Lessons from a Review of A Declaration and Constitution for a Free Society

by | May 16, 2022

Professor Brian Simpson answers arguments against using Ayn Rand's philosophy Objectivism as the basis for improving the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.

The economist Randall Holcombe reviewed my book A Declaration and Constitution for a Free Society in the summer 2021 issue of The Independent Review. (Holcombe, 2021)  While there are some statements in the review that I agree with, there are many with which I disagree, including some misrepresentations of arguments in the book.  I have provided a brief response to his review in the winter 2021/22 issue of The Independent Review. (Simpson, 2021/22)  However, there is much more to be said in response to the review.  This response will help readers better understand the content of the book as well as the nature of rights and freedom and how to protect them.

For those who want some background on the book, a brief summary and excerpts from the book were published in Capitalism Magazine in 2021. (Simpson, March 20, 2021)  The book uses Objectivist philosophy—the philosophy of novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand—to modify the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution to make them fully consistent with the protection of individual rights and freedom.  In so doing, the book also helps readers to understand what rights and freedom are, why they are important, and how to protect them.

In my first response to the review of my book (Simpson, 2021/22), I addressed comments made in the review related to the increase in control over the state governments in my revised Constitution.  I showed why greater restrictions on state governments are necessary to protect individual rights.  I also addressed the objection in the review to my abolition of term limits for the president in the revised Constitution, and I provided clarification on my amendment to protect a woman’s right to obtain an abortion in response to comments in the review pertaining to that subject.

In the response below, I address comments in the review related to whether it is helpful to revise the Declaration of Independence, whether the book makes an appeal to authority in its use of Objectivist philosophy as the basis for making changes to the Declaration and Constitution, and whether the book should apply Objectivist philosophy to defend liberty.  I also address whether import duties, as discussed in the book, violate rights, why voluntary methods of financing the government should be discussed in the book, and for what those voluntarily obtained funds can be used.  In addition, I address the objection, raised in the review, of applying rights to corporations, as well as the objection to my retention of Article V in my revised Constitution.  Based on this and my first response to the review of my book, one can begin to gain a better understanding of rights and freedom and why it is crucial to protect them.

My Response to the Review of A Declaration and Constitution for a Free Society

 

Improving the Declaration of Independence

The first comment in the review that I will address pertains to my revisions to the Declaration.  It is stated in the review that “the Declaration cannot actually be revised as it has already been declared and independence has already been won.”  While it is obviously true that we cannot go back and change the events of 1776, as I mention in the book, it is important to understand how to make the Declaration fully consistent with the protection of individual rights so that we can provide a better defense of freedom.  Moreover, as I also mention in the book, it is important to understand that the Declaration is a part of the laws of the United States and thus it would not merely be an academic exercise to modify the Declaration. (Simpson, 2021, pp. 2-3.  Henceforth, I will only provide the page numbers when referring to my book.)  Hence, revising the Declaration would be enormously beneficial.  Quoting from the book:

“I . . . encourage governments at all levels in the United States to reaffirm their commitment to protecting freedom and individual rights by making declarations of their own based on the revised Declaration.  Such declarations will help immensely to advance peace and prosperity throughout the world.” (p. 43)

These declarations, of course, would not be declarations of independence but declarations that re-focus governments on their only proper function of protecting freedom and individual rights. (See pp. 1-2, 5, 6-7, 11-12, 23, 31, 47-48, and 83 for why protecting freedom and individual rights constitute the only proper function of the government.)

Ayn Rand’s Philosophy as a basis for defending freedom and liberty

There is also significant discussion in the review of my extensive use of Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism as the basis for making changes to the Declaration and Constitution.  This philosophy is discussed in chapter one of the book.  In the review, it is stated that “His extensive discussion of Rand’s philosophy early in the book make [sic] it appear almost like an appeal to authority, but Simpson’s arguments can stand on their own and might appeal to a broader audience if they were presented as his defense of liberty rather than an application of Objectivism.”

