Consent of the Governed

Bunch of different keys on a white background

Chapters 8 and 9 of America’s Revolutionary Mind (2019) move on from the first two self-evident moral truths in The Declaration of Independence (equality and rights) to the third:  “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed”. The author takes 2 chapters to cover this one because it is philosophically more complex and key to unlocking natural law and morality.

 

The Founders directly deployed the ideas of John Locke (1632-1704) to demonstrate that the preservation and protection of private property is the whole point of any legitimate government. The rule of law secures private property as a moral necessity.  This is one of the deepest, most fundamental values that the Founders bequeathed to us. Undeniable axiomatic moral logic prevents government from legitimately taking from anyone any part of his Property without his consent.  Nobody can argue to convince me otherwise.  Why not?  Let’s take a little tangent:

 

I discovered blogger Scott Alexander when another writer cited this article:

https://slatestarcodex.com/2017/07/24/targeting-meritocracy/

Anyone can argue against any proposition until they’re blue in the face. But they’ll never break through my Schelling Fence (pre-commitment to defend a position).  On 2/14/20 (Addendum to “Targeting Meritocracy”) Scott explained that disagreement with an obvious, self-evident truth – like we should value merit or that private property is a basic human right – stems from either differing approaches regarding mistake theory (teasing out errors in logic or practical factual truth) or conflict theory (“you’re just arguing that to preserve your power”*).  Either way, The Declaration of Independence contains self-evident moral truths.  The American Revolution was not just economic or political, it was moral.  They were not arguing in a theoretical environment (like bloggers and commenters do today) – they lived it, fought, bled, died – risked their lives, sacred honor and fortunes.  We inherited moral values that produced a great, prosperous nation.

 

 

Consent is the passkey that unlocks the very definition of property.  Property and liberty have always been connected by consent.  People bound by a law to which they do not consent are slaves.    Private property is the grand principle of any Free State.  Without private property rights vested in each of us, exclusive of others, there can be no Liberty, no Happiness, no Security.  “It is inseparable from the very Idea of Property, for who can call that his own, which may be taken away at the Pleasure of another”.

 

Next week, we dive deeper into the notion of consent and the just powers of government.

 

 

*As a lawyer, this always struck me as an extremely flimsy argument. It’s like saying in court; you’re just saying that because you represent the defendant.  While motive and confirmation bias are factors (this argument was used against Edmund Burke by Thomas Payne as we saw here 12/5/17-1/30/18), the fact that it becomes a central accusation highlights the obvious weakness of collectivist /wealth redistributionist/anti-meritocracy reasoning.

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Stairway to Human Flourishing

Path to success and prosperity in business.

Chapter 7 of America’s Revolutionary Mind (2019) explains how our inalienable rights lead us up a moral pathway to a free, just and flourishing life.  The revolutionary generation discovered and articulated our natural rights to life, liberty, property and the pursuit of happiness. Life is the starting point standard. Liberty is the means to the end. Property is the actualization. Happiness is the highest end result.  C. Bradley Thompson illuminates them in sequence.  Let’s walk up the staircase to prosperity with him.

 

The Right to Life

The first law of nature is the law of self-preservation. Individuals have a fundamental right to sustain their own lives.  The moral legal right to life protects people from the initiation of force from others – against murder, assault, torture, rape, etc.  You have the right to life because no one may violate or impinge on anyone else’s life.  This self-evident truth is a solid, obvious foundational step.

 

The Right to Liberty

The next propositional step up, which is logically and necessarily follows from the right to life, is the right to liberty. The revolutionary generation proved that we all have the right to the unobstructed freedom to think, judge, choose, speak, act, assemble, worship, produce and acquire whatever it is that each of us values.   The Founders’ liberty is the noble, legal, ancient definition of liberty.  It’s not undisciplined, licentious leave to seek pleasure and do as one pleases.  As I reiterated here on 2/27/18 and 5/16/17:  Liberty is law – self-restraint – self-mastery.  Liberty is not doing whatever you want.

