Tuesday, November 28, 2017

“Claim, Use, And Defend”

     Some prefatory remarks:

     I don’t plan these essays. I root through the news and my preferred opinion sites, looking for...well, just looking. Waiting for some article, or some expression of sentiment, or some offhand reference to a recent or historical event to provide the spark I need for a screed. The world being full of a number of things, I almost always find something to get my writerly juices flowing.

     Some mornings I’m more fortunate than others. On those mornings, the spark isn’t about one particular item, but the combination of two or more. The spark welds them together, makes of them something more than the sum of its parts.

     This is such a morning.

     If you remember the events surrounding the ranch of Cliven Bundy, you will recall that a great many armed Americans rallied to his defense against the intrusions of the Bureau of Land Management. That enraged the Powers That Be, which resolved to pillory him. He would be made an example, a warning to others: Thou Shalt Not Defy An Agency Of The Omnipotent Federal Government. He’s been incarcerated for nearly two years at this time, awaiting trial; bail was denied him.

     His trial began a few days ago. His son Ryan presented the opening statement in his defense. Here is the segment that set my gears to spinning:

     To have rights you must claim, use and defend… man only has rights he is willing to claim, use and defend. There is a difference between rights and privileges. Rights you own. Privilege is afforded.

     The language is plain. The insight is overwhelming.

     “Claim, use, and defend.” Our entire theory of property rights, first formalized by John Locke, is founded on those three words:

  1. Claim: He who intends to make a thing his property must say, in some fashion, “This is mine.”
  2. Use: The property must be kept in “an improved condition” through regular use.
  3. Defend: The owner must make provisions to secure it against those who would take it from him.

     Note that this applies even to property whose owner leaves it “in public.” Should you leave your car unlocked, with the keys in the ignition, on a city street, find it gone, and report it as stolen, the police will laugh at you. They’re required to notify other police departments of the theft, and if, against all odds, the car should turn up, they’ll call you to come for it. But by failing to defend your rights to your property, you will have surrendered it, de facto, back to the “common.” The title document in your file cabinet will mean very little.

     As a pastor once said to a woman whose husband had made away with some of a stack of unguarded MREs, an owner must act like an owner. Failing to do so removes any moral weight from those who seize what he has failed to defend.

     I hope the trial goes well for the Bundys, for this reason among others.

     Quite a lot of people, reading the above, will be somewhat put out by the notion that one must use and defend one’s rights. Surely, they would say, it’s enough to claim them and have them conceded by others. Who would be uncivilized enough to say “Naah, that’s not yours,” and snatch it from one’s hand? Aren’t we better than that?

     In that word we lies the rub. Some of us aren’t better than that. A great many of them go into government.

     Yesterday, Sarah Hoyt produced this gem:

     ... I think the sex scandals and the disintegration of our “respect” for people and institutions are more the result of two twin things: first the fact that the left has been undermining established society for a long time, initially because once “capitalist” (which is to say normal) society vanished, paradise would magically appear, and since [19]91 in a sort of mad fury that they can’t have their little red wagon*; second the same left was, at the same time taking over all the institutions.

     Their lack of respect for the institutions they took over, their complete inability to see what’s in front of their eyes, and the fact that their entire philosophy is based on resentment and envy — which means they’re convinced everyone else, everywhere else is getting away with stuff, and so they might as well — results in the “take over a respected institution; kill it; flay it; wear its skin and dance in front of the horrified people involved in that institution, demanding respect.

     Yes, yes, yes! Add to that Ryan Bundy’s observation: the previous “owners” of those institutions failed to defend them. For example, the Left’s conquest of the publishing industry didn’t happen all at once. It began with a stage of slow infiltration, a steady trickle of ideologues into positions in Pub World from which they could assert control over what would and would not reach readers. During that phase of the “long march through the institutions,” the Left could have been repelled and defeated...but the “owners” chose to mollify them and compromise with them instead. After a while, those “owners” found that their publishing houses had slipped from their grasp. Similar flowcharts of subversion apply to several other American institutions and industries, most particularly those in the communicative and educational sectors.

     But let’s not drift too far from the point. As I’ve written far too many times already, he who prizes power above all other things will pursue it single-mindedly. His priority scheme will give him a natural advantage over anyone else who might seek the position he prizes. Once he has it, he’ll contrive to prevent anyone from taking it away. He’ll also contrive to fill any positions below him with loyalists. The rest follows quite naturally.

     At this time the federal bureaucracies are fighting tooth and nail against the Trump Administration, which has openly declared its intention to shrink them and to return their usurped authority to Congress. Except for the pinnacle positions – the Cabinet secretaries and assistant secretaries – the bureaucracies are controlled almost entirely by persons avid for power and determined to keep it. Some claim public-spirited motives. Constitutionally, “I’m only trying to do good” has no weight. What does have weight is the Civil Service law that protects their occupancy of their positions.

     In the usual case, the only way for the president to discharge an unwanted civil servant is to eliminate his position, a move few presidents have chosen to make. Add to that the tendency of a new Cabinet secretary to exhibit pride of ownership over “his” department and its sub-agencies, and to seek to expand them rather than have them shrink under him. That’s what makes the case of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson so exceptional and striking.

     Constitutionally, the executive departments and their sub-agencies answer to the president; they are his employees, who serve at his pleasure. Moreover, the secretary of each department wields the president’s authority over that department by derivation: i.e., by dint of his appointment by the president and his confirmation by the Senate. However, because previous presidents and Cabinet secretaries failed to defend their prerogatives, and because the Civil Service law bestows a patina of occupational tenure upon the federal bureaucrat, we have the perverse situation of today: a Leviathan, a Brobdingnagian monstrosity that answers de facto to no one and wields powers the Constitution never granted to anyone.

     “Claim, use, and defend.” Three critical words...and the last of them, owing to the flaccidity of far too many Americans about defending their individual rights, by far the most relevant to our time.

     No, we’re not all “better than that.” No, we can’t all “just get along.” There are villains among us. There always have been and always will be. The least of them will pick your pocket or snatch your purse. The worst of them will do so under the pretense of authority. To the extent we’ve failed to defend our rights, we’ve enabled their predations. They are the villains, to be sure, but we were far too ready surrender to them.

     I might come back to this in another essay.

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