American Thinker: Liberty, Sovereignty, and Arizona
- By Daniel H. Fernald
The American concept of sovereignty -- as expressed in our Declaration and Constitution -- is, like that of ancient Athens, directly linked to our natural liberty. Casting a vote is an act of sovereign delegation. That is, when one votes, one says, in effect, "I am unable to discharge all of the duties laid on me by my personal sovereignty. Thus, I will, along with my countrymen, choose certain individuals to represent my interests and to discharge such duties as are beyond my ability."
Each citizen votes for a mayor, who is charged with overseeing municipal services -- police, fire, and the like. We vote for state representatives and a governor in order to accomplish the same goal at the State level. Finally, we vote for federal representatives and a president in order that our laws may be enforced, and our Constitution defended, at the national level.
In each instance, we delegate -- but do not surrender -- some portion of our personal sovereignty in order to safeguard our natural rights. We do not delegate any portion of our personal sovereignty for any other purpose. We retain such sovereignty, i.e. personal liberty, as we do not delegate.
This follows from the logic of sovereignty's origin with the individual and its partial delegation for the limited purpose of safeguarding our natural rights. The State has no other legitimate function than to safeguard the natural rights of those whose collective sovereign delegation alone leads to its creation.
For example, we waive our natural right to perfect liberty by placing ourselves under the authority of police and courts, in exchange for which we rightly demand their protection. We also allow the State to function as an intermediary between us and our neighbors in property disputes. The list goes on.
The overriding point is that, without exception, every legitimate State power has been delegated to it by the People. Citizens delegate some limited part of their sovereign rights to the State in order that the state may act as a protector from outside forces, and an impartial arbiter when conflicts occur between citizens.
The State is not autonomous. It has no source of legitimate power other than the People. Whenever it acts beyond such sovereign powers as have been specifically delegated to it by the People, its action is unlawful and indeed constitutes an attack on liberty itself.
This liberty finds its most immediate, and concrete, expression in the natural, "negative" rights to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" that are pillars of the Declaration and are woven into the very fabric of the Constitution. When read without the hermeneutic pink-colored glasses favored by so much of our leftist judiciary, our Constitution clearly privileges both the individual citizen and "The People" over the federal -- not central -- government created by it.
By crafting the Constitution in this way, our Founders recognized simultaneously the necessity and the danger of joining the several sovereign States together into a larger federation, a truly "federal" government.
Two points are worthy of note here. First, the several consenting States were already sovereign prior to the creation of the federal government. They were prior existing sovereign entities. Their creation predated the federal government created by the Constitution. The People of each sovereign and consenting State had delegated some portion of their personal sovereignty in order to create a collective entity, the State (i.e., New York, Maryland, Virginia, etc.), for the express purpose of defending their natural liberties -- and for no other purpose. Thus, the exercise by the federal government of any powers not specifically granted to it by the States is a usurpation.
Second, in creating the federal government, the States merely delegate some of the powers previously delegated to them by the citizens of those States. They retained all powers not granted. That this grant was limited, well-defined, and inelastic is clearly evidenced by both the plain language of the Constitution and, more specifically, by the 9th and 10th Amendments.
With this as background, the current imbroglio, including a pending federal lawsuit, over Arizona's commonsense approach to enforcing federal laws openly flouted by the federal government emerges as far more than just a jurisdictional battle. What is at stake in Arizona is the liberty of Arizona's citizens, and by extension the liberty of every American.
The People of Arizona have delegated some part of their personal sovereignty, and hence liberty, to their elected State representatives. These same representatives have voted to incorporate federal immigration law into state law (with specific prohibitions against racial profiling -- which are, ironically enough, absent in the relevant federal statutes). That the People of Arizona overwhelmingly support this legislation passed by their servants in the legislature should be cause for celebration -- a victory for representative democracy.
Instead of valorizing the process, however, the left -- led by our own president -- demonizes a sovereign State and its People in the never-ending quest to impose its predetermined positions by any means necessary. Thus do we have the sad spectacle of so-called "liberals" who hate liberty, who despise the sovereign exercise of power by the People.
We are very far indeed from Voltaire's "I disapprove of what you say, but I will to the death your right to say it." As I have written elsewhere, liberals are anti-liberty because they already "know" the truth; hence, they regard the traditional values of free inquiry -- with all of its messiness, vagaries, and inevitable culs-de-sac -- as wastes of time. They have the facts, about which no sensible person will argue. Consequently, anyone who argues with a truth-possessing liberal must not be a sensible person and is hence not worth arguing with. That such circular thinking is obviously illogical has been no bar to liberals' extensive use of it in such diverse areas as global warming, religion, and education.
The French judge, writer, and philosopher Estienne de la Boétie (1530-1563) wrote that "as soon as a people becomes subject, it promptly falls into such complete forgetfulness of its freedom that it can hardly be roused to the point of regaining it, obeying so easily and willingly that one is led to say ... that this people has not so much lost its liberty, as won its enslavement."
Despite the left's having won its own enslavement, the widespread support for Arizona's rightful exercise of its legitimate sovereignty should give us hope that the We, The People are not yet ready to follow them, lemming-like, over the cliff to be dashed on the waiting rocks of tyranny.
There is much more at stake in the pending federal lawsuit than the immigration policy of one State. Given the current balance of the Supreme Court, we may hope for a favorable outcome; even so, it is an affront to every American that We, The People should have to trust our natural liberty to the nine Solons in Washington. On such a slender thread does that which matters most so tenuously hang.
The author has written numerous academic articles and books, including Atheism Answered. He holds a Ph.D. in philosophy and rhetoric from Emory University and is a professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in South Korea. firstname.lastname@example.org