| Do the inmates of Rikers Island throw a party when they get a new warden? To celebrate the changing of the color of the uniforms worn by their cagers?

And yet, we do.

This coming weekend, Americans will celebrate not being free to – among other things:

  • Buy and display fireworks themselves.
  • Choose whether to wear a seat belt.
  • Say “no thanks” to the health insurance mafia.
  • Travel without permission (and decline to produce your “papers” on demand).
  • Smoke in a privately owned bar or pool hall.
  • Freely associate – or not.
  • Ever truly own a home or land outright, free from yearly rent payments (in the form of real estate taxes) to the government.
  • Educate your children as you (rather than strangers in a distant capital city) see fit.
  • Consume substances decreed (arbitrarily) to be “illegal.”
  • Possess “contraband” items (including firearms, without which the right to self-defense is a nullity).
  • Open a business without permission.
  • Contract your labor without permission – and under “terms and conditions” decreed by the government.
  • Elect not to provide the government with evidence (the income tax form) that can and will be used against you, despite the Fifth Amendment.
  • Produce and sell milk and other farm products that haven’t been “inspected” by the government and without the permission of the government.
  • Defend oneself against even the most egregious violation of the law by the law’s enforcers.
  • Rent a room or apartment you own to whom you wish.
  • Fish (or hunt) without a license… even on your own land.
  • Use your car to provide taxi service.
  • Collect rainwater for personal use.
  • Opt not to have your home connected to “grid” electricity.
  • Have your young daughters set up a curbside lemonade stand on a hot July afternoon.

The “long train of abuses” (as Jefferson described them 239 years ago this Saturday) is extensive. Far more so today than it was back then. And yet, we – most Americans – continue to play their part in the annual July Fourth kabuki theater. We pretend we’re “free” – and the government pretends it has the “consent of the governed.”

Few stop to ask themselves: If the Fourth Amendment guarantees that we are to be “free from unreasonable searches and seizures” how it can be that all of us are legally subject to completely random searches – without even a whiff of individualized suspicion – whenever we go for a drive in our cars or travel by airplane?

If the Bill if Rights – which is legally part of the Constitution – is (as we are told) the law of the land, how is it that other laws – “interpretations” issued by judges at odds with the crystal clear language of the Constitution – have come to supersede it?

How does one “consent” without actually having given consent? How does the fact that a question was put to a vote – and some people voted in favor – come to mean that you have given your consent to the measure?

Try quoting the Constitution – the Bill of Rights – in court.

1776 began nobly enough – but by 1787, the revolution was over. Meeting in secret conclave – what was that about the “consent of the governed”? – the elite of colonial America met for the sole purpose of re-creating what had been overthrown, only with themselves in charge of the operation rather than the English monarch. “The people” – held in contempt by men like Alexander Hamilton – never gave their consent to these “representatives,” who proceeded to enact the 18th century version of a Beer Hall putsch. Charged with amending the Articles of Confederation – nothing more – they proceeded to rip it to shreds and in its place, substituted the “vigorous” and “energetic” (Hamilton’s words) Constitution we suffer under today. The sole purpose of which was to establish a federal leviathan of in-principle unlimited power. Which – exactly as intended – grew into a leviathan of unlimited-in-fact power. One so unlimited, even your “health care” is now its business rather than your own.

Alexander Hamilton was many things, but not a fool. He – and his fellow “federalists” – knew precisely what they were doing. In private conversation, some (including Hamilton and also John Adams) admitted their admiration of the British system. That is, of an authoritarian mercantilist (what we would today call corporatist) state, directed by a coterie of Wise Men (themselves) who knew better than the public what was in the “public interest.”

And told them so.

Thus it has been ever since. Especially since the failure of the southern states – which realized what had happened but reacted to it too late and not adroitly when they finally did react – to rescind their purported “consent” and go their separate way in peace. What was denied the states was then – and ever since – denied the individual. We, as Americans, have no more right to say “no thanks” – to go our way in peace, to be left in peace provided we ourselves our peaceful – than an inmate of Rikers Island.

You may reply: The inmates of Rikers Island have committed – and been convicted of – crimes. They deserve to be caged, their liberty taken. Fair enough, perhaps. But what crime have you committed?

Whom have you harmed by not wearing a seatbelt?

Why should innocent people – who’ve given no reason to even suspect them of having committed any offense – be subject to random stops and searches?

How is it that armed men can threaten you with lethal violence for deciding it’s ok to let people who freely wish to enter (and who may just as freely leave) your privately owned bar or pool hall smoke, if they wish to?

Have you hurt your neighbor by selling him milk he freely wished to buy at a price mutually agreeable to both parties?

Why do any of us “owe” money to people we’ve never met, never injured, never agreed to pay?

If we are free, why are we so controlled, regulated, micromanaged? Under almost constant threat of harassment, fining – and caging? Why is there literally almost no decision – even to the extent of what goes on in our own homes and bedrooms – that’s left entirely up to us?

The truth is we’re in the same prison as the inmates of Rikers Island – only our “yard” is (for now) a bit more generous. This is an uncomfortable fact, but no less true because it is uncomfortable. The differences are merely of degree, not of principle. The guards at Rikers are the absolute masters and the prisoners are free to do as they are told.

Our “freedoms” are of a piece.

Happy Changing of the Guard Day.

By Eric Peters