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Sunday, July 05, 2009

The Idea of America by Pierre Lemieux

The Idea of America

Yesterday marked American Independence Day. Last year, the Western Standard published an exclusive monograph by our columnist Pierre Lemieux entitled "The Idea of America" (PDF). Here's how we described the monograph:

What were the revolutionaries -- the signers of the Declaration, the men and women who abandoned their old ties to call America home -- doing all of this for? What was that glorious idea?

Pierre Lemieux, our firebrand libertarian columnist, has produced a monograph entitled "The Idea of America," (PDF) published by the Western Standard, to answer this and related questions. His analysis is, in my judgment, accurate and cutting. Once upon a time, Americans (and Canadians) wouldn't even think of the government when presented with a problem.

Once upon a time, no American worth her salt would ever stand for identification papers, gun control, nanny state regulations, and so on. What happened to those Americans? Maybe they lost their grip on the idea of America, and were coddled and pacified by unparalleled wealth and prosperity. Or maybe they were flummoxed by the snake-oil salesman cum politician, insisting that they could get something for nothing, or frightening them with tales of bogeymen under every bed.

"...consider the first decade of the 20th century," writes Lemieux, "[i]n general, anybody could start a business, find investors, and sell his product without any government license and oversight. There was no SEC, no IRS, no FCC, no FDA, no OSHA, no USCIS (formerly INS), no EPA. The absence of regulation did not prevent the development of vibrant capital markets, and New York City was on its way to becoming the top financial place in the world. The right to keep and bear arms, so typically American in the 20th century, had survived relatively unscathed. There was no witch-hunt and, in a legal fight between an individual and the government, it is the latter that felt handicapped. Writing in 1910, Lord Acton could confidently say that the American people are “more free than any other the world has seen.” In her celebration of American liberty in the early 20th century, Rose Wilder Lane could exclaim: “That is what Europeans meant when, after a few days in this country, they exclaimed, ‘You are so free here!’.”

Once, maybe, there was America. But what happened to that idea?

"Americans are now caught in the “network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform” that [Alexis de] Tocqueville forecasted. Virtually all activities -- even those protected by the Bill of Rights -- are regulated in some way, and most often in many ways. Just at the federal level, there are probably 4,000 statutes, although it’s hard to tell the exact number, notes a Wall Street Journal reporter, “because the statutes aren’t listed in one place.” And this does not include the regulations. “We continue to claim that nobody is supposed to ignore the law,” wrote French legal theorist Georges Ripert in 1949, “but those who know it are certainly to be commended.” In 2001, federal prosecutors brought more than 80,000 cases. To this must be added the laws, regulations and prosecutions at the State and local levels. It is stimated that 15 per cent of all Americans have an arrest record. France has come to America."

Read the monograph (for a second time, if you've read it already). Pass it on. It's the 4th of July weekend, and the idea of America is still worth fighting for.

Posted by P.M. Jaworski on July 5, 2009 in Libertarianism | Permalink


Excellent! Pierre is spot on as usual.

Posted by: Alain | 2009-07-05 1:00:34 PM

Uh, I think most countries have comparable, if not greater, levels of bureaucracy today. It is not a bad thing to regulate the economy to enforce labor standards and financial transactions. Before 1900, there were no laws preventing people from printing false stock certificates. It's a good thing that they made it illegal.

I think you guys have a bizarre view of America. They have had many of the same impulses towards bigger more involved government as other countries. Society has been better off for it. Hence the envy from other countries.

Posted by: Zebulon Pike | 2009-07-05 2:10:06 PM

Before 1900, there were no laws preventing people from printing false stock certificates. It's a good thing that they made it illegal.
Posted by: Zebulon Pike | 2009-07-05 2:10:06 PM

There were no laws against fraud?
Give me a break!

And bureaucracy is a Stalinist invention and it works very well exactly as he meant it to. It's a control device meant to stifle human endeavour.
Its a cancer on a free people.

Good article Pierre.

Posted by: The original JC | 2009-07-05 3:57:42 PM

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