Tuesday, February 05, 2013

The Twenty-Eighth Amendment


The rectangle of light in the acres of a farm was the window of the library of Judge Narragansett. He sat at a table, and the light of his lamp fell on the copy of an ancient document. He had marked and crossed out the contradictions in its statements that had once been the cause of its destruction. He was now adding a new clause to its pages: "Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of production and trade…."*

Who is Judge Narragansett? What "ancient document" is he editing? And where is he doing it?

Anyone who has read Ayn Rand's novel Atlas  Shrugged will recognize the scene, which occurs near the end of the novel, when all the key strikers are secretly gathered in Galt's Gulch to await the collapse of the world they escaped. But I think too little attention has been paid to that short but key scene. When one boils down the active plot of the novel, one will see that all the conflicts and subplots are generated by the government having the power to abridge the freedom of production and trade. In short, to regulate and ultimately abolish the role of man's mind in existence. Dagny Taggart, the railroad "tycoon," is stymied by government rules and regulations of her freedom to act. So is Hank Rearden, who is blackmailed into giving the government the right to dispose of his new metal process and forced to "compete" with incompetents.

So are all the novel's other producers and traders who vanish to leave the country and the world to try to flourish without them. This includes doctors, who refuse to work as indentured servants, and writers, and artists, and industrialists, and "common" men who did not wish to remain held down by the wishes of other men….and judges, who refuse to sanction injustice.

That was Judge Narragansett.**

Think for a moment of what his emendation of the Constitution implies and means. Of all the actions men might take to reclaim and preserve their freedom, that one correction is perhaps the most critical if a government is to be (re)formed that would break the bonds, chains, and fetters with and of the old. The Declaration of Independence reads:

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Correcting and amending the Constitution would be a form of "instituting" a new government, founded on the principle of individual rights and defining the concept of the initiation of force – especially that of a government. The federal government needn't be overthrown physically by violence, or even abolished; it should be overthrown or leashed by an idea, by reason, and that can be done with Narragansett's corrections. That is, it should be radically altered to effect the safety and happiness of Americans.

But, what "rights" should be secured, what "rights" are destroyed by government force and unlimited power?

Novelist/philosopher Ayn Rand wrote:

A “right” is a moral principle defining and sanctioning a man’s freedom of action in a social context. There is only one fundamental right (all the others are its consequences or corollaries): a man’s right to his own life….The concept of a “right” pertains only to action—specifically, to freedom of action. It means freedom from physical compulsion, coercion or interference by other men.***

By "other men," Rand meant the agents of government force, and the politicians who empowered them to initiate force with their legislation. That includes every bureaucrat, department head, and even the occupant of the White House.

There is a question circulating about whether or not a third political party would serve the purpose of ensuring the preservation of our rights. I think that question misses the point and it has not been answered in any practical or meaningful way.

The solution to the problem of the number of political parties lies in those last pages of Atlas Shrugged. Judge Narragansett is writing on a copy of the Constitution , "Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of production and trade…." 

That clause or amendment would prohibit any politician, Republican, Democrat, or third party, from acquiring any power over the economy and our lives. It's that simple. Any scheme originating in the House – assuming it could even pass – would ideally be scotched and rejected by the Senate. The legislation would never make the trip to the White House to be vetoed. The Senate, after all, was designed to quash any and all populist or "democratic" legislation. Modeled on the British Parliament's Houses of Commons and Lords, it was created to be the ultimate protector of the individual rights, private property, and so on.  It has fallen down on that task, or forgotten its purpose (virtually every politician in Congress has but a very fuzzy grasp of what their chambers are for, never mind understanding the purpose of the Constitution), often conspiring with the House on how to write and pass statist legislation.  

If our representatives were prohibited from concocting any legislation that would abridge the freedom of production and trade, and held accountable for it by their constituents and the courts, then no politician could take action to expand the power of government without being opposed by his colleagues. Most politicians would stay home or not even run for office if there were no prospect of passing such legislation.

