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Erase Thought Of ‘General Welfare’

By Bradley Harrington

Published in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle on March 19, 2014

“If Congress can employ money indefinitely to the general welfare, and are the sole and supreme judges of the general welfare ... It would subvert the very foundations, and transmute the very nature of the limited government established by the people of America; and what inferences might be drawn, or what consequences ensue, from such a step, it is incumbent on us all to consider.” -James Madison to the U.S. House, 1792 -

And now, 222 years later, as the United States on all levels continues to flounder socially, politically and economically, it is “incumbent on us all to consider” as well.

Has our ceaseless pursuit of “the general welfare” helped us any since?

That it’s “the general welfare” we’ve been pursuing is without question: Cheyenne’s own Unified Development Code, for instance, is justified on that basis (“the purpose of these regulations are to promote the health, safety and the general welfare of the citizens of Cheyenne”).

Meanwhile, our national Constitution seeks to “promote the general welfare” as well.

This goal, on both these levels and all levels in between, colors every aspect of our political action.

But the essence of the problem is: Who gets to decide what constitutes “the general welfare”?

It bears recalling that there was a time when Josef Stalin believed it consisted of the liquidation of 20 million Kulak farmers; when Adolph Hitler thought it meant the annihilation of 6 million Jews; and when Mao Zedong was convinced it lay in the extermination of 50 million Chinese peasants.

Not that I am equating the commission of such atrocities with bumbling city planners, mind you.

But isn’t it telling that when three men were the “sole and supreme judges of the general welfare” - and given the unlimited political power to back those judgments up at the point of a gun - the result was ultimate loss of rights for some 76 million humans?

Never before in history have so many people been so concerned with “the general welfare” - and never before has Cheyenne or our country been in such a sorry mess.

With such a track record, therefore, it’s high time we questioned our goal: the very notion of “the general welfare” itself.

Indeed, when examined closely, the totalitarian implications of such a concept become obvious.

Observe that it holds, as its sole standard, not the individual welfare of actual humans - but only the collective “welfare” of society as a whole.

But what is “society,” if not a collection of individuals?

By placing society first, “the general welfare” subverts individualism at its very root. From there, it’s only one more step to the belief that sometimes it’s just “necessary” to sacrifice some men’s rights for the sake of other men.

That’s exactly how “the general welfare” works: It starts with planners - and ends with dictators in power.

Both philosophically and historically, when “society” takes precedence over the individual goods of the members that make it up, the “consequences that ensue” are unavoidable and irrefutable - and those who would control our lives follow as surely as the night follows the day.

No, if “the general welfare” is to have any true, graspable meaning in the real world at all, it can only mean the summation of the welfare of all the individual property rights of each and every citizen within the given geographical location, whether that’s Cheyenne or the United States of America.

And a large body of evidence exists to support the idea that the majority of the Founding Fathers meant exactly that by their use of the phrase.

But the logic of principles cannot be denied. Therefore, so long as political action continues to be based on such a collectivistic concept, it’s only a matter of time until that concept “subverts the very foundations” of rational discourse.

What you are witnessing today in our social arena, whether locally here in Cheyenne or nationally in regard to the country, are the final steps of that process.

And if you want to change that - if you want to defend capitalism, freedom, private property rights and man’s right to exist for his own sake - then wipe that phrase out of your vocabulary.

It is nothing more than a tool of control for looters, altruists and dictators, whether they be city planners who “know best” or national presidents and Congress-critters bent on coercing you into giving up your rights.

Some 222 years ago, James Madison understood, grasped what he had unwittingly wrought and tried to warn us. When are we going to understand?

Bradley Harrington is a computer technician and a writer who lives in Cheyenne; he can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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