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The Rise, Fall, and Renaissance of Classical Liberalism | Mises Institute

Posted by M. C. on June 24, 2020

And yet, in Western countries, the state keeps on relentlessly expanding, colonizing one area of social life after the other. In America, the Republic is fast becoming a fading memory, as federal bureaucrats and global planners divert more and more power to the center. So the struggle continues, as it must. Two centuries ago, when liberalism was young, Jefferson had already informed us of the price of liberty.

Ralph Raico

[This article appeared in the Future of Freedom Foundation’s Freedom Daily, August 1992]

Classical liberalism—or simply liberalism, as it was called until around the turn of the century—is the signature political philosophy of Western civilization. Hints and suggestions of the liberal idea can be found in other great cultures. But it was the distinctive society produced in Europe—and in the outposts of Europe, and above all America—that served as the seedbed of liberalism. In turn, that society was decisively shaped by the liberal movement.

Decentralization and the division of power have been the hallmarks of the history of Europe. After the fall of Rome, no empire was ever able to dominate the continent. Instead, Europe became a complex mosaic of competing nations, principalities, and city-states. The various rulers found themselves in competition with each other. If one of them indulged in predatory taxation or arbitrary confiscations of property, he might well lose his most productive citizens, who could “exit,” together with their capital. The kings also found powerful rivals in ambitious barons and in religious authorities that were backed by an international Church. Parliaments emerged that limited the taxing power of kings, and free cities arose with special charters that put the merchant elite in charge.

By the Middle Ages, many parts of Europe, especially in the west, had developed a culture friendly to property rights and trade. On the philosophical level, the doctrine of natural law—deriving from the Stoic philosophers of Greece and Rome—taught that the natural order was independent of human design and that rulers were subordinate to the eternal laws of justice. Natural-law doctrine was upheld by the Church and promulgated in the great universities, from Oxford and Salamanca to Prague and Krakow.

As the modern age began, rulers started to shake free of age-old customary constraints on their power. Royal absolutism became the main tendency of the time. The kings of Europe raised a novel claim: they declared that they were appointed by God to be the fountainhead of all life and activity in society. Accordingly, they sought to direct religion, culture, politics, and, especially, the economic life of the people. To support their burgeoning bureaucracies and constant wars, the rulers required ever-increasing quantities of taxes, which they tried to squeeze out of their subjects in ways that were contrary to precedent and custom.

The first people to revolt against this system were the Dutch. After a struggle that lasted for decades, they won their independence from Spain and proceeded to set up a unique polity. The United Provinces, as the radically decentralized state was called, had no king and little power at the federal level. Making money was the passion of these busy manufacturers and traders; they had no time for hunting heretics or suppressing new ideas. Thus de facto religious toleration and a wide-ranging freedom of the press came to prevail. Devoted to industry and trade, the Dutch established a legal system based solidly on the rule of law and the sanctity of property and contract. Taxes were low, and everyone worked. The Dutch “economic miracle” was the wonder of the age. Thoughtful observers throughout Europe noted the Dutch success with great interest.

A society in many ways similar to Holland had developed across the North Sea. In the seventeenth century, England, too, was threatened by royal absolutism, in the form of the House of Stuart. The response was revolution, civil war, the beheading of one king and the booting out of another. In the course of this tumultuous century, the first movements and thinkers appeared that can be unequivocally identified as liberal.

With the king gone, a group of middle-class radicals emerged called the Levellers. They protested that not even Parliament had the authority to usurp the natural, God-given rights of the people. Religion, they declared, was a matter of individual conscience; it should have no connection with the state. State-granted monopolies were likewise an infringement of natural liberty.

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Looking for Moral Foundations (in All the Wrong Places) | Chronicles

Posted by M. C. on June 22, 2020

Merriam has argued that various forms of originalism have been devised in order to recover a sense of republican government. This originalism was meant to avoid a straying of the Constitution after our political culture had begun to change. But this may be a case of closing the barn after the horse has already bolted.

In any case, like Pulliam, I have no idea of what the Claremonters’ claim to an identifiably conservative higher morality is based on. But something may be necessary to fill this void on the right, since the left has a foundational norm: social-cultural destruction. And the only hope I see for buying time against its march through the courts is the frail reed of originalism.

