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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Tyranny by the Minority

I have been mulling over the topic of tyranny and the decay of civilizations the last several days due to a some books I've been reading, most particularly, The Path to Tyranny by Michael Newton and the novel Space Viking by H. Beam Piper, and a great many articles and news reports. I'm still in the midst of Newton's book, so I was not planning on writing anything on this topic this early but for a couple news items recently.

By now, almost everyone who follows the news has heard that our dear President has been nominated as the first gay president by Newsweek (much in the same way that Pres. Clinton was the first black president, although there are persistent rumors that Obama's new title may actually be true).  The Newsweek cover even embellishes Obama with the obligatory halo, multicolored of  course. (I won't get into the use of the halo to signify deification, but merely note that this is not the first or the last we will hear of Obama compared to God, or at least, a god). Undoubtedly, our pragmatic President timed his announcement supporting gay marriage to help raise money and solidify his support among the 1%.

The news has certainly emboldened progressives and gay rights activists. Thus, to the second news item: a Kansas town has added sexual orientation to its anti-discrimination ordinance, which applies to some (perhaps most) churches. From the Fox News article:
A Kansas town is divided over a law that would bar organizations including churches from discriminating against same-sex couples, with backers saying gays deserve the protection and critics complaining it's a case of government going too far.

The Hutchinson City Council voted 3-2 to add sexual orientation to the city's anti-discrimination ordinance, which covers churches, as well as employers, restaurants and other local businesses. Churches that don't make their facilities available to the public would not be affected by the measure, and it would not cover same-sex marriages, which are illegal in Kansas.

"If a church has a parish hall that they rent out to the general public, they could not discriminate against a gay couple who want to rent the building for a party," states a fact sheet put out by the city prior to the vote.

The Rev. Michael Herring, of First Presbyterian Church in Hutchinson, told FoxNews.com he was divided on the ordinance, saying he believes that individuals should not be discriminated against, but worried the local government was overstepping its bounds.

“For the city or the state or anyone to say, ‘We’re going to force this upon you,’ then I think this becomes a bigger issue,” Herring said. “My question is where does this stop?”
I suppose that there is nothing particularly new about this. Many other cities (including Salt Lake City) ban discrimination based on sexual orientation. Government agencies have banned discrimination on sexual orientation in providing services, even where those services are performed by religious organizations or those with religious affiliations. But Rev. Herring's question is the true crux of the matter: "[W]here does this stop?"

Unfortunately, if history is any guide, it won't stop soon. Rome went on for centuries after it had turned from a republic to a dictatorship. Although Nazi Germany lasted barely a decade, the Soviet Union dragged on for over 70 years before its economic engine finally seized up. 

The two books I noted above discuss, in different ways, how tyranny and economic decline--they go hand-in-hand--come about. This is the general script: a relatively free nation (whatever its form of government) generally represents a balance between rule by the majority and rule by a minority. At some point, the nation will face a threat (real or imagined) whereby the majority of people will support giving power to a central authority. The people may imagine that the power will only be held temporarily, or that the person(s) holding the power will act benevolently. This may be true at first, but eventually there will arise demagogues that will attempt to manipulate either the existing laws to gain more power, or manipulate the people into granting them additional power, or both. And whether suddenly or slowly, the nation will slip into tyranny under a minority (such as a political and economic elite).

In the United States, the founding fathers attempted to craft a government that would provide a balance between the rule of the majority and the rights of the minority. Not only did the Constitution provide a balance between different branches of government, but created a balance between the federal government and the states. The latter was ensured through three mechanisms: (1) the federal government was only granted authority over limited, narrowly defined areas; (2) the upper house of the Congress (the Senate) was comprised of members selected by each state legislature; and (3) each state maintained its own military force (the state militias). There was a lot of suspicion about a central government, so in order for the Constitution to be approved, the states also adopted the Bill of Rights which placed further constraints on federal power by prohibiting Congress from enacting certain types of laws (such as those regulating speech or possession of weapons) or requiring certain safeguards (such as requiring warrants or the right to legal counsel). Every one of these safeguards have been compromised, most since the Civil War.

Prior to the Civil War, the federal government had created a small standing army. However, the Civil War crushed the distinct and separate nature of the state armies. The size of the state militias rapidly fell, and were eventually replaced with the National Guard system which is merely a reserve for the federal forces. The third element maintaining the balance between the states and the federal government was effectively gone. Today, for all intents and purposes, the states lack any military force to counteract the federal government.

In 1913, the Seventeenth Amendment was passed, allowing the direct election of Senators. Thus, instead of representing the States, senators now represented the people of the various states. So, the second protection to maintaining the balance between the states and the federal government was lost.

The final and most significant loss was the idea of a government of limited powers. After the Civil War, through various civil rights laws (including the 14th Amendment), the federal government took an active role in the internal operation and politics of not only the southern states, but also the newly formed western states and territories. Because of various economic crises in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, the federal government also began to exercise increasing control over the money supply, eventually leading to the establishment of the federal reserve banks.

In World War I, the federal government assumed emergency powers over the economy, and limiting important Constitutional rights and protections. Under Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930's and 40's, the federal government permanently altered the balance of power by a radical reinterpretation of the "commerce clause" allowing Congress to enact laws that far exceeded the limits envisioned by our founders. During the same period, Congress ceded its lawmaking authority to the executive branch through the process of enacting vague laws that would be clarified through rule making by the various federal agencies. The result is that now, the federal government routinely enacts laws involving the "police powers" (i.e., public health and safety) that were once limited to the states. In fact, the states pretty much only hold power at the sufferance of the federal government.

The foregoing was mirrored by a similar incursion into the private realm. By the expansion of the federal government over the economy and expanded police powers, the federal government has become more involved in our personal lives, choices, and beliefs.

So, you may be asking what all of this has to do with the title of this post. Turning to ant-discrimination laws, I don't think that most people would deny that, in the beginning, these types of laws are designed to address terrible social wrongs. The problem is, these laws address the wrongs through other wrongs. They attack the basic freedom of association. They create government agencies to enforce and oversee the laws. (Did you know that there is no statute of limitations to the EEOC pursuing a discrimination complaint once a complaint is made?) The laws expand to include larger and larger numbers of people within a protected class. They make it easier to find people or entities to be in violation by either reducing the burden of proof (e.g., moving from an adverse action being "because of" discriminatory animus, to being "motivated by" a discriminatory animus) and providing incentives for lawsuits (e.g., allowing private causes of action; providing for attorney's fees only to plaintiffs, not defendants; allowing the recovery of full attorney's fees even if the plaintiff only recovers $1 in damages; allowing "associations" to make a business of suing and recovering "damages" even if their only purpose is to try and trick people into violating the law). They lead to absurdities, such as the right for a person to bring a dog or other "comfort" animal into a no-pet apartment complex, a store, even an emergency room, but not allowing the proprietor or landlord to even question them as to the legitimacy of the need for such an animal.
 
So, faced with a legal minefield, businesses are forced to only fire a minority for cause (and maybe not even then) although the majority of people may be employed "at will." Minorities will have preferences in hiring or admission, perhaps even quotas. And, while it's against the law to discriminate against the minority, it often is okay to discriminate against the majority. (If you don't believe me, see how many college scholarships are specifically targeted for minorities, and compare that to the number specifically targeted for white males).

In short, what was intended to be a help to the minority, has become instead a tyranny by the minority. So, to answer the good reverend's question: it will not end until the government has either forced you to accept people into your church over the wishes of you or your congregation, or your church is shut down. And then they will turn their sights on some new target.

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