Liberty Is the Greatest Inheritance

The following article originally was published June 8 by Grand Junction Free Press.

When I was a small child I always thought my grandpa was nuts for saying the older you get the faster time goes. But it’s true. My dad Linn [shown in the photo] and I started writing this twice-monthly column for the Free Press back in July of 2005. For seven yearns we’ve written about free markets, free speech, political races, taxes, gun rights, and a host of other topics. Our main goal has been to advocate individual rights and political liberty.

The time has gone fast. Now it’s time for us to move on to other projects. Now that my dad is in semi-retirement, he’s busier than ever; among other things, he teaches classes on workplace safety and emergency response to violence. I’ve started writing more for The Objective Standard, where you can read my blog posts and occasional article for the print journal.

I wanted to take this opportunity to say farewell to our Free Press readers. But we’re not going anywhere geographically; we’ll continue to advocate the ideas we believe in (though some of our critics might wish we’d simply shut up). See my web page at AriArmstrong.com for ways to stay in touch. Perhaps you’ll see my dad around town.

My dad and I considered writing a farewell column together but decided against it. However, with father’s day coming up, I thought this would be a good opportunity to write a solo column about my dad. I mulled it over, and it strikes me that my dad taught me five main things in my life.

First, my dad gave me an appreciation of history. He has always been something of an amateur historian; for example, he’s done a fair amount of research about the old stagecoach trail near Mt. Garfield. Though it took me a while to pick up this interest in history—for years I didn’t see much point in studying the past—finally I caught on to its importance.

Even my name carries historical significance. “Ari,” a common Jewish name, in my case comes from Leon Uris’s book Exodus, a novelization of the founding of the modern state of Israel. Of course I read this novel, along with another historical novel of Uris’s, Mila 18, which pays tribute to the resistance fighters in Poland who struggled against Nazi oppression.

So my dad taught me that we can’t really understand ourselves unless we understand those who came before us.

Second, my dad always encouraged my healthy respect for the U.S. military. My dad served in Vietnam (and you can find video interviews about this if you Google “Linn Armstrong Vietnam”). [See also my dad’s article about July 4 in Vietnam.] My dad was not my only influence in this regard; both of my biological grandfathers served in World War II, so I consider myself lucky even to have been born, with all the warfare in my family’s past. (A great-grandfather of mine also served in WWI.) I did not have to fight in any wars, but through my elders’ stories I am aware of the dangers and heartaches of war.

This respect for the military was important for me ideologically because it helped me resist the worst impulses of libertarianism, which at its worst becomes indistinguishable from the “blame America first” left, so far as foreign policy goes. Now I reject both the “nation building” of the neoconservatives and the strict noninterventionism of the libertarians, advocating instead a robust military defense of American lives and liberties.

Third, my dad gave me an appreciation for philosophy. When I was a kid he read Ayn Rand’s Anthem to me, and the story of individualism stayed with me and influenced my development. My dad also handed me Atlas Shrugged when I was in high school. I continue to take an interest in Rand’s philosophy (as well as in other schools of thought), and as I matured so did my understanding of those ideas.

Fourth, my dad also helped me develop an interest in economics. In addition to giving me Atlas Shrugged (which itself contains some interesting insights into economics), my dad handed me Milton Friedman’s Free to Choose. Though I have since come to disagree with some of Friedman’s positions, he introduced me to the basics of economic reasoning.

Fifth, my dad helped give me a lasting appreciation for liberty. Not only did he give me various pro-liberty books that strongly influenced me, he led by example by staying active in politics and helping to build up a great gun training program.

My father shared with me the ideas of liberty, as many fathers before him shared them. That is the reason why America’s founding principles remain a living force in our culture, whatever insults and setbacks those ideas have endured. Other fathers could learn something important from my father: the greatest inheritance you can bestow to your children is the living tradition of liberty.

Ari Armstrong writes for The Objective Standard as well as for his web page at AriArmstrong.com. For seven years he coauthored a column for Grand Junction Free Press with his father Linn.

Search for Missing Friends Brought Out Heroes

The following article by Linn and Ari Armstrong originally was published February 17 by Grand Junction Free Press.

The Widegren family, with nine children and eight grandchildren ranging in age from a few months to over 40 years, has long been a pillar of the Palisade community, with connections spanning much of the west and beyond. That’s one reason why, when Mark Widegren and his friend and coworker Brian Axe went missing near Price, Utah, dozens of people responded to the emergency, driving and flying in from around the country to meet in Price to help with the search. Family and friends of both men played key roles in the search.

When the young men’s vehicle finally was found on February 5, the news was tragic: their vehicle had crashed down a steep cliff a week previously on Saturday night, and the sheriff’s department deemed the crash “unsurvivable.” Mark and Brian were driving through the treacherous Cottonwood Canyon, off of Nine Mile Canyon, northeast of Price on their way to their base camp. They worked for an energy company there.

The one silver lining to the horrible tragedy was seeing dozens of the men’s family, friends, and coworkers heroically join the search. Todd Widegren, Mark’s oldest brother, told reporters, “These guys were friends and family of a huge, huge number of people. And everybody that is here is here for the love of those guys.”