 

The Right to Property

The biggest, best most beautiful bound up the staircase to prosperity is the right to property. It’s a core moral principle (not an economic principle).   It’s as much a spiritual right – the right to exercise one’s creativity, judgment, ability and labor – as it is a material right – to keep things one legally acquires.  The fundamental right to property holds all the other rights together.  It’s the lynchpin connecting life and liberty on one hand and the pursuit of happiness on the other.  The Founders viewed the right to property as a sacred, undeniable right, which men fought, and bled, and died for.

 

It’s vital to understand that the right to property is not a guarantee to have or to be given property. The Founders’ moral philosophy could not and would not recognize, on principle, a positive right to claim something – to the means of existence – to food, shelter, daycare, health care, a job, an education, etc.  They contemplated and created our nation based on inequality and the right to pursue, to work for, property.  All of this wealth redistribution nonsense today would have shocked their conscious.   Jefferson wrote:  “To take from one, because it is thought that his industry and that of his fathers has acquired too much, in order to spare to others, who, or whose fathers have not exercised equal industry or skill, is to violate arbitrarily the first principle of association, the guarantee to every one of a free exercise of his industry, and the fruits acquired by it”.

 

The Right to the Pursuit of Happiness

And here we are – at the top of the staircase. Similar to property, we do not have a right to be happy – only the right to pursue happiness as we see it.  And this definition of happiness, like liberty, is not hedonistic, imaginary, fleeting happiness – it’s noble, real, life fulfilling happiness – the summum bonum (highest and best purpose) of a moral life well lived.  There are no guarantees.  The signers of The Declaration of Independence knew that the coercive force of government should not be used to define, dictate, maximize, satisfy or guarantee individual happiness.  “That every rational man is the best guardian of his own interest, is so obvious a truth, that one would deem it an affront to the public understanding to suggest it needed so much as a repetition”.   Unfortunately, in our times, it does.

 

Next week, we get to taxation without representation and why that’s not fair.

 

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Natural Rights – Crawling Up From Barbarism

BarbarianGirl

This Estate Planning War Chest blog was born 10/9/14. Historically, a War Chest was a container kept in the household full of weapons and valuables to be opened in the event of war.  For over 5 years we’ve packed weekly ideological values and philosophical weapons into our War Chest.

 

Property rights, throughout human history, were a violent, coercive and barbaric war. Owning property is coercive because it is “held against” others.  The claim “this is mine” has always been answered with “says who”.  The legitimacy of property rights was originally just brute force, which resolved competing claims.  Here on 4/12/16 we traced the warring source of English property law to the Norman conquest of 1066.  On 2/14/17 we saw that the roots of wealth are ruthless, coercive, violent force – endless conflict and permanent tension.  That was how we understood wealth….until the American Revolution of mind and morality taught us what came next.  Civilization matured and mellowed.

 

Chapter 6 of America’s Revolutionary Mind (2019) elevates our understanding of wealth control.  Modern property rights are not just grounded in history and violence.  Our founding fathers discovered ennobling natural rights that raise our understanding up from the barbaric Anglo-Saxon origins of conquest.  We have evolved a higher understanding of wealth – enmeshed in civility, decorum and the inalienable moral truth of natural private property rights.  Revolutionary natural rights are deduced from the following premises:

  1. Human nature is the same everywhere over all times. Virtue and vice, knowledge and ignorance do not depend on time and place. They are not relative
  2. Morality is natural – rationality and human free will give us the freedom to think, choose and act which is both a fact of human nature (an “is”) and a necessary condition for human flourishing (an “ought”).
  3. The individual is the primary unit of moral and political value. Each man is an autonomous and sovereign moral agent – an end in himself and not someone else’s means to an end.
  4. Enlightened self-interest is the grand principle of human action – not pure selfishness but rather well understood self-interest that to be happy in life, one ought to watch over one’s passions and carefully repress excesses; that one can acquire lasting happiness only in refusing a thousand passing pleasures in order to triumph over oneself and serve oneself better. Personal discipline is an important founding moral principle.
  5. The only thing that can destroy a man’s natural liberty is the initiation (or threat) of physical force against him by others or Government. “No man has a natural right to commit aggression on the equal rights of another” wrote Jefferson.

