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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Give Me Liberty or Give Me Government! (Can we have both?), November 13, 2011
This review is from: It Is Dangerous to Be Right When the Government Is Wrong: The Case for Personal Freedom (Hardcover)
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Similarly to books by James Bovard (Lost Rights: The Destruction of American Liberty and others by Judge Napolitano (Lies the Government Told You: Myth, Power, and Deception in American History, this book is devoted to arguing how we Americans are gradually losing many of the rights supposedly guaranteed us by our Constitution. Each chapter is devoted to a different right we supposedly have by law - the right to speech, to privacy, to travel, to property, etc - and goes from there into an exposition of how, over time, state and national governments have encroached into them.

For instance, the chapter on our right to property discusses the idea of eminent domain under the fifth amendment - that tells us that government can only take things owned by the people if "just compensation" is given, and if the taking is for "public" use (to be used for a public school, public park, or other public function). Well, needless to say, when government is allowed to interpret - as they are - what counts as just compensation, and what counts as public use, we now have governments taking land in order to sell it to private developers, giving the original owner whatever the government happens to think is a reasonable price (of course, it is not, because if it were, the owner would voluntarily sell it!). And that is just one chapter. The right to interstate travel, to keep one's income, to self-defense, etc are covered. And the chapter on how government has gradually encroached on our right to privacy (via things like the PATRIOT Act) is downright infuriating!

Of course, it will be noted by astute reviewers that Napolitano is not simply talking about rights explicitly spelled out in our Constitution. The right to retain our income (though some tax could be considered an unjust taking under the Fifth Amendment), the right to privacy, and the right to travel are nowhere mentioned in the Constitution. All are implied (especially if we take Amendment X seriously, which the Judge makes clear he DOES). But the general point is that what was once a (relatively) classical liberal society - where individuals were largely left free to pursue their own ends free from government restraint - has gradually become a welfare and nanny state, regulating what we can eat, what kind of privacy we can have, how much the money we earn and spend will be worth, and just about anything else we can think of.

So, in a nutshell, the moral of the present book is that while our Constitution guarantees us a certain form of government that operates within certain limits, the problem is that the same government that is to be limited is the one judging how to interpret the Constitution. And surprise, surprise; they are interpreting it so expansively that in many ways, the document is just being used as a blank check that government can interpret to give them any power they'd like.

And it is books like this that will hopefully help to keep citizens aware of, and diligent against, these trends.
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Showing 1-10 of 12 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Dec 24, 2011 10:20:33 PM PST
Omer Belsky says:
Hi Kevin

I find it mysterious when people make the claim that America "once" had constitutional freedom which it has lost. When was that time?

Regards

Omer

Posted on Dec 24, 2011 10:24:26 PM PST
Omer Belsky says:
Hi Kevin

I find it mysterious when people make the claim that America "once" had constitutional freedom which it has lost. When was that time?

Regards

Omer

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 27, 2011 8:24:13 AM PST
Hey, Omer.

I don't think there is anything mysterious about it. In the early American republic, the national government was much more limited by the constitution and the BoR than in previous decades. Yes, there were aberrations, like the Alien and Sedition Acts, but presidents and congresses stayed much more limited, and debates over proposals like a national bank were infused with concerns over whether such-and-such was allowed by the constitution.

Check out Epstein's How Progressives Rewrote the Constitution, or Barnett's Restoring the Lost Constitution: The Presumption of Liberty.

Are you just confused by the terminology, such that you are suggesting (through a rhetorical question) the idea that we simply don't have the constitutional protections that we once had - that we still have as many constitutional protections as we did 'before'? If so, I'd love you to take a quick look at legal developments over the past 10 years with regard to what government has allowed itself to do with 'terrorism' suspects, or the last 30 years of eminent domain law. A quick look should show you that, at least in those areas, it would be foolish to suggest that our government has not departed gradually from the written constitution.

Can you give me an example you are particularly confused on?

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 27, 2011 8:33:57 AM PST
Omer Belsky says:
Dear Kevin

I think it is patently obvious that in an era when women were men's property, could not vote, and when black people were held as slaves, Americans had less rights than they do now.

