In light of current events, I find myself reflecting on the nature of Liberty, the role of government, and the history of mankind. There are many ideas being advocated meant to be a foil against the spread of Covid-19, the majority of which can be implemented on a personal and private level. People are encouraging each other to take these precautions and safety measures, and government at all levels are offering official plans to follow, and appropriate measures are being taken in the proper bounds of authority.
Of particular concern, however, are the proposals and actions of some in government, to step beyond this proper role. As responsible citizens, we should take a deep breath, and contemplate just how much we are willing to surrender in the name of security. The responsible action in my view is not to sacrifice that which is most precious, our personal Liberty, for that which cannot be guaranteed or quantified.
If the surrender of Liberty in times of great need had a long record of positive outcome, followed shortly by the return of all that had been given up, that may be one thing. But history teaches us that is more often the exception, not the rule. For every example of a Cincinnatus retiring from supreme power and returning home to his farm, there are countless Caesars bent on retaining power, whatever the cost.
In Old Testament times a council called the Sanhedrin formed the government, guided by a Chief Judge. One for example, was the Prophet Samuel, regarded as a wise and good judge. But Samuel was growing old, and his sons were not honorable men (having been caught taking bribes and perverting justice). The Hebrews came to Samuel and requested that he give them a king to rule and judge them, like all the other kingdoms in the known world. Samuel was distressed and prayed to God for instruction. The answer came in 1 Sam 8:7 “And the Lord said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them.” In other words, Samuel was commanded to set up a king for the Hebrews because they desired one, rather than the representative council of elders established by God. The Lord counsels Samuel to give the people a king, and to warn them what will come of it. In verse 18 Samuel says “And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen you; and the Lord will not hear you in that day.”
Beside the fulfillment of this prophecy and others Samuel gave concerning the kings establishing burdensome taxation and requiring extra labors of the people, the kingship of the Hebrews set the stage for the dispute of succession that ultimately led to the civil war and separation of the “lost 10 tribes” of Israel. Those are biblical consequences resulting from the people vesting supreme power in an individual out of a desire for security.
Of local interest, it is easy to trace the entire State Sales Tax in Utah to a “temporary emergency” bill, meant to help with the Great Depression. Of course, the Depression is over, but we are left with a sales tax (which, incidentally, is now triple the percentage established in the 30’s). HB218 Emergency Revenue Act of 1933 established a sales and use tax, set to expire after a few years, or by action of the Governor. Before the sunset even kicked in, the first of many renewal bills passed. By 1941 the term “emergency” was dropped from the title of most tax bills, while business license/ tax collection requirements were added in, starting with SB44.
In 1983 HB10 provided for an increase to the sales tax for “one year” to provide relief programs for serious flooding and weather damage. In 1984 HB136 extended it. A trend in both personal and public budgets is the phenomenon that increases in income/revenue usually get spent, and become viewed as “necessary”. As a result, it is not often that these so-called temporary measures are ever allowed to expire, or get repealed.
There are plenty of other examples in just American history to consider: Both Andrew Jackson and Abraham Lincoln suspending Habeas Corpus, FDR creating Japanese Internment Camps, The NFA (National Firearms Act) in the wake of the crime sprees of the gangster era, further gun control laws as a result of the failed Reagan assassination attempt, the rise of the NSA, and the consolidation of over 20 Federal bureaus into the Cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security in the wake of 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina.
If those in government move forward with implementing a measured plan, and issue wise recommendations to the public, they are acting in the interest of the people. If they are issuing “orders” that have the weight of jail time or fines behind them, then they are overstepping the bounds of authority that has been granted them, and whether good-intentioned or ill, watchful citizens must act to check these assumptions of power. Holding elected officials to account is the civic duty of every citizen, and should be taken seriously. Follow the news, know what actions are being taken, discuss these measures with family and friends. Find conversations with contacts on social media, and help spread awareness of concerns, infringements, and even applaud appropriate actions and use of restraint. Being an elected official in these circumstances in no enviable task, and trying to balance the liberties of the people with recommendations and actions that are in the best interests of public safety is a difficult enterprise. Applaud and encourage the good decisions, and offer constructive criticism and resistance to the bad ones. Whatever you do, don’t stick your head in the sand while the world changes- perhaps permanently- around you. Exercise your civic responsibilities and participate in preserving your freedoms.