By Paul Gottfried

A debate unfolded in March last year in American Greatness between Chronicles contributor Mark Pulliam and the Claremont Institute’s Edward Erler, a devotee of Harry Jaffa. According to Erler, Robert Bork and others who adhered to strict constitutional originalism were essentially moral nihilists because they would not apply natural law standards to our governing document.

From Erler’s Jaffaite perspective, the Constitution’s authors supposedly viewed the Declaration of Independence as America’s true founding text. The Founders supposedly felt the Constitution had to be interpreted through the passage in the Declaration about all men being created equal. That “natural right” principle enabled the Founders, and later Abraham Lincoln and Civil War-era Radical Republican Thaddeus Stevens, to grasp properly the Constitution’s true meaning. In contrast, Erler alleged, Bork and Pulliam’s morally adrift originalist views would uphold abortion laws and other outrages, provided they were enacted under constitutional rules.

Erler’s brief reveals questionable assumptions. For example, even assuming the authors of the Constitution thought the Declaration was important, we have no reason to think the Founders were infatuated with the phrase “all men are created equal.” There were certainly other thoughts found in the Declaration; perhaps the most relevant fact about it for the Constitution’s writers was that it recognized the independence of the American colonies. Praise for that document when I was growing up in the 1950s centered on the achievement of American independence, and far less on the equality that Erler wants us to celebrate.

Although Lincoln stressed a founding based on the notion that “all men are created equal,” he did so during the Civil War to justify a bloody invasion of the seceded Southern states, as driven by a crusade against slavery. Why should we make Lincoln’s wartime strategy the cornerstone of the American national experience going back to the gaining of national independence in 1776? And why would I think, like Erler, that Radical Republican efforts to create a permanent black electorate in the South, partly by stripping former Confederate soldiers of their citizenship, was driven by Harry Jaffa’s favorite passage in the Declaration? Why wouldn’t I rather think that Stevens and other ruthless business tycoons were just taking advantage of their onetime fellow-Americans who lost disastrously in a bid for independence? Read the rest of this entry »

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The Folly of “Ask What You Can Do for Your Country” | Mises Wire

Posted by M. C. on May 25, 2020

But asking citizens to sacrifice for the country, especially when the government is misleadingly used as a proxy for American society, implies that we were made for the government’s benefit, rather than it for ours.

Recently, I was reminded of John F. Kennedy’s most famous line, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country,” when I heard it among several famous sound bites leading into a radio show segment. It also reminded me that we will hear it more soon, as we are approaching JFK’s May 29 birthday. However, it is worth reconsidering what it means.

Of particular importance is Milton Friedman’s response that “Ask not” was “at odds with the free man’s belief in his own responsibility for his own destiny….[It] implies the government is the master…the citizen, the servant.”

You can see the reason by noting that “Ask not” is completely consistent with what a tyrannical government—the kind that has beset people throughout most of recorded history—expects of its relationship with citizens. Governors did not exist for the good of the governed; those governed existed for the good of their governors. So citizens shouldn’t waste their time asking what the government will do for them.

But when John Locke argued that government should be for the good of the citizens, not for the good of the governors, he turned that historic reality upside down. And America was formed based on that idea (as illustrated by Richard Henry Lee’s claim that Thomas Jefferson plagiarized the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence from Locke).

To Locke, a justifiable government would exist for the good of all. If that were so, every citizen would be willing to voluntarily join that society if given the choice. However, most aren’t given that choice. So Locke used the idea of a state of nature—in which one is not automatically committed to being a member of a particular society—to ask what a government that citizens would all willingly join would do for them. That is the opposite of what JFK told us to do. And the answer—very little—is quite different from the government we have.

At heart, what we all want government to do is what John Locke laid out in chapter 9 of his Second Treatise on Government:

Why…subject himself to the dominion and control of any other power?….[T]he enjoyment of the property he has in this state is very unsafe, very unsecure…[so] he seeks out, and is willing to join in society with others…for the mutual preservation of their lives, liberties and estates, which I call by the general name, property. The great and chief end, therefore, of men’s uniting into commonwealths, and putting themselves under government, is the preservation of their property.

