Consolidation and the Destruction of Liberty

By: Michael Boldin

If we truly want to build a real “land of the free,” it’s essential to understand the source of our problems – to “strike the root,” so to speak. Using the wisdom and warnings of leading founders and old revolutionaries – we can point to consolidation, or centralization of power.

Patrick Henry put it this way in the Virginia Ratifying Convention:

“Dangers are to be apprehended in whatever manner we proceed; but those of a consolidation are the most destructive.”

Thomas Jefferson echoed this view years later, in a letter to Joseph C. Cabell:

“What has destroyed liberty and the rights of man in every government which has ever existed under the sun? the generalising & concentrating all cares and powers into one body”

For Jefferson (and Patrick Henry, who we’ll get back to in a bit), total centralization of power guarantees liberty will be destroyed. And while we may not be fully there today, each year it keeps getting closer and closer to that unfortunate reality.

But it wasn’t just the anti-federalists – and Jefferson – who understood this. Prominent federalists such as James Wilson did as well.

“To support, with vigor, a single government over the whole extent of the United States, would demand a system of the most unqualified and the most unremitted despotism.”

In short, while the debates over ratification were often over consolidation – almost no one (we’re looking at you, Hamilton) rejected the notion that massive centralization of power was a bad thing. The arguments were mostly over whether the proposed constitution would lead to such an outcome or not.

Setting that debate aside for today, few writers, if any, explained the dangers of consolidation better than the Anti-federalist Brutus. In his first essay, he explained that the more centralized the state, the more it leads to abuse of power, and law being little more than what Jefferson elsewhere called “the tyrant’s will.” He also recognized and predicted it would lead to factions and infighting – and eventually, permanent standing armies and a government based on coercion and force.

Sounds pretty familiar, doesn’t it?

George Mason understood that one-size-fits-all “solutions” to any and every problem under the sun would be impossible.

“Is it to be supposed that one National Government will suit so extensive a country, embracing so many climates, and containing inhabitants so very different in manners, habits, and customs? It is ascertained by history, that there never was a Government, over a very extensive country, without destroying the liberties of the people”

And today, in a union of states with more than 300 million people – and a wide range of political, economic, social and religious viewpoints – we see the problems getting worse, and worse…and worse.

James Madison noted that “where power is in the few it is natural for them to sacrifice the many to their own partialities and corruptions.”

Thomas Jefferson warned that consolidation would lead to “corruption, plunder & waste.”

So when we see corruption all around us – in politicians, agencies and more – we shouldn’t be surprised it’s happening. The root cause, of course, is too much power in too few hands.

Unless the people turn things around, it’s only going to get worse.

As Patrick Henry warned, “Consolidation must end in the destruction of our liberties.”

That’s the bad news. But there’s good news too.

Mike Maharrey put it this way, “If consolidation ends in the destruction of our liberties, the key to regaining liberty is “un-consolidation,” or to use an actual word – decentralization.”

That means people will absolutely have to change their approach. Maharrey explained further:

“This strategy requires letting go of centralized political power. That includes resisting the temptation to try to wrest control of the overreaching consolidated government and impose liberty from on high.

This is a difficult concept to grasp in an American political culture that operates almost exclusively through the consolidated government in Washington D.C. People always tend to think in terms of grabbing and wielding political power. This will always fail because political power is the problem.”

The key, then – is to reject any effort to give the government more power, even when you might like how it uses that power in the short run. Eventually, other politicians will wield that same power – and use it in ways destructive to liberty.

Never forget: The power to do good always comes with a power to do evil.

The fact is that this kind of approach is often scary, difficult and can require personal sacrifice. But there is no easy path to go from the largest government in history – to liberty.

As Thomas Paine wrote, “Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom, must, like men, undergo the fatigues of supporting it.”

No matter how much the odds might seem stacked against us – our duty is to push forward. Brick-by-brick. Person-by-person. State-by-state for the Constitution and liberty.

Thank you for being on this path to liberty with us!