July 11, 2017


Solidarity as Liberty in the Declaration of Independence (JAMES R. ROGERS, 7/10/17, Law & Liberty)

A significant part of the Declaration's argument against the government in London was that it undermined governance of and in the American colonies. Modern American readers often experience something of a jolt, expecting as they do complaints of government abuse against individuals, when they get to the first specific complaint advanced by the colonists against the King, "He has refused his assent to laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good."

As a matter of first importance, the colonists didn't complain about the King's actions, they complain about the King's inaction. To wit, the colonists wanted laws for themselves that the King wouldn't approve. The King, as it were, was not giving the colonists too much government, they complained, rather he was giving them too little government; he was giving them too little law. Hence, the "bite" of the statement in the perambulatory section that governments are established so "secure" inalienable rights. Too little government can threaten inalienable rights just as easily as too much government.  [...]

[P]erhaps the best known complaint, "for imposing taxes upon us without our consent," the complaint is not about taxes being too high, it's simply about the nonconsensual nature of the taxes. Even low taxes without consent would be objectionable; high taxes, as long as consented to by legislative representatives, would not be objectionable.

Today "liberty" is conceived almost exclusively along the dimension of the individual versus the state. And that dimension certainly existed at the time of the American founding as well. But that was not the sole dimension of liberty at the time of the Declaration. "Liberty" also included the idea of participating in a collective process by which the community rules and governs itself. Freedom meant freedom from the chaos of too little government as well as freedom from the tyranny of too much government.

Posted by at July 11, 2017 6:26 AM