April 23, 2012
Is it destined to be this century’s “The Road to Serfdom?” Maybe not.
But Napolitano’s book is a fine introduction to libertarian thought. His writing style is much like his persona, back when he used to host my then-favorite TV show, “Freedom Watch,” on the Fox Business Network. That style is clear, concise, with a note of authority, and a few dashes of bombast.
Napolitano’s tactic in this book is to devote a chapter apiece to individual freedoms, especially as they have been spelled out in the Declaration of Independence and the the Bill of Rights. He highlights the theory behind each of these rights. That is, why should we think (for instance) that the right to travel as we wish is something we ought to be willing to fight for? Why are private property rights indispensable to a free society?
Then, he goes on to show how the current US Federal government is infringing upon and, in many cases, assaulting and demolishing those rights. This assault is typically incremental, but often shows up as a brazen power-grab. He documents that both major political parties have been enthusiastic participants in this endeavor.
Overall, because of the plethora of modern examples of encroaching tyranny, this is a book that will make your blood boil. Chapter after chapter, I wanted to punch somebody and yell, “Why aren’t patriots surrounding the governmental mall in Washington with torches and pitchforks?”
Because of this great strength of the book, I highly recommend it, especially to your “conservative,” big government Republican friends who still haven’t figured out who the real enemy is.
The book’s glaring weakness occurs at the very beginning, though, as Napolitano is concerned to make the case for believing that the Declaration was right when it claimed that all men are endowed with certain inalienable rights. His logic faltered severely when he seemed to be overly concerned not to alienate humanistic, atheistic libertarians.
As a professing Catholic, the judge knows that human rights come from our Creator. But he desperately wanted to find some way of grounding a theory of rights in a manner that can be accepted even by those who deny the Creator. This is a fool’s errand, and Napolitano is no fool, so I was cringing as he attempted it. Predictably, the attempt failed.
He has to resort to repeating that inalienable rights are “self-evident.” But self-evident would have to mean that no one really questions the truth of them. If that’s the case in reality, then, there wouldn’t be a need for this book-length argument on their behalf. The whole reason we have to try and convince our neighbors that the government is not the dispenser of rights is precisely because a slew of moderns and post-moderns don’t think it’s particularly self-evident at all. How “self-evident” is the natural right to life in a society that continues to murder millions of babies each year?
Whether it alienates anyone or not, atheism provides no internally consistent grounds for the concept of objective morality, unchanging human rights, or the intrinsic value of humanity. You can’t jettison the Declaration’s “self-evident” truth of a Creator and yet cling to the notion of natural rights that have been granted by that Creator. At least, you can’t do so with any philosophical consistency.
If you can wince through that first chapter or so, the rest of the book is a great read. Strongly recommended.