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We Are Not the Government

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A common mistake by many Americans is when they use the pronoun “we” to conflate the U.S. government and the American people (i.e., the private sector). The error is most often manifested when it comes to foreign policy. “We stand for freedom and free markets around the world” or “We’ve done more to help the world than anyone else.”

Actually, however, the federal government and the private sector of American people are two separate and distinct entities. Our American ancestors understood this. That’s why the Bill of Rights expressly protects our country (i.e., private citizens) from the federal government, which our ancestors considered to be the biggest threat to the freedom and well-being of the American people.

In fact, this phenomenon — that government and the citizenry are separate and distinct entities — was manifested in 1776, when the British citizens who were living in the New World not only opposed wrongdoing by their own government, they actually took up arms against it.

Of course, there were those who considered the likes of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and John Hancock to have been unpatriotic traitors for daring to oppose their own government. Others would say that they were the true patriots, for having the courage to stand up to their own government and oppose its violations of the principles of liberty.

Another example involved a group during World War II called the White Rose. It was composed mostly of college students. They opposed their own government in the midst of the war, even calling on their fellow citizens to not support the troops. The government arrested, prosecuted, convicted, and executed them for treason. Some people would consider them to have been the patriots for having the courage to oppose the wrongdoing of their own government, especially in time of war.

Several years ago, I was traveling in Cuba. I couldn’t believe how nice everyone was to me when they found out that I was an American. I asked a cab driver, “Why is everyone so nice to me after what my government has done to the Cuban people for decades with the embargo?” His answer: “What fault do you have for what your government has done?”

That, of course, is an interesting philosophical and moral question: Do citizens in the private sector have any moral responsibility for the wrongful acts of their own government — especially those citizens who support the commission of such wrongful acts.

But what fascinated me was the insight displayed by that Cuban cab driver. Unlike so many Americans, he was able to draw a distinction between the federal government and the American people.

We are not the government. The private sector and the government are two separate and distinct entities. When the government sector goes wrong, it is incumbent on the private sector to stand up and oppose the wrongdoing and do what is necessary to get the government back on the right track. As the Founding Fathers and the members of the White Rose showed, that is what genuine courage and patriotism are all about.

This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.