Governments do not have what I call primary or originary rights. Only persons, taken one at a time, have these rights. In the words of Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence:
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
In Jefferson’s theory, Persons have unalienable Rights, to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. If a Government has what appears to be rights, these are powers that are lodged in that Government by a voluntary agreement by those who choose to associate themselves with that Government. I call those derivative rights or powers secondary rights. Governments have no primary rights but only secondary rights.
" — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…,"
This is a statement that the Governments have only secondary rights (or just powers), not primary rights; and these secondary rights stem from the voluntary agreement of the persons being governed, from the "consent of the governed."
Jefferson either understood or proposed that such an agreement to form a Government had the purpose of securing the primary rights. The purposes for which men choose Governments are actually many and complex, such as providing for the common defense and promoting the general Welfare. However, later in the Declaration, Jefferson indicates that Government gains its secondary rights with the object of Safety and Happiness of the People. This can be reconciled with Jefferson’s idea that the overarching goal is to secure rights if we understand that he thought that securing rights is the road to attaining Safety and Happiness.
There are probably several reasons why Jefferson stressed the securing of rights. One was that the intent of the Declaration was to gain Independence from an authority that was violating rights. Jefferson also intended to limit Governments in their powers. He wanted them to secure the rights of those whom they governed. He believed that was their legitimate purpose. He looked upon securing rights as the main purpose of Governments.
But here enter two very large gaps in Jefferson’s theory. The manner in which the Governed combine to become a People to be Governed and how this People provides its consent are critical processes, and the Declaration doesn’t say how these are to be accomplished.
Jefferson apparently conceived of "the governed" as a body, because he refers to them as "the People," and he speaks of "the Right of the People":
" — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."
The important thing here is the notion of the People acting as a Body. The Declaration says "We" hold these truths to be self-evident. And it closes with
"We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare…"
Jefferson and others conceived of a Representative Congress as a rightful voice for the People, itself deriving the right to speak for them by virtue of its members being Representatives.
The U.S. Constitution continues this concept by beginning with "We the People of the United States…"
The notion of "We the People" hides a critical weakness in this political theory of Government, which otherwise is extremely attractive in its affirmation of a person’s rights and in its view of the derivative rights (or powers) of a Government. The theory leaves unanswered two questions. First, how do good People become a People? Second, how does a People provide its consent to a Government?
Shouldn’t they logically become a People in such a way as to maintain their primary rights? Shouldn’t they logically provide their consent to a Government while maintaining their primary rights? They should. Otherwise, the foundations of the theory are being contradicted.
Furthermore, there is another very important gap in the theory. As time passes and new persons are born and grow to maturity, how do they exercise their rights to choose a People and a Government? Are they automatically deemed to be part of a People "under" a Government simply by virtue of living in the territory over which that Government claims autonomous rule? That cannot be so, because that assumes they have made choices based on their rights, but such choices are not in evidence. The newcomers do not make the fundamental choices of People and Government. They merely make the choice of who is in Government, and even that is circumscribed. Its form, its many laws, its taxes, its debts, and its powers lie well beyond their choices.
This leads me to conclude with a strong statement of political theory: If a Government’s justifiable powers or secondary rights stem from the People, then the processes of forming that People under that Government must be consistent with people possessing those primary rights while they form that Government and make themselves a People under that Government. In addition, as time passes, the process of continuous affirmation or non-affirmation of belonging to a People and a Government must also honor the primary rights of newcomers.
If each person has the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and if each person is to maintain those absolute and complete rights, they must maintain them in all their choices. This includes the two important choices alluded to: With whom do I as a person choose to be associated so as to form a People? What Government do I as a person choose to be associated with?
As applications of a person’s basic primary rights, these two choices, of People and Government, are clearly exceedingly important. Yet historically they have not been brought to the forefront. They have not been clearly articulated. They have been relegated to the background, and not even the background. They have virtually been buried. And I would hypothesize that the reason for this burial is that they are explosive questions. They raise issues about the very legitimacy and proper powers of any Government whatsoever. Governments and Government-sympathizers do not want their foundations to be questioned, and they will by all means ignore such questions as these.
A person may conceivably answer these questions by allowing his choice to be merged with the choices of others through voting, or through a majority rule, or through electing representatives. These procedures already presume the amalgamation of persons into a People under a Government. Such procedures are therefore by no means necessary. They are not the only way that such choices can be made. As modes of choice, they are deficient. They do not fully and fundamentally allow persons as sovereign beings to choose their People and their Government, because the outcomes of the choices of each person depend on what everyone else chooses. Imagine choosing one’s place of worship (or non-worship) by majority rule. It is really no choice at all.
And because these sorts of voting measures are not necessary as modes of choice, and fail even to reflect what each person wants, they cannot be assumed to be proper and appropriate measures. Such measures as these cannot be taken for granted, although these are the measures that all Governments emphasize. And with good reason, for these measures are the ones that subdue the minorities and ensure that a single Government will prevail.
