"If I speak in the tongues of men and angels, but have not love, I have
become sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal." -- Saint Paul, First Letter
to the Corinthians
It often seems to me that we put the greater part of our historical
efforts into rejecting the lessons of history, whether we're studying
our history of that of another land. Worse, the broader and more
imperative the lesson, the more stubborn we become about trying to deny
The central lesson of human history, particularly the history of the
period since the Peace of Westphalia, is that absolutely no one can be
trusted with power over others.
The men who wrote the Constitution of the United States grasped this, at
least partially. The notions of enumerated powers, and the requirement
that the branches of the federal government agree on each and every
measure, would be meaningless were it possible to trust someone with
power over others. But their understanding, as novel as it was in its
time, did not sufficiently penetrate the dynamism of power: the
relentless way in which men to whom power is the Holy Grail will seek
it, and will seek to unchain it from all that limits it.
In all of history, only one man has dared to delineate the inevitable
terminus of that dynamic -- a writer of fiction:
"The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested
in the good of others; we are interested solely in power. Not wealth or
luxury or long life or happiness: only power, pure power. What pure
power means you will understand presently. We are different from all the
oligarchies of the past, in that we know what we are doing. All the
others, even those who resembled ourselves, were cowards and hypocrites.
The German Nazis and the Russian Communists came very close to us in
their methods, but they never had the courage to recognize their own
motives. They pretended, perhaps they even believed, that they had
seized power unwillingly and for a limited time, and that just round the
corner there lay a paradise where human beings would be free and equal.
We are not like that. We know that no one ever seizes power with the
intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means, it is an end. One
does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution;
one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The
object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture.
The object of power is power."
I don't need to tell you where that comes from or who wrote it, do I?
Even Ayn Rand, a great champion of human freedom, was somewhat naive
about the dynamic of power. The conclusion of "Atlas Shrugged" has Judge
Narragansett revising the Constitution to render the rights of men safe
from the government it establishes. But who, acquainted with the history
of Man, could possibly believe that words on a sheet of paper can
forever check the ambitions of conscienceless men determined upon power
unbounded? As well believe that a restraining order could really
"protect" an abused spouse.
We are where we are today, chained and immured by men who wield absolute
power, unchecked and unbounded, because we were led to believe exactly
* * * * * * * * * *
The single greatest liberty-preserving institution ever devised is the
Consider: Under the rules that pertain to jury trials, only the jury may
decree that a man shall be punished for something he did. Moreover, the
jury must be "of his peers" -- i.e., no government officials are
permitted to serve on it -- and must agree unanimously on his offense.
Even one objector, unwilling to fix a guilty verdict upon the defendant,
can prevent him from being fined, incarcerated, or executed.
More: A jury's guilty verdict can be set aside by the presiding judge on
procedural grounds. A judge persuaded that the prosecution hasn't made
an adequate case can direct a verdict of acquittal, though not of guilt.
Indeed, should the prosecutor request that the charges be dismissed, the
judge must comply; the jury's opinion of the defendant will never
Finally -- and this is a well established principle of law, regardless
of any judge's opinion to the contrary -- if the jury believes the law
to be unjust, it can acquit even if the defendant openly admits his
For these reasons, the jury trial has been under attack by
power-worshippers ever since it first became a commonplace of
jurisprudence. Sol Wachtler, at one time the Chief Judge of the New York
State Court of Appeals, famously claimed that the jury is obsolete --
that criminal trial verdicts would be better determined by the presiding
judge. Prosecutors so dislike having to persuade a jury that they prefer
to plea-bargain as many accused Americans into prison as they possibly
can. Failing that, they routinely challenge off potential jurors who
might possess high intelligence, advanced educations, special knowledge
about the substance of the case, or above-average eloquence.
Were American governments required to submit each and every claim
against a citizen to the scrutiny of a jury, we would be far freer, and
far safer from the voracity of the power-mongers, than we are today.
Which is a great part of the reason for the explosion of "regulation" in
place of statutory law.
* * * * * * * * * *
Regulatory bodies run roughshod over the rights of the citizen. They
are, in the main, subject to no constraints. They can constrain, fine,
and otherwise oppress private parties without first putting their
demands before a jury. Should a particularly plucky victim press his
resistance so determinedly that a jury does eventually get to rule on
the affair, the costs of his persistence will often prove greater than
any favorable verdict would be worth.
