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Have We Abandoned Our Principles?

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America was founded upon commonly held principles of right and wrong. Our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution recognize these principles and enumerate several of them. Among these principles is the acknowledgment that we, as individuals, have certain unalienable rights — namely the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Our Founding Fathers understood that these principles and rights come from a source higher than man or government, that these principles cannot be changed, and that these rights must not be infringed upon by man or government.

The principal source of America’s commonly held principles is the Bible. Many people would argue, however, that the Bible simply sets forth principles which were already inherent in man’s consciousness. Regardless, the evidence of biblical inspiration and guidance can be seen throughout our founding documents, as well as in our laws and regulations. Most of our Founding Fathers considered the Bible to be the revelation of God’s will and word to mankind. They therefore felt confident that the incorporation of biblical principles into the government of our nation was the soundest base upon which to build.

Using biblical principles as their guide, our Founding Fathers created a form of government which allowed mankind to become more free, more productive, and more compassionate than under any previous government on earth. Our freedom encouraged individuals to be more productive and enabled them to become more prosperous than ever before. The resultant wealth gave Americans the ability to be more generous toward others than were the people of any other nation.

This was the situation which generally prevailed in America for the first one hundred years of our nation’s history. However, beginning in the 1930s under President Franklin D. Roosevelt — and continuing through the present — the principles upon which our nation was founded have been under constant assault from within and without. The gradual erosion of those principles has led to a denigration of our freedom, a reduction in our prosperity, and a noticeable decline in our compassion toward others.

Few would deny that modern America is less free today than at any time in our history. You cannot go into business or practice your profession without a license from at least one government agency. You cannot improve your own property without the approval of government bureaucrats. And almost half of individual Americans’ income is now consumed by government, a percentage which has grown steadily, especially over the past century.

For the first time in American history, the current generation is less well off financially than were their parents. And in spite of greatly increased spending on education and an unprecedented proliferation of educational opportunities, our literacy rate has been on the decline for the past three decades.

Although we remain among the most generous people on earth, Americans are becoming less and less willing to extend a personal helping hand toward others for fear that we will thereby become the victims of those whom we try to help, or that we will be sued for unintentionally offending or injuring those to whom we extend our hand.

The abandonment of our founding principles has been a slow, insidious process. In fact, it has happened so gradually that many, if not most, people are not even aware that it has occurred. But I am convinced that if our Founding Fathers were to see America today, they would be appalled at how far we have strayed from those sacred principles which are still contained in our Constitution but which are no longer in evidence in our society.

Let us focus on a situation in which two of our basic founding principles interplay. The first principle is that no person or group of persons should be allowed to harm or threaten to harm any other person or persons. This is a logical extension of the biblical commandment, “Do not murder.” This principle can be seen in our laws against murder, assault, kidnapping, and other infringements upon our personal lives, health, and safety.

The second principle is that no person or group of persons should be allowed to take money or other property which belongs to any other person or persons without their consent. This is based upon the biblical command, “Do not steal,” which is one of the Ten Commandments. This principle can be seen as the basis of our laws against theft, fraud, and similar crimes.

I think we would all agree that these two commonly held principles should be upheld in America as well as in any other civilized society. And I think most Americans believe that they are, in fact, upheld in America today. But are they? Let us see how these principles might apply in a specific situation; and let us see whether they are upheld in America today.

Let us assume that I come to your home, gun in hand, and force you to give me money or other property. I tell you that if you do not comply with my “request,” I will shoot you. I then take what I want and leave. Is this wrong? Is it a violation of our commonly held principles? Yes. I have clearly violated both principles. I have threatened your life, and I have stolen your property. It is an immoral and illegal act.

Now let us assume that I come to your home along with one or two fellow thugs. We are all armed and we assure you that if you do not give us the money or property that we want, we will shoot you. We then take what we want and leave. Is this wrong? The only difference this time is that the bad guys outnumber the good guys. Does this numerical superiority somehow alter the situation so that our actions are now no longer in violation of our commonly held principles? No. It is still clearly immoral and illegal.

Now, let us assume that I come to your home along with one or two armed thugs and we tell you that if you do not give us the money or property that we want, we will shoot you. But this time we explain that, after allowing for overhead expenses, we plan to take a portion of the goods that we forcibly seize from you and donate it to worthy causes of our choosing. We then take what we want and leave. Is it okay now? We are still indisputably in violation of both commonly held principles, but this time we have promised to “do good” with some of the loot that we seize from you. Does that make it okay? Absolutely not. It is still immoral and illegal.

Now let us assume that I come calling with my fellow armed thugs and we force our way into your home. We announce that we want to take certain of your possessions, either cash or other property. We further inform you that, after allowing for reasonable overhead expenses, we intend to give a portion of your property to worthy causes of our choice. But this time we also inform you that we want to be fair about it, so we will allow you to vote on the matter. When the votes are tallied, you come out the loser because we outnumber you three to one. So we take what we want and leave.

Is it okay for me and my fellow thugs to take your property now? The only thing that has changed from the previous illustration is that this time we allowed you to vote on whether or not we would forcibly seize your property. But anyone can recognize that you actually had no say in the matter and that both commonly held principles were clearly violated: We threatened to harm you, and we stole your property. The fact that we allowed you to “vote” on the matter does not alter the immorality or illegality of our actions.

Now, let us assume that my fellow thugs and I circulate a petition in the community and that we obtain enough signatures to place an initiative on the ballot in the next election. The initiative states that, if passed, the community will be authorized, via its agents, to force real property owners to give a portion of their money or property to community officials, who will then use the money, after allowing for reasonable overhead expenses, for building and operating a new public school.

The proposal passes. My fellow thugs and I are then hired by the community officials to collect the new tax. We come to your door, armed with guns, but this time we also have badges, having been duly sworn to uphold the law. We tell you that if you do not give us the money that we want, we will imprison you. If you resist arrest, you will risk being shot and possibly killed, especially if you try to protect yourself, your family, or your property. But we explain that the money, after allowing for reasonable overhead expenses, will be used for a worthy cause and that, after all, you were allowed to vote on the matter.

Is it okay now for me and my fellow thugs to take your property? Both of the commonly held principles have still been violated: We threatened your life and we forcibly seized your property. Does the fact that you were allowed to vote on the matter alter the fact that the principles were violated? I submit that it does not. Does the formality of the procedure change it from an immoral act to a moral act? Once again, I submit that it does not.

“But wait a minute,” you may protest. “This is an altogether different matter now that the government is involved.” Is it? At what point along the progression of illustrations did the threat of bodily harm and the forced seizure of property become acceptable behavior?

You may also argue that the education of our children is so noble an objective that it is okay to forcibly seize money or property under threat of bodily harm from unwilling citizens in order to build and operate the new school. Do you really believe that, or have you simply become conditioned to accept it as the way things are now done in America?

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    Mr. Chamberlain, a Freedom Daily subscriber, is an investment advisor in Sewickley, Pennsylvania.