But if we follow the logic of personal rights and step away from the various stories that are designed to legitimize the monopoly State, if we move our eyes away from those magicians among orators and intellectuals who divert us while they do their tricks to make us accept our subordinate and choiceless positions, or our positions diluted by means of voting, majority rule, and Representatives, then we realize this. The only measure we can be sure that is essential when a person chooses a People and a Government is that each person must make his own choices, for that is the only procedure that maintains his or her primary rights.
This conclusion is the true revolutionary insight and result of the Jeffersonian thinking. It is his thought carried to its logical conclusion. And by this reasoning, we arrive at the political theory known as Panarchy. The affirmation of those rights that Jefferson outlined for each person, combined with a consistent application of those rights when a person chooses a People and a Government, lead directly to Panarchy. They are a foundation for it.
Panarchy, in the words of John Zube, is as follows.
"PANARCHY: The realization of as many different and autonomous communities as are wanted by volunteers for themselves, all non-territorially coexisting, side by side and intermingled, as their members are, in the same territory or even world-wide and yet separated from each other by personal laws, administrations and jurisdiction, as different churches are or ought to be."
In Panarchy, in the same way that persons choose friends, a club, a spouse, and a church, they choose a Community and a Government. They are not automatically inducted into a Government and Laws that are not of their choosing, as is the case today. And the Government that reigns over a given territory and People in today’s world does not exist and cannot therefore, as it does today, prevent other Governments and Peoples from forming by the exercise of their primary rights. Furthermore, the notion that today’s States and Governments are legitimate is seen to be entirely fallacious. The very foundations of their being are called into question by a thorough application of the Jeffersonian ideas of primary and secondary rights.
Indeed, we can now see even more clearly that the Governments of today, which are the operating arms of the States of this world, all of whom claim to rule uniquely over a People and a Territory, necessarily are violating the primary rights of all those People who prefer to choose another People and Government for themselves. It is as if each person awoke to find himself or herself belonging to the Church of the U.S.A., and the only way to register an alternative belief would be every so often to vote along with many others. One’s right to choose would be severely limited. And wouldn’t it be far better simply to choose the church that one prefers? Wouldn’t that be a far more direct expression of one’s preferences? One could at any time leave one church and join another. Panarchy is that idea applied to Government.
The Panarchic choices can include choosing no People and Government whatever, or choosing a small group or community, or choosing what others may view as an oppressive Government with many and great powers over its People. And since today’s Governments, which are the visible workings of the world’s States, violate primary rights and those rights (following Jefferson) are the means by which persons achieve Welfare, Safety, Security, and Happiness, then we can be certain that today’s Governments reduce the Welfare, Safety, Security, and Happiness of great numbers of persons who do not voluntarily wish to associate themselves with those Governments. The People under such Governments are by no means unanimous in their endorsement of those Governments. Indeed, the Peoples of this world (that is, great numbers of them) ache to be out from under the authoritarian rule of most, if not all, Governments. They have not yet found the means to accomplish that goal. The theory of Panarchy is a step in that direction, and as people understand this theory and understand its inherent merit and why Panarchy enhances Well-Being, then the world will move in that direction.
We can be certain that in Panarchy, the Welfare, Safety, Security, and Happiness of Peoples will rise, because persons form and dissolve their own Peoples and Governments peacefully and bloodlessly. And such an inference uses the same logic that now underlies the Declaration of Independence, which is that secure rights result in greater happiness, only that logic is now being consistently pursued in developing the theory of Panarchy.
In Panarchy, those who choose to have a Government like that of the current U.S.A. can have it. But that sort of Government will exist beside many other possible Peoples and Governments in the regions now known as the U.S., and it will have no secondary rights (or powers) over those other Peoples and Governments.
Since persons can choose a Government, they can choose to leave a Government. They need only retain the option to exit in their choice of Government. But persons actually cannot give up that option. They cannot voluntarily give up their wills. A person might commit himself to stay with a given Government, but there is no guarantee that he will live up to this commitment, the reason being that he cannot give up his will. The Government cannot be sure that this commitment will not be broken in the future because it has no direct ownership of that person’s will. Therefore, exit is always hanging over the heads of those deputed with Governance functions.
Because people can exit and enter Governments freely, a pervasive system of checks and balances over Governments occurs in Panarchy, one that is far superior to what we witness today, which is a system that is dreadfully deficient and defective.
Panarchy is the true American revolutionary political system, in the spirit of Jefferson. It’s about time we realized this and put it into practice. That is the only way that America has a chance to redeem itself. That is the only way we have a chance to end Empire and get back to what America is really about. That is the only way we have a chance once again to lift our heads in pride and not bow them in shame. That is the only way we can again become a beacon that illuminates a progressive path for the world.
Michael S. Rozeff [send him mail] is a retired Professor of Finance living in East Amherst, New York.