I agree that the arguments might appeal to a broader audience if they were not presented as applications of Objectivism.  However, that would not change the fact that the arguments are applications of Objectivism and that the strongest possible defense of liberty requires the fundamental philosophical arguments that only Objectivism can provide.  Objectivism shows how the protection of rights and freedom is crucial to the ability of human beings to survive and flourish.  The philosophy shows how this derives from the nature of human beings, including their possession of reason and the need for each individual to act in his or her own rational self-interest in order to survive and flourish.  It shows that because humans possess reason, rights and freedom need to be protected so we can each use our minds to think, act on our rational judgement, and produce and pursue the values that our lives require.  Hence, the philosophy provides a fundamental philosophical defense of liberty—a defense that goes down to its metaphysical and epistemological foundation.  See chapter one of the book for more discussion of these ideas.

My goal in the book is to offer the strongest defense of liberty.  If some people reject these arguments because they embrace fundamental philosophical ideas that are inconsistent with liberty, while that is unfortunate, it is still important to make the fundamental arguments in favor of freedom so that those who want to defend freedom consistently can do so.  In the long run, this will help improve the ability to spread and defend freedom in the U.S. and around the globe.

What does a defense of liberty require?  Among other things, it requires showing the beneficial economic results that will follow from protecting liberty.  But while I make the economic case in many ways throughout the book for why liberty should be defended, economic arguments do not adequately defend liberty.  The economic case for capitalism—the political and economic system that protects rights and freedom—has been known for a long time.  In fact, while the father of economics, Adam Smith, was not a consistent advocate of freedom, he identified many of the economic benefits of capitalism in his famous book The Wealth of Nations, which was published in 1776. (For more on the nature of capitalism, see Simpson, 2005, pp. 5-13)

In contrast, socialism and the welfare state—which stand in opposition to capitalism and liberty—lead to terrible economic outcomes.  The level of economic freedom that exists in countries throughout the world and the economic results that have followed provide ample evidence for this conclusion.  The Economic Freedom of the World annual reports show year after year that freer nations have higher incomes, higher rates of economic progress, higher life expectancies, higher incomes for poor individuals, and greater happiness. (For the latest relevant results, see Gwartney et al., 2021, pp. vi and 17-21)  Socialism and the welfare state are desired because they are considered moral ideals, regardless of the economic disasters to which they lead.  Hence the need for the fundamental philosophical defense of liberty. (For more on the destructive nature of socialism and the welfare state, see Simpson, 2005 pp. 21-26)

To defend freedom in a fundamental way, one must make moral arguments in defense of freedom.  A defense of freedom, as alluded to above, requires embracing the morality of rational egoism (or rational self-interest) and the individual’s moral right to his own life (i.e., individualism).  The opposite—altruism (or the morality of self-sacrifice) and collectivism—provide the moral case for violations of freedom through the welfare state, socialism, communism, and dictatorship more generally. (pp. 13-15, 30, 145, and 199-200)  In essence, if we should sacrifice ourselves to others, then it makes sense for the state to violate rights to force people to sacrifice themselves to the poor, the old, the “environment,” etc.  Only if one has a right to his own life and thus it is moral to act in one’s rational self-interest is the freedom to do so morally justified.

In the book, I even go beyond the moral defense of freedom and provide the most fundamental philosophical defense of freedom, which, as mentioned above, is a defense based on metaphysics and epistemology.  In metaphysics and epistemology, one must recognize the absolutism of reality, that the natural world is the only world that exists, and that reason (through the information provided by the senses) is our only means to knowledge (i.e., our only means of understanding the world).  Violations of freedom are based on mysticism (whether religious or otherwise), subjectivism, and skepticism.  All of this is discussed in chapter one of the book and the relevant references therein. (pp.15-31)  In essence, if reality is such that there are no absolutes or we cannot understand the nature of the world (skepticism) or reality is whatever we want it to be (subjectivism and mysticism), then freedom is not a requirement of human life (or it is impossible to know whether it is).  Only if absolutes exist and we can understand what those absolutes are can there be a basis to identify that freedom is a fundamental requirement of human life and act on that knowledge.

