The Right Opinion

Moral or Immoral Government

By Walter E. Williams · Dec. 8, 2010

Immorality in government lies at the heart of our nation’s problems. Deficits, debt and runaway government are merely symptoms. What’s moral and immoral conduct can be complicated, but needlessly so. I keep things simple and you tell me where I go wrong.

My initial assumption is that we each own ourselves. I am my private property and you are yours. If we accept the notion that people own themselves, then it’s easy to discover what forms of conduct are moral and immoral. Immoral acts are those that violate self-ownership. Murder, rape, assault and slavery are immoral because those acts violate private property. So is theft, broadly defined as taking the rightful property of one person and giving it to another.

If it is your belief that people do not belong to themselves, they are in whole or in part the property of the U.S. Congress, or people are owned by God, who has placed the U.S. Congress in charge of managing them, then all of my observations are simply nonsense.

Let’s look at some congressional actions in light of self-ownership. Do farmers and businessmen have a right to congressional handouts? Does a person have a right to congressional handouts for housing, food and medical care?

First, let’s ask: Where does Congress get handout money? One thing for sure, it’s not from the Tooth Fairy or Santa Claus nor is it congressmen reaching into their own pockets. The only way for Congress to give one American one dollar is to first, through the tax code, take that dollar from some other American. It must forcibly use one American to serve another American. Forcibly using one person to serve another is one way to describe slavery. As such, it violates self-ownership.

Government immorality isn’t restricted only to forcing one person to serve another. Some regulations such as forcing motorists to wear seatbelts violate self-ownership. If one owns himself, he has the right to take chances with his own life. Some people argue that if you’re not wearing a seatbelt, have an accident and become a vegetable, you’ll become a burden on society. That’s not a problem of liberty and self-ownership. It’s a problem of socialism where through the tax code one person is forcibly used to care for another.

These examples are among thousands of government actions that violate the principles of self-ownership. Some might argue that Congress forcing us to help one another and forcing us to take care of ourselves are good ideas. But my question to you is: When congressmen and presidents take their oaths of office, is that oath to uphold and defend good ideas or the U.S. Constitution?

When the principles of self-ownership are taken into account, two-thirds to three-quarters of what Congress does violate those principles to one degree or another as well as the Constitution to which they’ve sworn to uphold and defend. In 1794, when Congress appropriated $15,000 to assist some French refugees, James Madison, the father of our Constitution, stood on the floor of the House to object, saying, “I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents.” Did James Madison miss something in the Constitution?

You might answer, “He forgot the general welfare clause.” No, he had that covered, saying, “If Congress can do whatever in their discretion can be done by money, and will promote the General Welfare, the Government is no longer a limited one, possessing enumerated powers, but an indefinite one.”

If we accept the value of self-ownership, it is clear that most of what Congress does is clearly immoral. If this is bothersome, there are two ways around my argument. The first is to deny the implications of self-ownership. The second is to ask, as Speaker Nancy Pelosi did when asked about the constitutionality of Obamacare, “Are you serious? Are you serious?”


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LinnieBeth said:

Amen! brother, well said.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010 at 3:50 AM

Jordan said:

Wow. Well said!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010 at 7:07 AM

Bruce said:

As Hayek (Road to Serfdom) clearly states: "Socialism meant unambiguously the nationalization of the means of production and the central economic planning which this made possible and necessary. Socialism has come to mean chiefly the extensive redistribution of incomes through taxation and the institutions of the welfare state."The US has and has had a socialist government for many decades. As Hayek also stated: "Socialism isn’t always bound to lead to totalitarianism but easily does so." His point was that both communism and fascism are the natural outgrowth of socialism, that progressively moving down that path makes it increasingly difficult to turn back, and that fascism takes over when communism reaches the point where it has obviously failed. As Burke stated: "All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing." What is immoral is that this and the past generation gave up their right to self determination and self-government. Like Israel, we asked for a king to rule over us, and we got one. It has taken the form of an ever-increasingly greedy, powerful, and corrupt master who is re-instituting slavery. Prepare to reap the whirlwind.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010 at 7:10 AM

Minuteman in Michigan said:

You are trying to change the foundation of the Constitution and justify God-given rights with worldly logic. We were created by a Creator with certain inalienable rights. And absolute morality comes from Him!"Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price."1 Corinthians 6:19-20a (ESV)"For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and FOR HIM."Colossians 1:16 (ESV)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010 at 7:22 AM

DAL said:

Walter E. Williams knows!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010 at 7:24 AM

Minuteman in Michigan said:

Mr. Williams:It is exactly the fact that people belong to God that we are to respect others. That is what Christ meant when he said that what you do to the least of these, "you do to me". His ownership gives the appropriate weight and respect to your comments.He instituted governments to protect individual rights. Without His ownership of all things and His decree of the sphere of governments, all of your arguments become "simply nonsense".