Ideally, Congress would sit for perhaps two weeks a year – at most, a month – to clear up issues that might have arisen since the last session. Senators and Representatives would have no sumptuous salaries, have to make do with a minuscule staff (which they'd pay for from their pockets, unless their constituents chipped in to pay for staff), they would have no pensions, no medical or transportation perks, no junkets, little or nothing for free or paid for them. And when they retired or weren't reelected, they'd go back to their private businesses and live like everyone else. 

Above all, they would not be granted immunity from the consequences of their actions, as they are now. They would be held accountable and liable for criminal prosecution, as any other citizen would be for initiating force or committing fraud. One of the most laughable and recent instances of the absence of this brand of justice is Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's admission during a Senate hearing of responsibility for the Benghazi terrorist raid. Yet she will leave the post with lifetime pensions and perks and be able to prepare herself to run for president in 2016.

This is rewarding irresponsibility. That has been the Washington way for decades of holding politicians guilty of criminal or maleficent behavior "accountable." That has got to stop. And stopping it would serve as a deterrent against any one with political ambitions that go beyond the proper functions of government in domestic and foreign policies.

Not being able to pass rights-violating legislation – or seeing that it would be an onerous project – would act as a disincentive for any ambitious statist. Rand put her finger on a fundamental political principle in that one scene in the novel. The Constitution, after all, was created to define the limits of government, not serve as a recipe for the expansion of federal powers. And that was the intention of that Narragansett scene.

And what might be the other clauses in what hypothetically could be the Twenty-Eighth Amendment to the Constitution? For starters, the nullification of the Sixteenth Amendment, the income tax amendment, which technically was never ratified except on one politician's say-so. Then there is the Seventeenth Amendment, which provides for the direct election of Senators, which has contributed to the prostitution of the Senate, turning its members from Solons to electoral street walkers. This correction might necessitate a separate amendment, and not just a clause. The direct election of Senators has caused incalculable damage and mischief.

The Eighteenth Amendment, sanctioning Prohibition, was repealed by the Twenty-First.

The Twenty-Sixth Amendment, which provides for the voting rights of anyone eighteen years old or older, is a questionable amendment. Is the age of eighteen one in which an individual has acquired enough knowledge of politics and his rights to have a say in government? I doubt it. I think two or three years should be added to ensure that an individual acquires that knowledge once he has become a productive individual supporting his own life.

The Twenty-Seventh Amendment, under Judge Narragansett's pen, would become moot.

Revenue might be collected (non-coercively) for the upkeep of the Capitol Building, the White House, and other necessary federal buildings, and also for maintaining the military and federal courts. But for little else. A separate amendment might be required to cover these contingencies, but would also require a new set of Federalist  Papers to iron out the ways and means. Today's politicians and political thinkers, however, are just not qualified to write those papers. One may as well assign the task to the Three Stooges and appoint Karl Marx, David Axelrod, Barack Obama, and Nancy Pelosi as their mentors.

Judge Narragansett's twelve words in a Twenty-Eighth Amendment could make all the difference in the world – and in our lives.

*Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand. 1957. New York: Dutton/Penguin 35th Anniversary Edition, 1992. pp. 1167-1168.
**For his explanation of why he went on strike, see pp. 742-743 of the novel.
***"Man's Rights," The Virtue of Selfishness.

19 comments:

John Shepard said...

Great, as always, Ed.

"The hardest thing to explain is the glaringly evident which everybody has decided not to see." — Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead

Edward Cline said...

One way to non-coercively fund the legitimate functions of the government would be to offer individuals the chance to buy "legal insurance," that is, bonds or policies that would ensure individuals would have access to federal or even state courts should they be involved in criminal or civil actions. These bonds or policies would be especially important to businessmen, doctors, and other entrepreneurs or traders in realms of risk and lawsuits. Criminal cases, of course, would fall under the aegis of the government, because it would be charged with protecting individual rights and have the power to force criminals in arrest, imprisonment and trial. Individuals who did not purchase such bonds or policies, could repair to private arbitrage organizations to settle disputes if their matters fall under the definition of tort. These organizations, as you know, already exist. This idea has been proposed in the past, but I haven't seen much literature about it.

