These last two are sides of the same coin, so let’s deal with them together.
Amendment Nine – The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
Amendment Ten – The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.
After all of our story, with our happy free citizens finally triumphant and our wicked wannabe overlords thwarted, we get what appears to be a little epilogue. After all, empires like to try to strike back. So our heroes – us, in this case – need tools to carry on the fight. These two Amendments are, in fact, those tools. They re-emphasize what I wrote just as we began our tale: “Every one of these Amendments, as you will see, lays restrictions on the state, not on us.”
In short, we the people don’t need it in writing to be allowed to do it. In fact, we don’t need permission at all. The government, however, does. If it isn’t in the Constitution, they have no authority. And when it comes to the Federal Government, the restriction is stronger – the States can forbid the Feds from doing things too, though in practice that has pretty much been a dead letter for many years.
Subsequent chapters have seen our intrepid adventurers in dire situations, in large part because many of the parts of the story have been forgotten or ignored. Again, how many of us knew that the Fifth Amendment was about more than just self-incrimination? How many years has it been since Congress paid any heed at all to the Tenth Amendment? Just today, in my conversation with my Twitter friend, I was told that “There is also a system of checks and balances, as the ‘rights’ outlined by the law are not blank checks.”
Checks and balances, of course, refers not to our rights, but to the various powers of the branches of government, each restraining the other, and by design to help protect our rights. Not only is a fairly smart person mistaken about to whom that restriction applies, he used scare quotes for the term “rights” as if WE were the problem, not the State!
Is it any wonder we’ve got issues as a nation? We are so convinced that we are each others’ worst problem that we are ignoring the rampant abuses of both our laws and our rights in the name of “safety,” and we’re not even getting any safety out of this bargain. Many of our own elected representatives are staging an occupation of their own workplace in protest of our inherent rights to self-defense and due process. The government as a whole is pronouncing on matters in which the Constitution is wholly silent, while demanding control over things expressly forbidden them. And in defiance of Portia’s wisdom, they establish these ills as a judicial precedent and then demand that these precedents be respected as if they were the same as the lawful Amendments, even if they contradict the plain language of the Constitution.
As long as 30+ years ago, P.J. O’Rourke looked at our government and named all sorts of their acts and laws that exactly fit the description Thomas Jefferson wrote of the tyrannies of King George III and his Parliament against the Colonies. Things have only gotten more alarming since then. People are fond of saying “It can’t happen here,” but the whole point of the Constitution is to make that saying true. If you ignore or gut the Constitution, then there’s no reason why it can’t. We’re human, and humans can be awful, terrible, and pitiless. In fact, arguments in favor of denying us the rights to self-defense and autonomy pretty much all boil down to noticing how awful we can be and refusing to trust us.
The self-refutation of that argument should be plain – if humans are indeed all that lousy, and we are, then granting undisputed power to one group of us is certain to be a terrible idea. Calling that group “the government” doesn’t make the people within it any more virtuous. They already pretend to be superior to the laws that protect us from them, and neglect their oaths and their numerated responsibilities in favor of bullying us about in our day-to-day lives. Why should we assent to this?
(This, incidentally, is why I am quite suspect of one Donald J. Trump to be our President. It seems to me like quibbling over the color of our prison walls. Like Gandalf once said, we don’t want merely to replace a Dark Lord with one of our own choosing – we want to cast him down, and put nobody in his place. In our current situation, it means voting for people who actually defend the Constitution, rather than one who will simply punish other people instead of us for a while.)
Since this is the case, is it any more wise to trust to the smaller groups of us?
I think it is, for a number of reasons:
- A smaller group can’t do as much damage to individuals as a larger one.
- You can influence a smaller group more easily – if your town seeks to pass a bad law, a few hundred people might be enough to stop it; failing that, it’s easy to move out of the town and not uproot oneself too badly. But if it’s the country? How are you going to sway millions in states thousands of miles away? And where can you go to get away from it?
- If a small group wrongs you, you have recourse to law. If the law itself wrongs you, what will become of you? If a lawless State is your opponent as well as your judge, will you be assured of a fair hearing?
- If a large group is your adversary, your small group can band together with others for support; you can also appeal to the law and the government to restrain the majority and protect you. This is much harder if the State is the means by which the majority opposes you.
- The more direct control you have over your own life, the more competent and skilled you need to be. It’s a spur to growth and knowledge and persistence. The more such people we have, the greater the benefit is to the whole as well.
- Likewise, if a small group is in trouble they can’t solve, they have many people around them to render aid, and they will be better-equipped to render it. A larger group is much harder to rescue.
Perfect? No. Nothing is. But it’s been a superior system for quite some time. I cited Lord of the Rings just now; recall in that book that Gondor, even in its decline, was still a great city and a noble people. Despite all, we still have a great country and more freedoms than just about everyplace else. I love it here, and in fact love it so much that I want the things that make it wonderful to increase, for it to be freer and happier than before. I don’t want it ruined; I want room for as many as can be to have as much of the life they prefer to lead.