Equal Rights, Not Equal Things
We continue with our ninth in a series of articles describing the Founders’ Philosophy based on W. Cleon Skousen’s book The Five Thousand Year Leap. Professor Skousen writes that the Founders believed the proper role of government was to protect equal rights, not provide equal things. In late 18th Century, European government believed that equality was created by taking from the “haves” and giving to the “have nots.” He argues that our Founders perceived that this proposition contained a huge fallacy.
Our Founders recognized that the people cannot delegate to their government the power to do anything except that which they have the lawful right to do themselves. He argues that every person is entitled to protection of his life and property. Therefore it is legitimate for the government to protect the lives and property of all people, but nothing more.
By way of example he tells of a kind-hearted man who notices that his neighbor had two cars while another neighbor had none. If, in the spirit of benevolence, this man were to take one of his neighbor’s cars to give it to his other neighbor who had no vehicle, it obviously would be auto theft. The first man would be violating the natural rights of his prosperous neighbor who is entitled to have his property protected.
He then argues that it is no different if the “benevolent” man were to petition the city council to force the prosperous man to give one of his vehicles to his less prosperous neighbor. In fact, it is even worse because since this taking was performed under the “law,” the prosperous man has lost all right to appeal for help in the protection of his property. Professor Skousen writes, our “Founders recognized that the moment the government is authorized to start leveling the material possessions of the rich in order to have an ‘equal distribution of goods,’ the government thereafter has the power to deprive any of the people of their ‘equal’ rights to enjoy their lives, liberties, and property.”
Those on the receiving end of this misguided policy may initially believe the policy is good. But when the government begins to start taking from those who were on the receiving end, they suddenly say that they have a right to the protection of their property. The logical extension of this policy is that the government begins to believe that it (government) has the right to decide who has a right in things. “The power given to government to take from the rich automatically cancelled out the principle of ‘guaranteed equal rights.’”
The Founders realized that some would prosper more than others; that it was inevitable as long as there is liberty. But they believed that the American concept of “freedom to prosper” was based on the belief that a man’s instinctive will to succeed in a climate of liberty would cause the whole nation to prosper.
Benjamin Franklin, who had been a “have-not” in his youth, wrote an essay on this subject. Franklin believed there could be “counter-productive compassion.” His views on “counter-productive compassion” follow:
- Compassion which gives a drunk the means to increase his drunkenness is counter-productive.
- Compassion which breeds debilitating dependency and weakness is counter-productive.
- Compassion which blunts the desire or necessity to work for a living is counter-productive.
- Compassion which smothers the instinct to strive and excel is counter-productive.
Franklin did believe in “calculated compassion, however. He argued that it was the Christian thing to do. Our Founders believed that one should not help the needy completely; merely help them to help themselves. They also believed that where emergency help is required; do not prolong it to the point where it becomes habitual. Professor Skousen ends this chapter by writing that the Founders believed that, “Under no circumstances is the federal government to become involved in public welfare. It would corrupt the government and also the poor. No constitutional authority exists for the federal government to participate in charity or welfare.”
Our government today has certainly lost its way. Please remember this when voting this November. We must take back our country.
The next principle to be discussed is our Founders’ belief in man’s unalienable rights.
For greater information on this and other founding principles, please see The Five Thousand Year Leap by W. Cleon Skousen.