The regulatory agency is complemented by the "executive order." This
mechanism is nowhere mentioned in the Constitution. Given the powers
delegated to the president, such an order could not legitimately apply
to anyone not one of the president's employees -- i.e., to anyone
outside the executive branch. Yet they proliferate, often addressing
subjects on which the president has failed to get Congressional
cooperation, ever more thickly as time passes.
These are the ratchets being used to tighten our manacles and shorten
our fetters. Yet regulatory "law" continues to proliferate, generally
without regard for any bounds set by Congress. Regulatory bodies have
acted against defenseless private citizens with increasing arrogance and
rapacity. The executive order has been used, especially in recent
administrations, as if it were a perfectly Constitutional alternate
means of extending or altering federal law. In particular, it has been
used to increase the scope of the regulatory agencies beyond what
Congress had allowed to them in the enabling legislation.
Juries almost never get to rule on such things. That's why they're so
popular with those who seek power.
* * * * * * * * * *
Allow me to relate a story from some years ago.
A town legislature on Long Island, which at that time retained the
charming practice of posting the time and place of its next session and
the session's agenda in a local paper, announced at one point that it
was considering banning the retention of unregistered cars on private
property. The proposed ordinance stated that such cars would be
confiscated at the town's option and disposed of as the town sees fit,
and that the costs of such confiscation would be charged to the
homeowner from whom the car was seized. That's the whole of the
proposal: a simple decree of expropriation of any vehicle not currently
registered with the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles.
Anyone who can't see the tyranny inherent in that proposal should
contemplate relocating to North Korea.
The session at which this ordinance was to be voted on was packed to the
rafters with angry town residents. Virtually no one but the town's
attorney spoke in favor of it. His statements:
"We don't allow outside storage."
"Such cars are an eyesore that offends many town residents."
When the attorney was challenged for the authority behind the proposal
-- i.e., the clause in the town's charter that granted it the power to
pass such an ordinance -- he changed the subject. When another attendee
pointed out that the ordinance's logic would support allowing the town
to seize any item left exposed on private property, his reply was, "Oh,
you know we would never use it like that!"
Despite the overwhelming opposition to the ordinance, the legislature
refused to vote on it at that session. Instead, they "reserved" it for
another session. When that later session was held, there was no
announcement of the time, the place, or the agenda -- and the ordinance
was passed unanimously.
* * * * * * * * * *
The power-seeker's agenda must be carefully concealed behind a facade of
"compassion," "civic spirit," and as many other nominal virtues as he
can harness to the task. He must persuade the voters that he has their
best interests at heart, and so firmly embedded therein that he would
never dream of traducing them.
In other words, he strives to persuade the voters that he loves
them...and that therefore, they can trust him with unlimited, unchecked
If there ever was a politician who truly loved anyone outside his
immediate family, history makes no record of him. The evidence for the
possibility of such a creature is microtome-thin.
As Saint Paul continues in the First Letter to the Corinthians:
"Love is long suffering,
"love is kind,
"it is not jealous,
"love does not boast,
"it is not inflated.
"It is not discourteous,
"it is not selfish,
"it is not irritable,
"it does not enumerate the evil.
"It does not rejoice over the wrong, but rejoices in the truth.
"It covers all things,
"it has faith for all things,
"it hopes in all things,
"it endures in all things."
Name a contemporary politician whose conduct matches that list of
* * * * * * * * * *
The upcoming elections offer some hope of modest retrenchment from the
excesses of the current and former administrations and Congresses. Not a
great deal of hope, mind you: even if the Republicans sweep every office
for which they contend, we will have succeeded only in replacing one
crop of power-seekers with another. The victors will interpret their
election as an endorsement of their preferences and a license to do as
they please (cf. Barack Hussein "I Won" Obama). They are unlikely to
stop short at measures well beyond their proper sphere.
Between now and then lie nearly six months of campaigning: innumerable
commercials, a slew of public appearances, two national conventions, a
series of debates, and of course a continuous stream of requests for
funds. At every opportunity, every candidate will strive to present a
facade quite distant from his underlying reality.
They will speak with the tongues of men and angels.
The facade will be of unbounded love.
The reality will be of lust for power.