Liddick: The ‘right to be let alone’? Far from it (column)
On your right
“(The Founding Fathers) conferred, as against the Government, the right to be let alone … the right most valued by civilized men.” — Justice Louis D. Brandeis, Olmstead v. United States (1928)
Perhaps the U.S. Supreme Court Justice was right in ascribing to the founders the expectation of security in one’s property, papers and thoughts. Perhaps not; the expectation of non-interference by the state is an old one, longstanding in Anglo-Saxon tradition. Its existence was one reason for America’s revolution: the British government and its minions simply could not keep their noses out of the business of their colonists in the New World. So when the “Stamp Act” required that any official document in an American house be imprinted with a royal stamp, the subsequent authority to search Americans’ homes on a whim to insure compliance eventually blew up in King George III’s face. Our memories of those events and what followed were vivid enough to compel our founders to include the protections of the First, Third, Fourth and Fifth – and eventually, the Fourteenth – amendments in the Constitutional process.
Why would the “right to be let alone” be considered by Justice Brandeis, one of our most impressive jurists – and no conservative – as “the right most valued?” Because it appropriately places the individual at the center of our politics. Our nation was created not to benefit this or that interest group, not this or that “faction,” as our founders called political parties. Its sole beneficiary was to be the individual American citizen. His — or her, although that construction occurred to few of the founders — interests were to be paramount; his or her rights were those deserving of protection against the prying eyes and covetous hands of government.
Today, we seem to be forgetting the tragedies, triumphs and toil required to create our government. Some have already forgotten, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton among them; this is why she is able to ask, without apparent sarcasm or irony, what her opponents “fear” in democracy. The question is meaningless — we are governed by a representative republic, not a Democracy — but revelatory: Madame Clinton has evidently forgotten that, throughout history, democracies have fostered profound abuses of individual liberties, an activity that the American Left is undertaking today with customary relish.
Consider the question of gay marriage: Not content with receiving the right to marry in whatever state they reside, some gay couples are actively seeking out service providers who are, by religion, upbringing or simple personal predilection offended by the practice. “Bake us a wedding cake,” they demand, “or else.” The “or else” is an intervention by federal authorities intent on chalking up another victory against the foes of progress and enlightened thinking. Unremarked are the malevolent ripples which spread from such activities. Baker X or photographer Y may be run out of business by government for their failure to conform to changing social mores; their plight may remind one of T.H White’s formula for totalitarianism: “What is not forbidden is compulsory.” But what about the principle of being left alone?
Social mores are mercurial; the mob is prone to moods. Those are two reasons why the founders created a government based on a few longstanding principles, including the primacy of the individual and the right to be free of government interference. They obviously felt that trusting to the whims of the time or the popular taste was a recipe for disaster – based on their own experiences. We should pay attention to their doubts on this score; nothing in the history of the past two centuries would prove them wrong. On the contrary, we have seen time and again that when popular sentiment or fashion is given precedence over principles, which have stood the test of time, we engage in behavior that makes us queasy in retrospect. Think the “Red Scare,” eugenics, Jim Crow or Camp Amache.
Today, we fancy ourselves much better and smarter than the rubes who populated our past. So, we press onward in the feverish grip of our own righteousness, and woe betide any who think to stand in our path. Diversity, the modern Baal, must be embraced and extolled, as long as it only encompasses outward appearance. Skin color, gender, even dress — provided it belongs to a protected class — must be celebrated in its name. But, any questioning of the new order, any demand to be “let alone” to live one’s life according to one’s own moral compass — that must be ruthlessly eliminated in service to the superficial “diversity” touted by the modern political class. Because that’s what the loudest faction of the mob demands.
And because, to paraphrase T.H. White, everything not compulsory must be forbidden.
Morgan Liddick writes a weekly column for the Summit Daily.
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