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Hornberger's Blog is a daily libertarian blog written by Jacob G. Hornberger, founder and president of FFF.
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Master and Servant

by

Imagine that you are a billionaire who, along with your spouse and children, lives in a mansion with 20 full-time servants. One day you discover the existence of a secret video camera in your bedroom. You hire an investigative team that scours your home for other cameras. It discovers that there is a secret camera in every room in the house, including the kitchen, dining room, living room, den, bedrooms, and bathrooms. The investigative team also discovers a secret room in the basement that consists of several monitoring stations, enabling monitors to keep close watch on the goings on in every room in the house.

It turns out that the people who have secretly installed the video cameras and who have been secretly monitoring your family’s activities in your home for years are your team of 20 fulltime servants. When you confront the servant in charge, he explains to you that the servants were doing this to keep you safe. By closely monitoring everything that was going on in the house on a constant basis, the servants were better able to detect a burglar or kidnapper within the house.

When you ask the servants why they didn’t tell you about the secret videotaping devices and constant monitoring, they explain to you that that would have increased the odds of a leak on what they were doing, thereby enabling burglars and kidnappers to plan accordingly. By keeping the entire plan secret from you and your family, the servants were better able to keep everyone safe and secure.

What would be your reaction to all this? My hunch is that you would fly into a rage over what your servants have done. After all, you would point out to them that it’s the master of the house who determines what the servants are going to do, not the other way around. If the servants have some sort of surveillance plan in mind, they’re free to ask the family whether it would be okay to implement it, and the family would be free to say yes or no. No matter how much all those cameras made the family safer and more secure, the servants, being servants, would not have the prerogative of establishing their surveillance system without the permission or consent of their master, which is you as the owner of the house.

That’s one of the big problems with the NSA surveillance scheme on the American people. It reflects how the relationship between citizen and federal employee has become inverted. The people who are supposed to be the servants conduct a super-secret massive and intrusive surveillance scheme on the people who are supposed to be their masters. And they justify this by saying the same thing that the servants in our hypothetical use to justify their in-house surveillance scheme — to keep the citizenry safe and secure. And they don’t bother to seek permission from the citizenry to do this because it would alert potential terrorists, communists, drug dealers, or other dangerous people to the scheme.

The original idea was that the American citizens were to be the masters and federal employees were to be the servants. How do we know that that was supposed to be the case? Because don’t forget — it was the citizenry who called the federal government into existence, not the other way around. Moreover, the document that called the federal government into existence, the Constitution, established what the federal government could and could not do, a principle that was reinforced by the Bill of Rights.

That’s what masters do — they hire the servants and then tell them what they can and cannot do, and servants are expected to obey.

Thus, a necessary prerequisite for restoring freedom and privacy to our land involves, at the very least,  a fundamental change in mindset, one that recognizes that federal officials are the servants and that we, the citizenry, are the masters.

In that way, the servants will no longer be spying on us, especially without our knowledge and consent, any more than the servants in a household would be spying on their masters without their knowledge and consent.

 

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.