The other day in my Twitter feed (h/t @AlexisinNH) I came across a link to an opinion piece by Senator Ted Cruz in response to a New York Times editorial, “Ted Cruz’s Strange Gun Argument.” Cruz’s argument is that the second amendment does not exist simply to protect the right to hunt or target shoot but rather exists to protect our right of self-defense, whether that defense be against criminals or a tyrannical government. In response to the New York Times’ Andrew Rosenthal inability “to get the argument on constitutional or historical grounds,” Senator Cruz provided quotes from a number of Founding Fathers to show that his view on the right to bear arms is consistent with theirs.
Among the quotes from such figures as Thomas Jefferson, Noah Webster and Alexander Hamilton, I found that the quote from James Madison, taken from Federalist 46, caught my attention the most. The Federalist Papers were written in the time between the writing of the constitution and its ratification to address the concerns that people had regarding the new form of government. In particular, Federalist 46 dealt with the fear that the newly strengthened federal government would seek to expand its powers and, ultimately, rely on military force to impose its will at the expense of the people and the States. He set forth the conditions, which he felt were unlikely to come about, necessary for the federal government to achieve this.
That the people and the States should, for a sufficient period of time, elect an uninterrupted succession of men ready to betray both; that the traitors should, throughout this period, uniformly and systematically pursue some fixed plan for the extension of the military establishment; that the governments and the people of the States should silently and patiently behold the gathering storm, and continue to supply the materials, until it should be prepared to burst on their own heads…
The essay continues with why Madison felt such fears were unfounded, largely, and I think this is why Cruz used this particular quote, because the armed citizens would resist such measures and would have certain advantages over the federal government in such a struggle.
I think Madison was correct in his argument then and it is still valid today but we must apply his reasoning to a different danger. The greatest danger the people face today is not the military one that Madison answered, but rather one that I do not believe he could have envisioned. No matter what name you call it, whether it be the welfare state, entitlement state, regulatory state or some other name, it is the spread of statism that poses the gravest threat to the people today.
If the size of government had stayed the same, total government spending at all levels would be about 4% of what it currently is.
What has the political history of the last 100 years, or more, been if not a nearly “uninterrupted succession” of politicians who have been willing to sacrifice the individual and his rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for some supposed “public good,” which doesn’t actually exist. Perhaps they have not “uniformly and systematically” pursued a “fixed plan for the extension” of statism over this time period, but it has certainly been the dominant trend. A proxy for this expansion of government power is the change in per capita government spending in the last 100 years. In 1913 the per capita spending for all levels of government was $33.40, which is about $786 in 2013 dollars. In 2013 all levels of government combined to spend almost $20,000 per person. This would indicate a growth of government, and a corresponding growth in government power and control, on the order of 2400% more than what it would be if only adjusted for the increase in population and inflation.
The reaction of the people to this expansion has, for the most part, been exactly what Madison stated would be necessary for the military establishment to become a danger. We have “silently” watched as the government exerted more and more control over our lives until now we must get government permission to start a business or use our own property. We have “continued to supply” votes and support to those who now have decided they can tell us what type of health insurance we must buy or the kinds of food we should eat, and punish us if we fail to do so.
If we want to avoid having the storm burst on our heads, we must arm ourselves, not with guns but with ideas. We must arm ourselves with the ideas that formed the foundation of our country and system of government. The idea that the sole purpose of government is to protect the rights of the individual, their rights to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness and the property rights that make all the others possible. We must arm ourselves with the idea that it is the role of government to remove the initiation of force from society, not to initiate its use against us for some purpose that it deems “good.” We must fight for the idea that it is the role of government to protect us from criminals who want to rob us, not to rob us itself through the “legal theft” of taxes, eminent domain, civil asset forfeiture and etc. We must defend the idea that it is not the role of government to provide every value we might need or want, not mention telling us what those values should be, but rather to protect our freedom to pursue those values we choose for ourselves.
Once we regain, make common and vigorously defend these ideas perhaps the danger of statism in America will, as the fear of the military establishment did to Madison:
…appear to every one more like the incoherent dreams of a delirious jealousy, or the misjudged exaggerations of a counterfeit zeal, than like the sober apprehensions of genuine patriotism.