Government is a terrible idea completely opposed to the very heart of human nature and freedom, the key to human survival and happiness; but people are so comfortable and familiar with the institutions of government that they tremble at the prospect of letting it go altogether — and it is true, the change to a free society would indeed mean travelling where no society has travelled before.
Old maps of the world, drawn before explorers had been everywhere, marked the unexplored areas terra incognita — unknown territory. Naturally, if some intrepid sailor said they were going there, their friends and family feared for their life, and perhaps for their sanity. “Here be dragons!” they might write, underneath that Latin. It is the old “fear of the unknown.”
In this case, the character of a free society is hardly unknown, many of its key characteristics have been shown; and far from there being anything to fear, fear is very much what people will leave behind. Government, not freedom, is the source of terror and turmoil.
Yet even so, that is only theoretical; nobody has done this before for real. And so the nagging fear remains, and moves some folk to wonder “could we not just limit government, instead of doing away with it altogether?” The answer is no, and here is why.
The phrase itself is a contradiction in terms
Consider the terms, one at a time. “Government” is an entity that governs, or rules, it is the absence of a market, an organisation that governs those within its power, and is whatever has a monopoly on the use of unaccountable force in its domain. Thus, if government is government, it has nothing governing it; it is the outfit on top, the entity that does the ruling.
Now for the term “limited.” It tells of restrictions, of prohibitions. If a slave were ordered not to stray outside the plantation perimeter but did so anyway, authority came down, and demanded an explanation. It absolutely implies that the one doing the limiting rules the one being limited!
Put the two together, and what one has is a perfect oxymoron, a contradiction in terms. The phrase attempts to convey the impossible idea of a ruled ruler, a governed governor! Either a government is able to govern without limits within its domain, or else it is not a government! Limits either limit, or else they are not limits!
In case the contradiction is not abundantly clear, one can take this further. Suppose by some violation of logic an alleged government — “A” — exists which is, in fact, limited. That being so, the party doing the limiting is and absolutely must be the true government. Call it “B”, and suppose that the earnest believers in the myth of “limited government” insist that B, too, is limited. By whom? Why, by government “C”, of course. Then C must be limited by D, the true and actual government; and D by E and so on ad infinitum. That progression really must be infinite, and because the number of human beings available to govern or be governed is not infinite, there is conclusive proof that “limited government” is a logical impossibility.
It does not exist, it never has existed, it never will exist, it is a myth. End of story.
It was tried, and it failed
So urgent, however, is the irrational desire of some folk not to leave the familiar cocoon of such mythical limits on government that irrefutable logic alone may somehow not suffice. Observe, therefore, that this utterly impossible theory has been attempted in practice, and it has — as one ought to expect — abysmally failed. That refers to the United States of America, and to all other nations that boast a “constitution” said to limit what their governments are “allowed” to do.
The fatal contradiction can be seen in the thinking of the Founders even before the American Revolutionary War was fought; it comes in the first few lines — otherwise sublime! — of the Declaration of Independence:
We hold these truths to be self–evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness — that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed . . .
So America’s Founders, who were no dummies to be sure, actually advertised that they “held” two wholly contradictory concepts to be “true”:
- That liberty can be “secured” by instituting something that in its very nature is an absolute denier and violator of liberty.
- That it is ever conceivable that those governed can give their “consent” to be governed!
It really boggles the mind, that they could be so profoundly stupid. The second, perhaps, is the more incredible of the pair. If one gave their consent for another to rule or govern them, they are not being governed; their will has been declared subservient to another by their own doing. This is doubly impossible; it firstly guts the word “govern” of all significance and secondly requires belief in the possibility of voluntary slavery, which is logically contradictory and flatly violates self–ownership.
Perhaps they were not stupid; perhaps they were cunning politicians like all the rest, winning support by words that, to this day, sound magnificent but have no coherent meaning. Hard to tell; those men did at least lay their lives on the line, in the war, for what they said they believed. But there are only two possibilities: That they were cynical manipulators, or just plain stupid.
Whichever; by 1781 the great experiment in allegedly limited government had begun, and shortly after that the Constitution was in place to permit the new government to do certain things and to limit or prohibit it from doing any others. The most important amendment in the Bill of Rights is the ninth one, and that is the one that is been most carefully ignored, ever since:
The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
That is, the fact that the Bill of Rights named specific limits on government power did not mean that no other limits existed. It was implicit throughout the document that the government was to exercise only those powers expressly “delegated” but just to make sure, that Ninth Amendment was put in place.
Never before or since has “limited government” been established better or more clearly than in America. It has been very well tried. Now observe how thoroughly it has failed.
Article 1 §8: The Congress shall have power . . . to coin money, regulate the value thereof . . .
Far from merely coining such metal as individuals choose to bring to its mints, the government routinely issues and even prints what it calls “money”.
Article 1 §8: The Congress shall have power . . . to borrow money on the credit of the United States . . .
In huge amounts, the government also lends money — for example, to foreign governments to purchase their cooperation — using a power which the Constitution nowhere grants.
Article 1 §8: The Congress shall have power . . . to provide for the common defence and general welfare of the United States . . .
