December 15 is neglected by most Americans for its historical significance as the anniversary of the Bill of Rights. Even worse, American politicians neglect the actual Bill of Rights on a day-to-day basis.
Whether or not the Bill of Rights can ever be an effective means of limiting the government is open to debate. However, the Bill of Rights does offer a fairly good outline of a free society, and it shows how far our country has strayed.
In an America with a full respect for the Bill of Rights, there would be no Federal Communications Commission regulating the airwaves and forbidding certain speech, no Federal Election Commission limiting how much Americans can donate to political candidates or what they can say in independent political ads, no Food and Drug Administration harassment of pharmaceutical and wine producers regarding their commercial speech, no federal laws that have anything to do with religion whatsoever, and no federally established "free-speech zones."
There would be no laws disarming Americans, prohibiting airlines from allowing pilots or passengers to carry guns on planes, or limiting how much ammo or what kind of firearms people can buy and own.
There would be no Patriot Act, no secret searches, no spying on telecommunications without a warrant.
There would be no civil asset forfeiture, no horrendous eminent domain abuses, no kangaroo courts, star chambers and phony hearings for the accused.
There would be no torture in America’s "terrorist" dungeons.
There would be no federal laws against starting a business without a license, buying and selling drugs, competing with the government to provide its "services" at a better cost and higher quality, or seceding from the central state.
There would be no federal programs not authorized by the Constitution: no Departments of Energy or Education, no Medicare or Social Security, no Federal Reserve or Selective Service, no farm subsidies or corporate welfare.
We’ve come a long way, haven’t we?
If either the ninth or tenth amendment alone had full recognition, almost everything now done by the federal government would come grinding to a halt. A government that obeyed the Bill of Rights would cost a small fraction of its current size, and would not require an income tax to fund. The young would be liberated from Social Security and any fear of conscription ever coming back. The streets would be safer, free from the violent crime augmented by the War on Drugs and gun control. America would no longer have a higher per capita prison population than Saudi Arabia, Russia and North Korea. The free economy would be unleashed to produce the largest revolution in technology and commerce and greatest increase of the American standard of living since the Industrial Revolution. The productive sector would no longer be persecuted by the political class for producing too much, not enough, or not according to the specifications of central planning.
Many if not most political tensions would be decentralized down to the state level, and after that, competition and experimentation among states would likely point the way to the benefits of liberalizing and shrinking government at all levels.
The blessings of free association would again sweep America, as people’s rights to hire, fire, work for, and enter business and organizations with whomever they wanted would allow economic productivity to balloon, and religious, ethnic and racial hostilities to decline. Immigration would no longer be seen as such a threat as decisions to associate or not to associate would be left to the states and, much more ideally, private-property owners.
Healthcare would be more affordable and of a higher quality. The price of food staples would plummet, as the feds would no longer subsidize clumsy agricultural practices with price supports, and even the poorest workers would have far greater access to necessities and luxuries than almost anyone in the history of the world.
Many tens of thousands of federal employees would have to find honest work.
With the Bill of Rights respected and enforced, the War on Terror as we know it would be impossible. The federal government would no longer have any powers not delegated to it by the Constitution — rendering such colonial projects as Iraq and Guantanamo totally prohibited. Americans would stop dying in foreign wars, and foreigners would have far less reason to attack the United States.
Americans would become more responsible, tolerant, caring, cooperative, industrious, wealthy and safe. A lot of problems would still exist, but without the amplification that they now get in the political process.
If today you hear a politician mention the Bill of Rights — a politician besides Ron Paul, that is — try to imagine which Bill of Rights he’s referring to. Which Bill of Rights is it that allows for two-and-a-half-trillion-dollar budgets, airport Gestapo, thousands of gun laws, a federal war on drugs, No Child Left Behind and McCain-Feingold? Where in the Bill of Rights does it say that the president can disqualify suspected terrorists from their rights to a trial, an attorney, and due process?
The officials who violate the Bill of Rights are breaking the very law that supposedly brings their jobs and the government that employs them into existence. And yet we are supposed to take them seriously when they talk about "the rule of law," "law and order," and "justice."
I celebrate Bill of Rights Day, not out of some delusion that we have the enumerated and unenumerated freedoms protected by the document, nor with some nostalgia for a past when the Bill of Rights was perfectly obeyed. It never was. George Washington and John Adams violated the Bill of Rights. Ever since Lincoln, the document has suffered major violence, and four years of Bush have probably done more harm to the freedoms in the Bill of Rights than this country has seen in thirty, maybe even fifty years.
But Bill of Rights Day is still a good time to think of that document, which comes as close to a libertarian founding legal charter as any in the world. Celebrate Bill of Rights Day, if only to think of the great freedoms that might exist, that could exist, and that can exist, one day, in fuller force and greater glory than ever before.
Anthony Gregory [send him mail] is a writer and musician who lives in Berkeley, California. He is a research assistant at the Independent Institute. See his webpage for more articles and personal information.