Rights vs. Privileges
Date Written: 06/07/2011
Year Published: 2011
Resource Type: Article
Cx Number: CX12638
We now owe our 'liberties' to the good will of the government, which can withdraw them at any time, rather than to our ability to force the government to respect them.
Compare this state of affairs -- in which we owe our liberties to the good will of the government -- to the view of the state shared by the revolutionary generation in America. According to Forrest McDonald, in "Novus Ordo Seclorum," the radical Whig or Anglo-republican ideology of the revolutionary period sought to structure government so that it couldn't exercise power against the wishes of even local majorities of the people.
Suppose a tyrannical party came to power in the national government, and passed laws depriving the people of their liberties. The Anglo-republicans saw three institutions as bulwarks against such arbitrary power. Rather than the standing army and professional police forces we have today, the radical Whigs envisioned militia units drawn from the local populace, and a posse comitatus (the ordinary citizenry acting as auxiliaries to the local sheriff or constable) raising a hue and cry against murderers or robbers. The central government would be entirely dependent for enforcement of the law on the civilian population of the area in which it was to be enforced. In addition, local juries, with their power to nullify laws considered unjust by the local population, could refuse to enforce tyrannical laws even if those in violation were brought to trial.