By Jacob G. Hornberger
One of the prime characteristics of our age is the tendency of Americans to conflate the federal government and our country. We see this especially in the realm of foreign policy, where people praise the troops for their service to their country when, in fact, the troops are doing nothing more than serving the national-security branch of the federal government.
In actuality, the federal government and the country are two separate and distinct entities, a phenomenon reflected by the Bill of Rights, which expressly protects the country from the federal government.
Suppose the following question were posed to the American people of today: “What do you believe is the biggest threat to the freedom and well-being of the American people?”
My hunch is that the answers would be: ISIS, terrorists, Muslims, Iran, Russia, China, illegal immigrants, or drug dealers.
If that same question, however, were asked of our American ancestors, say in 1791, virtually all of them would have unequivocally answered in the same way: “The U.S. government — our very own government — constitutes the biggest threat to our freedom and well-being.”
That’s precisely why Americans demanded the enactment of the Bill of Rights as a condition for approving the U.S. Constitution, which called the federal government into existence. They knew that federal officials — that is, our very own government officials — would inevitably destroy their fundamental, God-given rights, including freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of the press. They knew that they would confiscate their guns. They knew that they would jail and torture them without due process of law. And that they would use the troops, who would loyally and dutifully obey orders, to accomplish these things.
That’s why our ancestors expressly prohibited such actions with the Bill of Rights. If they weren’t concerned that federal officials would do all those bad things to the American people, there wouldn’t have felt any need to enact the Bill of Rights.
That mindset — that the federal government poses the biggest threat to the country — was also reflected by the type of government that the Framers established with the Constitution. It was a weak government, one with very few, limited powers.
For example, there was no income tax and so the federal government’s revenues, which were based mostly on tariffs, were very small. Without a lot of money at its disposal, the government’s ability to do bad things to people was extremely limited. There was also no enormous standing military establishment, given the antipathy that our ancestors had to standing armies. They understood that throughout history, government officials would use the troops to do the bad things to people.
By design, there was divided government — three branches, with state and local governments also operating within their jurisdictional spheres. Our ancestors loved gridlock in the federal government. They built it into the system. They knew that it would inhibit the federal government’s ability to do bad things to them.
The irony is that with an extremely weak federal government, America became the greatest, freest, most prosperous, peaceful, influential, and admired nation in the world. With Americans free to keep everything they earned, capital came into existence in unbelievable amounts, which caused the standard of living of the American people to skyrocket. By the late 1800s, new products, services, and inventions were coming into existence every day. Foreigners were flooding into America in the hopes of sustaining their lives through labor and possibly even getting wealthy.
Americans were known as a can-do people, strong and independent. With ever-increasing wealth at their disposal, many of them were traveling the world, for tourism, business, or cultural exchanges. America was the envy of the world. Foreigners loved, admired, and respected our country.
And now look at what we have today — the most powerful government in history, consisting of a vast bureaucratic welfare state and a vast bureaucratic national-security state. There are millions of Americans on the dole, including Social Security, Medicare, education grants, subsidies, and the like. There is a vast empire of domestic military bases and foreign military bases. There is an enormous federal law enforcement bureaucracy for drug enforcement, immigration enforcement, homeland security, and much more. There are endless foreign wars and foreign interventions that kill and maim countless people on a permanent, ongoing basis. There is an empire of U.S. military bases in foreign countries. There are partnerships and alliances with foreign regimes, including brutal non-democratic dictatorial ones.
All that, of course, means ever-increasing federal spending, debt, taxation, and inflation, all four of which are the sure-fire recipe for weakening and even destroying a nation.
Moreover, much of the world, now hates America, given that they, like Americans living today, conflate the federal government and our country into one entity.
And the American people today? Priding themselves for having the most powerful government in the world, they are the most frightened people in the world. They’re scared to death of losing their dole, convinced that they would die in the streets without it. They also live in constant fear that the terrorists, Muslims, or ISIS are coming to get them, drag them from their homes, behead them, or force them to study the Koran. They’re convinced that the drug dealers are going to get them hooked on drugs. And they’re extremely fearful that poor, uneducated illegal immigrants are stealing their jobs. They express their courage vicariously by supporting the troops as they wage war against people thousands of miles away from American shores.
Our ancestors chose a weak federal government and ended up with a very strong nation. That wasn’t a coincidence. That was causation.
Today, Americans have most the powerful government in the world and a very weak nation, one consisting of dependent, frightened people, not to mention chronically dismal economic conditions. That’s not a coincidence either. That’s causation as well.
This article was originally published at The Future of Freedom Foundation.