December 20, 2015
What is a free society? This is no idle question, because your definition of a free society will determine how society will be structured - and ultimately what life will be like for the citizenry. The old Soviet Union saw freedom as a function of material benefits, meaning freedom meant "freedom from want", "freedom from fear", freedom from poverty" - something that made for an all-encompassing state and a python-esque society that supplied some of your basic needs but did so in the most meager fashion. In the end, the "freedoms" the Soviets offered were in fact handcuffs.
Modern Progressives haven't learned a single thing from the failure of Bolshevism. They still look to the octopodal embrace of society to care for the People as the ultimate expression of freedom.
That was illustrated quite plainly last night in the Democratic debate. All three candidates clearly see freedom not as the right to be left alone and make your own way but as a group effort, something that obligates others. Every discussion of a major issue was predicated on group action - be it how to deal with ISIS (we must BYILD COALITIONS was the universal refrain) or how to deal with economic problems, or how to deal with violence in society. Always it was "we must use the force of law to fix this problem as a group". Their fundamental premise always ignored the basic, fundamental right to be left alone.
Which is fascinating, because leftist have used this concept to restrain society from stopping criminal and destructive behavior. It has been one of their big arguments in favor of abortion, for instance; SCOTUS found an inherent "right to privacy" in the Constitution and utilized that to legalize abortion nationwide. Of course there is a forgotten man here - the unborn child, whose right to privacy is violated in an absolute sense. But the Left never lets an inconsistency stand in their way. We have also seen this in attempts to kill laws against narcotics, against criminal behavior, etc. even while promoting gun control and pushing for prosecution of people who kill or injure a criminal in the act of robbing them.
The purpose of government is, to conservatives, to guarantee that people may pursue their own lives without being bothered.
Which is what makes this essay by George Will interesting; it speaks directly to the Progressive mindset in microcosm. And it is a story about something here in my hometown.
Pagedale Mo. is an inner suburb of the City of St. Louis, and it has managed to claw it's way to bare survival in a sea of blasted, impoverished hellholes. Pagedale is surrounded by numerous ghetto communities, and, undoubtedly at first, the city leaders sought to keep it from turning into just one more boarded up gang land. But there is more; Pagedale has always been a notorious speed trap, a place that steals money from unwary passers-by - the penultimate of the complaints against Ferguson (which is nearby). Pagedale has always stolen money to operate.
According to Will at NRO:
"Pagedale is 1.19 square miles of St. Louis County. Approximately 93 percent of its 3,000 residents are African American and about 25 percent live below the poverty line. There is not much of a tax base for their government. But supposed necessity does not confer constitutionality on Pagedaleâ€™s decision to budget on the assumption of a steady blizzard of capricious fines.
Pagedale residents are subject to fines if they walk on the left side of a crosswalk; if they have a hedge more than three feet high, a weed more than seven inches high, or any dead vegetation on their property; or if they park a car at night more than 500 feet from a street lamp or other source of illumination; or if windows facing a street do not have drapes or blinds that are "neatly hung, in a presentable appearance, properly maintained and in a state of good repairâ€; or if their houses have unpainted foundations or chipped or aging layers of paint (even on gutters); or if there are cracks in their driveways; or if on a national holiday â€” the only time a barbeque may be conducted in a front yard â€” more than two people are gathered at the grill or there are alcoholic beverages visible within 150 feet of the grill"
Indeed it is so.
I worked for a property management company in St. Louis, and we picked up a new client who had a rental house in Pagedale. Her grass service disappeared and she was cited for high grass, so I drew the lucky straw and went to court for her. I thought I had shown up at a black Woodstock; there were people lined up not just out of the door but all the way down the street. I listened to the charges and they were ALL bogus nonsense; taillights out, grass too high, driving 28 in a 25 zone, etc. It was quite clear that none of these people should have ever wound up in court.