 

Rights are a natural form of moral property. We own them.  They are not derived (completely) from history.  There is no need to search into musty records, to hunt up royal parchments, or to investigate laws of a barbarous ancestry.  Property rights are the natural ability to freely exercise our rational faculty to gain knowledge, choose values, and act in accordance with our own judgment to acquire, keep, use and dispose of the property that we create or inherit, which then supports our lives and well-being.  Property rights are both a license – moral legitimacy and legal sanction; and also a fence – a barrier protecting us against arbitrary force imposed by government or other people.

 

The chapter concludes with how the revolutionaries answered several corollary questions on rights:

  1. How are rights known, promulgated and validated? They were discovered and thoroughly articulated by the Founders and John Locke.
  2. What is the relationship between the different rights of nature? Our natural rights are to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness. The author nicely shows how these rights are logically ordered to form a unified whole.
  3. What is the source of man’s rights? Not kings, not history – but Nature.
  4. Finally, what is the relationship between the laws of nature and the rights of nature? The laws of nature are moral and legal principles, the purpose of which is to recognize and protect man’s rights. Rights are a consequence of, they follow from, the laws of nature.

 

Next week, we continue our excavation of these exquisite concepts, digging deeper into our specific natural rights to life, liberty, property and the pursuit of happiness.

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They Had the Wolf by the Ears

Wolf growling standing on white background.

“We have the wolf by the ears, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go.”

 

Chapter 5 of America’s Revolutionary Mind (2019) gets to the horribly vicious institution of slavery.  C. Bradley Thompson demonstrates (pretty darn convincingly) that the Founders detested slavery and knew that it was immoral – an evil manifestation of arbitrary power and tyranny.  They were not trying to sneakily preserve slavery or protect their wealth, as some argue.  They in fact set the wheels in motion that would eventually end slavery.  This chapter is an intellectual throat punch to today’s Leftists academics that have a fundamental scorn for the Founders’ moral principles.  Those eggheads see it as their duty to denigrate revolutionary moral philosophy by peeling away the ideals of the Founders to find out what really motivated them (they think racism and selfish desire to preserve their power).  The author proves that this could not be further from the truth.

 

If the Founders knew slavery was wrong, contrary to the principles set forth in The Declaration, why didn’t they abolish it then and there? This chapter of the book offers vast research and sagacious insight that explains it. In order to understand, you have to put slavery in the context of the times.  It’s crucial not to confuse American ideals with brutal historical reality.  Over half of the founding fathers owned slaves.  Weren’t they just hypocrites?  No.  Not a single signer of The Declaration argued in favor of slavery and most argued vigorously against it.  There is no reason to think they did not believe what they wrote.

 

The clear central reason why the revolutionary generation did not abolish slavery was the “post-emancipation problem”. Slavery was so deeply woven into legal, economic and cultural systems that an abrupt end of it would almost certainly lead to chaos, war, economic collapse and death.  The Founders laid the moral foundation to end slavery nonetheless.  620,000 died in the Civil War that ended slavery almost 100 years after The Declaration.  Abruptly ending slavery in 1776 would have killed more and probably destroyed our fledgling Nation.

 

Thomas Jefferson summed the post-emancipation dilemma in a vivid analogy: “We have the wolf by the ears, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go.  Justice is in one scale, and self-preservation in the other.”  The Founders were not hypocrites.  They were courageous idealists constrained by a savage realty.  They gave us a better world and revolutionized moral philosophy.  We should be grateful and not contemptuous of their achievement.

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American Equality is Not Egalitarianism

Egalitarianism

Chapter 4 of America’s Revolutionary Mind (2019) moves from the prior chapter on “We hold these truths to be self- evident….” to the second phrase:  “that all men are created equal”.    What exactly did they mean by “equal”?  C. Bradley Thompson teaches us that The Founders understood and accepted John Locke’s concept of equality – “species equality”.  They did NOT mean the ridiculous egalitarian perverse prioritization of equality over everything.

