Lies Our Forefathers Told Us
By Victor Milan
Exclusive to The Libertarian Enterprise
Approaching the 4th of July is a good time to balance our outlook
on the American Revolution. Noble as its spirit was, its execution
The Founders had some pretty grave hitches in their stride when
it came to freedom. Tory civil liberties were ravaged by "patriots"
mainly eager to steal their goods. Women and non-whites were excluded
from suffrage. Slavery was allowed to fester. Even the Declaration of
Independence -- a document infinitely more revolutionary than anything
produced by those feudalist reactionaries, the socialists -- makes it
clear that one of the colonists' chief grievance against the Crown
was that it wouldn't let them pillage the Indians as uninhibitedly as
For a more detailed look at the Revolution's vices, read Wendy
McElroy's article in TLE #7, April 1996, "The American Revolution
Revisited" at http://www.webleyweb.com/tle/le960406.html. My
intent is to expose two of the most pernicious lies our forefathers
First is the conceit that, as Jefferson wrote in his 1774
pamphlet "A Summary View of the Rights of British America," "...kings
are the servants, not the proprietors of the people." That was a
popular theme among the founders. The Declaration, of course, says,
"That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among
Men..." John Locke, a favorite philosopher of the Revolutionaries,
claimed the State "should be confined to the protection of man's
Great; and cancer should confine itself to its point of origin
and never spread. It is a mistake to imagine that what should be
is, or indeed can ever be.
The problem with this view of government is that it's romantic
bullshit. Governments are instituted to secure power, profit, and
privilege for those who constitute them, and nothing else.
The belief in "government for the benefit of the governed" is a
variation of the something-for-nothing fallacy. It's predicated on
the notion that humans are too wicked to govern themselves, and
therefore must be governed by others. But those others are...human.
So where does this "something" -- the ability to govern -- come from?
The same place the plenty leftists believe should be the lot of
everyone (except those who produce) comes from: thin air.
Politics and liberty are mutually fatal. They are not symbiotes,
they are not co-evolutionary. Over the long term, one must strangle
Government exists by destroying liberty, and therefore exists to
destroy liberty. Only by destroying liberty can government fulfill
its only function, which is to convey power to its participants.
Likewise, only by depriving the people of liberty through force or
fraud can government transfer their wealth to its component persons
and their friends.
Some of our forefathers understood this scam perfectly well. John
Adams, one of the most heinous betrayers of Revolutionary principles,
spoke with cynical candor of the need "to contrive some method for
the colonies to glide insensibly from under the old government into
peaceable and contented submission to new ones." Which is to say,
"Meet the new boss, same as the old boss."
And from the other side, Thomas Payne wrote in Common Sense
that "Government, like dress, is the badge of lost innocence; the
palaces of kings are built upon the ruins of the bowers of paradise."
No matter how sincerely meant, the concept that government does
or can serve to guarantee "life, liberty, and the pursuit of
happiness" is a pernicious lie; and believing in it has given the
government rein to strip us of all those things.
The second lie is implicit in the Constitution and the
Declaration of Independence: that government can be limited.
Which brings us back to the cancer cell. It's the nature of
government to grow and grow, to eat and eat. All incentives push that
way. In a "limited government" system, the downside of evading the
limitations -- the risk that one might be caught, and lose the power
and profit accruing from government "service" -- is almost the same
as the certainty that, by living within those limitations, one
foregoes all the goodies one could grab by evading them. So the real
incentive is to figure out clever ways to evade the limitations
without getting caught.
Which is what's been going on in America since the Revolution.
Minimal government us not sustainable. It wasn't sustainable
220 years ago -- it hasn't been sustained, has it? And now the bad
guys have had two centuries' practice busting any limitations we
There's the reason it's fatuous to talk about how we can lay down
limits politicians cannot escape because we're "smarter" than they
are. If we're so smart, why are they in charge? Aside from all the
time they've had to perfect their arts of twisting the rhetoric of
"limiting government" to the service of expanding it -- for examples,
check anything Bill Clinton has said since November of 1994 -- they
have the edge in motivation. We're looking at maybe half our
paychecks, so far, going to government; our rulers owe all their
livelihoods to the continued power of government -- not to mention
trivia such as functional immunity from prosecution for crimes up to
and including capital ones.
Besides, when it comes to politics and the law, government makes
the rules, interprets the rules, decides when, how, and whether the
rules are to be enforced. Government will never lose any significant
battles in either arena from here on out. It won't allow itself to.
So we can forget all about imposing limits. The sooner the
Let's continue to give our admiration and gratitude to the men
and women who defeated the Evil Empire of their day, and won us the
greatest run of freedom, imperfect as it was, in the history of the
species. But they betrayed their own revolution before it had truly
begun, by failing to eradicate the State. If we shackle ourselves to
them too tightly, we don't just risk repeating their mistakes -- and
indeed it's no risk, but certainty -- we make worse ones.
The hope of freedom consists in the abolition of government.
Half-measures are foredoomed. They have been tried: they do not work.
Until we quit heeding the lies our forefathers told us -- that
government can serve liberty; that government can be limited -- we
risk betraying the real principles of the Revolution even as we
believe we're serving them.
Prometheus Award-winner Victor Milan is the author of over 70 novels,
including the just-released CLD from AvoNova and War In Tethyr