Speaking to The Woodlands Tea Party

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On September 4, I will be speaking to The Woodlands Tea Party on “Individual Rights and the Tea Party.” The talk will be held at 1544 Sawdust Road, Ste. 402.

The event starts at 6:30 PM, and copies of my book will be available for purchase. I hope to see you there.

The danger of “states’ rights”

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As the race for the White House heats up, we will likely hear more talk about “states’ rights.” Rick Perry, Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, and many other conservatives have voiced support for “states’ rights.” The concept is often presented as an antidote to growing federal control over the economy and our lives. But is it an antidote, or is it simply another form of poison?

There are two aspects to “states’ rights”: the “right” of each state to establish laws independent of Washington and the “right” of each state to nullify a federal law. In principle, these are the same thing.

For example, advocates of “states’ rights” hold that each state should be allowed to legalize abortion or ban it, permit gay marriage or prohibit it, restrict gun ownership or not. If Texans want to ignore the Clean Air Act, they have a “right” to declare the law null and void within the borders of the state. In other words, the citizens of each state should be allowed to determine what they will permit and what they will prohibit. It is, according to the advocates of “states’ rights,” wrong if Barack Obama mandates universal health care across the nation, but it is perfectly proper if Mitt Romney does so within Massachusetts.

At root, “states’ rights” holds that the citizens of a state are not to be limited by the principles of individual rights. As long as the majority within a state support a policy or program, anything goes. This is not a defense of individual liberty, but its negation.

Individual rights recognize and protect an individual’s moral right to act according to his own judgment, as long as he respects the mutual rights of others. “States’ rights” holds that the rights of individuals may be violated whenever the majority chooses to do so. The Founding Fathers rejected this idea. For example, James Madison wrote:

There is no maxim, in my opinion, which is more liable to be misapplied, and which, therefore, more needs elucidation, than the current one, that the interest of the majority is the political standard of right and wrong.

The Founders were opposed to tyranny in any form, whether manifested in a King or manifested in an uncontrolled majority.

Certainly, the unprecedented power grabs emanating from Washington should be opposed. But granting more power to the state governments is not the solution. Turning America into fifty tyrannies will not achieve free markets and individual liberty.

Defenders of freedom must reject the entire notion of “states’ rights” and instead embrace the principle of individual rights.

The Tea Party and individual rights

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The Tea Party movement has the potential to dramatically reform American government. But that potential will not be realized if the movement fails to identify, and embrace, the proper principles.

Like any coalition, the Tea Party has a mixture of elements. At the rallies I have attended, I have seen signs for “state’s rights,” closing the borders, nullification, and auditing the Federal Reserve. I have seen signs opposing ObamaCare, denouncing federal deficits, and calling for term limits. These positions are fundamentally inconsistent, and yet, they all are welcomed under the Tea Party umbrella.

There is nothing necessarily wrong with a political movement having such a mixture, particularly in today’s culture. However, if that movement is not united by clearly stated principles, inconsistencies will eventually tear it apart.

Consider, for example, opposition to ObamaCare and the issue of “state’s rights.”

Opposing ObamaCare is a valid position. Nationalized health care enslaves doctors, will diminish the quality of care for patients, and will be a fiscal nightmare. It violates the rights of doctors and patients alike. But, according to the doctrine of “state’s rights,” a state can properly enact universal health care–if a majority of the citizens want it. As one example, Mitt Romney has defended his universal health care plan as an issue of “state’s rights.” In other words, the advocates of “state’s rights” do not oppose the violation of individual rights. They merely oppose it when it occurs on the federal level. This is nothing more than quibbling over the name of the slave-master.

The only principle that can eliminate this inconsistency is individual rights–the moral right of each individual to live his life as he chooses, so long as he respects the mutual rights of others. This means that neither the federal nor the state governments may initiate coercion to force individuals to act contrary to their own judgment.

If the Tea Party wants to have a long-term impact on American politics, it must embrace and defend individual rights.