BY THE PEOPLE Rebuilding Liberty Without Permission Charles Murray New York: Crown Forum, 2015 319pp., $27.00
In the world of the thinking Right, Charles Murray for at least 30 years has ranked as a top figure. A social scientist and policy wonk, he calls to mind the late philosopher Robert Nozick. He makes libertarianism fun and practical, and without reverting to the taunting, pugilistic dogmatism that renders so many other libertarians about as substantial as bumper sticker sloganeers. Murray’s latest book, By the People, embodies much that is right—and, unfortunately, wrong—with libertarianism.
Let us first examine the positives, of which there are many. By the People is an admirable work. The subtitle alone is an apt summation. Our country was not set up so that people have to ask permission from government every time they have a bright idea or a creative impulse. It’s the other way around: Government must receive permission from its citizens in order to govern. Yet for several decades we have moved into opposite territory, redefining law in highly subjective ways that blur distinctions between lawful and unlawful activities. Our “lawless legal system,” as the author terms it, now metes out punishment for the most petty and even nonexistent offenses. And equally disturbing, it causes us to apply reflexive self-censorship when contemplating a “controversial” remark. Of such stuff, police states are born.
A skeptic would respond that American has a long way to go before it becomes a police state. Formally, that’s true. Yet public policy is far more about anticipating consequences than fixing them. And given the demonstrated ease by which nations elsewhere have descended into tyranny, it would be presumptuous to say we are immune from such a fate.
The main trigger for State excess, Murray argues, was the revolution in constitutional thinking embodied in a series of Supreme Court decisions during 1937–42. By aggressively expanding the contours of contractual obligation and liability, the Court gave the executive branch, Congress, and future Supreme Courts, not to mention state and local governments, unprecedented leeway to transform law into a vehicle for political and economic advantage. This was the antithesis of rule of law, a primary principle of which is that no one class of citizens ought to be treated differently than others. The original jurisprudence superseded, the main burden of proof as to the necessity of a law or regulation now would fall upon those who object to government action rather than upon government itself. Read the entire article HERE.
About the author
Carl F. Horowitz is a project director with the National Legal and Policy Center, a Falls Church, Virginia-based nonprofit group dedicated to promoting ethics in public life. He is the author of Sharpton: A Demagogue’s Rise and holds a Ph.D. in urban planning and public policy.