The Role of Government

Harold Kidlow writes:


The liberties of the original constitution were negative liberties–freedom from, as it were; primarily, freedom from government oppression. FDR’s “Four Freedoms” include two from the original constitution, which are freedom from government intrusion-freedom of speech and freedom of religion. But he added two that are prime exhibits in the conception of liberty as freedom for, or positive liberty: freedom from fear, and freedom from want. Even though these last two were cleverly phrased in a way that makes it seem like there is a continuity with the other two and with the original understanding of American government, they line up under the declaration of Lowi’s Article I that “In order to fulfill this sacred obligation, the national government shall be deemed to have sufficient power to eliminate threats from the environment through regulation, and to eliminate threats from economic uncertainty through insurance.” In other words, government is to provide freedom from fear and want as the minimum it must provide for the people.

It is important to see that these are not the natural rights the Founder’s Constitution is designed to protect–the ones that men have irrespective of, and prior to, any government whatsoever. In contrast to the invented and wished for rights of men to be free from want and fear, which no government can actually provide even if they were rights, the natural rights which underlie our republic, and that the original form of the constitution protects from government, are summed up in life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The Bill of Rights specifically name the rights that logically follow from the naturally inherent rights of human beings as self-owning moral equals who authorized through their consent the formation of the government. The negative freedom of the Constitution of 1787 forms the protection against the government it empowers and in which our liberty inheres, liberty which involves risk. The risks of challenge and opportunity grow character, and equally important, wealth. Government proposals to insure against not only risk in general, but every specific discoverable risk, saps both character and wealth, and teaches the citizenry dependence on government to “take care of them.” …

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