RationalEgo said...

Such a short statement, but it could make all the difference in the world. Thanks for fleshing this out for us.

madmax said...

I think the voting age should be at least 30, maybe even 35. If you disenfranchised 18-29 year olds you might be able to save the Republic. I also think that anyone who has taken welfare of any kind should not be allowed to vote until they are totally self-sufficient for five years. That would disenfranchise the entire parasitical class. There are more restrictions I would place on the franchise but that is enough for now.

Disenfranchise the young. Today, most people younger than 25 are morons. Modern liberalism has created a culture of uneducated, uncultured and spoiled youth, especially young women. Our present set up is totally unsustainable. Which is the way the Left wants it. Create a country of idiots that vote Left and then take over the country.

Edward Cline said...

Madmax: Very good suggestions, concering the voting age and voting eligibility.

jayeldee said...

The income tax, the threat of being drafted into the military (or other forms of “service”), and the threats posed by the anti-abortionists all make advancing the voting age beyond that of 18 highly problematic—to put it mildly. I’d happily agree with such a reform if and only if those three threats (at least) were abolished once and for all, or else made inapplicable until the right to vote is granted. Otherwise, you establish an underclass of political subservients.

(And I, by the way, seldom encounter any person OVER the age of 25 who is also not “moronic.” In the way of political sagacity, or of “wisdom” in general, age is nowadays virtually meaningless, in my experience.)

Drew said...

I agree that age is almost meaningless. In fact, the older people are, the more likely they are to have their entrenched philosophy ossified in their brain like an octagenarian's calcified fetus from an unkown, spontaneously terminated pregnancy that a woman had in her 20s.

Edward Cline said...

To paraphrase someone (W. C. Fields, Groucho Marx?), I never met a college student I could argue with. Say one thing to the student, and you'd get in reply a pre-recorded response (e.g., "But, what about the poor?" "But, what about people who can't afford health insurance, or medical care, or..." "But, what about our killing people with guns, and drones, and stuff...?" "But, what about all that money those millionaires are making...?" By that time, I want to press 1 for English, 2 for disconnect.

jayeldee said...

Ed: I hear you, loud and clear. Been there; done that. (The quote you have in mind, incidentally, is probably Will Rogers’ “I never met a man I didn’t like.” He lived in another age, of course: but even given that, you have to wonder about his powers of discernment.) But for myself, I seldom meet a full-fledged adult I can argue with: the most frequent response is not a question or a parry—which does at least show some semblance of a mental faculty—but rather silence and a sullen stare, and a mental note being made by your would-be interlocutor that you are one to avoid, or to get even with. Enter: Office Politics. (I bet you know whereof I speak.)

Edward Cline said...

Jayeldee: I know whereof you speak. The day after the election, every person in the office I'd held a parttime job with (11 years) had voted for Obama. They all knew that I hated the guy, and called him a Chicago thug and other deserving names. So they all began being snarky and smug with me. I told my boss I no longer wanted to work in the office with those people for that reason, and that I could work at home (which I'd been doing off and on for a few months). Then he pulled a fast one on me. He was out of town on personal business for a month, and paid his fulltime staff their regular salaries. I was left unemployed for a month. He refused to pay even a token compensation for the lost time. So I quit.

tjfields said...

Mr. Cline, I enjoyed your post but I would like to get your thoughts on a couple of points.

First, in reference to the quote by Ayn Rand, you state:

By "other men," Rand meant the agents of government force, and the politicians who empowered them to initiate force with their legislation. That includes every bureaucrat, department head, and even the occupant of the White House.