Regards

Omer

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 27, 2011 1:41:18 PM PST
Very true. But the book is about specific areas of constitutional law, such as the progression of laws regarding the right to bear arms, speak freely, and eminent domain. I agree with you that anyone who suggests that history (of anything) moves in a unidirectional way such that 'progress' or 'regress' is all or nothing is foolhardy. (It would be like suggesting that we can only say science progresses if we find that every area of every science progresses.) But I don't see any reason for you to have read such a view into my review.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 27, 2011 2:18:58 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 27, 2011 2:20:00 PM PST
Omer Belsky says:
"I don't see any reason for you to have read such a view into my review. "

How about here:

"the general point is that what was once a (relatively) classical liberal society - where individuals were largely left free to pursue their own ends free from government restraint - has gradually become a welfare and nanny state, regulating what we can eat, what kind of privacy we can have, how much the money we earn and spend will be worth, and just about anything else we can think of. "

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 27, 2011 4:25:39 PM PST
Yes. That passage would generate confusion. of course, as mentioned, the entire review is about a book discussing loss of constitutional restraint in specific areas. The review is about THAT book.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 28, 2011 7:37:20 PM PST
Omer Belsky says:
I don't know whether to bring this up, but don't you think that this is a misleading way of putting it? It is not be accident that increased personal, private and social liberty went hand in hand with a larger federal government, a host of paternalistic rules and limitations on economic liberty; It reflects a changed philosophy on government and liberty, as well as a new economic reality. It is not by accident that these trends occur throughout the Western world. One might reflect also on the fact that John Stuart Mill, despite his advocacy of personal Liberty, was actually lukewarm if not hostile to economic liberty.

I'm saying it is demagogic and misleading to these trends as a mere rise of a tyrannical central government; Despite its elegance and its appeal to the upper classes, seeing the world through Libertarian lenses creates a distorted picture.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 29, 2011 7:02:10 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 29, 2011 7:03:32 AM PST
Omer,

The review written was about this particular book, which looks at specific areas of constitutional law and suggests that in all of THEM, the government's scope of power has grown larger at the expense of individual liberty. I would suggest that your confusion might come from the fact that you haven't read the book, so are criticizing a review not because it mischaracterizes the book, but mischaracterizes what you have in your head that the book should say.

"One might reflect also on the fact that John Stuart Mill, despite his advocacy of personal Liberty, was actually lukewarm if not hostile to economic liberty. "

One might reflect also that yours is an anecdote and seems to be an argument from authority. Well, I counter your argument from authority by making my own: Mises was not. Is that convincing? No, because it is an argument from authority and an anecdote.

"I'm saying it is demagogic and misleading to these trends as a mere rise of a tyrannical central government"

It's possible, but I am not sure how else we can depict the expansion of the government's eminent domain power to allow government to seize land so that strip malls can be built on it, or the expansion of government's powers over searches and seizures (via the war on terror), or the plethora of restrictions that have been placed on our freedom of speech (which can now be relegated to free speech zones).

If your argument is that there are other areas where our liberties have expanded, I agree. But I guess I thought that to be a bit obvious, probably because I do not see history as a unidirectional thing that either progresses in one direction in all areas, or does not progress at all. In some areas, government has expanded quite a bit, and in other areas, it hasn't. Could I have said that? Sure. But if you expected me to point out all really obvious points, I'd fear my review would be quite a few pages longer than amazon's requirement.

"Despite its elegance and its appeal to the upper classes, seeing the world through Libertarian lenses creates a distorted picture."

Is that what I am doing? Appealing to the upper classes? Well, first, I am not and have never been upper class, and second, I don't see any reason why libertarianism would only appeal to the upper classes, and see that as a big assumption that you haven't supported.

I am quite sure that seeing things only in a libertarian light distorts our picture of reality, just as seeing the world in any ideological way does. You don't know nearly enough about my libertarianism, though, to tell me how and where I distort reality, just as I don't know enough about your worldview to point out your world-distorting biases. I, of course, am courteous enough to acknowledge that my ignorance in that area precludes me from suggesting that your worldview is inaccurate. It is too bad you are not.

I know my response probably sounds angry, and it is. But how would yours be were you called a demigogue who is just appealing to the upper classes by distorting reality? I'm thinking you'd be a bit put off as well, and you might even think i was a tad arrogant.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 29, 2011 9:48:49 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 29, 2011 9:49:47 AM PST
Omer Belsky says:
Dear Kevin

I did not meant to insult you, but I think that when you are reviewing a book by a right-wing ideologue with an agenda, you should at least point out the ways his outlook obfuscates the picture as well as the ways it illucidates it.

As for the rest of my comment, I'll point out merely that I wasn't appealing to authority when directing to Mill's views; I was using him as a convenient example to the way in which an analysis of liberty can look at government in a more ambivalent light than pure Libertarians do;

As for upper class opinion, it is simply a fact that Libertarianism is an upper class phenomena. Richer and more educated Americans are more socially and economically liberal than their poorer and less educated brethern. See, for example:

http://pewresearch.org/pubs/1795/poll-free-trade-agreements-jobs-wages-economic-growth-china-japan-canada

http://www.publicpolicypolling.com/main/2011/05/most-republicans-support-recognition-for-gay-couples.html

Regards

Omer
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