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Thursday, February 17, 2005

Global Limited Government

Over the past few weeks, this forum has hosted a discussion on what it means to have a government of laws and not a government of men. In the domestic arena, there is some hope that shifting this nation's wealth from the hands of the government to the hands of the people is a step in this direction. Changing social security has the potential to shrink the scope of governmental control while simultaneously expanding the control that individuals have over the world. However exciting these changes to our domestic distributions of wealth may be (contain your laughter please) the most dramatic efforts at achieving conservatism in this world are being pursued at the point of the bayonet.

The Global War on Terror forms the latest link in a chain begun by the giving of the Commandments at Sinai to liberate mankind from arbitrary and malicious human rule. This pursuit has, over the centuries, taken the name "law."

Where there is law, there is limited authority of humans with power to do as they will simply on the basis of their power. The more constraints a society places on the ability of the powerful to do as they wish to those without power, the more there is law.

In the United States, as evinced by the social security debate, we are at an elevated status of law. The powerful generally cannot kill or maim the weak. We have chosen our own leaders and given them limited realms within which they can recognize their own will. Sometimes, the development of law and individual autonomy requires granting these governmental authorities the powers to prevent powerful people from encroaching on the liberty of others (see the pollution laws). Other times, constraining the powers of our elected leadership enhances the liberty of the individual and thereby pushes our society further along the continuum of law (see the First Amendment, the Due Process Clause, and the effort to privatize social security).

But in lands infected with the disease of terror, there is no law whatsoever. Those with the power to kill are in no way restrained from exercising this power. This separates the murderers of Al-Queda from petty criminals (a distinction lost on Senator John Kerry), for organized international terror not only kills individuals but vociferously denies the power of Earthly laws to constrain their behavior to their fellow men and women.

While less powerful and malicious on a global scale, this ideology is a more extreme example of the fascism which scourged the world throughout the last century. The Nazis and Stalinists denied the permanency of human dignity. They erected laws strictly to serve the sadistic needs of the powerful. But, in a deranged way, they felt some fidelity to the notion that society should be governed by laws. While perverse, cruel, and immoral, the two evil Totalitarian societies of the last century at least paid lip service to the idea that the conduct of humankind should be organized in societies of law.

The terrorists throw off even this final vestige of law/liberty. They do not distinguish between innocent and guilty, friend or foe. They respect no limit on their own power, or no claim of a right to be left in peace by any of their victims. And no man, perhaps, evinced this barbarism more than the deposed ruler of Iraq. He killed and tortured at will. He made war against religions, cultures, ethnicities, nations, and civilizations. If given the chance, we know that he desired to raise the scale of his culture of death and lawlessness through use of whatever weapon of massive destruction he could get his hands on.

Carrying the message of law to the unlit places of the world is the calling of our time. President Bush wrongly calls it the purpose of our generation, for those soldiers who pushed back the German forces twice in the last century, and forced the Soviet Union to collapse under the weight of its own hypocrisy shared the same mission. Limited government is just a different avatar of law and liberty. While pursuing an ownership society at home, we are putting marginal touches on a society long dedicated to the rule of law and hence the role of the individual in governing his own affairs. But we must continue to remember that much of the rest of the population of the world has been denied these protections. While the process of bringing law around the world may require certain horrible choices, including deaths, it should be remembered that the orders we replace were ultimately only constrained by death itself.

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