Here you have made a definitive interpretation of Rand’s writing, i.e. “Rand meant…” versus “Rand may have meant…”, or “In my opinion, Rand meant…” I think it is dangerous to make a definitive interpretation of someone else’s writing as it can lead to misinterpretation and/or perversion of the original author’s work.

For example, under your definitive interpretation of Rand’s statement, Rand’s quote would be changed to read:

A “right” is a moral principle defining and sanctioning a man’s freedom of action in a social context. There is only one fundamental right (all the others are its consequences or corollaries): a man’s right to his own life….The concept of a “right” pertains only to action—specifically, to freedom of action. It means freedom from physical compulsion, coercion or interference by agents of government force, and the politicians who empowered them to initiate force with their legislation.

Does this interpretation of Rand’s writing convey that which Rand intended? If so, did Rand mean that an individual does not have freedom from physical compulsion, coercion or interference as long as it comes from the neighbor or a mugger on the street who is not a government agent?

In my opinion, your definitive interpretation of Rand’s statement changed the meaning of Rand’s quote.

Second, in reference to your suggestion that the voting age requirement be increased I offer some arguments against such a proposal.

As I see it, increasing the voting age would result in one of two outcomes: there would either be a discrepancy between the age at which someone becomes an adult and the voting age, or the age at which someone becomes an adult would be increased to match the voting age.

If the voting age were increased beyond the age of legal adulthood, two arguments arise. The first is that if someone is a legal adult who can 1) work a job without parental consent, 2) enter into binding contracts, 3) be held legally and financially responsible for his or her actions, and 4) join the military where he or she could handle millions of dollar worth of equipment and die in combat, then this adult should be allowed to have his or her say in the government. Why would adults who have not reached an arbitrary age (determined by whom and under what objective standard?) not be allowed to vote? Is it just because some people doubt, but have not provided any objective proof, that he or she has acquired enough knowledge of politics and individual rights to have a say in government? How does someone (or is it a government agency? Or is it some other group or entity?) determine what is enough knowledge?

The second argument that arises from separating the age of legal adulthood and the voting age concerns taxation without representation. Without the ability to vote for his or her representatives, the legal adult pays taxes without any say in the government that takes those taxes.

If the outcome, on the other hand, is to increase the age of adulthood to match the voting age, this does not solve the problem that you wish to address. If the age of adulthood were to be increased, and an individual could not work a job without parental consent, or enter into binding contracts, or be held responsible for his or her actions, or join the military, then this individual is still considered a juvenile and has not “become a productive individual supporting his own life.” If an individual is not motivated to acquire “enough knowledge of politics and his rights to have a say in government” in preparation for turning eighteen and voting, then how would raising the age requirements motivate the individual?

jayeldee said...

Ed: Extreme treatment, that, and good for you that you quit. (Been there, done that.) Of course, your “extra-curricular” achievements cannot have been (indeed can almost never be) any secret, either…. And given The Age we live in (you know Ayn Rand’s moniker for it), I’m really quite surprised that you’re able to circulate in the guise of an “employee,” or a “worker,” or a “regular guy”--call it what you will--at all. I myself, even having little to show, find it quite difficult enough, and it has at times proven all but impossible; as it did for you at the end of that 11-year gig.

John Shepard said...

I'm sorry about what happened Ed at your place of employment for 11 years. Crappy treatment from leftists, the "tolerant".

The world seems upside down.

May all those who support statism suffer their just deserts and come to realize it as such.

Edward Cline said...

Further to my comment on legal insurance: Such bonds or policies would be far, far less costly than taxation, regardless of an individual's income. And the "revenue" taken by especially the federal government from such an arrangement would be more than enough to fund its legitimate functions, particularly the courts and the military. A further benefit would be that individuals would be virtually guaranteed pay-back for their investment in such bonds or policies, should they need to resort to them. Another consequence would be a reduction in attorneys' fees for representation in civil or criminal cases.