The government endlessly provokes offensive wars and provides for the particular welfare of its favoured clients at the expense of others.
Article 1 §8: The Congress shall have power . . . to establish post offices and post roads . . .
Government virtually monopolises all roads, whether “post” is conveyed along them or not, and whether competing alternatives could have been provided or not.
Article 1 §2: Direct taxes shall be apportioned among the several states . . .
The main “direct tax” is the income tax, which is expressly not apportioned, on the pretext that the Sixteenth Amendment relieved government of that requirement. However, that Amendment used the term “income” without defining it; and during the half dozen years following alleged ratification the Supreme Court repeatedly defined it as “corporate profit” (Merchant’s Loan & Trust Company v Smietanka 255 US 509) — one of them expressly confirming that the Amendment gave Congress “no new taxing power” (Stanton v Baltic Mining, 240 U.S. 103). Yet it now furnishes half of all Federal revenues, direct from individuals’ earnings.
Amendment 1: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech . . .
Government brutally murdered eighty–four men, women, and children in Waco, Texas in 1993 who wanted only to be left alone freely to exercise their religion; and time after time has savagely curtailed free speech. Examples: The Alien & Sedition Acts of 1798, gagging of anti–war speech during the Civil War, the first and second World Wars, and in the current phony “War on Terror” with its infamous “Patriot Act.”
Amendment 2: The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed . . .
That freedom — derived directly from self–ownership — has been not merely “infringed” but savagely and repeatedly denied by every government entity in the United States with about twenty thousand anti–gun laws.
Amendment 3: No soldier shall, in time of peace, be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner . . .
Literally, this limit has been respected. However, the standing, peacetime United States military establishment costs every household over $5,000 a year in taxes — the monetary equivalent of a compulsory paying guest.
Amendment 4: 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.
This is possibly the freedom most frequently trashed in the whole Bill of Rights. Quite openly, the Feds are spying on every international email and phone call that they wish, on the catch–all pretext of “National Security.” Ever since the early 1990s they have been doing the same surreptitiously, by having foreign governments — notably the United Kingdom — do the spying on United States citizens then providing the data to the United States government; and vice versa. And searches and seizures of homes without proper, sworn warrants are the norm, and if the SWAT raiders happen to invade the wrong home in search of drugs and kill the occupant well, that is really sad but — humans err.
Amendment 5: No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous, crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service, in time of war, or public danger; nor shall any person be subject, for the same offence, to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled, in any criminal case, to be a witness against himself; nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation . . .
Government routinely tricks suspects into “confessing” by deliberately lying to them — with full support from its courts; and gladly places them in double jeopardy by creating two levels of adjudication, criminal and civil. Holding prisoners without trial or even access to a lawyer in Guantanamo Bay has become a worldwide scandal, a good reason to pour well–deserved mockery on the supposed virtues of American “justice.” The trick is to allege that they are prisoners of war held outside the United States — and so not protected by the Bill of Rights — even though no war was ever declared by Congress as required by Article 1, §8. The hypocrisy reeks. Property, meanwhile, is routinely grabbed by government for both “public” and even private use, whether the “compensation” is just or not. It never can be in reality since “just” is what is equally acceptable to buyer and seller in a voluntary exchange; by definition, a “taking” is not a voluntary exchange. That is a fatal flaw in the Amendment. Last but not least, every year over one hundred million Americans are compelled or tricked — same difference — into filing a confession with the Internal Revenue Service that can and will be used against them if the government sees fit. It is called a 1040.
Amendment 6: In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury . . .
Reality: Government trials are almost never “speedy” by any reasonable definition and juries are certainly never “impartial” because jurors are selected only from a list of those who register to vote, that is, to endorse the political system, and jurors are submitted to lengthy voir dires or questionnaires, to show the government lawyers, who have all the time and money they need, whether their profiles fit what is required to convict the defendant.
Amendment 7: In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved . . .
Reality: Exceed the speed limit when a cop is watching, and when your trial comes up with a potential fine of $21 or more, see if you can get a criminal trial, with its unconditional guarantee of a jury in the Sixth Amendment, or a jury anyway under the Seventh Amendment if they insist on pretending it is not a “criminal” matter. Case closed.
Amendment 8: Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishment inflicted . . .
Fine words. No definition of “excessive” or “cruel” or “unusual” and government drives through those holes with a truck whenever it feels so inclined. One might think that giving a prisoner a thin mattress on a steel bed and denying them their regular medication is “cruel.” Government does not.
Amendment 10: The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or by the people . . .
One can read quickly through the powers that are so granted, in Article 1 and then compare it with the monstrous, multi–trillion dollar spending machine that the Federal government has become in a mere two centuries, on top of a similar monster in the states, cities, and towns. There is no grant of power whatsoever for the overwhelming majority of what government actually does; the limits of Amendments 9 and 10 have become just a piece of paper, that nobody bothers to read any more.
The above is just a sampling; endless other examples could be named. Inescapable conclusion: Not only is it impossible logically to limit government, it cannot be done in practice either.
The end of the course has been reached, well done. If there are any remaining questions, check the section containing frequently asked questions for answers.