The most basic functions of government amount to better protecting property rights. National defense protects our lives, liberties, and estates from foreigners; police, courts, and jails protect them from our neighbors; and the Constitution (especially the Bill of Rights) protects them from our most powerful and dangerous neighbor—the federal government itself. How do those protections benefit us all? They better protect us from coercion by those who might overcome our ability to protect our property rights with superior force. That protection is the basis that enables uncountable acts of voluntary cooperation to jointly benefit us all, and which have made us incomparably better off than our forebears.

Given the apparent chasm between what Friedman recognized as the theory that inspired America and JFK’s inaugural address, is there a way to reconcile them? Yes. The key is who is being addressed by the statement. The inspiration for “Ask not” addressed politicians, not citizens. It was a Kahlil Gibran article, whose Arabic title translates as “The New Frontier.” It said “Are you a politician asking what your country can do for you, or a zealous one asking what you can do for your country? If you are the first, then you are a parasite; if the second, then you are an oasis in the desert.”

Clearly, politicians who abuse their positions to benefit themselves are parasites on their society. We can condemn them for asking what the country can do for them. But applying “ask what you can do for your country” to citizens instead of politicians turns America’s founding upside down. Advancing the general welfare means advancing the welfare of the individuals that comprise our country. But asking citizens to sacrifice for the country, especially when the government is misleadingly used as a proxy for American society, implies that we were made for the government’s benefit, rather than it for ours.

If we take what politicians should not do to citizens and extend it to citizens who conspire with politicians to get special treatment at others’ expense, the same criticism applies. We can condemn both those politicians and their special friends that pick the pockets of the rest of us. To that extent, “Ask not” also applies to citizens, and Americans broadly endorse the sentiment against special treatment.

However, that latter step puts the blame in the wrong place. If government followed the principle of “give not” special favors, we wouldn’t need to worry that people might seek them. In other words, we should not blame citizens for asking for what it is a central purpose of politicians in our constitutional system to say no to.

Even the recognition of how something that was originally addressed to politicians can also apply to citizens, however, does not answer Friedman’s critique. That requires asking something more. It is impossible to have a government that advances the interests of all its citizens—that will benefit all of us—unless we first ask the Lockean question of what government will be empowered to do. If what it is allowed to do goes far beyond the Lockean purpose of defending of our property rights against coercion, which enables far more mutually cooperative arrangements, then both politicians and citizens will violate America’s founding principles. Rather than advancing freedom, we will sacrifice people’s lives, liberty, and pursuit of happiness to the unjustifiable violations of rights that will consequently dominate politics.

Once we think about what we must ask, we might actually find more useful inspiration in what Richard Nixon said we must ask and ask not: “In our own lives, let each of us ask not what government will do for me, but what can I do for myself,” because nothing is more inspiring than what individuals can achieve by pursuing their own advancement in liberty, through peaceful, voluntary cooperation that respects others’ equal rights. But when government and its special friends use its coercive power to interfere in such arrangements and impose their own dictates, it punishes rather than promotes the greatest source of societal advancement that exists.

Americans need to recognize that “ask not what your country can do for you,” beyond what advances our joint interests, is good advice, but that to “ask what you can do for your country” has been used to rewrite our founding principles. What government now demands of us “for our country” offers no guarantee to advance our interests.

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What’s Paleo, and What’s Not

Posted by M. C. on December 20, 2019

by Paul Gottfried

In a recent Townhall commentary, the young author Michael Malarkey marvels over “the resurgence of refined paleoconservatism.” Supposedly Donald Trump has absorbed quintessential paleoconservative positions and is now putting them into practice. This now triumphant creed is “a political stance that posits the importance of strong borders, economic protectionism, and vehement anti-interventionism.” According to Malarkey, “[Trump’s] political orientation resembles that of Patrick J. Buchanan, a wildly influential former Nixon aide…and lifelong ‘Paleocon.’”

As the person who invented or co-invented the term under consideration, it seems to me that Malarkey doesn’t know much about the “stance” or movement that he claims is now surging. Exactly how many self-described paleocons are serving in Trump’s administration? Except for the editorial board of this magazine, how many conservative or Republican publications have identifiably paleoconservative names on their mastheads? How many paleos are on the executive boards of foundations, or even invited to participate in conservative movement events? I can’t think of a single name—certainly not mine.