Finally, there would be a direct link between a policyholder and the government. He would know what his money was being spent for and would expect "pay-back" should he need to "cash in" that policy. As it stands now, a taxpayer really doesn't know where his money is going or how much of it is spent on legitimate functions or on programs he opposes but has no choice but to fund, and so there is a vast, unbridgeable disconnect between federal, state and municipal governments and taxpayers. Rand very briefly mentioned this idea in the past, but did not elaborate on it.

madmax said...

Under 25s are particularly daft. When people get older they sometimes gain maturity. But there is data on this. Marriage tends to make a person less Leftist. This makes sense. Once you have a home and children, you need to budget. This can at least break the Leftist spell of free lunches. This is especially true of women. Single women are extremely pro-Left and pro-welfare state. They get some hint of reality if they get married, which is not given today as there is a whole demographic of unmarried 30 and 40 something women who have been slutting it up and just plain forgot to get married and then they hit the WALL. Ooops.

But my suggestion to raise the age requirement for voting is a stop gap measure; meant to save the Republic here and now given that the Left is hell bent on destroying the West. The solution is too create a laisse-faire state which is nowhere near a possibility yet. We don't even know what such a state would look like. There are many unanswered questions with that project.

But today's citizenry is being shaped by the left. Conservatism is a second banana. Even when Leftists are Christian, it is a liberal Christianity that they believe in. IMO, liberal Christianity is not real Christianity. The Left is in the process of destroying Christianity too, although I am no fan of the original version. As for abortion. Why do Objectivists place so much emphasis on this? The world can go to hell in a hand cart but mainstream Objectivists will bitch and moan about abortion and gay marriage. I could give a shit about either.

jayeldee said...

“Why do Objectivists place so much emphasis on [abortion]”?

Well. If all of the readily available arguments are unpersuasive to you, it may help to think in pictures. (I myself, on rare occasions, have found this to be a useful technique.) Picture this, then: picture a geeky political hack (such as, say, a Paul Ryan type), peering up through a speculum into the immobilized body of a woman you regard with some esteem; his aim being, to determine whether there is any sign of nascent “life” therein—and so decide what, if any, governmental regulations he ought to apply to the interior organs of that constituent’s body. Oh—and not to forget: there is a gun on his, the speculist’s, hip—which instrument will obviate the hassle of verbal argument, once the appropriate decision is made; by him.

That little scenario may help to clue you in—as to “why” the “emphasis”…. Then again, it may not: I suppose it does rather depend upon whether one has, or can conceive of having, any esteem for any female of the species. Many (of either sex) don’t have it, and can’t conceive of it. Which is yet another reason I cherish my Second Amendment rights.

John Shepard said...

Excellent concretization, jayeldee. Memorable as well.

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

With respect to voting rights, I am not sure age is the best limitation beyond a reasonable age of majority at which a person has all of the rights and responsibilities of adults. Rather, I think it would make sense to restrict the national franchise to property owners, since they are the ones taxed. This does not necessarily have to end with real estate, but could also include patents and other intellectual property, as well as businesses. It matters not whether the property owner is young or old, male or female, etc. What matters is that a person owning property had to have the self-respect and discipline to acquire it, and also has a tangible interest in the future of the free society, and its civilization, as well as in the actions of government.

Edward Cline said...

Elisheva: Your voting rights idea is spot-on. I would've mentioned it – as I've advocated it for years elsewhere – and I think the right to vote should be limited to property owners (of various kinds, as you mention, real estate, intellectual property, patents, and so on). I didn't mention it in the column because I was discussing existing amendments to the Constitution. Enfranchised property owners would have a vested interest in voting for candidates or incumbents who would work to preserve property rights, as well. "Disenfranchised" citizens – property owners of a certain type, and the classes of property would need to be defined, of course – could only benefit from such an arrangement in a freer society, and not have a chance to vote for politicians running on populist programs or promising "social justice" and other collectivist, confiscatory programs.