 

The only way to understand the Revolutionary notion of equality is to fully comprehend and embrace inequality.  Thomas Jefferson wrote there is a “natural aristocracy among men.  The grounds of this are virtue and talents”.  Obviously everyone is not equal with regard to intelligence, virtue, beauty, strength, productivity, speed, etc. – we’re extremely unequal.  James Madison wrote that the “rights of property originate in the diversity in the faculties of men and the first object of government is the equal protection of the unequal faculties of acquiring property”.

 

Egalitarianism is not only wrong politically because it’s not what The Founders meant, it’s also evil because it attempts to justify hurting people who are deemed too wealthy/strong/smart – whatever attribute to be forcibly leveled. We are created equal – with equal rights and dignity, but then we acquire inequality relative to almost everything else – including moral action.  We are not equal with regard to moral virtues such as rationality, honesty, integrity, fortitude, courage and productiveness.

 

Inequality is natural. Human attempts to change it are immoral.  Egalitarianism is a wrecking ball to a flourishing life.  The right to equality prevents subordination among our species except those which arise from different capacity, disposition and virtue.  Thompson writes:   “Equality recognizes and is the foundation for inequality rightly understood.  Thus equality and inequality are brought together in harmony in the philosophy of Locke and therefore also in The Declaration.”  Equality means sharing a common nature with common attributes.  It does not mean an equality of attributes.

 

This seems so damn obvious to me that I’m dumbfounded by those who would argue otherwise. A free society will naturally experience a plethora of differences and natural inequalities that cannot and should not be altered:  Loosely quoting a revolutionary reverend:

Superior wisdom and abilities will have superior influence and effect in society. Superior strength and activity of body will also have advantages peculiar to themselves.  In making these natural distinctions, nature evidently designed to qualify men for different attainments and employments.  And while she gave to all the nature and the rights of man, she assigned to some a capacity and a power to make a much more useful improvement and exercise of that nature, and of those rights, than she has given to others.

 

Next week, we move to the curious contradiction between the revolutionaries’ avowed principle of equality and the brutal reality of slavery. We will see that slavery is not as much of a paradox for American freedom as our evil egalitarian enemies try and argue.  To the contrary, the ideas in The Declaration of Independence lead ultimately to the abolition of slavery.

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Freedom + Reason = Truth

Human lungs Function

Chapter 3 of C. Bradley Thompson’s America’s Revolutionary Mind (2019) (Self-Evident Truths) establishes a wonderfully clear base line of exactly what TRUTH is.  He writes that in order to establish truth, you must have both freedom and reason.  “Freedom is to reason what oxygen is to the lungs.”  The Founders appealed to moral principles that are true – absolutely, permanently, and universally true in order to justify their independence from England.

 

Self-evident truths are the critical starting premise to The Declaration’s wildly successful and indisputable (to honest arguers, maybe not to propagandists) status as truth.   Here are some quotes from his book that make the point:

 

“truth is great and will prevail if left to herself….she is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons, free argument and debate; errors ceasing to be dangerous when it is permitted freely to contradict them.”

 

”there is a necessary connection between truth and freedom of mind. The freedom to think is both an aspect and requirement of human flourishing…. The freedom to think (e.g. to collect, weigh, and judge evidence) and to choose is the necessary precondition for the discovery of true principles of right action, both morally and politically.   Human nature requires freedom – the freedom to think and act – in order to pursue the truths and to acquire the knowledge necessary to live and live well.”

 

“Freedom can, however, be corrupted, which is why it must be guided by reason and true moral principle. Likewise, reason can be corrupted, which is why it must exist in freedom, so that ideas can compete with one another in the search for truth.  Errors of knowledge and logic are the testing ground for the ascent to truth…. Freedom and reason are the necessary preconditions of truth.”

