While you will find disagreements in the liberty movement about how to get there, the goal always remains constant – create an environment where people can live as freely as possible.
At the Tenth Amendment Center, we know decentralization creates that environment, and one of history’s greatest libertarian thinkers also advocated our strategy more than 20 years ago.
Monopolies always work to the benefit of the monopoly itself. This proves true whether applied to an economic monopoly or a government monopoly. By centralizing power, we put our liberty in grave danger. In a decentralized system with competing government entities checking each other’s powers, liberty can more easily flourish.
With this in mind we seek to move the United States back toward the decentralized system envisioned by the founding generation and established by the Constitution.
The Tenth Amendment serves as the key to understanding how the American system was intended to operate. In fact, Thomas Jefferson described the Tenth Amendment as the foundation of the Constitution.
I consider the foundation of the Constitution as laid on this ground: That ‘all powers not delegated to the United States, by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States or to the people.’ To take a single step beyond the boundaries thus specifically drawn around the powers of Congress is to take possession of a boundless field of power, no longer susceptible of any definition.
James Madison explained the intended division of power between the state and federal government in in Federalist 45. Note that almost all authority was meant to remain at the state level in a decentralized system, with very little power vested at the top.
The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite. The former will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation and foreign commerce; with which the last the power of taxation will for the most part be connected. The powers reserved to the several States will extend to all objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement and prosperity of the State.
Clearly, the federal government long ago abandoned those restraints. But though nullification – taking action to render a federal act unenforceable and inoperative within their borders – state governments can reclaim lost power. This serves as the cornerstone of the TAC strategy.
Federal supremacists balk at our strategy. They essentially set up the Supreme Court as a ruling oligarchy, never to be challenged or defied. Jefferson saw things much differently, arguing that the Supreme Court was not the final arbiter of the power delegated to the federal government.
The government created by this compact was not made the exclusive or final judge of the extent of the powers delegated to itself; since that would have made its discretion, and not the Constitution, the measure of its powers; but that, as in all other cases of compact among powers having no common judge, each party has an equal right to judge for itself, as well of infractions as of the mode and measure of redress.
In fact, the notion is actually an absurdity. How can American’s expect the federal government to limit itself? It’s like expecting a Dallas player to fairly referee a football game between the Cowboys and the New York Giants.
It will never happen.
And the Supreme Court has certainly done nothing to limit federal power. To the contrary, it generally serves as to rubber-stamp for federal expansion.
Nullification effectively erodes the authority illegitimately claimed by the Supreme Court and moves things back toward the intended decentralized state envisioned by the founding generation.
One of history’s great libertarian thinkers endorsed the Tenth Amendment Center’s approach some 13 years before the organization was founded. In a 1993 essay titled Nations By Consent: Decomposing the Nation State, Murray Rothbard held up the Tenth Amendment as a tool to decentralize authority.
In the U.S., it becomes important, in moving toward such radical decentralization, for libertarians and classical liberals — indeed, for many other minority or dissident groups — to begin to lay the greatest stress on the forgotten Tenth Amendment and to try to decompose the role and power of the centralizing Supreme Court. Rather than trying to get people of one’s own ideological persuasion on the Supreme Court, its power should be rolled back and minimized as far as possible, and its power decomposed into state, or even local, judicial bodies.
While devolving power back to the states won’t usher in an era of complete freedom, it will certainly create a much friendlier environment for liberty that the onerous centralized system Americans live under today. Yes, state governments will also infringe on rights. But competing, dispersed jurisdictions minimize the damage done by any one government entity, and it creates the foundation for further decentralization to the local level.
The Tenth Amendment is your line in the sand. Taking actions to support it will create a framework you can use to advance liberty today.