Liberty and Justice

January 2006


Our founding fathers didn't trust the people to be good and to do the right thing. They set up our republic as a competition between powerful equals, trusting that competition and jealousy would preserve liberty.

Our government is a balancing act composed of three elements: executive, legislative, and judicial. This is how the founding fathers arranged things. They did not do so because they believed in the innate goodness of the human spirit, but because they believed that the best way to defeat the human impulse to embrace tyranny was to set up three competing units of government, These units would accidentally ensure liberty by denying each other sufficient power to act unilaterally in their own interests.

So long as each branch of government was composed of people who were devoted to the democratic ideal and understood the trade-offs we operate under in our republic, we were secure. We preserve and protect our democracy because, with all its faults, it is preferable to despotism. The founding fathers knew that no external threat was as great as the threat of tyranny at home.

There have been others, who did not understand that the inefficiency and inefficacy of democracy is, in fact, its principle strength:

"Democracy is the fore runner of Marxism. When democracy decides upon something, be it ever so devastating, no single man is responsible, no one can be called upon to account for it. The national government must work untiringly to set all government, especially the highest, that is the political leadership, free from the principle of control by majorities.1 "

And once again, we are being urged to accept an increasingly strong executive (presidential) authority, which can rule without the consent of legislature (Congress and Senate), or the oversight of the judiciary. We are told that this is essential for our protection. We are also told that this is the inevitable consequence of a responsible executive in response to a new and terrible threat.

This is an old argument. Tyrants have always used this type of reasoning to increase their own personal power and prerogatives at the expense of the freedom and liberty of their citizens/subjects. The reason that our founding fathers constituted our government as a triad of three fairly equal, powerful branches, was precisely because they counted on the powerful opposition of powerful men. They assumed that powerful legislators and judges would be able to oppose an increase in the power of the president, and that they would actually oppose any further empowerment of the executive branch, as that could only be achieved by a reduction in their own power and prestige.

Anyone and anything that seeks to upset the dynamic of opposing powers within our republic threatens that republic and welcomes totalitarian oppression. Even when they do so with the purest of motives, they wrest for themselves powers that might not be used benignly by their successors. The lessons of history are clear: we cannot trust anyone, even ourselves, with unilateral power to govern. If we endow our President with these powers, we will have enthroned a dictator.

I greatly fear that the addition of Alito to a Roberts Supreme Court will tip the scales of justice too far in the direction of executive privilege. That is a real danger to our republic, one against which the threat of terrorism pales to relative insignificance. There is no safety in any system that oppresses its own people on the pretext of protecting them. Only through limiting the powers of government and making them subordinate to the will of the people can we hope to preserve the kind of country worth protecting from terrorism.

1 Excerpt from Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler; Herst & Blackett - London 1937

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