 

This Blog is an intellectual and moral exertion (morality is not static, it takes work) on a quest for knowledge and truth about property rights. There is, of course, truth that is not knowledge:

Epistemic

We’re not interest in that. We seek true knowledge on wealth, power and morality – it takes a lot of hard cognitive work – reading, researching, analyzing, summarizing and then articulating a synthesis along the journey.  Next week, we move on to his next chapter on equality, while continuing to expand that yellow circle of knowledge.

 

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New War Chest Assets

AssetsNew

This is a supplemental post to point out some recent work that we can add to our War Chest of wealth awareness. First, on the more mainstream economic front, John Cochrane over at his Grumpy Economist blog just finished a most excellent 5 part series on Wealth and Taxes.  He explains why and how bad ideas are wielded to attack those who control wealth.  The honest bottom line, a wealth tax is really designed to destroy wealth.  Off with their heads!  Billionaire’s should not exist!

https://johnhcochrane.blogspot.com/2020/01/wealth-and-taxes-overview.html

 

Second, on the more philosophical, perhaps deeper moral level, Scott Alexander over at his Slate Star Codec blog decade recap dove deeply into the topic. Scott intelligently writes about everything under the sun (and I mean everything).  His thoughts on wealth and property rights are interesting.  I wrote here on 10/1/19 – that he’s on to us! (“us” being hard-working, smart, virtuous owners of moderate wealth).  Here’s the section from his 1/8/20 post that is relevant to our War Chest (I stopped at the link mentioned here in October):

“I Can Tolerate Anything Except The Outgroup produced this blog’s first “big break”, but it admitted it didn’t really understand the factors underlying “tribe”. Since then Albion’s Seed helped provide another piece of the puzzle, and a better understanding of class provided another. I went a little further discussing why tribes have ideologies associated with them in The Ideology Is Not The Movement, how that is like/unlike religion in Is Everything A Religion?, and hammered it home unsubtle-ly in Gay Rites Are Civil Rites.

I wrote the Non-Libertarian FAQ sometime around 2012 and last updated it in 2017. Sometime, possibly between those dates, I read David Friedman’s A Positive Account Of Property Rights, definitely among the most important essays I’ve ever read, and got gold-pilled (is that a term? It should be a term). I’ve since been trying to sort this out with things like A Left-Libertarian Manifesto, and trying to move them up a level as Archipelago. James Scott’s Seeing Like A State and David Friedman’s Legal Systems Very Different From Ours were also big influences here. Like all platitudes, “government is a hallucination in the mind of the governed” is easy to understand on a shallow level but fiendlishly complicated on a deep level, but I feel like all of these sources have given me a deep understanding of exactly how it’s true.

The rightists (especially Moldbug) get the other half of the credit for helping me understand Archipelago, and also deserve kudos for teaching me about cultural evolution. My first attempts to engage with this topic were nervous and halting – see eg The Argument From Cultural Evolution. I got a much better feel for this after reading The Secret Of Our Success, and was able to bring this train of thought back to its right-wing roots Addendum To Enormous Nutshell: Competing Selectors. I’m grateful to the many rightists who argued about some of these points with me until they finally stuck.

I had more trouble engaging with leftists. I started with Does Class Warfare Have A Free-Rider Problem,”

 

It’s fun to read Scott Alexander but it takes a lot of time!  David Friedman’s article he cites on positive property rights is intriguing:

http://www.daviddfriedman.com/Academic/Property/Property.html

It explains the non-moral, non-legal reasons for the triple coincidence of our control of wealth, which is that it’s:  1) morally just, 2) economically efficient; and 3) in fact, the current reality.

 

Today we pound one more fence post into the Schelling Fence protecting my family, friends and clients.  If you’re wondering what in the world a Schelling Fence is (it’s a credible pre-commitment to defend a moral/intellectual position)  – see my 11/13/18 post or read Scott Alexander’s explanation from 2012:

https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/Kbm6QnJv9dgWsPHQP/schelling-fences-on-slippery-slopes

 

Back to our regularly scheduled programing Tuesday.

 

 

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