All Commentary
Tuesday, May 1, 1973

Seeds of Oppression

The Honorable Robert E. Hood of Laconia is a member of the New Hampshire House of Representatives.

Instead of my reaching directly into your pocket for some worthy cause of my choice, suppose I first muster a majority to gain legal sanction for my ambitions. Thus are clearly criminal acts draped in a mantle of benevolence.

Such is essentially the process involved whenever government is allowed to concern itself with redistribution of wealth programs such as welfare, subsidized housing, job training, ad infinitum. The will of some must be subjugated to the will of the majority and their property expropriated to satisfy the whims of that majority.

This, by some rather irrational semantically juggling, has come to be known as Progressive legislation. If our goal is to be a totalitarian socialist state then it is indeed progressive in the literal sense of the word, but to the best of my knowledge we are still at least paying lip service to freedom in this country.

“Well surely,” comes the rejoinder, “government has a responsibility to care for those who are truly in need — if only we could stop the abuses.” In a free society government does not have that responsibility, and never did; and as long as it involves itself in so-called social legislation there will be abuses and there will be waste and overstaffing. These problems are an inherent and inexorable part of its involvement.

Before you conjure up visions of the sick and elderly dropping in the streets and public works trucks making the rounds each morning to pick up the bodies and deposit them in common paupers’ graves, please remind yourself that almost all of this “progressive” legislation has evolved only in very recent years. Prior to our “enlightenment” we depended on private charities and on individual responsibility, and we still do in many areas that have not as yet come under the benevolent eye of bureaucrats. How far would I get if I took my tin cup in hand today and went door to door in an attempt to raise money for AFDC mothers? However, if government was not involved in this area, I am certain that no children would starve or want for clothing. Churches and private charities would readily fill the gap and there would be no abuse.

What a terribly malevolent view of mankind one must have to assume that the coercive power of government must be applied in order to alleviate human suffering.

Democratic Illusions

How has this sovereign status of the majority come about? Perhaps the main reason could be that many of us are under the impression that America is a democracy. Had the founding fathers established a pure democracy, the history of this country would have been relegated to a rather tempestuous and brief period at the close of the eighteenth century. Pure democracy —mob rule, in simpler terms — is perhaps the least stable form of government ever devised.

America is a constitutional republic and it is the Constitution which draws the line on democracy. We might be described as a representative democracy but only within the limits provided by our Constitution. Thomas Jefferson is often quoted in defense of a sovereign majority as saying, “The will of the majority is in all cases to prevail.” He did indeed say it but the statement is taken out of context. Jefferson immediately added, “— that will, to be rightful, must be reasonable; the minority possess their equal rights, which equal laws must protect, and to violate would be oppression.”

So it would seem that the rights of majorities must be severely limited if a free society is to endure; sovereignty lies with each individual rather than in any collective form. It is the sovereign right of each individual to life, liberty, and property that must indeed be inalienable. It necessarily follows then that no individual, no mob, no collective, and no government has a moral claim against the property of anyone, no matter how lofty the intent. The proper function of government in a free society is limited to the defense and protection of the inalienable rights of each citizen; governments may be instituted for no other purpose without inevitably becoming oppressive.