Friday, August 29, 2008

The Sovereign Individual

Most of us never really think about it but our system of government rests on a base level assumption that the individual citizens of this or any state are sovereign.

Sovereign, what does that word mean? According to Merriam-Webster's dictionary it means: "one possessing or held to possess Sovereignty," or more specifically, "one that exercises authority with a limited sphere," or finally, "an acknowledged leader."

In the case of the United States of America the Preamble of the Constitution acknowledges the supreme power or authority of the people who come together to create the government. The Preamble says in full:

"We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

In addition to that implicit acknowledgement of the supremacy of the individual as the source of authority to sustain the legitimacy of the state, there is two other very important amendments to the Constitution appearing in what has come to be known as the "Bill of Rights:"

Amendment Nine reads in full:

"The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people."

Amendment Ten reads in full:

"The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people."

Taken together those three brief passages acknowledge the supremacy of the people as the ultimate source of power and authority delegated to the government.

Over the past couple of hundred years the pendulum has swung pretty far away from the assumptions implicit in those statements. Now the state has come to assume more and more power, the people are currently (even after the dreaded Bush tax cuts) paying about 300% of what serfs paid the Lords when power was delegated to ruling families via the "Divine Right of Kings" under which system the people were mere vassals of the state. Today the vast majority of people meekly submit to various indignities: Random searches, SWAT team raids, drunk driving traffic check points, presumed guilty till proven innocent audits by taxing authorities, significant limitations on free speech (especially on college campuses--making a mockery of the term "academic freedom"), random drug testing and even partial disrobing in order to board an airplane.

The question is how much farther can the pendulum swing before it begins to reverse course?

The evolution of technology mentioned in The Rainmaker's most recent post might be indicative of a shift in power and a return of power (sovereignty) to the people.

This shift was predicted back in 1997 by James Dale Davidson and Lord William Rees-Mogg in their book "The Sovereign Individual," which The Rainmaker has read and heartily recommends. Davidson and Rees-Mogg aren't sure that the concept of the nation state is viable. They point out that governments spouting patriotism tend to manipulate citizens into supporting social policies, monetary policies, wars and ever more intrusive government creating a swarm of unintended consequences that eventually can destroy the state's viability. When the book was written in 1995/1996 and even when the book was published this theory seemed like a stretch.

But times change and at about the same time the book hit the shelves a guy named Zimmerman released an encryption program for computer files and communications called PGP ("Pretty Good Protection"), which may prove to be the death knell of the modern nation state. Actually the more likely result is a more level playing field between the state and its citizens.

PGP together with online currencies can empower a Sovereign Individual to take real steps to assure his or her privacy, financial independence, physical safety and political liberty. Thus the equilibrium that was disturbed in the United States during the 100 years between the creation of the first national bank and the eventual imposition of the Federal Reserve System/United States Income Tax inducing the pendulum to swing towards ever greater state power at the expense of individual liberty might be checked and the pendulum could be starting to reverse its course towards greater individual Sovereignty.

The outcome is unclear. Stay tuned.

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