Wednesday, December 8, 2010 at 7:34 AM

Bruce R Pierce said:

Your correct, we are only God's property if we choose to be. God gave us the the right to choose when he Created us, anyone that wants to take the rights God gave to us away is doing that against God's desire for us. All the points you made are valid no matter what the self rightous have to say.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010 at 7:48 AM

Cindy said:

God owns us and created us. He gives us agency to choose to allow Him to manage us or to manage ourselves. He hasn't ceded His right of ownership to congress. Otherwise, you are correct.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010 at 8:11 AM

David S. said:

The way I would explain it is in legal terms: God created us. While he still retains full ownership rights of us because of His creation, He has given us a full Power of Attorney on ourselves to make our own decisions and face our own consequences. He still hopes that we will respect His wishes for our lives, but He has fully empowered us to accept or reject Him as we choose. It is from Him that all rights of man flow, as it was He who originally gave us the right of Liberty to choose our own path.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010 at 8:19 AM

Jim G said:

Another keeper for the Writings of Walter Williams file. Excellent!@ Bruce. Very, very good comments Sir. Your quotations from Hayek and Burke add much to this discussion and should give us all pause to examine carefully the path others have placed us on. One I think unarguably departs sharply from the vision of the founding fathers. Well done!@ Rob Risko. I don't think Mr. Williams is trying to change the foundation of the constitution at all. I think he wasn't directing the point at those who subscribe to the idea that everything is God's Will and so, consequently the individual really has no Free Will over the course of their lives. Personally, I would agree with and echo the comment of David S. on the point. As a christian I acknowledge God's ownership over me, however I believe he gave all of us Free Will, which includes the power to reject that ownership (although, sadly, much is lost to our lives when we do so). Although the constructs of our founding documents (Declaration of Independence, Constitution, etc.) are clearly built around Judeo-Christian values, the founders intentionally left references to God broad and indirect - i.e. "Endowed by our Creator", "Nature's God", etc. with the specific idea in mind that the government would have to be constructed in such a manner suitable to protect people of all faiths and creeds. Even so, we must consider John Adams on the point as well, when he said; "We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other."Avarice, ambition, revenge... yes, all recognizable traits in our current crop of Congressional "leaders." But then the word "gallantry" catches my eye. Ah yes, our Congresses of recent decades have been very gallant in their courting of those ignorant to their method and design, as well as their brave expenditure of the public treasury.God Save the Republic.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010 at 10:56 AM

Norge said:

David,You are correct. God creates us and owns us, but, in giving us free will to choose our own path in life, he gives us personal ownership. He relinquishes the title to us and hands us the keys. Some of us have to fail in that ownership to realize that we need Him in control, then give back the keys. Some place Him firmly give ownership back immediately. Some choose a path away from God, to their peril. But nowhere in the deal is anyone given the right to subjugate another, whether through physical bondage, government intrusion, or theft through taxation and redistribution.So our friend Walter is right. Our government is immoral. Too bad someone didn't try to warn us two hundred years ago. Oh, wait...

Wednesday, December 8, 2010 at 11:08 AM

Anton D Rehling in Olympia, WA said:

Walter, you are a man who gets it. I wish our elected understood that as well.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010 at 11:36 AM

Marley said:

God has nothing to do with morality. If one man says its not right to kill, then its immoral to him, yet that same man would support a war to keep his freedom. Its all hypocritical and situational. Leave god out of my state, he gave me nothing and has caused nothing but all the worlds problems. May your god burn in hell.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010 at 1:18 PM

Ruffsltich said:

"...or people are owned by God, who has placed the U.S. Congress in charge of managing them..."Rob, Bruce, et alia: Take this in context. Mr. Williams does not discount our being owned by God, only that some people might claim we are owned by a God who has given Congress proxy power to do his wishes.Altogether a stellar example of logic, Mr. Williams! Thanks again for a refreshing dose of common sense which is, sadly, all too uncommon these days!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010 at 1:32 PM

Bob said:

Those Madison quotes are two of my favorite patriot quotes. Where have you gone Mr. Madison, the nation turns it's longing eyes to you!Thanks, Dr. Williams!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010 at 2:00 PM