In 2016, I teamed up with another paleoconservative, Boyd Cathey, and a paleo-libertarian, Walter Block, in collecting the names of academics for a declaration of support for then-candidate Trump. Our list was taken over by the West Coast Straussian website American Greatness, whose editorial board proceeded to delete our names before posting the document. The vanished names were hardly an oversight, any more than when the anti-clericalist French command after the Dreyfus Affair removed from consideration for promotion the name of every officer seen walking into a church on Sunday. The West Coast Straussians undoubtedly remembered which side we took when Southern conservative literary scholar M.E. Bradford tangled with their mentor Harry V. Jaffa. They, not we, were in a position to make their displeasure known.

Malarkey speaks of a “refined” paleoconservatism that has taken the place of the older kind and which now seems to be ascendant. Paleoconservatism, we are told, has captured the mind and imagination of the president partly because it “lacks the religious sanctimony and fundamentalist undertones of prior decades.” Curiously enough, I have no recollection of these qualities being present in the movement in question when I was part of it in the 1980s. But then I’m not sure that Malarkey understands the paleocon movement, the return of which he’s celebrating. I bet he couldn’t name a single paleoconservative other than Pat Buchanan, who, by the way, was not yet a paleoconservative, when he was Richard Nixon’s speechwriter.

Malarkey is correct that paleoconservatism is, or was—among other things—a “political stance.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Essentials of Panarchism

Posted by M. C. on October 7, 2019

Panarchy means that persons may enter into and exit from social and political relations freely. It means that government exists only with the consent and by the consent of the governed.

Michael S. Rozeff


Those who, in the name of civilization and the protection of personal liberties, refuse categorically an imposed state religion or an economic system based on monopolies, should be ready to acknowledge that a government exerting a monopolistic territorial sovereignty leads to the same situation of lack of civilization (wars, clashes, feuding) and unfreedom (subjection to and manipulation by a central power) for everybody, irrespective of personal needs and wishes. That is why Michael Rozeff is all in favour of Panarchy because “Panarchists do not attempt to smash the governments others want. They deny no one the freedom to be unfree. However, they deny others (and their States and governments) the freedom to make them unfree.”



Panarchism is a new political philosophy that builds upon and extends the core concept of consent of the governed, which goes back primarily to John Locke. Consent of the governed is a concept that permeated revolutionary America. It appears in Article 6 of the Virginia Bill of Rights. It appears in the Essex Result. Benjamin Franklin wrote “In free governments the rulers are the servants and the people their superiors and sovereigns.” The Declaration of Independence asserts that “Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”Panarchism proposes a comprehensive extension of liberty to the consensual choice of government itself, in form and content. It proposes government by consent for any persons who arrange such government for themselves. Conversely, it proposes that a government has no authority over any persons who do not consent to it.

Panarchy is a condition of human relations in which each person is at liberty to choose his own social and political governance without being coerced. Panarchy means that persons may enter into and exit from social and political relations freely. It means that government exists only with the consent and by the consent of the governed.

Panarchism has new conceptions of what a people who are governed, a government, and consent mean. These give rise to a new conception of the nonterritorial State and revised ideas about sovereignty and authority. By viewing government as nonterritorial, panarchism reorients the movement for liberty away from destroying the governments that others may prefer and toward obtaining the governments that each of us may prefer.

Free persons in a free society already practice a degree of panarchy. By individual consent, they associate with those whom they wish to associate with (and who wish to associate with them), and they do not associate with others. By choice, they vary their associations by time, place, duration, and other dimensions. They choose companions, places to live, workplaces, clubs, and churches on the basis of individual consent rendered in a noncoercive social context. Free persons form consensual organizations, associations, and groups. They form themselves into sub-societies and “peoples,” which are groups of persons that, via individual consent, willingly aggregate on various grounds and interests. In doing so, they create multiple coexisting forms of governance whose basis is not territorial (although it may optionally be so) but relational.

Panarchism proposes that panarchy be extended to government (or functions of government) in the same way that it is already present in society. Let persons be free to form peoples and to choose their own forms of government.

