How John Adams Predicted Bernie Sanders and His Acolytes

There is something incredibly curious about the Bernie Sanders’s faithful.  On the one hand, we’re told that they’re incredibly well-educated.  Indeed, academia and its young charges support him more than other candidates, some say.

One might be inclined to think that this implies some sort of intellectual ballast to Sanders’ fiscal approach.  Surely, such learned scholars wouldn’t just flock to the guy without having done extensive research, and after having earned a broad foundation of knowledge about economics through hours, days, or perhaps years of diligent study.

Then, you see the Sanders campaign tweet something like this:

@SenSanders: You have families out there paying 6, 8, 10 percent on student debt but you can refinance your homes at 3 percent.  What sense is that?

This tweet has not been removed, despite its having been thrashed as perhaps “the most economically illiterate tweet ever.”  But naturally, this is the kind of stuff that makes the rest of America that isn’t “feeling the Bern” scratch their heads.  Your everyday taxpayer, who may not have gone to college because of the 6, 8, or 10 percent interest rates on the debt he would have incurred by doing so, wonders how Sanders supporters, supposedly so intelligent, can be so incredibly ignorant to the concept of collateralized debt.   One Twitter user, @Smittie61984, clarifies the concept in less than 140 characters, complete with the requisite snark that silly tweets like Sanders’ deserve:

@SenSanders A bank can repossess a house.  They can’t repossess your brain if you quit paying your student loans.  Though, you make me wonder.

Do the legions of lettered Sanders’ supporters really not understand this, among the simplest of concepts in finance?  Do they really believe that having taxpayers pick up the tab for all outstanding and future student debts, as is his plan, actually makes financial sense?

Far more likely is that support for Bernie Sanders has absolutely nothing to do with what actually makes “sense,” at least not in practical terms.  His appeal to the American people is not made on the grounds of logic or laws, but rather the basest emotions of humankind. 

Allow Founder and second U.S. President John Adams to explain.

In 1787, Adams published his three-volume work, A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America.  In the opening chapter of Volume III, he predicts, with eerie precision, the why and how of Bernie Sanders and his acolytes. 

In brief summation of its entirety, this introductory chapter is an argument for a nation built upon a separation of powers and laws based upon unalienable individual rights, in contrast to a nation built upon a single, unchecked legislative body of representatives that could impose the will of a mob. 

Here, Adams responds to seventeenth-century journalist Marchamont Nedham, who makes the contention that a legislative body, enacting the will of a majority, is a suitable means of governance, because people, in general, “never think of usurping over other men’s rights, but mind which way to preserve their own.” 

“[I]f the people never, jointly nor severally, think of usurping the rights of others, what occasion can there be for any government at all?” Adams asks.  “Are there no robberies, burglaries, murders, adulteries, thefts, nor cheats….  Is not a great part, I will not say the greatest part, of men detected every day in some disposition or other, stronger or weaker, more or less, to usurp over other men’s rights?”

It is interesting to me, given the ample evidence in recent history, that the proponents of limited government must still mount an intellectual defense against the obvious fiction that man, in his natural state, is some benevolent being who would gladly take a pittance, regardless of his skill in industry and productivity which might suggest that he be afforded more, to ensure that all around him get an equal pittance.  It is because the exact opposite is true, and because mankind naturally resists coercion and theft, that collectivist governments of the twentieth century, in the guise of acting as benevolent representatives of the people, have forcibly seized and redistributed property -- and the results have been disastrous, to put it mildly.  Communism alone, for example, has more than 100 million murders to its name in the past 100 years.

Having thus concluded, and well prior to the aforementioned evidence, that man is quite often given to the violation of his neighbors’ rights, Adams offers a hypothetical scenario:

Suppose a nation, rich and poor, high and low, ten millions in number, all assembled together; not more than one or two millions will have lands, houses, or any personal property… Would Mr. Nedham be responsible that, if all were to be decided by a vote of the majority, the eight or nine millions who have no property, would not think of usurping over the rights of the one or two millions who have?  Property is surely a right of mankind as really as liberty.

Among the principles that are fundamental to the American idea is the Lockean assertion of individual property rights.  On this, no honest historian could disagree.  In modern practice, however, the notion of individual property rights is little more than a mantelpiece we like to talk about with our friends.  As Adams predicted in 1787, the notion has less and less meaning with each government encroachment upon property rights.

I’ll give you a modern example.  Imagine (though imagination may very well not be required) that you “own” your home and the land upon which it sits.  Imagine, however, that you do not pay the government an annual duty, called property tax, for your having squatted on that land with your family over the past year.  Now, consider that government agents with guns can come to your home to arrest and jail you if you don’t pay, or even kill you if you resist the coerced payment of that required tribute. 

In what sense do you “own” this property?

The point is that our property, including the wealth which is the fruits of our trades, is no longer our property first and above all, protected as a right of man by a government which was initially designed to do just that.  It is, rather, only our property insofar as our neighbors have decided, through popular votes, to allow us to keep.  And ultimately, we may only keep as much as they might allow through the government’s ever-increasing assertion of its ownership, a mandate which becomes more firmly placed with each popular declaration that all property is, somehow, communal.

Again returning to Adams, he predicted this:

The moment the idea is admitted into society, that property is not as sacred as the laws of God, and that there is not a force of law and public justice to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence.

And he even provides a description as to how it would happen, which, again, is eerily similar to Sanders’s proposed policies that have his flock so incredibly excited:

Perhaps, at first, prejudice, habit, shame or fear, principle or religion, would restrain the poor from attacking the rich, and the idle from usurping on the industrious; but the time would not be long before courage and enterprise would come, and pretexts be invented by degrees, to countenance the majority in dividing all the property among them, or at least, in sharing it equally with its present possessors.  Debts would be abolished first; taxes laid heavily on the rich, and not at all on the others; and at last a downright equal division of everything be demanded, and voted.  What would be the consequence of this?  The idle, the vicious, the intemperate would rush into the utmost extravagance of debauchery, sell and spend their share, and then demand a new division of those who purchased from them. [emphasis added]

The question is not whether the outcomes Adams predicts will come to pass if Bernie Sanders is elected president.  The question, rather, is how much of what he predicts has already come to pass, for we have long ago admitted and accepted as law the notion that “the right to property is not as sacred as the laws of God.”  Furthermore, what might further infringements upon property rights, much less Sanders’ suggestion that we abolish them, mean for our culture and our country? 

Just as any reasonable person might understand why a home loan poses less risk for a lender than a student loan, any reasonable person should also recognize the danger in a government with the power to rob successful individuals in order to provide for a preferred class of idle, entitled, and envious grumblers.

William Sullivan blogs at Political Palaver and can be followed on Twitter.

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