All Commentary
Tuesday, January 1, 2002

Anything to Declare?

The Accumulation of Powers Is the Definition of Tyranny

“The Congress shall have Power To . . . declare War. . . .”—U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 8

That brief phrase seems to have vanished from the national memory in the wake of the atrocities of September 11. If the terrorists really intended to assault the American tradition of freedom under law, score one for the terrorists.

Instead of a declaration of war, Congress passed this resolution: “The president is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on Sept. 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.” (Emphasis added.)

That is not a declaration of war. It’s a grant of Caesarian power. Indeed, when the Senate majority leader was asked if the President would need congressional authorization to attack Iraq after Afghanistan, he replied, “No, he certainly wouldn’t have to clear it with us. He’s an independent branch of government.”

Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist No. 69 that “The President is to be commander-in-chief of the army and navy of the United States. In this respect his authority would be nominally the same with that of the king of Great Britain, but in substance much inferior to it. It would amount to nothing more than the supreme command and direction of the military and naval forces, as first General and admiral of the Confederacy; while that of the British king extends to the DECLARING of war and to the RAISING and REGULATING of fleets and armies, all which, by the Constitution under consideration, would appertain to the legislature.” (Italics added.)

The framers had good reason to separate the dangerous power to declare (and finance) war from the power to command the armed forces. As James Madison explained in Federalist No. 47: “The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.” He quoted Montesquieu: “There can be no liberty where the legislative and executive powers are united in the same person, or body of magistrates.”

Although the constitutional delegation of the war power has not been respected since 1941, devotees of freedom under law should be alarmed nonetheless. Unfortunately, Madison was right when he wrote in Federalist No. 48, “[A] mere demarcation on parchment of the constitutional limits of the several departments is not a sufficient guard against those encroachments which lead to a tyrannical concentration of all the powers of government in the same hands.”

* * *

If your intention is to be safe at all costs you’re apt to miss out on some important things in life. So writes Ted Roberts.

Government controls on immigration are restrictions on the movement of people. Thus, Ken Schoolland writes, they share something with earlier restrictions on how and where people could live their lives.

If you like what federal standards have done for your toilets, just wait until you see what the government has in mind for your washing machines. Thanks to Michael Heberling, you don’t have to wait to find out.

Imagine a herd of dinosaurs trying politically to set up a retirement system. Tom Siems has an idea what it would be like.

The conventional wisdom has it that the government’s schools would be better if only more money were spent to hire more teachers and reduce class sizes. E. Frank Stephenson analyzes the proposal and finds it wanting.

A funny thing seemed to happen to economist Paul Krugman on his way to debunking the Mises-Hayek theory of the business cycle, write Roger Garrison and Gene Callahan. He implicitly embraced it.

Scratch an opponent of free trade and you may find an opponent of society itself. Barry Loberfeld has come across some examples.

When critics of capitalism begin with the premise that investors aren’t rational, their statist conclusions are likely to be gross non sequiturs. Tibor Machan shows why.

Like the old joke, much of modern economics is built on wildly unrealistic assumptions. Virtually the only exception is Austrian economics, writes D. W. MacKenzie.

Who was it who said that local government is less a threat to liberty than the national government? Scott McPherson knows otherwise.

Unfortunately, the U.S. Constitution permits the government to take private property from its owner. But it may do so only for “public use” and with “just compensation.” As Timothy Sandefur explains, here’s another constitutional provision that’s increasingly breached.

Our columnists have been hard at work looking for interesting topics. President Mark Skousen sings the praises of leisure. Lawrence Reed finds a certain think tank unthinkable. Doug Bandow wonders what’s secure about Social Security. Thomas Szasz ponders the distinction between prisoner and mental patient. Dwight Lee celebrates diversity. Donald Boudreaux asks some tough questions in the wake of September 11. Walter Williams takes up the sensitive matter of voter qualifications. And Aeon Skoble, confronted with the claim that markets undermine communities, says, “It Just Ain’t So!”

Our reviewers assay books on property rights in the developing world, the politicization of public health, Julian Simon’s view of the world, the Constitution under the New Deal, egalitarianism, and the history of economic thought.


  • Sheldon Richman is the former editor of The Freeman and a contributor to The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. He is the author of Separating School and State: How to Liberate America's Families and thousands of articles.