Sunday, January 13, 2013

On Liberty: More Relevant Than Ever

by Len Hart, The Existentialist Cowboy

John Stuart Mill's classic essay "On Liberty" deals with the issue of "civil liberties" not the metaphysical issue of "free will". In context, it would appear that most attacks on civil liberties originate from within the right wing and, more specifically, tyrannical police states and/or aristocratic rule. Mill addresses threats against liberty from within the institutions of democracy. The issue is especially relevant when widespread domestic wiretapping and Government ordered surveillance violates the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Early 'libertarians' sought to limit the power 'rulers' over those governed. While many believed that rule by a popularly elected government addressed the issue, Mill, however, identified a need to limit the power of elected governments and officials as well. In 'On Liberty', Mill raises basic issues: "who should rule?" What are the limits of government power"? How may the people establish limits on the power that government may exercise over minorities and individuals? His work is more relevant now than ever.

Mill argues that, as an ideal, "government of the people" is often not the case in fact. Those asserting the power of the government -elected officials, bureaucrats, the judiciary -often develop their own interests, influenced as they often are by 'constituencies' at odds with the general interests of 'the people' and, in particular, the legitimate interests of individuals.

Mill makes no distinction between a tyranny of one and a tyranny of many. A tyrannical majority running roughshod over the rights of individuals and minorities is no less a tyrant simply because it is a majority or because it is elected, or because it is elected by a majority.

Mill believed that while society may not tolerate criminal behavior, for example, society may not legitimately interfere with or suppress non-conforming behaviors indiscriminately or simply because a majority may not approve. What then are the powers that society may legitimately exercise over the individual? Mill answers:
"The only purpose for which power can be rightly exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others."

-J.S. Mill, On Liberty
James Madison -called the "Father of the Constitution" -may have anticipated Mill's ideas in his draft of the Bill of Rights --the first ten amendments to the Constitution. Implicit in the Bill of Rights is the recognition that the power of the state must be limited! A majority --unchecked --is frequently a blunt instrument capable of oppressing and repressing the rights of individuals and minority groups alike. The Bill of Rights addresses this issue by guaranteeing "due process of law", limiting state power over individuals and groups, guaranteeing that groups and individuals may speak freely, worship freely.

The Fourth Amendment specifically is a promise that our government made to us in its very founding:
"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

---Fourth Amendment, Bill of Rights, U.S. Constitution
Let's make something abundantly clear: there are no "inherent powers", "implicit authorizations" that would, in any way, overturn, limit, or repeal the Fourth Amendment. Some politicians, perhaps many, are wrong about that; some may have deliberately lied. Moreover, Congress may not overrule the Fourth Amendment with statutory law. Constitutional Law is supreme and provisions in the Bill of Right are valid until amended as stated in the Constitution itself. Widespread domestic surveillance is illegal whatever may be done by Congress ex post facto. Until the Constitution is amended, such warrantless surveillance will remain illegal. At last, ex post facto laws, themselves, are expressly forbidden by the Constitution.

Mill is all the more remarkable for his insight into issues that remain contemporary. In every literate criticism of "special interest groups", PAC's, the gun lobby, the tobacco lobby, the Military/Industrial Complex, one sees the lasting influence of John Mill.

On Liberty is essential reading for anyone interested in law, the principles of government, political science, political philosophy, indeed, freedom itself. It is also essential reading for anyone interested in learning about the intellectual underpinnings of Anglo-American civil liberties.


Anonymous said...

...however in reality the so-called "Constitution" and the so-called "Republic" ceased to exist in 1860...

The Bankruptcy and calling in the GOLD in March of 1933 sealed the "Deal" with the [NWO] global crime syndicate ECONOMIC TERRORISTS
who sent their attack dogs to assault a christian "Cult" compound just up the road from the Alamo on 28 Feb 1993...with Malice aforethought and then on 9/11{2001} sent the braindeadgoy to "Eurasia" to secure the resources and opium for the global crime syndicate Economic Terrorists who pay the crack whores in CONgress...

The so-called experiment in self government rested the political power of the new nation with the county it is in Texas, and still can be attained by De Facto use of political and spiritual/mental will of a people who are deprogrammed from TALMUDVISION.

On Liberty...such a Notion the defenders of the Alamo well understood on the 13th day...and hoped their descendents would cherish it and KEEP it Forever


Anonymous said...

on loss of Liberty...

I met Robert Back in 1993 on account of Waco...

we were in Waco the weekend before the final conflagration.. Sat 17th & Sun 18th

if you could do me a favor and e-mail Brady and a few others & do a story on Robert & Cherokee County



Anonymous said...

" Widespread domestic surveillance is illegal whatever may be done by Congress ex post facto. Until the Constitution is amended, such warrantless surveillance will remain illegal. At last, ex post facto laws, themselves, are expressly forbidden by the Constitution." But even the vaunted ACLU REFUSES to press the Slam-Dunk case for 4th Amendment ex post facto Exclusive PROHIBITION (clause 3 of Article I, Section 9 of the United States Constitution.) !

MarkH said...

Liberty of the mind precedes things like religious choice or political revolution or the formation of plans. It is perhaps the most precious thing a people can have in order to stay free. It is also endangered in all societies because of entirely natural things as well as through human efforts to herd people into certain beliefs and behaviors.

Nobody, as a child, wants to grow up to be a pole dancer or drug dealer, but it happens.

The limited choices and opportunities for people who cannot create their own (despite the admonition of Mitt Romney) leads to a self-limiting of the mind. It's hard to break out of a prison you've constructed for yourself.

I'd usually a tremendous struggle to get people to think about things like forming a union or complaining about things we see around us all the time, ordinary things like power & phone lines or advertising billboards littering our world. Getting people to choose a political vision for the nation's future is practically impossible.

It's equally hard to expect people to understand the world when so much of what the rich and powerful do is hidden from their view. Before 2009 how many people had ever heard of Credit Default Swaps? How many knew George W. Bush had banned states from regulating many financial products? How many knew the way Rupert Murdoch was influencing politics in various places around the world? How many, even today, know much about how the financial markets work and electronic stock trading? It's hard to get worked up about things you've never seen and nastier when you finally discover how they've discovered your way of life.

Read. Think. Then make plans or take action.

Len Hart said...

Mark H said:

It's equally hard to expect people to understand the world when so much of what the rich and powerful do is hidden from their view.

Indeed! I was lucky to have begun a career in broadcast/communications before media began to be consolidated in very, very few hands. That trend shifted into hyperdrive with Reagan's de-regulation, the neutering of the FCC and the lifting of limits on 'media consolidation'. Now --the 'media' is controlled by five or six huge corporations which SCOTUS now calls 'people'.