Recently we received an e-mail from one of our readers who was concerned about the moral decay of society. Specifically, he was concerned about how the United States Supreme Court keeps making decisions that are in clear conflict with humanity’s natural rights, especially life, liberty, and property. In our opinion, the basic issue is power. Once people have power, the Supreme Court will no longer be able to force its morality on others.
Once we understand, as Daniel Webster pointed out during the Massachusetts Constitutional Convention of 1820, that “Power naturally and necessarily follows property,” we know how to counter such aberrations from the natural law as our reader identified in his e-mail. If we look at history, we can see that agitation to expand the role of the State in America far beyond what the framers of the U.S. Constitution ever intended or even imagined began in earnest with what Frederick Jackson Turner labeled the closing of the frontier as a result of the end of “free” land under Abraham Lincoln’s 1862 Homestead Act. As far as Turner was concerned, and as events seem to have demonstrated, the end of easy access to capital in the form of land meant the end of democracy.
The year 1894, a year after Turner presented his paper on the effect of the frontier in American history at the Chicago Exposition during the Great Depression of 1893-1898, saw the formation of “Coxey’s Army,” a march on Washington, DC, organized to put pressure on the federal government to inflate the United States Note ("Greenback") currency to finance public works projects to create jobs. In less than thirty years the New Deal laid the foundation of today’s Welfare State and the almost-total dependence of many Americans on the federal government, either directly in the form of government jobs and welfare, or indirectly in the form of artificially created private sector jobs funded by inflationary government spending or stimulus packages.
Each expansion of the power of the State has been matched by an equal and opposite erosion of personal liberty and undermining of the natural law based on nature and discernible by the force and light of human reason. Sovereignty has shifted from the people (natural persons) to the collective (an artificial person) as represented by the State. Our concept of law is now based not on reason (lex ratio), but on faith in the will of the strongest (lex voluntas).
Consequently, whoever can garner the most political and economic power, thereby enslaving people by controlling their livelihood, can dictate what constitutes right and wrong to everyone else. Right now the “liberals” (who are liberal only with what belongs to others) are in the ascendant over the “conservatives” (who seek to conserve injustice).
Even Catholics, who should be more suspicious than anyone about the encroachment of State power in every aspect of life, but especially into the domestic society of the family, taking over education and even redefining marriage and family, spend their efforts debating the types and degrees of State control, not whether the State should be involved at all. They ignore the wisdom of both Leo XIII and Pius XI, both of whom made it clear that the primary control over people’s lives — including marriage, family, education, income, healthcare, and just about everything else — rests directly and immediately with the family, not the State.
As Pius XI clearly stated, “Only man, the human person, and not society in any form, is endowed with reason and a morally free will.” (Divini Redemptoris, § 29.) The human person is therefore at the center of civil society, not the State, especially in what pertains to the integrity of the family. This simply reiterated what Leo XIII had declared forty years previously:
“Man's needs do not die out, but forever recur; although satisfied today, they demand fresh supplies for tomorrow. Nature accordingly must have given to man a source that is stable and remaining always with him, from which he might look to draw continual supplies. And this stable condition of things he finds solely in the earth and its fruits. There is no need to bring in the State. Man precedes the State, and possesses, prior to the formation of any State, the right of providing for the substance of his body.” (Rerum Novarum, § 7.)
Power follows property. As long as the State controls people’s income, the State will control people — and those with wealth and power will control the State. That is why Leo XIII declared, “We have seen that this great labor question cannot be solved save by assuming as a principle that private ownership must be held sacred and inviolable. The law, therefore, should favor ownership, and its policy should be to induce as many as possible of the people to become owners.” (Rerum Novarum, § 46.)
The propertylessness and thus powerlessness of the ordinary American has been unable to halt the progress of the destruction of the family and the resultant glorification of the State and all its works. The remedy is not, however, to attempt to seize control of the State so that “we” control others for our benefit instead of “them” controlling us for theirs. Rather, the solution is to empower individuals and families through widespread capital ownership so that individuals and families can control their own destinies.