by Josh Eboch
For all their professed love of reason and logic, libertarians can be damned unreasonable sometimes. Consider this post from the blog Live Oaks on the supposed injustice of the Tenth Amendment:
Glenn Beck… recently made a statement on his radio show that the states have a right to institute universal health care, hand out free cars, etc. if the citizens of that state want such things. He stated that the federal government is barred from such actions, but the states are not. In other words, he is not opposed to violating individual rights; he just wants it done on a more local level.
This is a typical approach by conservatives… They do not challenge the premise that the individual must be forced to sacrifice for the “common good”–they merely want to argue over who will make that determination.
…This isn’t a defense of individual rights; it is an invitation for the states to establish fifty separate tyrannies.
I will be the first to admit that Glenn Beck is very confused about some aspects of liberty and federalism (particularly involving Abraham Lincoln), but he has this part exactly right.
Unfortunately, the fear of local despotism is a common and misguided complaint of libertarian opponents to the Tenth Amendment movement. Many of them seem to think that because certain people in certain states might favor programs that run counter to the philosophy of individual liberty, the entire system of divided sovereignty that was put in place by America’s founders should be scrapped.
But, if they refuse to trust home rule and it’s obvious the current system is a disaster, these libertarians would leave us with nothing more than the vague hope of some spontaneous and radical shift in public consciousness.
That, or the rise of some benevolent dictator willing to impose his or her vision of individual freedom nationally from D.C., whether the voters want it or not.
Which, as a political strategy, is nothing short of absurd. It often takes more than well-reasoned theory to change someone’s mind, and it always takes power to impose someone’s will, even if that will is liberty.
Unless the people demand their freedom from the bottom up, by gaining control over their local and state governments, the corruptible power that must be centralized in order to enact (and enforce) a liberty agenda from the top down would no doubt immediately be co-opted for something completely different.
In fact, it is a fundamental flaw of otherwise good constitutionalists like Ron Paul that they even seek the presidency; an increasingly imperial office that should be castrated through neglect, not further aggrandized.
It is precisely because ignorant or malicious voters so often support government-sponsored looting of their neighbors that decentralized power is critical. Human beings are flawed, and even with the best of intentions may engage in behavior that is irrational or dishonest. However, the smaller the geographic or economic area that can be affected by a single misguided administration or policy, the more likely it is that enough citizens can be educated and motivated to fix the problem.
Or that they can physically relocate their tax dollars to a more suitable environment.
The entire point of freedom is to protect the right of someone else to do something you think is stupid, or even wrong. Otherwise, when the winds of popular opinion shift, who will protect your right to do the same?
That holds true for individuals composing units of government as well. We must respect one another enough as Americans to allow the citizens of each sovereign state to decide for themselves the size and scope of government they desire.
Those states that choose wisely will prosper, while those that choose poorly will suffer the consequences, and have to learn from their mistakes or perish.
Based on what we know about the free market, it is simply not credible to claim that decentralizing the federal government’s current power monopoly through the Tenth Amendment would turn America into 50 isolated tyrannies or fiefdoms.
In reality, spurred on by the information revolution, a return to robust federalism would quickly unleash the cleansing forces of market competition on our stagnant political economy. And what libertarian could argue with that?
Josh is a proud “tenther”, freelance writer, and activist originally from the Washington, D.C. area. He is a blogger for TAC’s Tenther Grapevine and the State Chapter Coordinator for the Virginia Tenth Amendment Center.