Why? Because consent today is too limited to allow a meaningful sovereignty of people. Because the rulers have become the sovereign and the people their servants. Because complex systems of voting and parties have diluted consent to the vanishing point. Because would-be peoples are thwarted from forming. Liberty does not mean a vote for one of two parties that runs a single monopoly government. It means active consent over the very form, as well as the content, of one’s governing relations.

Why panarchism? Because in today’s governing relations, we find ourselves living under distant States and governments whose form is not of our choosing. Because the planet is blanketed with States and governments that too often deliver injustice, insecurity, disorder, waste, misery, death, and destruction, as States and governments historically have done. Because States and governments focus and amplify power, using it for purposes that many of us do not believe in. And because governments today legitimate and encourage contentious struggles for domination where one group’s gains is another group’s loss, and where the struggles absorb more and more resources and divert energy from productive to unproductive uses.

The liberty that is basic to panarchy promises a better way of life, by extending to each of us the capacity to engage in the social and political relations of our own choosing in accord with our own beliefs. Since persons will not freely consent to governments whose decisions in the main leave them, by their own estimation, worse off, the free choice of government will provide the kind of check-and-balance on government failures and misdeeds that is a critical missing element of today’s political arrangements.

Panarchy envisages many possible societies and sub-societies across a land, region, or province. There need not be a single sovereign authority that imposes law on all, unless it happens to be by consent. In panarchy, multiple and diverse sources of self-chosen sovereignty coexist side-by-side, each finding its source of legitimacy from the consent of those who are willing to place themselves within a particular set of governing relations. People freely place themselves within multiple non-territorial governing associations, as contrasted with finding themselves assigned by authorities on a geographical basis.

The American revolutionaries blazed a trail toward nonterritorial government when they called for consent of the governed, but they simultaneously veered away from that trail. Just as they skirted the slavery question, they skirted the issues of what constituted a people, a legitimate government, consent, and secession. Article 14 of the Virginia Declaration of Rights sought “to maintain Virginia’s sovereignty over its restless, far-flung western counties.” It proclaimed “That the people have a right to uniform government; and, therefore, that no government separate from, or independent of the government of Virginia, ought to be erected or established within the limits thereof.” This particular territorial idea of government was justified by a false appeal to a mythical right to uniform government, in order to prevent the formation of West Virginia. Some 85 years later, West Virginia, which for decades had many sound reasons not to be governed by Richmond, finally seceded from Virginia.

Little has changed. Despite hundreds of breakaway and secession movements worldwide, the territorial notion of government has not changed. Indeed, many such movements themselves view government as territorial. American federalism has become nationalism. Governments of today are making societies over, based upon claims of legitimate authority that are less rooted in consent than in territorial claims of rulership.

The idea of government needs to be severed from the idea of the territorial State and from the notion that the government of such a State is all that government is or can be. Since the State is single, territorial, and coercive, such an idea views government as single, territorial, and coercive. The territorial idea supports States in place. It empties consent of all real meaning and replaces it by the machinations of meaningless votes, party politics, lobbying, redistricting, power, and campaign money flows. The territorial idea of government without consent dooms mankind to living without one of the most basic liberties, which is the liberty to choose one’s government.

It is a mistake to identify government as the executive and administrative means of the monopoly State. When those who are pro-State do this, it leaves little or no room for those who do not consent and wish to live by their own forms of government. When those who are anti-State do this, they become anti-government, a position that does not allow those who want various forms of their own government to exercise their choices.

Government is the social coordination of human personal interactions. To the extent that human beings interact with one another, government is thus inescapable. Advocates of no government, unless they eschew all social interaction, can no more live without government than can statists. But the necessity of government does not imply that government must be nonconsensual and territorial. We have an alternative to living under a single territorial State that makes and enforces all sorts of rules, for all of us, all the time. Panarchy is that alternative.

We ourselves govern a vast range of human activities by consent, nonterritorially, and without the State. This was historically and is currently the case. Persons within human societies create governance from varied and multiple sources that include moral and ethical codes, custom, bodies of judge-discovered law, rules, principles, manners, religion, pacts, agreements, understandings, and contracts, as well as through a variety of instruments, institutions, and organizations that include family, associations, churches, schools, corporations, and business firms. Society, in this sense, which is really many interpenetrating and diverse societies, already reflects a high degree of panarchy. Societies everywhere already employ panarchy as a beneficial principle of social organization and order.