This is the perspective that Objectivism provides.  Objectivist ideas are the only ones that provide a logically consistent, fully integrated, and factually correct view of the world philosophically.  That is why only these ideas can provide a fundamental defense of rights and freedom, and that is why Objectivist ideas must be used to defend rights and freedom.  A defense of freedom without Objectivism is a defense with many holes in it, and those holes can be used to undermine the case for freedom and even cause it to be abandoned completely.  This is why Objectivism must be used in the book as the basis for understanding and defending rights and freedom.

Misunderstanding the argument from authority

Lastly regarding the criticism that the extensive focus on Objectivism is a flaw of the book, Holcombe seems to believe that extensively discussing Objectivist philosophy early on in the book represents an example of the argument from authority when he says, “His [Simpson’s] extensive discussion of Rand’s philosophy early in the book make [sic] it appear almost like an appeal to authority. . . .”

This indicates a lack of understanding of the argument from authority.  To commit the fallacy of the argument from authority I would have to state in the book that Objectivism is right because Ayn Rand said it was right.  Nowhere in the book do I make such a statement.  I provide substantial discussion of Objectivist ideas to demonstrate why they are valid and how they strengthen the case for freedom.  See chapter one of the book.  Hence, even early on in the book it should be clear that I am not making an appeal to authority.

Abolishing confiscatory taxation

Next, let us turn to taxes.  In the book, I seek to abolish confiscatory taxation in the revised Constitution. (p. 64)  Confiscatory taxation is taxation that requires the initiation of physical force against taxpayers to obtain money from them.  It thus violates the freedom and rights of taxpayers—the freedom and right to do with their money what they see as best.  I also describe possible ways the legitimate functions of the government could be paid for through voluntary means. (pp. 65-67)  About this discussion, it is stated in the review that “if the idea of the book is to rewrite the Constitution based on Objectivist principles, and if taxation violates those principles, it is not necessary to speculate on how this might be done.”

Before addressing this argument, let me emphasize, as I do in the book, that establishing the financing of a free society is the last step to take in establishing a free society.  We first need to pare the government down to its appropriate function of protecting individual rights, which means radical reductions in the size and scope of government.  So we do not need to be concerned about how we would use voluntary financing to pay for the government starting tomorrow.  It would take decades from now to get to the point where we can start concerning ourselves about how to use voluntary financing to pay for the government of a free society.  A massive philosophical shift in the culture must take place to get to the point where we are ready to think about the type of financing for the government that is appropriate.  All of this is discussed in the book. (pp. 64-65, 72, 244, 246, and 248)

Nevertheless, given the radical nature of abolishing confiscatory taxation and establishing a system of voluntary taxation, it is imperative that if one proposes to take the steps to eventually move to a system of voluntary financing of the government that one provide at least some indication of how the government would be paid for through voluntary means.  Otherwise, the reader would be left with no reason to think that it could be paid for through voluntary means.  This also helps to show that voluntary taxation is not only morally ideal but that it is practical (i.e., voluntary financing is an integration of the moral and the practical).  This is why I include a brief description of how the government might be paid for without confiscatory taxation.

One of the mechanisms I propose to help pay for the proper functions of government through voluntary means is import duties. (pp. 66-67)  Holcombe objects to these, claiming that it “seems to suggest that importers are assumed guilty until proven innocent, and opens the door to all sorts of other inspections (occupational licensure, product safety standards) that enable government to proactively prevent some people from violating the rights of others.  Also, why should importers be charged rather than the consumers who presumably are being protected from having their rights violated?”

