Four Questions Everyone Needs to Answer to Be an Educated American Citizen


As I was preparing to give my first talk, I had to sit back and think, “How do I consolidate everything I’m writing in this blog into a few points for a 45 minute speech?” Obviously, I knew I couldn’t possibly fit everything, but what are the primary points that, if I could give a speech on them, I’d want everyone to learn?

So, I came up with these four questions. For my regular readers, this will be more of a review. But for those who are new or just want a quick, bullet by bullet guide, this blog post is just for you.

So, here goes.

One: Why Do We Have Government?

This is the first question any citizen of any country should be asking themselves? Why do we have government? What’s the point? Your answer to this question will determine for you what political party you claim and what political ideology you believe in. And yet, most Americans cannot answer this question.

For example:

Do you believe government exists to provide housing for you?

Do you believe government exists simply to protect you?


Your answer will produce two fundamentally different kinds of government.

I’m here to tell you why we have our American government. In other words, the U.S. government was started for a very specific and limited purpose.

To protect us and our private property from each other.

The American government was founded on the liberal principles of philosophers like John Locke and Montesquieu, both proponents of limited government and believers in the flawed, selfish condition of humanity. They believed that without government, humans would devolve into a state of war since we all prioritize our own self-preservation above anything and anyone else. Without law and with a right to everything, we will end up resorting to violence for our own preservation. And since we all have a right to any and everything in a state of nature, and there are no laws, this state of nature turns into a very unpleasant state of war. Since we don’t want to live in a state of war, we decide to enter into a social contract with each other and agree to give up our right to any and everything in order to protect our right to some things. We create government to enforce that social contract.

Hence, the point of government, is to protect us and our private property from each other.

If you want a more in depth analysis of the theories behind this question, read my blog posts on Locke and Hobbes.

Two: Why Do We Have a Constitution?

Do you know the answer to this?

Take a moment before you continue reading and think about why we have a Constitution. You now know why we have government, but why a Constitution? What’s the point? I’ll wait a second.

Ok, you’ve grappled with this question a second, and I’ll give you the answer but first I want to set up the answer.

We have government to protect us and our private property from each other, yes? Yes. Otherwise, without laws there would be nothing to stop you from violating me and my private property, and vice versa.

For example, if you own a farm, if government exists, I can’t just forcibly take your farm or the fruit of your labor from you because with government, laws prevent me from doing so.


But what is to stop government from taking your farm and the fruit of your labor? Government is definitely much stronger than me and is made up of the same flawed humanity that government was created to protect.

This is where the Constitution enters. The Constitution governs the government.

The Constitution protects us and our private property from government.

It defines for government what government can and cannot do. It confines government to a very few limited powers, powers that serve the initial purpose of government in the first place—-powers that allow the government to protect our private property, never violate it.

Without a Constitution, governments have arbitrary power. Arbitrary power is power that comes from nothing. A King has arbitrary power because he is the source of all power and law. If he decides one day that you should be executed, then so be it. He needs no reason. Why? Because he is the law. There is no limit to his power. His power is derived from nothing and therefore it is confined by nothing.

This is not so in a Constitutional Republic like our own. The Constitution exists to confine government’s power, and all of government’s power comes from the Constitution—the Supreme Law of the Land.

If you want to learn more about this subject, read my article on why we have a Constitution.

Three: Why Does It Matter if the Government Follows the Constitution?

Ah, it matters my friends because if government does not follow the Constitution, if it steps outside of its Constitutional confines—even the slightest bit—our government’s power is arbitrary.

You see, the U.S. government does not get its power from nowhere. It derives its powers from the Constitution. If it violates the Constitution it has started getting its powers from nothing, and if it derives its powers from nothing, there is nothing to confine the power.

The power is arbitrary and arbitrary power is limitless.

This is why it is critical for our government to follow the Constitution.


Four: What Does the Constitution Say?

We can’t possibly hold our government accountable to the Constitution if we don’t know what it says. And while every part of the Constitution is important, perhaps the key section you all should know by heart is Article 1: Section 8. Why? Because it enumerates for Congress (the lawmaking branch, the only branch that can make law—which is the point of government) what Congress can and cannot make law about.

Make sense? The Constitution is where Congress derives its power to make the laws. Congress cannot make law about a subject not listed in the following list That is for state governments to do. If Congress does make law outside of these boundaries, it has violated the Constitution and its power is now arbitrary.

So, here is the complete list of all the subjects Congress can Constitutionally make laws about.

  • To lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises

  • To borrow money

  • To regulate commerce with foreign nations/among states

  • To establish rules for naturalization and bankruptcy

  • To coin money, set its value, and punish counterfeiting

  • To fix the standard of weights and measures

  • To establish a post office and post roads

  • To issue patents and copyrights to inventors/authors

  • To create courts inferior to the Supreme Court

  • To define/punish piracies, felonies on high seas, and crimes against law of nations

  • To declare war

  • To raise and support an army and navy; make rules for their governance

  • To provide for a militia

  • To exercise exclusive legislative powers over seat of government, federal facilities

  • To “make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the fore-going powers, and all other powers vested by this Constitution in the government of the United States.”


And that’s it. Not a lot right? Do you see anywhere in this list where Congress is given the right to make laws on subjects like healthcare, education, welfare, marriage, social security, or business regulation?

No.

Why?

Because those powers were left to the states.

For a more detailed analysis of these powers, read Part 1 and Part 2 on Congressional powers.

Conclusion

If you want to be a fully informed American citizen, you need to know the answers to these four questions. You build yourself a firm foundation if you simply know the answers to these four questions and you will be able to interact with any one about government and stand your ground. Why? Because most Americans are all basing their political beliefs on what they think or feel about something rather than on the firm theoretical foundation of the Constitution. You’re coming from a solid foundation. This is what the Constitution says and why we should follow it.

So, now your job is simple: know the Constitution, help others know it, and keep our government accountable to it!

The Liberty Belle

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