Panarchism proposes extending panarchy further. It stands for a world in which people live by the governing relations of their choice while abiding by the decisions of their neighbors to live by theirs. A society with such liberty will hold together in the same ways that societies have always held together: through a complex network of shared values, beliefs, ways, language, and other commonalities that are put to work through self-interest that is expressed in individual, associational, and cooperative endeavors. It will hold together better than today’s societies because the nonconsensual government that fertilizes today’s constant political and economic battles, rebellions, and civil wars will have been reduced.

Different people understand freedom and liberty in different ways, and even when they agree, they place different values on liberty. One woman may choose to labor for another for a wage, while another may regard wage-labor as slavery. One man may allow himself to be inducted into an army, while another may look upon the draft as slavery. These different ideas of good and bad government can coexist in panarchy. Liberty and government are not at mutually exclusive poles. Abolishing government per se does not bring liberty for all. Abolishing government and replacing it with one’s own personal vision of liberty does not bring liberty for all. Liberty for all entails the capacity for all to choose their own governments. In panarchy, men and women are free to be unfree (in the eyes of others) to any desired degree. They may enter into many different kinds of governing relations. This sets panarchy apart from political conceptions that deny them the choice of State and government. Panarchists do not attempt to smash the governments others want. They deny no one the freedom to be unfree. However, they deny others (and their States and governments) the freedom to make them unfree.

Once we open up our thinking on the question of what government is, we can get away from the idea of “a government” and “the government.” Government is a set of functions that can be identified. Change is not a question of today’s government or none. There are all sorts of intermediate possibilities.

National governments have absorbed major functions such as old age security, aid to the indigent, and health care from civil society and local government. They have done so via complex majority rules and voting procedures that circumvented consent of the governed. Governments across the world often suppress minorities of many kinds. The imposition of nation-wide rules discriminates against and suppresses all those who do not consent and who do not want their government to handle certain critical issues. Medicare, for example, involves a taking and a wealth transfer. This kind of program could become nonterritorial and consensual. Mr. K can subscribe to a plan and belong to a government that deducts from his wages, while Mr. J need not. They can be neighbors and do this.

Many of today’s government functions can remain in place for those who want them while making them voluntary for those who do not. The idea in these cases is not to end government but make it consensual. Vast amounts of regulation of labor relations, energy, education, health, and welfare are such that one neighbor can live without certain rules even if his neighbor wants them. Instead of attempting to take Medicare away or attempting to persuade voters to vote it down, which plays the game of accepting monopoly and territorial government, panarchism goes at the problem of lack of consent and unjust powers of government in a different way. Let those who want Medicare have it; let those who don’t withdraw. Panarchism seizes the moral high ground. Why should those who don’t want Medicare be impressed into it by those who do? Isn’t this like making everyone belong to the same church? How can there be consent of the governed when we are herded, whether we like it or not, into programs that affect our lives in major ways?

Coordination problems involving human interaction are not going to disappear. The reform of government even where coordination issues are not at issue may well be difficult. Panarchism does not deny these difficulties. It sets out a just and peaceful destination that can be achieved peaceably, which is a future of reform in which the State abandons its territorial claims. This may happen little by little. It may happen by degrees. It may happen partially and gradually, or it may happen by leaps. Consensual and nonconsensual government are likely to continue to exist alongside one another for some time. Reforms, small and large, are unpredictable. They are for people themselves to advance and accomplish. Every step that people take, peaceful and nonaggressive, toward devising and living by their own government is a step toward more complete panarchy and greater liberty.

The helpful comments of Adam Knott and John Zube are gratefully acknowledged, but all errors herein are solely mine.


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Trump and the Right to #Resist – The Future of Freedom Foundation

Posted by M. C. on April 19, 2018


For generations, politicians have talked as if citizens are obliged both to revere and obey their government. But there are few things more dangerous than swallowing the notion that government is entitled to boundless obedience. Throughout history, governments have occasionally overstepped the bounds of their legitimate power. What should be done when government betrays its promises?… Read the rest of this entry »

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