“The rights of private persons amongst democratic nations are commonly of small importance…the consequence is, that they are often sacrificed without regret, and almost always violated without remorse. But it happens that, at the same period and amongst the same nations in which men conceive a natural contempt for the rights of private persons, the rights of society at large are naturally extended and consolidated”, wrote Alexis De Tocqueville in Democracy In America.
“In other words”, writes Tocqueville, “men become less attached to private rights just when it is most necessary to retain and defend what little remains of them.” What Tocqueville wrote about in 1840 is unfolding today in the form of a growing federal Leviathan in which our government not only sacrifices but targets the private rights of individuals to the general execution of its designs. The result is a consolidated government with a ubiquitous network of laws and rules actively suppressing individual initiative, self-interest, and success in the name of the greater good and on behalf of the larger community.
Our government no longer abides by our principles as it derives its powers from the governed without our consent in furtherance of its own agenda. Warning of a time such as this, Tocqueville noted that “the friends of the liberty and greatness of man ought constantly to be on alert” in order to prevent the government from acting as it does today. “No private rights of individuals are so unimportant that they can be surrendered without impunity to the caprices of a government”, concluded Tocqueville.
We now live under a presumption of constraint by a government that holds each and everyone one of us in contempt without the presumption of our own individual freedom. What once “made America unique first blurred, then faded, and today is almost gone”, writes Charles Murray in his book By the People: Rebuilding Liberty Without Permission. Americans are burdened by a government bureaucracy that has ascended to power through regulations that are openly oppressive and constantly restrictive.
Take for example the fact that in 2013 alone, the Code of Federal Regulations numbered over 175,000 pages with only a fraction of those pages involved in regulations based on something spelled out in legislation. Murray elaborates, “Whether we are trying to raise our children, be good stewards of our property, cooperate with our neighbors to solve local problems or practice our religious faith, the bureaucrats think they know better. And when the targets of the regulatory state say they’ve had enough, that they will fight it in court, the bureaucrats can—and do—say to them, “Try that, and we’ll ruin you.”
“That’s the regulatory state as seen from ground level by the individual citizens who run afoul of it”, writes Murray. Government agencies unaccountable to the public now create the rules and regulations that are enforced by bureaucrats un-elected by the American people. Take for instance the government run program dubbed Operation Choke Point, a multi-agency task force run out of the Department of Justice, which was launched in 2013 under the Obama administration designed to “combat corruption by investigating the connections that banks maintain with companies considered to be at high risk for money laundering.”
Michael Leahy, of Breitbart, explains the reality behind the operation as it “is headed by political operatives and career bureaucrats at the Department of Justice, the FDIC, and the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.” Rather than combating corruption, Operation Choke point has been used for nefarious reasons in order to destroy three sectors of the private lending industry: third party payment processors, payday lenders, and online lenders.
Moreover, banks have been intimidated by the DOJ to crack down on businesses in industries that supposedly have greater occurrences of fraud. “The problem”, writes Jason Russell of Washington Examiner, “legitimate, law-abiding businesses are being targeted and having their bank accounts closed without enough proof of fraud to press charges. Due process has been thrown out the window, and industries seem to be targeted based on the administration’s moral objections to them.”
Firearms, ammunition, payday lending, tobacco and other industries have been targeted. As Leahy notes, “it appears to be the latest example of the Obama administration’s successful efforts to weaponize the apparatus of the federal government against people and industries it opposes ideologically.” The targeting of ideological opponents by the federal government has now become the norm as this pattern has been repeated within agencies such as the Internal Revenue Service, Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Homeland Security, National Security Agency, and many others. While the purpose of these agencies may appear to be vary in scope, their intended goal remains the same; the targeting of ordinary Americans for actual or perceived violations under a vast array of complex rules and regulations.
It punishes citizens like Ocie Mills and his son Carey for attempting to build a house next to a skinny stretch of marsh grass overlooking Florida’s Escambia Bay. The U.S. government prosecuted them for violating the Clean Water Act and sentenced them to two years and nine months in prison. The crime that the Milses had committed as described by Senator Mike Lee in his book Our Lost Constitution, was “of discharging a ‘pollutant’ into the ‘navigable waters of the United States’. In their case, the ‘pollutant’ was dry sand used for building a house, and the ‘water’ was a piece of dry, wooded land that met the agencies’ definition of ‘navigable water’ because of its small strip of marsh grass, which was not even on the part of the property where the house was being built.”
The law that ensnared Ocie and Carey Mills is far from unique as today there are over 300,000 federal regulations that may be enforced criminally. Lee notes that in regards to just the EPA alone within “a three-year span, federal prosecutors obtained sentences of around three hundred years of prison time and millions of dollars in fines in four hundred cases that all arose from environmental regulations.” Lee then gets to the crux of the issue explaining that “Congress authorized an entirely new agency to decide the sentencing ranges applicable to criminal violations of federal regulations; having already delegated to various agencies the task of making criminal laws at issue, Congress delegated to yet another agency the task of determining how anyone violating those laws would be punished.”
These agencies, seemingly created out of the imagination of the bureaucracy without any oversight from the people it punishes, represent precisely the soft-tyranny created under the federal Leviathan in which Tocqueville articulated. Our government today “extends its arms about society as a whole. It covers its surface with a network of petty regulations–complicated, minute, and uniform–through which even the most original minds and the most vigorous souls know not how to make their way past the crowd and emerge into the light of day.” Tocqueville continues, “It does not break wills; it softens them, bends them and directs them. Rarely does it force one to act but it constantly opposes itself to one’s acting on one’s own. It does not destroy, it prevents things from being born, it extinguishes, it stupefies and finally, it will reduce each nation to nothing more than a herd of timid, and industrious animals of which the government is the shepherd.”
This soft, gentle form of despotism that we are now living under has created an environment in which we no longer rely upon ourselves but the government to secure our fate. Whats even worse is the fact that more in America have been persuaded to believe that there simply is no other alternative than this. We console ourselves for being in tutelage, with the thought that we have chosen the tutors ourselves and we falsely believe that we have sufficiently guaranteed our liberty when in reality we have only guaranteed our destruction by a government that holds us in contempt.