Corruption and Consequences

The Language of Liberty Debased


Also posted on The Policy Think Site at


Jay B Gaskill

Attorney at Law

Our crippling national debt is but one symptom of a long-standing corruption of language and ideas.  I believe that it is the root cause of our “rights-as-a-perk” mindset.


July 4, 1776 (America)

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

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.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –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.


August 26, 1789 (France) [Key Excerpts]

Therefore the National Assembly recognizes and proclaims, in the presence and under the auspices of the Supreme Being, the following rights of man and of the citizen:


Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions may be founded only upon the general good.

The aim of all political association is the preservation of the natural and imprescriptible rights of man. These rights are liberty, property, security, and resistance to oppression.

Liberty consists in the freedom to do everything which injures no one else; hence the exercise of the natural rights of each man has no limits except those which assure to the other members of the society the enjoyment of the same rights. These limits can only be determined by law.

Law can only prohibit such actions as are hurtful to society. Nothing may be prevented which is not forbidden by law, and no one may be forced to do anything not provided for by law.

A society in which the observance of the law is not assured, nor the separation of powers defined, has no constitution at all.

Since property is an inviolable and sacred right, no one shall be deprived thereof except where public necessity, legally determined, shall clearly demand it, and then only on condition that the owner shall have been previously and equitably indemnified.


1755  – Code of Nature “Sacred and Fundamental Laws” by the French communist, Morelly

Nothing in society will belong to anyone Nothing in society will belong to anyone, either as a personal possession or as capital goods, except the things for which the person has immediate use, for either his needs, his pleasures, or his daily work.

Every citizen will be a public man, sustained by, supported by, and occupied at the public expense.

Every citizen will make his particular contribution to the activities of the community according to his capacity, his talent and his age; it is on this basis that his duties will be determined, in conformity with the distributive laws


January 11, 1944 – Address by President Franklin D. Roosevelt

We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all—regardless of station, race, or creed.

Among these are:

The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;

The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;

The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;

The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;

The right of every family to a decent home;

The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;

The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;

The right to a good education.

All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.


The slide to fiscal dysfunction started with the political corruption of language. The foundational terminology of liberty and rights was misappropriated early and often, and we’ve been paying the price ever since.

Here is how it took place.

Every political promise to grant material benefits to one politically favored group will impose a material cost on those who are not so favored.  And whenever such proposals have been implemented, a “me too” political dynamic has emerged in which an increasingly large number of voters are moved to demand “their fair share” of benefits.

To make the medicine go down, to assuage the guilt of those who were given unearned benefits, and to promote the guilt of those who opposed awarding such benefits with public funds, politicians quickly learned to appropriate language from the liberation traditions.  Thus every benefit was redefined as a form of “reparations” or as a “basic human right,” and the voices who opposed appropriating public funds for such benefits were pilloried as stingy, mean-spirited – even slandered as racists, sexists or worse.

This proved to be a very effective rhetorical trick. As a result, the system has perversely generated a growth industry in “net-plus” recipients, the voting block that pay less into government than its members get out.  “Net-plus” beneficiaries have grown by leaps and bounds because the real costs of providing promised benefits were never evenly shared. After all, it was hardly in the political interests of their proponents to tax everyone uniformly.

Flash forward to the early 21st century: The feedback loop that gave us “net-plus” recipients has begun to dominate the modern political process.  The growth spurt has gone farther in some countries (like Greece), but the political power of “net-plus” voters is rampant among the advanced Western countries.

The USA is very close to a tipping point. About half of all Americans do not pay income taxes but receive government subsidized benefits of some kind.  Most of the rest of the American taxpayers receive some federal benefits.  This is a bad bargain for almost everyone, including most of the “net-plus” group, because government bureaucracies are incapable of supple efficiency, no matter the high purpose, no matter the good will.  But the dependent beneficiaries are unwilling to rock the boat.

I need to make a critical distinction here. Some benefits are temporarily enjoyed by a few people at any one time but in the aggregate such benefits are reasonably crafted to serve general public purposes – they sustain functions necessary for the healthy operation of the overall system that we depend on to sustain liberty against predators.  Police, fire protection, the justice system, roads and civic education are among these.  There is another important category, the so-called safety net, which may or may not be administered in a way to promote the healthy functioning of the overall system.  …More on the “net” problem in a moment.

Over time, this “net-plus” constituency feedback loop tends to mutate into a “global parasite” dynamic, even a self-destructive feeding frenzy. If you doubt the aptness of these metaphors, I suspect you haven’t fully studied the fall of the pre-Nazi Weimar Republic in Germany or the collapse of democracy in the banana republics of South America in the 20th century.


There is a limit-point to any such dysfunctional process. It is a fracture moment in which the body politic as a whole either turns back from the abyss, or cedes effective control of the whole game to the global parasite feedback loop. In the second scenario, a benefits-administrating bureaucratic state emerges.  Heel clicking obedience, suppression of dissent, rationing and despair follow.

I believe that we have arrived at that breaking point. {See The 2012 Index of Dependence on government, published by the Heritage Foundation –}

The dysfunctional feedback loop was facilitated – I am making the case here that it was initiated– by the corruption of the basic terminology of liberty.  It is like corrupting the core operating system, the root software of everything else.

The original concept of “the rights of man” was of rights that operated as bulwarks, and against the power of the state.  That singular idea has constituted the core operating system of free civilizations everywhere. It is based on the truly radical notion that there exists a body of rights that are given to humanity by God – or given to humanity by virtue of the very wiring of the universe.  In either analysis (secular or religious) rights thus conferred cannot be something a mere government could ever have the legitimate authority to give or to withhold. By their very character, such rights are to be asserted and enjoyed by individuals without impairing the exercise of the same rights by others.  I enjoy my right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in the context where others may enjoy the same.  But I enforce my faux right to “a chicken in every pot” and a “house for every family” at the expense of the right to liberty and the pursuit of happiness of those who are made to pay for my chicken, pot and house.