People have a right to import goods (and immigrate to the U.S.) but that must occur within the context of protecting the rights of those living within the U.S.  If there are objective foreign threats to the rights of Americans, we might need to protect ourselves through inspections of imported goods (and immigrants entering the U.S.).  We would also need a means of paying for these inspections.  It makes sense that those immigrating or importing the goods should pay for them.  In addition, as I state in the book, if there are no foreign threats to the rights of Americans, no inspections may be necessary and fees or duties may not be required.  However, if there are threats then fees and duties may be needed. (p. 66)

So the issue to consider here is not one of allegedly assuming importers (or immigrants) are guilty until proven innocent.  It is to ensure that the rights of people in the U.S. are protected from foreign threats.  Just as following a policy of free immigration does not mean anyone can immigrate to the U.S., so too does a policy of free trade mean that people cannot import whatever goods they want into the U.S.  Terrorists, criminals, those with infectious diseases, and so forth should not be able to immigrate to the U.S.  However, it is not readily apparent which people wanting to immigrate to the U.S. represent a threat to the rights of those living in the U.S.  We need a means to tell the difference between those people who represent a threat to our rights and those who do not, and this requires a means to pay for the inspections.  It’s only logical that those who want to immigrate into the U.S. pay for it.

The same is true regarding goods.  Goods that represent a threat to the rights of those in the U.S. should not be allowed to be imported into the U.S., including nuclear weapons, dangerous substances (such as ricin) imported with the intent to violate Americans’ rights, and so forth.  Again, we need a means to determine if goods being imported to the U.S. represent a threat to the rights of Americans and we need a means to pay for it.  Here too, it makes sense for the importers to pay for it.

I must emphasize that the duties I propose are circumscribed.  The rest of the changes to the Constitution I propose that help limit the government to only protecting rights will help to limit the fees.  At the same time, the changes I propose will help to prevent regulations from being imposed in the form of licensing laws and safety standards. (pp. 73-75 and 176-186)  These regulations violate rights.

In fact, I am not referring to protecting consumers from defective products or low-quality services through these inspections, as is implied in the review of the book.  I am referring to protecting those in the U.S. from items that would be used for the purpose of harming or killing them.  This, too, will help to prevent the government from using the duties as a rationalization to regulate products.  Harm caused by defective products being imported could be handled through civil lawsuits, as they would be for defective products produced domestically.

On a related issue, it is noted in the review that I believe the government should compensate individuals for certain harms it might cause to others in the process of protecting individual rights.  This is something I do support. (p. 104)  However, Holcombe also wonders “where a voluntarily funded government would get money to compensate those it harmed.  If the import duties or any other fees Simpson says are consistent with Objectivism were used, they clearly would become taxes and those who paid them would be forced to pay compensation for government harms.”

To understand why this objection is not valid, one must understand that when people pay voluntary fees to the government for services provided by the government, such as the right to have contractual disputes redressed and the outcomes enforced through the court system (pp. 65-66), and the government uses some of the funds raised through the voluntary fees to compensate those harmed by the government, the fees are still voluntary fees.  I pay the fee considering whether the service provided by the government is worth the price.  How the government uses the funds it receives from me—whether to purchase military hardware or to compensate those harmed by the government—does not change the fact that the fee was voluntary to me.  In fact, how the government uses the funds is irrelevant to whether the fee was voluntary.  I can still decide to engage in a contract without purchasing the right to have any dispute arising from that contract redressed in a court of law.  But if I decide to pay for the right, I could still have full knowledge of how the government might use the funds it receives.  I can take this knowledge into account when deciding to make the purchase (or immigrate or import goods into the U. S.).

First Amendment rights for corporations

Next, my application of First Amendment rights to corporations is objected to in the review.  Quoting from the review, “Simpson says (p. 131) ‘It is important to understand that the freedoms protected by the First Amendment also apply to corporations.’  A few pages later, discussing the Second Amendment, Simpson says (p. 134) ‘all rights belong to individuals and the purpose of government is to protect individual rights.’  Most classical liberals would agree with Simpson’s second statement, which undermines his argument for extending rights to corporations.  Corporations, ethnic minorities, religious organizations, and other groups do not have rights.  Individuals, who may be members of those groups, have rights.”

