right to voluntarily contract to mutual benefit without government interference. They should have the legal right. It's called freedom.

In the Washington Post article, Rank is quoted as saying, “The conclusion is something I always end up saying. Every argument I've ever had with somebody, friends or relative: Don't you want to live in a civil society? Government is the structure of the country we live in. It's not as bad as people make it out to be.”

But is predatory democracy civil? Is “the structure of the country” based on predation of all against all, or peaceful, live-and-let-live coexistence? Is the government a protector of individual rights, under which each is treated equally under the law? Or is the government a tool of the wolves? Rank is an educator, who retorts “Come on. Didn't we learn this in fifth-grade social studies?” If democracy is what America’s children are learning, shame on us. What we should have learned, and what Rank and our schools should be teaching, is that America is not a nation of wolfpacks—a democracy. America is a nation of free individuals—a constitutional republic—a nation of individual, not pack, rights; of justice, not “social justice”; of the primacy of individual liberty, not the supremacy of the wolfpack’s “greater good.”

Judging by the “likes” in the comment threads, most people agree with Rank. Not good, because nothing less than the future of a free America is at stake. Democracy unconstrained by the principle of individual rights is a manifestation of totalitarianism. We’re still a considerable distance from that logical eventuality. But until and unless we recognize the predatory nature of democracy, or “democratic socialism,” it will end not in the harmony that only mutual respect for each other’s inalienable rights to life, liberty, property, and pursuit of happiness can achieve. It will end in economic and societal collapse into dictatorship and ruin, as all socialist efforts must. That’s the road Rank endorses, whether she knows it or not; will acknowledge it or not. So much for civil society. So much for the greater good.

Related Reading:

The Conscience of the Constitution: The Declaration of Independence and the Right to Liberty—Timothy Sandefur

The American Left Is Talking Itself Into Violence—John Daniel Davidson for The Federalist

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