Andrew Napolitano: Man is free, and must be vigilant

At Saturday’s general session of the RightOnline conference at The Venetian in Las Vegas, Judge Andrew P. Napolitano told an audience of 1,100 conservative activists that the nature of man is to be free, and that government and those holding power are an ever-present danger to freedom.

Napolitano is Senior Judicial Analyst at the Fox News Network and the author of the books Lies the Government Told You: Myth, Power, and Deception in American History, The Constitution in Exile: How the Federal Government Has Seized Power by Rewriting the Supreme Law of the Land, and A Nation of Sheep.

Napolitano told of how at the time of the founding of the United States, there was the natural rights group — Madison and Jefferson — which believed that, as Napolitano said: “Our freedom comes from our humanity. It is as natural to us as our physical bodies are. The yearnings that we have to be free are — if you use a 2010 phrase — hard-wired into us by the supreme being that created us.”

But Hamilton and Adams believed that without government there can be no freedom. Since government protects freedom, government can restrict freedom in bad times.

The natural law argument won the day, and that’s why there is the Bill of Rights, he told the audience. But in the second year of Adam’s presidential administration, Congress enacted the Alien and Sedition Acts, which made it illegal to criticize the government, including the president and congress.

Napolitano asked: How could those who once risked their lives during the American Revolution come to write such laws once they assumed power? Many people in government have an urge to tell others how to live their lives, he answered. “This is the core of the problem with government from 1787 to 2010. If you must look for any defect in any candidate in either party for any office: If they want to tell you how to live your life, vote them out of office.”

War is a time when rights can be lost, as when Lincoln locked up newspaper publishers in the North because they criticized his presidency.

Napolitano told of the Espionage Act of 1917, which makes it illegal to talk someone out of being drafted, working in a munitions plant, or supporting the war. It’s still the law today, he said.

Ronald Reagan, in his first inaugural address, reminded us that the states created the federal government, not the other way around. Napolitano said that he would have added “And the power that the states gave the federal government, they can take back from the federal government.”

Shifting topics a bit, Napolitano said the government wants to give away your money in your name. It uses the Mafia model. “Taxation is theft,” he said. It presumes that the government has a higher right to your property than you do. “If the Constitution is to be taken seriously, if you own the sweat of your brow, if you own your ideas and that which you create with your own hands: It’s yours, it’s not the government’s.”

He told of a recent interview with South Carolina Democratic Congressman James E. Clyburn, where Napolitano asked where in the Constitution is the federal government authorized to manage health care? Clyburn replied: “Judge, most of what we do here in Washington is not authorized by the Constitution. Where in the Constitution is it prohibited for the federal government to manage health care?”

Napolitano said Clyburn’s first answer was frank and candid, as well as accurate. The second answer, he said, reveals a “profound misunderstanding of the nature and concept of limited government.”

Our role in this moment is to defend freedom, he told the audience in closing.


2 thoughts on “Andrew Napolitano: Man is free, and must be vigilant”

  1. I generally like Judge Napolitano and believe he has a lot of good things to say. But I think that, at least in Bob’s summary here (I obviously didn’t attend the speech itself), Napolitano’s too hard on Adams. (Most of what I know about Adams comes from David McCullough’s biography of him, so hopefully it gives a faithful portrayal.) The Alien and Sedition Acts may have been a mistake, but they were not really indicative of what Adams believed generally nor should they be allowed to define Adams’s outlook. He believed much more in freedom and limited government than most politicians today, even Republicans.

    On the other hand, you can take the idea of freedom too far. Again according to McCullough’s book, Jefferson, whom Napolitano praises here for his ideas on freedom, supported the French Revolution, not just for a time, but even during the Reign of Terror. In this, Jefferson took his support too far–into mistaking license for freedom. I personally would agree that we need government for freedom, because without the protections of the rule of law and a just and limited government to enforce it, our rights can be trampled on by anyone, as happened during the French Revolution. What we need is a good balance between government and individual freedom. We simply have way too much government and too little individual freedom today.

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