Editor's note: This is the first of three lessons in Free Enterprise.

A Limited Government

By Fred Schnaubelt
Friday, September 19, 2005

The American epic unleashed the greatest outburst of creative energy in the history of the world. More progress was made in the last 200 years than in the previous 2,000. Why are more and more Americans running away from the American Revolution?

Perhaps the best explanation comes from Fyodor Dostoyevsky in the Grand Inquisitor, from "The Brothers Karamazov." The scene takes place in Seville, Spain in the 1500s. The Grand Inquisitor, recognizing Jesus having returned to earth, has him arrested to be burned at the stake. He tells Jesus, "You! You who can turn stones into bread. You wanted to come into the world and You came empty-handed, with some vague promise of freedom, which in their simple-mindedness and innate irresponsibility, men cannot even conceive and which they fear and dread, for there has never been anything more difficult for man and for human society to bear than freedom!" He continues, "Man has no more pressing, agonizing need than to find someone to whom he can hand over as quickly as possible the gift of freedom." This is pretty heady stuff.

With freedom comes responsibility, for one's self, for one's accomplishments. Your shortcomings are your own: but, make government responsible and you can blame government, big business, unions, your spouse, you name it. Inexorably, those people attracted to government are only too willing to oblige you by taking away your freedom in exchange for some vague "promise" of bread and an agreement to rule over you. But Jesus cautioned, "Man does not live by bread alone."

We're taught that the American Revolution commenced with that war with King George in 1776. That war however, was a minor skirmish as such things go. Similar wars to determine what type of autocratic government would rule men have been going on over the ages. Never before 1776 was it freedom vs. authoritarianism. What constitutes the real American Revolution originated with the part of the Declaration of Independence that states, "Men are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

What this declaration did was remove government as the ruler of men and put the Creator in its place. People would no longer be subjects of the government but henceforth government would be subject to the "consent of the governed." This was an astounding revolutionary break with all prerecorded history. Once this idea got going, it had far-reaching ramifications, one being an outburst of ingenuity and creativity with the millions now being free to act and produce far beyond what the founders could imagine.

As students we hear about the Bill of Rights. This, however, is a misnomer. The Bill of Rights primarily is a series of prohibitions. Prohibitions not against the people but against the government. Government shall not abridge freedoms of religion, speech, press, etc. Government shall not take private property except through due process of law and so forth. Some 45 prohibitions in all. People who crave power tell us today that the Constitution is a "living" document when, in reality, it is a dying document.

To see how it is dying, one need look no further than the recent Supreme Court decision in Kelo v. New London. Without a Constitutional Convention, without a vote of the Congress, without a vote of 50 state legislatures, five Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court nullified the 5th Amendment's protection of private property. "Nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation." This granting of "unlimited" power over private property is the most radical, revolutionary change in how we are governed since the Constitution was ordained in 1789.

The United States Constitution limited our government more than any government had ever been limited. This is not to suggest that government is a necessary evil. Government is not inherently evil. To the contrary, government is absolutely essential to the workings of free society, provided the government is properly constrained. The purpose of government first and foremost is to protect the people from predators, both foreign and domestic, protect property, invoke a common system of justice and enforce contracts legally and voluntarily entered. That's it.

When government is properly limited, is wedded to a market economy and guarantees private property, you have the three indispensable ingredients required for a free society. You and I are the beneficiaries of a land born to freedom, a land of plenty that most of us have done nothing to earn. We have an obligation to pass the principles of freedom to our children and to thank God we wake up every morning in America. What's your understanding of limited government?


This appeared in:
Daily Transcript

on Monday, September 19, 2005
Schnaubelt, president of Citizens for Private Property Rights, has been a commercial real estate broker for 35 years and was a San Diego City Councilman from 1977-81. Send comments to editor@sddt.com. All letters are forwarded to the author and may be published as Letters to the Editor. [Reprinted with permission.]



Lesson 2, The Market Economy
Lesson 3, Private Property
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