Last week we celebrated the 227th anniversary of the revolutionary idea “that all Men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” One organizing principle of the Declaration of Independence is that sovereignty resides not in a monarch or any other institution of government but rather in each and every human being. Those sovereign individuals, acting in their collective capacity, created a democracy, which Abraham Lincoln defined as “government of the people, by the people and for the people.”
With the Magna Carta in 1215, the English Parliament began to wrench sovereignty away from the king. With the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and the Act of Settlements of 1701, Parliament finally wrestled sovereignty from the crown completely. But by this time in the American Colonies, another radical idea already had begun taking root: the idea of sovereignty residing not in Parliament or any other government institution, but in the people.
As early as 1754, Benjamin Franklin was challenging Parliament’s authority to tax Americans without their having the right to send popularly elected representatives to that legislative body. In 1773, a watershed event revealed the irreconcilable differences between England and the Colonies. The royal governor of Massachusetts, Thomas Hutchinson, declared that Parliament’s sovereignty over the Colonies was absolute. John Adams rejected Hutchinson’s claim on the grounds that the Colonial Charters granted the Colonists sovereign legislative powers.
The British refused to accept that sovereignty could reside anywhere but in Parliament, and the drums of war beat louder. Three years later, pushed beyond all endurance, the Americans declared their sovereignty and their independence from England, and the sovereign people of America created a grand new experiment in democratic self-rule.
Across the Atlantic, however, Britain and Europe never embraced the concept that sovereignty resides in the people. Today, Europe and Britain once again are grappling with the matter of sovereignty as they struggle to realize the longtime dream of Winston Churchill, Charles De Gaulle, Jean Monnet and so many others: A United States of Europe.
Europeans recently passed a draft EU constitution that would drain sovereignty out of the parliaments of the member nation-states and transfer it into the EU bureaucracy in Brussels. The draft EU constitution, rather than protecting the natural rights of individuals against encroachment by government, confers privileges to groups of people in the name of “rights.” One such privilege is the so-called “right of access to placement services.” In other words, unemployed people are given a “right” to insist that government expropriate taxes from workers in order to help the unemployed find a job.
If EU member states continue to cede their sovereignty to new bureaucratic institutions in Brussels and do this willingly and through a truly representative and democratic structure, then c’est la vie. However, there’s a serious problem with the manner in which EU integration is occurring, a problem that threatens the United States directly. The EU apparatus in Brussels seems incapable of forging the former nation-states of Europe and Britain into a new European Union by draining the sovereignty of their people without infringing upon the sovereignty of the people of other nations.
The EU bureaucrats and their American myrmidons often complain of American unilateralism. But it is the EU that has been pushing unilaterally for the erosion of other nations’ sovereignty in the areas of economic policy and regulatory policy. It is EU universalism run amok that has forced President Bush to suspend military aid to 35 countries that failed to exempt Americans from prosecution before the new U.N. International Criminal Court, just to protect members of our armed forces from politically motivated prosecutions.
Under the guise of “harmonization,” the Brussels bureaucracy demands that relatively low-tax countries such as Ireland raise their tax rates, and it flies into a snit when Germany, the Continent’s highest-tax country, considers lowering its tax rates to help rejuvenate economic growth.
As Washington Times columnist Richard Rahn recently put the threat to America, the European political establishment is in the throes of “an irrational and destructive jealous rage” due to the poor economic performance of the Continent. They accuse relatively fast-growing countries like the United States, which have lower tax rates than most members of the EU, of engaging in the Brussels-minted bureaucratic crime of “destructive tax competition.” The enraged Brusselcrats demand that low-tax countries raise their tax rates and that they share taxpayers’ sensitive personal information even with corrupt governments that might have ties to terrorists.
These and other encroachments on our national sovereignty threaten more than global economic prosperity and individual privacy; they are a threat to our very freedom and our chosen form of government. Americans did not fight and die 227 years ago to help secure each individual’s God-given rights only to allow other powers to usurp our very freedoms under the cloak of seemingly benign concepts such as “harmonization” and “common interests.”
Once again, our European cousins fail to grasp the nature of a sovereign people. What they derisively call “unilateralism” is, in fact, nothing more than defending our unalienable individual rights to life, liberty, private property and the pursuit of happiness.