Saturday, November 05, 2005

Excellent Example of Smith's Legacy

Duane D. Freese, a columnist on Tech Central Station (“where free markets meet technology”) writes an excellent piece on Rosa Parks, “Courage and Principle” (3 November 2005).

Read it in full at

Rosa Parks proved that when she said no to giving up her seat to a white man in the colored section of a Montgomery, Ala., bus in December 1955.

Nearly a half century later her body lay in state under the nation's Capitol Dome demonstrating the importance of her courage in taking such a simple act.”

What is so good about Duane’s approach to the historic incident that presaged the end of the shame of the then US environment of racial discrimination against the descendants of former slaves, contrary to the US Constitution nearly 100 years after the ‘civil war’ (‘war between the States’ as some still call it), is not just his measured critique of that period of US life, but also his linking his critique so neatly to the teachings of Adam Smith.

“Her rejection of the bus system's attempt to dispossess her of her seat was in line with what
John Locke in his Social Contract theory would argue was the right to object by any individual denied his basic property rights, which governments are originated to defend not offend. Or, as Adam Smith in Lectures on Jurisprudence, declared:

"The first and chief design of every system of government is to maintain justice: to prevent the members of society from encroaching on one another's property, or seizing what is not their own. The design here is to give each one the secure and peaceable possession of his own property."

Her action, in short, was in keeping with the founders of the nation, when they rejected the boarding of British troops in people's homes and objected to "taxation without representation." It is what Thomas Jefferson declared as the reason for the nation's separation, that King George III was violating the natural law that "all men are created equal, endowed by their creators with certain inalienable rights, life, liberty and the
pursuit of happiness." What happiness can be pursued if government can simply take away what by right is yours?”

The quotation from Smith’s Lectures in “Jurisprudence” (available at a most reasonable price from Liberty Fund, Indianapolis, Indiana – try Amazon) is from i.I, page 5: a Lecture he gave on Friday 24 December 1762.

It is a most interesting point about Smith’s legacy that its central principles, enunciated in his Works, make a solid and principled case against a breach of justice when the justice system fails its citizens.

Justice is about the legislature not allowing the government (the Executive) to pass laws that breach the principle of justice and the judiciary upholding the inalienable right of the citizen to the quite enjoyment of her property rights.

Of course, where the judiciary is in league with the Executive and is supported by the legislature in a clear breach of Natural Justice, Rosa Parks, and the millions she represented, have a right to challenge all three elements of the governance of their democratic country. It is to the great credit of the USA that these appalling errors were corrected, largely peacefully and with dignity on all sides of the controversy, where in other countries such sharp divisions have lapsed into ethnic chaos, and in some unahppy circumstances, into genocide. People who see nothing good in America should quietly reflect on this example.

I found his a compelling case and congratulate Duane D. Freese on his excellent article and Tech Central Station for publishing it.

Is it a sure-fire candidate for the Lost Legacy Monthly Prize?


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