I agree that individuals—not groups—possess rights.  However, as discussed in the book, individuals have the right to associate with others and form groups (such as corporations) and exercise their rights as individuals through the group (in this case a corporation). (p. 131)  Individual rights are not protected consistently if individuals cannot, for instance, exercise their right to free speech through a group they associate with, such as a corporation.  So this is not a case of attempting to say that groups possess rights a part from the individuals that are members of the group.

Eliminating Presidential term limits

There is also an objection to my elimination of term limits on the president.  In the review, it is stated that “The Twenty-Second Amendment . . . would be eliminated by Simpson. . . .  This strikes me as an organizational issue that Simpson initially says he is not considering.  It seems reasonable, however, and not a violation of rights, to design a government so that the exercise of its power is rotated among individuals rather than resting with the same people.  True, this would prevent popular politicians like Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping from remaining in power, which may explain why Russia and China both did away with term limits.”

In my previous response to the review (Simpson, 2021/22), I addressed the issue of whether power rotating more frequently among different individuals rather than resting with the same person for a longer time period protects rights.  I also addressed the comparison between Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping being “voted” into office for many terms and my elimination of the Twenty-Second Amendment.  This comparison depends on a straw man argument.  Here I want to provide two additional responses to the comments in the review on my elimination of term limits on the president.

First, while I do say in the book that I will not change organizational (or procedural) issues in the Constitution, a key point is left out of the criticism of my statement on this topic.  Specifically, the part is left out where I state that I will not change procedural issues as long as they are consistent with the protection of individual rights. (p. 45)  If one takes into account this qualification, one will see that abolishing the Twenty-Second Amendment is within the limits I imposed on myself for the changes that I said I would make to the Constitution.

Second, and as I mention in the book, abolishing term limits is not fundamental to protecting rights. (pp. 164, 245, and 248-249)  However, if one is going to implement a system of government that consistently protects rights, they should not be included. (for why, see p. 163)  What is needed are provisions that prevent the government from initiating physical force.

Protecting a woman’s right to obtain an abortion

There is also a critique in the review of my amendment to protect a woman’s right to obtain an abortion.  Quoting from the review, “The suggested wording that Simpson says allows abortion reads (p. 186), ‘The right of each individual to the control of his or her own body shall not be infringed…’ which seems ambiguous with regard to abortion.  Does a person have a right to swing a sword at the body of another?  Those who argue that life begins at conception assert that abortion amounts to the same thing.  I am not arguing for or against abortion, but saying that Simpson’s wording leaves open a good argument against abortion, despite his intent.”

In my previous response to the review (Simpson, 2021/22), I address the comment regarding the ambiguous wording of this amendment.  I also address the additional straw man argument employed in the review in connection with the comparison between the right to the control of one’s body and the “right” to attack a person with a sword.  Here I want to make one additional comment in response to the critique of the amendment that focuses on a woman’s right to obtain an abortion.

It seems to be implied in the review that this amendment constitutes my argument for a woman’s right to obtain an abortion when it is claimed that the wording for this amendment “leaves open a good argument against abortion.”  However, a constitutional amendment is not an argument.  The argument and justification for an amendment to protect a woman’s right to obtain an abortion must be provided separately, as arguments for the current U.S. Constitution were provided separately in The Federalist Papers that were written by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay.  If the argument and justification were not provided separately, this amendment alone would need to be pages long.  If arguments were provided for all provisions in the Constitution, it would be a tome, as evidenced by the length of The Federalist Papers.  This would reduce the Constitution’s ability to protect rights.

