USA, Incorporated

What the government is good at is collecting taxes, taking away your freedoms and killing people. It’s not good at much else.

– Tom Clancy

Genghis Khan, Attila the Hun, and Caligula, were more honestthan modern politicians in at least one respect: these ancient tyrants made no pretense of being the agents of those over whom they ruled. They established their vicious authority in the same way all political systems of power are created: by violent conquest. Men and women obeyed these thugs for one reason: the fear that their defiance would result in instant death. Despots gradually realized that their power over others could be made more secure by convincing the ruled that their authority was sanctioned by God, with whom they shared a pipeline. By the time of the Enlightenment, the “divine right” rationale was replaced by the principle of an imaginary “social contract” between rulers and the ruled.

In my reading of history, I have yet to find any political system that arose by voluntary agreement amongst members of a given population. Even the history of the ratification of the U.S. Constitution demonstrates the fallacy of such a “contract.” After New Hampshire’s approval satisfied the minimal number of states that would have to have ratified the document, the state of Rhode Island refused to do so. Some 92% of Rhode Islanders voted to reject the document. Rhode Island was home to many independent-minded persons, including Roger Williams, Anne Hutchinson, and Quakers. Such people distrusted power – particularly as many of them had been driven out of Massachusetts by those in power. As such, Rhode Island refused to send delegates to the Constitutional Convention. With the U.S. government now in business, one of its first acts was to threaten Rhode Island with military invasion, the cutting off of trade, and the blockading of its ports. Rhode Island was forced to concede obedience to a system that 92% of its residents didn’t want, leading to the conclusion that it was the first victim of American imperialism!

Nor did the other twelve states exhibit the universality of approval of the new Constitution that would have been necessary to satisfy its “contract-based” origins. While it would be difficult, in hindsight, to assess the willingness of the “American people” to be bound by this new government, the historians I have read suggest that about one-third of the residents strongly favored ratification, one-third strongly opposed it, and one-third had little interest in the question at all. Whatever degree of support the proposed Constitution enjoyed, it is evident that it was not approved by many – perhaps even most – Americans. As John Locke and others have shown, a contract theory of any system – particularly the state – requires the voluntary choice of all who are to be bound by its creation. An arrangement imposed upon a person who does not freely choose to be bound is no contract at all. The 92% of Rhode Islanders who were threatened with violence despite their rejection of the Constitution, confirms the real-world definition of “democracy” as four wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner!

Nor was Rhode Island the only state in which the so-called “social contract” principle was forcefully suppressed. On the eve of the Constitution’s ratification, a well-organized tax protest in rural Massachusetts (Shays’ Rebellion) was put down by the state government. Likewise, the 1794 Whiskey Rebellion in western Pennsylvania, provided President George Washington the opportunity to send some 13,000 troops into that region to violently enforce a federal liquor tax that the locals refused to pay. (Do you remember an earlier British tax on tea?) The tax had been proposed by then Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton – and was enacted by Congress in 1791 – to help pay for the national debt, obligations held by Hamilton and others from which he profited greatly.

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