Warren's World: Farewell to the Consent of the Governed


Much has been made of Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren’s full-throated defense of class-war socialism, captured in a viral video that conservatives and liberals have been passing around for entirely different reasons. 

The goofy “marauding band” stuff is less interesting to me than her central premise of the “pay it forward” social contract, summed up in this key passage:

There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own — nobody.  You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police-forces and fire-forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory — and hire someone to protect against this — because of the work the rest of us did.

This is a denial of the very concept of “private” property, in line with the tenets of Italian fascism, as expressed by Mussolini: “Everything inside the State, nothing outside the State.”  No private citizen has any absolute right to “own” anything, because all things are achieved through the benevolence of the State.  The government is part owner of everything.

Warren is also rejecting something very important to the American vision of government: the consent of the governed.

The Declaration of Independence says this about the importance of consent:

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…

The American government is empowered to protect the unalienable rights of its citizens through their consent.  Consent is meaningless without the implication of both willing agreement, and the right to withdraw consent.

Warren’s “pay it forward” notion of the social contract denies the consent of the governed, because she’s saying every American is born into the debt of the collective.  Every meaningful resource in your life, right down to the hospital you were born in, was provided through collective government “investments,” many of them made before your birth. 

Your “consent” to Warren’s vision of absolute government power is not required.  You have only the rights allowed to you by a State that owns a commanding stake in both your wealth and your physical being.  Everything you achieve is the property of the government that provided you with the necessary resources.  Sustained resistance to the State’s demands is immoral under her world-view.  The whole point of her tirade is that people who refuse to accept confiscatory taxation are not merely mistaken in their reluctance to fund the all-wise, all-knowing government to whatever degree it finds necessary.  They’re sinning.

If you begin with free people who have the right to own their time and property, then proceed to a just government they fund as a necessary expense, you have the American sense of government.  The God-given rights of the people precede the State.  Warren turns this on its head, and begins with a mighty State whose needs come before any individual rights can be allocated to the distressingly ungrateful citizens – all of whom are born in debt, very literally in the modern United States.  What she’s talking about is the opposite of America, liberty in reverse. 

I don’t mind declaring myself an energetic and relentless enemy of that kind of thinking.  I don’t mind declaring my independence, as many times as people like Elizabeth Warren need to hear it.  Such spirited opposition has a fine old tradition of winning uphill battles.