Nonetheless, I do provide an argument for a woman’s right to obtain an abortion but that is provided in the supporting text and references embedded therein. (pp. 138 and 187)  The supporting discussion leaves no rational basis to deny a woman’s right to obtain an abortion.  One cannot be a consistent defender of individual rights and freedom if one denies this fundamental right.  The denial of this fundamental right is a part of the opposition to the protection of individual rights and freedom that has its source in religion.  I discuss this opposition in chapter one and elsewhere in the book. (pp. 27-32, 124, and 127-128)

Eternal vigilance and individual rights

Finally, regarding Article V, it is stated in the review that “Simpson leaves Article V of the Constitution, which allows for amendments, mostly intact, which means his document could be amended if amendments meet with the approval of two-thirds of the House and Senate and three-quarters of the states. . . .  Simpson devotes 50 pages to discussing ways in which the Constitution’s existing amendments compromise individual rights, yet his redesigned constitution would allow these same amendments to be readopted the same way.”

I do not change any of the provisions of Article V, but this is consistent with the protection of individual rights.  Some writers have proposed unamendable or unrepealable provisions in the Constitution to protect rights.  I discuss in chapter ten of the book why such provisions do not make sense. (pp. 234-235)  Ultimately, whether a constitution is amended to protect or violate rights is dependent on the fundamental philosophical ideas prevalent in a nation.  If a country moves significantly philosophically in a collectivist and statist direction, provisions to prevent the amendment of a rights-protecting constitution will not prevent it from being amended (or completely abandoned).  One must establish a constitution that protects rights—bans the initiation of physical force—and, to paraphrase Jefferson, be eternally vigilant in fighting for the right ideas to maintain such a constitution.  In fact, as I discuss in the book and imply above, a constitution that consistently protects rights cannot be implemented without a proper philosophical base existing within a nation. (pp. 1, 6, and 245-246)

Conclusion

While I agree with some of what is stated in the review of my book, I do not agree with much of the analysis in the review.  The book contains not only important arguments concerning what rights are and how to defend them, but it also contains a discussion of the positive economic results and other positive results that will be obtained if rights are consistently protected.  However, getting the most out of the comprehensive discussion of rights in the book is dependent on a careful reading of the arguments in the book.  In addition, if one is going to review the book, one must accurately portray and analyze the ideas in the book.  This will enable the arguments in the book to be properly understood.  This is what this response is intended to help achieve.

Explore A Declaration and Constitution for a Free Society on Amazon.

References

Gwartney, James, Robert Lawson, Joshua Hall, and Ryan Murphy, Economic Freedom of the World: 2021 Annual Report (Vancouver, BC, Canada: Fraser Institute, 2021)

Holcombe, Randall G., “Review of A Declaration and Constitution for a Free Society: Making the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution Fully Consistent with the Protection of Individual Rights,” The Independent Review vol. 26, no. 1 (summer 2021), https://www.independent.org/publications/tir/article.asp?id=1612&gclid=EAIaIQobChMI6_mo0O2S8gIV9W1vBB2laAyAEAAYAiAAEgI7wPD_BwE.  Accessed May 15, 2022.

Simpson, Brian P., “Response by Brian P. Simpson to Randall Holcombe’s Review of A Declaration and Constitution for a Free Society,” The Independent Review vol. 26, no. 3 (winter 2021/22), https://www.independent.org/publications/tir/article.asp?id=1680.  Accessed May 15, 2022.

———————-, “[Excerpts from] A Declaration and Constitution for a Free Society,” Capitalism Magazine, March 20, 2021, https://www.capitalismmagazine.com/2021/03/a-declaration-and-constitution-for-a-free-society/.  Accessed May 15, 2022.

———————-, A Declaration and Constitution for a Free Society: Making the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution Fully Consistent with the Protection of Individual Rights (Lanham, MD, Lexington Books, 2021)

———————-, Markets Don’t Fail! (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2005)

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Brian P. Simpson is an economics professor and chair of the Department of Accounting, Finance, and Economics in the College of Professional Studies at National University in La Jolla, CA. He is the author of A Declaration and Constitution for a Free Society, and the two-volume work on Austrian business cycle theory titled Money, Banking, and the Business Cycle (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014) and the book Markets Don’t Fail! (Lexington Books, 2005). Visit his website brian-simpson.com.

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