If that seems overly cynical, think about this: how difficult is it, really, to imagine that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security might one day forbid the public possession of vinegar, claiming that the substance has become a “public safety threat?”
Americans need to develop a healthy dose of skepticism about the promises of politicians to meet our every need, and we should abandon this false assumption that the agents of our government will exercise their power fairly. History suggests that governmental power is usually abused, and America may be on its way to repeating that history.
But here’s the good news: in many other ways, some of the founders of our nation understood human nature so remarkably well that they foresaw a day when future generations would want not so much a President, as a messiah. And some of those same early Americans offered some guidelines that, if we choose again to follow them, could help lead us out of our current malaise.
Such wisdom is yours for the reading in “The Federalist Papers,” that old compilation of some 85 newspaper editorials that argued for the ratification of the U.S. Constitution, published between 1787 and 1788. While making the case for limiting the power of government, and establishing “checks and balances” between government’s various “departments,” James Madison eloquently wrote in “The Federalist Number 51:”
“ It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government……”
It would seem that Madison the philosopher (who went on to become our Fourth President of the United States) was quite certain that those who govern will never be “angels” (he would probably also concur that a President will never amount to a messiah). Madison also seems to indicate that those who govern will naturally begin to think a bit too highly of themselves, and will have difficulty with ‘self-restraint.”
The good news, even in this brief passage of Madison’s writings, is that “the people” - - those of us who are “the governed” - - can still function as the force that prohibits government from spiraling out of control. Certainly, we are still “free enough” – at least for now, anyway - to speak out, to allow our voices to be heard, and to freely exchange ideas about our country and its government - - even if those ideas are contrary to the edicts of a dead-certain Command-In-Chief.
The question is not “can we,” but “will we” function as that balancing force against a government that has seized way too much control of our lives.
Madison and the other founders set the course. Brazilians are waking up. But will Americans wake up and follow their founders?
Austin Hill is an Author, Consultant, and Host of "Austin Hill's Big World of Small Business," a syndicated talk show about small business ownership and entrepreneurship. He is Co-Author of the new release "The Virtues Of Capitalism: A Moral Case For Free Markets." , Author of "White House Confidential: The Little Book Of Weird Presidential History," and a frequent guest host for Washington, DC's 105.9 WMAL Talk Radio.