Over the last 90 years, various political leaders have exploited the global parasite dynamic whenever it has benefitted them.  They began by generating a brand new entitlement-rhetoric. Their agenda was to redefine rights as benefits that the state is “morally” obligated to confer, even when so doing would necessarily infringe of rights of others in the original and true sense of the term.

An involuntary taking (whether or not under color of a putatively legitimate authority) of the honestly earned and accumulated money or property of one group of citizens for the politically expedient purpose of giving it others who have no legitimate claim to it (except as a politically manufactured “entitlement”) is a prima facie violation of the rights of those who are forced to give up their property.  Even strict advocates of limited government accept the need for a “safety net.”  But the situation is much like inviting a profligate, impecunious uncle into your home and giving him access to your credit cards and bank accounts.  In politics, generosity rarely goes unexploited.


The safety net paradox is easily described, but difficult to repair. Unemployment benefits, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, federally guaranteed underfunded retirement accounts, aid to dependent children, food stamps, the public/private law suit causes of action authorized by the ADA, the EEOC, the EPA, among other agencies, federal subsidies for the disabled and displaced, public money for failed banks, failed companies and failed pensions…are just the most obvious elements of the entitlement system.  A complete list of the Christmas-tree add-ons would fill an urban phone book.  Think of the essentially kleptocratic structure of a scheme that taxes the income of a nurse, school teacher, painter, carpenter, or police officer to subsidize the college education of an illegal immigrant or the electric car purchase of a Wall Street investment banker.  The publically-funded benefits awarded to the illegals and the bankers are not “rights” in the original, true sense of the term.

All of these programs collectively burden (and ultimately are funded by) the “golden goose” economy, the privately supported profit-making commercial sector – that ever shrinking, ever weaker Ultimate Source of government revenues. When governments decree that benefits must be paid, then they must be paid for, and the implications for the economic survival of the system as a whole are dire.

A safety net that is allowed to sink the entire boat is no longer a safety net; it is a drag net.

The misappropriated language of rights, led to entitlements, which then led to non-discretionary spending.  But non-discretionary spending has outstripped revenue and will continue to do so until the golden geese die or are enslaved or we establish systemic, rational benefit limits.

The pull-back-from-the-cliff discussion begins with a hard freeze in additional benefits.  Think of the parasite-host relationships.  Then it quickly moves to an honest assessment of the system’s capacity to endure and thrive at various aggregate burden levels.  Just how many units of blood can the host lose every month and survive?

Unless and until we recover the notion of truly limited benefits, the safety net becomes a trap, and we become the harvested fish, bled geese or…you pick the metaphor.

Every American enjoys the right to retain the fruits of his or her honestly acquired earnings, however modest or great, unless they are taken, via due process in a lawsuit of by a legitimate general levy for well-established general purposes.  The entitlement interests of a group that some politicians choose to “allocate” part of our earnings to pay for is not a “right” unless one chooses to pervert the term.  We should never concede the legitimacy of anything but original sense of the term “rights”, nor accede to its corruption by the political class.


The US constitution assumes that rights are God-given by incorporating, sub silencio, the language and context of the Declaration of Independence, “…endowed by their creator…”

Our constitution is a unique foundational document in the history of the world because of its enumeration of limited powers of the state, its organizational separation of those powers, and in the implicit external sourcing of the enumerated rights – as well as many not enumerated.

This means that rights emanate from a supreme authority external to and beyond that of the state – even a democratic one – such that a government does not confer them and therefore cannot take them away. That line is worth defending with everything we can muster.

A final caution: The corruption of language and thinking continues apace. Permit just one illustration. In the US, the federal government has crossed an important line by “bailing out” financial institutions and car manufacturers, while Europe is bailing out whole countries.

The single most misused term in these endeavors is “firewall.”  The concept of a firewall is clear enough.  It is a structural barrier sufficient to contain a conflagration to the original site.  In finance this would mean that a failing institution protected by a firewall could be allowed to collapse and the consequences would be contained to its owners and their employees.  The general notion is that with risk goes both reward and failure – neither of which is to be involuntarily shared with others.

But the bailout mindset automatically spreads the consequences of any potentially isolated failure to the general fisc – we share in these failures by subsidizing them, by absorbing the weaknesses that caused the failure.  The Europeans have gone so far as to describe funds allocated to bail out Greek financial institutions (whose credit worthiness has tanked) as a firewall. But the integration of the European economy has already breached the firewall of sovereignty.  The bailout funds are more like a water truck inventory – in this instance one that is wholly inadequate to contain the blaze.

Eternal vigilance is the price we pay for liberty.”  (Thomas Jefferson 1817)

Whenever, through a relaxation of vigilance, we cede to the enemies of freedom the very distinctions and language on which a system of liberties is founded and supported, we are ceding the game without a fight.

In a time of grave threat to liberty, Winston Churchill said,

“We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and if, which I do not for a moment believe, this island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the new world, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.”

The bureaucratic state has crept through England and Europe, like a suffocating web, and it greatly entangles us as well.  The lines between free and un-free have blurred because we have allowed them to blur.

Yet, we are the new world.  And our latest struggle for freedom has just begun. Recall Jefferson’s admonition and one thing more: language is liberty’s firewall.


Copyright © 2012 by Jay B Gaskill, Attorney at Law

First published on the Policy Think Site and the Dot 2 dot Blog

Forwards and links are welcome and encouraged. For everything else, contact the author –

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