Dear Egypt: Constitutions Are Not Magic

by Michael Eliot

It is painful, as a libertarian, to watch the constitutional drama currently unfolding in Egypt, painful to watch a modern people make the same mistakes made by the Founders of America 225 years ago, painful to read of needless clashes and deaths and tortured struggle in pursuit of an impossible goal.

Americans began the modern obsession with constitutional government saying governments “deriv[e] their just powers from the consent of the governed.” That is, governments are legitimate if they have the consent of each individual they govern.

But what if some people do not give their consent, or later withdraw it? A government cannot justly govern those who do not give their consent.

There is another complication: the only powers governments can legitimately use are just powers.

So the question is, does government have any just powers?

That depends on the question of rights. Rights exist because each person owns themselves, meaning their life and all the actions they may take. Rights define when it would be wrong for another person to interfere with your ability to do something. And if no one ever interferes with you, you are completely free.

Since governments are merely groups of people that act with a governmental label, governments must still respect the same rights that each citizen must respect. Nothing about voting, majorities, or being a government can give anyone the right to aggress against any person’s rights.

Each person is alive, own themselves, and therefore has the right not to have their life taken from them unjustly. No other person or group has a right to murder or enslave another. Not even a government.

If Egyptians create a government, it will claim to own the Egyptian people, to speak for them, and to have sovereignty over the whole land. But that claim is a farce. The only sovereign there can be is each person’s ownership over themselves and their property. No one can be sovereign over another person, that’s slavery. And Egypt’s land was bought by individual people, not by government. Ownership cannot come about by passing a law, only by trade.

Government will tax them, regulate them, control the economy at whim, and more–without consent. For in a democracy you do not vote for policies, only for representatives, and it is those representatives who pass laws, and the people are forced to accept and abide by those laws, even the ones they do not consent for and did not vote for. This is plainly unjust.

Does any Egyptian have the right to tax their neighbor, to enslave them, force them to join the military, or in any way control or own the life of another Egyptian? No, they do not. Those are all unjust powers that no government may employ.

Each person has the right to free speech because we each control a mouth with which to speak. There are no natural limits on what the tongue may say, thus there are no limits to speech. No other person has a right not to be offended nor to control what another says. Neither do groups of people have the right to tell an individual what they can or cannot say or to punish them for it.

If Egyptians create a government, it will claim the right to control or limit their speech, to punish them for things they say, to monitor their online activity and other forms of media.

But does any single Egyptian, or groups of Egyptians, have a right to tell their neighbor what they can or cannot say? No. That too is an unjust power. Speech laws are unjust laws.

Each person owns their mind, has beliefs of their own, and therefore a right to the practice of whatever religion they choose to follow. No other person has a right to force religion on others or to be forced in turn.

If Egyptians create a government, it will interfere with their religious practices and belief, both of believers and non-believers.

But does any Egyptian have the right to tell his neighbor what god to believe in or not believe in? Such would be oppression, and an unjust power.

For any power of government one wishes to propose, simply ask whether any person could use that power on another person without violating their rights? If the answer is ‘no’ then it would be an unjust power for government to use as well.

I have surveyed all the powers of government for myself–I urge you to try it as well–and cannot find even one that is just.

At first glance there appears to be just one just power: the protection of individual rights through police and military force. However, governments claim that only they can do this, and prevent citizens from protecting themselves or hiring other protectors. Governments monopolize this act of protection. And this is unjust as well. Thus, even in this one thing that governments could do morally, they are unjust.

A government may not control your life as if you were its slave, cannot justly tax for that is but theft, cannot conduct war for that is murder, cannot conscript you into its army for that is enslavement, cannot control speech for that is censorship, and cannot force a religion on you for that is oppression and tyranny.

For these reasons and others, libertarians believe in the non-aggression principle (NAP). Aggression is inherently illegitimate and unjust, whether performed by an individual or by a group of people using any label, whether that group has the backing and consent of the whole society or not.

So, dear Egypt, I urge you, do not walk down the garden path to Democracy. If it is freedom you seek, do not institute tyranny among you in the name of freedom. Do not give others power to control you in the name of protecting yourself from aggression.

True peace and freedom will come when each individual is sovereign over their own lives and property. Egypt is not one sovereign, but 82 million sovereigns.

Creating a government will not create equality and peace among you. Rather, creating a government will separate you into two classes: the rulers and the ruled, as it has everywhere else. And another chance to build a society of true freedom will be lost to the world.

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