Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Twenty-Eighth Amendment

The rectangle of light in the acres of a farm was the window of the library of Judge Narragansett. He sat at a table, and the light of his lamp fell on the copy of an ancient document. He had marked and crossed out the contradictions in its statements that had once been the cause of its destruction. He was now adding a new clause to its pages: "Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of production and trade…."*

Who is Judge Narragansett? What "ancient document" is he editing? And where is he doing it?

Anyone who has read Ayn Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged will recognize the scene, which occurs near the end of the novel, when all the key strikers are secretly gathered in Galt's Gulch to await the collapse of the world they escaped. But I think too little attention has been paid to that short but key scene. When one boils down the active plot of the novel, one will see that all the conflicts and subplots are generated by the government having the power to abridge the freedom of production and trade. In short, to regulate and ultimately abolish the role of man's mind in existence. Dagny Taggart, the railroad "tycoon," is stymied by government rules and regulations of her freedom to act. So is Hank Rearden, who is blackmailed into giving the government the right to dispose of his new metal process and forced to "compete" with incompetents.

So are all the novel's other producers and traders who vanish to leave the country and the world to try to flourish without them. This includes doctors, who refuse to work as indentured servants, and writers, and artists, and industrialists, and "common" men who did not wish to remain held down by the wishes of other men….and judges, who refuse to sanction injustice.

That was Judge Narragansett.**

Think for a moment of what his emendation of the Constitution implies and means. Of all the actions men might take to reclaim and preserve their freedom, that one correction is perhaps the most critical if a government is to be (re)formed that would break the bonds, chains, and fetters with and of the old. The Declarationof Independence reads:

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Correcting and amending the Constitution would be a form of "instituting" a new government, founded on the principle of individual rights and defining the concept of the initiation of force – especially that of a government. The federal government needn't be overthrown physically by violence, or even abolished; it should be overthrown or leashed by an idea, by reason, and that can be done with Narragansett's corrections. That is, it should be radically altered to effect the safety and happiness of Americans.

But, what "rights" should be secured, what "rights" are destroyed by government force and unlimited power?

Novelist/philosopher Ayn Randwrote:

A “right” is a moral principle defining and sanctioning a man’s freedom of action in a social context. There is only one fundamental right (all the others are its consequences or corollaries): a man’s right to his own life….The concept of a“right” pertains only to action—specifically, to freedom of action. It means freedom from physical compulsion, coercion or interference by other men.***

By "other men," Rand meant the agents of government force, and the politicians who empowered them to initiate force with their legislation. That includes every bureaucrat, department head, and even the occupant of the White House.

There is a question circulating about whether or not a third political party would serve the purpose of ensuring the preservation of our rights. I think that question misses the point and it has not been answered in any practical or meaningful way.

The solution to the problem of the number of political parties lies in those last pages of Atlas Shrugged. Judge Narragansett is writing on a copy of the Constitution , "Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of production and trade…."

That clause or amendment would prohibit any politician, Republican, Democrat, or third party, from acquiring any power over the economy and our lives. It's that simple. Any scheme originating in the House – assuming it could even pass –would ideally be scotched and rejected by the Senate. The legislation would never make the trip to the White House to be vetoed. The Senate, after all, was designed to quash any and all populist or "democratic" legislation. Modeled on the British Parliament's Houses of Commons and Lords, it was created to be the ultimate protector of the individual rights, private property, and so on. It has fallen down on that task, or forgotten its purpose (virtually every politician in Congress has but a very fuzzy grasp of what their chambers are for, never mind understanding the purpose of the Constitution), often conspiring with the House on how to write and pass statist legislation.

If our representatives were prohibited from concocting any legislation that would abridge the freedom of production and trade, and held accountable for it by their constituents and the courts, then no politician could take action to expand the power of government without being opposed by his colleagues. Most politicians would stay home or not even run for office if there were no prospect of passing such legislation.

Ideally, Congress would sit for perhaps two weeks a year – at most, a month – to clear up issues that might have arisen since the last session. Senators and Representatives would have no sumptuous salaries, have to make do with a minuscule staff (which they'd pay for from their pockets, unless their constituents chipped in to pay for staff), they would have no pensions, no medical or transportation perks, no junkets, little or nothing for free or paid for them. And when they retired or weren't reelected, they'd go back to their private businesses and live like everyone else.

Above all, they would not be granted immunity from the consequences of their actions, as they are now. They would be held accountable and liable for criminal prosecution, as any other citizen would be for initiating force or committing fraud. One of the most laughable and recent instances of the absence of this brand of justice is Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's admission during a Senate hearing of responsibility for the Benghazi terrorist raid. Yet she will leave the post with lifetime pensions and perks and be able to prepare herself to run for president in 2016.

This is rewarding irresponsibility. That has been the Washington way for decades of holding politicians guilty of criminal or maleficent behavior "accountable." That has got to stop. And stopping it would serve as a deterrent against any one with political ambitions that go beyond the proper functions of government in domestic and foreign policies.

Not being able to pass rights-violating legislation – or seeing that it would be an onerous project – would act as a disincentive for any ambitious statist. Rand put her finger on a fundamental political principle in that one scene in the novel. The Constitution, after all, was created to define the limits of government, not serve as a recipe for the expansion of federal powers. And that was the intention of that Narragansett scene.

And what might be the other clauses in what hypothetically could be the Twenty-Eighth Amendment to the Constitution? For starters, the nullification of the SixteenthAmendment, the income tax amendment, which technically was never ratified except on one politician's say-so. Then there is the Seventeenth Amendment, which provides for the direct election of Senators, which has contributed to the prostitution of the Senate, turning its members from Solons to electoral street walkers. This correction might necessitate a separate amendment, and not just a clause. The direct election of Senators has caused incalculable damage and mischief.

The Eighteenth Amendment, sanctioning Prohibition, was repealed by the Twenty-First.

The Twenty-Sixth Amendment, which provides for the voting rights of anyone eighteen years old or older, is a questionable amendment. Is the age of eighteen one in which an individual has acquired enough knowledge of politics and his rights to have a say in government? I doubt it. I think two or three years should be added to ensure that an individual acquires that knowledge once he has become a productive individual supporting his own life.

The Twenty-Seventh Amendment, under Judge Narragansett's pen, would become moot.

Revenue might be collected (non-coercively) for the upkeep of the Capitol Building, the White House, and other necessary federal buildings, and also for maintaining the military and federal courts. But for little else. A separate amendment might be required to cover these contingencies, but would also require a new set of Federalist Papers to iron out the ways and means. Today's politicians and political thinkers, however, are just not qualified to write those papers. One may as well assign the task to the Three Stooges and appoint Karl Marx, David Axelrod, Barack Obama, and Nancy Pelosi as their mentors.

Judge Narragansett's twelve words in a Twenty-Eighth Amendment could make all the difference in the world – and in our lives.

*Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand. 1957. New York: Dutton/Penguin 35th Anniversary Edition, 1992. pp. 1167-1168.
**For his explanation of why he went on strike, see pp. 742-743 of the novel.
***"Man's Rights," The Virtue of Selfishness.

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