In e3ssence, the court was a giant ATM for the city of Pagedale. They were shaking down people who lived there, and people who had the misfortune of crossing into the community. Our client had to pay a large fine - and I saw her grass, it was not all that high. There was no reason for anyone to waste time at that court. I know why the city issued a summons; the property was listed as being owned by someone out-of-state and they figured nobody would show for the court date, thus they could issue a warrant and demand even more money. The code enforcement officer was unhappy to see me; he clearly figured this would bring in lots of new revenue.
Will explains why these draconian regulations are in place:
"All this and much more is because Missouriâ€™s legislature, noting excessive reliance on traffic tickets, put a low cap on the portion a community could raise of its budget from this source. So now 40 percent of Pagedaleâ€™s tickets are for non-traffic offenses. Since 2010, such tickets have increased 495 percent. In 2013, the city collected $356,601 in fines and fees. But Pagedaleâ€™s misfortune might be Americaâ€™s good fortune now that the constitutional litigators from the Institute for Justice are representing some Pagedale residents.
The institute argues that the city is subordinating the administration of justice to the goal of generating revenue, even limiting court hours in order to cause people to fail to meet requirements, thereby subjecting them to more fines. But the cityâ€™s pecuniary interest in particular judicial outcomes, which creates an appearance of bias, is not the crux of the argument that the city is violating the 14th Amendment guarantee that Americans shall not be deprived of life, liberty, or property without "due process of law.â€ The entire nation should hope that this small cityâ€™s pettiness will be stopped by a court that says this: The Due Process Clause, properly construed, prohibits arbitrary government action, particularly that which unjustifiably restricts individualsâ€™ liberties."
He's right to a point, but I had to attend that court prior to the change in Missouri law and so many other cases there were for Mickey-Mouse violations.
As for that last, well, it has always been that way, since these municipalities run their own courts and keep the money they make off of unsuspecting individuals. It never made any sense to me; the judge is a city employee, as is the prosecutor, and both are chumming around in the courtroom. You have virtually no chance of winning if you plead not guilty and demand a trial. Your only option is to sue in superior court after you lose. Most people - especially poor people - have neither the time nor resources to fight this, and just pay their fines to put an end to it.
This was one of the major issues that the Ferguson Commission dealt with; many of the locals complained about predatory policing, the use of police and legal power to steal money to fill city coffers. Of course, the Ferguson Commission made it a racial thing, arguing that this was happening because the targets were black. That isn't true, and never has been. Anyone who lived in one of these Podunk municipalities (and indeed I grew up in one) knows the dangers of predatory policing. In fact, when I was a teenager, a police officer in a neighboring community told me and some friends to stay out of my own hometown because the police there were crazy, and they were itching for trouble with teens. This officer actually suggested we take the shortest route out of that town so as to avoid being stopped.
That is tyranny, whether these local governments are voted in our not.
The Founding Fathers hated democracy for this very reason. Democracy invariably ends in tyranny, because some realize they can make money off their fellow citizens, and can otherwise profit (like empowering themselves). A rabble voting based entirely on self-interest leads to a ruling aristocratic class. The Founders wanted to devolve power to the People wherever possible, and to do that they formulated and codified fundamental rights which could not be usurped by a democratic vote. Sadly, we have gone away from this notion, accepting the concept of rights are mere convention, given by the People in their collective will. This was Jean Jacques Rousseau's vision of the Social Contract, as opposed to the John Locke vision of limited government, which itself emanated from rights being granted by God and not Man.
We now think rights are mere privileges granted by the State. As a result, we live in an ever intrusive society, be it at the national level, the state level, or the local level. Nobody questions the right of the collective to harass and demand from the citizen. The right to be left alone has been forgotten.
A city like Pagedale is a model, a microcosm of where Progressive thought will take us. No doubt the original intent of these draconian laws was to preserve the city, to keep it from decaying and to prevent lawless and rowdy behavior, thus to ensure the quiet enjoyment of the property the citizens inhabited. But as we all know, the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and a society that sees the individual as subordinate to the state will inevitably be subject to human failings and insatiable human appetites. In the end the good intentions are swallowed up, becoming a tool of monstrous repression. Nobody wants to live in Pagedale.
America is becoming a giant version of Pagedale; who is going to want to live here in the future?
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