America celebrated Bill of Rights Day earlier this week. But perhaps we should have declared it a day of mourning. After all, federal supremacists have turned the Bill of Rights into just another government centralizing document.
On Dec. 15, 1791, Virginia became the 11th state to ratify the first 10 amendments to the Constitution, crossing the necessary three-fourths threshold to put them into effect. As the preamble makes clear, the Bill of Rights added “further declaratory and restrictive clauses” to the Constitution “in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse” of the powers delegated to the new federal government.
Simply put, the Bill of Rights made explicit certain limits on federal authority in order to ensure the new general government did not infringe on individual rights. As Ryan McMaken at the Mises Institute put it, “While most of the Constitution is concerned with centralizing government power, raising tax revenue, protecting the institution of chattel slavery, and hammering the independent states into a consolidated political union, the Bill of Rights, on the other hand, was concerned with limiting government power.”
But over the last century, and particularly since the 1950s, the federal government has used the Bill of Rights to consolidate and increase its power and authority. With the invention of the “incorporation doctrine,” the Supreme Court empowered itself to define marriage, define speech, define “freedom of religion,” define “social justice,” define a “right to privacy,” and enforce all kinds of policies and mandates on the states and the people. The Bill of Rights was never intended to apply to the states. But through a bastardized reading of the 14th Amendment, the Supreme Court took principles intended to limit federal authority and turned them into a billy club. Armed with this big stick, the federal government used it to obliterate state sovereignty and monopolize government in Washington D.C.
Progressives drove this impulse toward centralization of government power, but sadly, many conservatives and libertarians embrace it. These people I call the liberty enforcement squad think if they can just control the process, they can use Washington D.C. to make people free. These centralizers don’t mind the billy club, as long as they can wield it toward their own ends. But as they use to the Bill of Rights to push for more federal control over states and individuals in the name of liberty, they wrap a hangman’s noose around their own necks.
Centralized power represents the greatest threat to liberty. The Bill of Rights was intended to prevent just that. But foolish Americans have turned it into another tool of government tyranny.
Photo by Tony Webster via Flickr.