Because Ari went to school with several of the Widegrens and has long known the family, he too traveled to Price to witness the search (and perhaps in some small way to help with it). In retrospect, the efforts of the searchers pay tribute to the memory of the lost friends. We won’t mention their names here because we don’t want to make anybody feel uncomfortable, but we wanted to describe their valiant efforts to the broader community.

Volunteer ground searchers first discovered the secluded vehicle and hiked to it, giving the family and friends at least the comfort of learning what happened. Obviously the hope had been to find the men alive and assist them. Finally we learned that had been impossible, but the fact that, at the time, we thought they might still be alive made it crucially important to find them as quickly as possible. As terrible as the news turned out to be, at least the news allowed the recovery effort to proceed, and it gave the family and searchers a bit of peace from the constant anxiety and stress of not knowing.

Two young men from Grand Junction first spotted the vehicle by scrambling down a steep, snowy decline and then peering down the face of the cliff. The vehicle had been difficult to see from the air because it was crumpled and it blended into the surrounding rocks. After those men called in the news, another group, consisting of two family friends from Denver and two family members, drove and hiked to the vehicle, again through heavy snow, to check for survivors and help guide the recovery effort.

For several days, other search teams had covered the area extensively by ground and by air. One group of friends and family searched throughout the night with spotlights.

At the Holiday Inn hotel in Price, which was very accommodating to the search parties, others organized the search, verified that everyone returned safely from searching, organized written reports from the searchers, reported to friends elsewhere and to the media, and worked with the local authorities.

Local law enforcement agents helped track down credit card receipts, cell phone data, and security camera footage that helped narrow down the search area. Carbon County Deputy Sheriff Wally Hendricks helped organize the search and bring updates to the family.

Of course the search took money and resources, and many people responded with donations of food or money. One local “cage” fighter even donated his fight purse to the recovery effort and raised additional funds from sponsors.

Plenty of others also helped out. The Abby and Jennifer Recovery Foundation sent representatives from Grand Junction to Price to help. Several Price locals also joined the search with their ATVs and other vehicles. The owner of a small air company paid for the hotel rooms of the searchers. Pizza Hut delivered an order of free pizzas to those involved. (No doubt we’ve inadvertently left some people out.)

When the emergency hit, many people from the Western Slope, Utah, and beyond answered the call. Their efforts are an inspiration and a credit to our communities.

We only wish the final outcome had been the one we had hoped for. Mark and Brian will be deeply missed.

Related:

Natelson Brings Original Constitution to Colorado Activists

The following article by Linn and Ari Armstrong originally was published January 20 by Grand Junction Free Press.

As Americans we live under the greatest Constitution ever devised. Unfortunately, few Americans know much about what our foundational legal document means or how it properly applies to modern life. And those who do study the Constitution often abuse (or artfully ignore) its text to advance a narrow political agenda.

Rob Natelson aims to remedy those problems. Natelson, one of the world’s foremost scholars on the original meaning of the Constitution, taught law at the University of Montana for over two decades. Now he has returned to Colorado, where he once practiced law, to serve with the Independence Institute. In recent months Natelson has lectured on the Constitution in Denver and Colorado Springs, most recently attending a meeting of Liberty In the Books (which Ari moderates).

Recently Natelson’s book “The Original Constitution” came out in a second edition. We encourage you to buy a copy and read it (search at Amazon), then share it with your friends. We are among the most fortunate people ever to walk the planet, because we have inherited the intellectual and legal traditions embodied in the Constitution. It is up to us to keep that heritage alive. We know of no better place to start than with Natelson’s book.

“The Original Constitution” embodies Natelson’s findings from years of research into stacks of documents, many in Latin, that informed the Founders. Yet the book is widely accessible and beautifully written. Natelson also offers a few hundred well-placed footnotes, as well as a descriptive bibliography, for those who wish to study further. The Constitution is a document for “We the People,” and so is Natelson’s book.

We especially admire the book’s integrity: “Among other academics, law professors are notorious for writing works of special pleading and calling them ‘scholarship’ — a practice I actively resisted during my long career in legal academia. I can assure the reader that this book is not a work of special pleading, but a depiction of a slice of history: the legal force of a particular legal document at a particular time.”

Natelson dismisses the notion, as expressed by Barack Obama, that it is “unrealistic” to “somehow discern the original intent of the Founders or ratifiers.” Instead, Natelson writes, “Competent Founding-Era scholars largely agree on what most of the original Constitution’s provisions mean. Much of the disagreement among constitutional writers results from unfamiliarity with the historical record or with eighteenth-century law.”

To offer an example of how Constitutional clarity can resolve today’s debates, consider what one writer claimed in the Washington Times: “Mr. [Herman] Cain’s 9 percent national sales tax simply isn’t constitutional.” Wrong. While we think a national sales tax is a really bad idea, it passes Constitutional muster. The Constitution grants Congress the power to impose “indirect” taxes such as a sales tax, as Natelson makes clear. In aninterview he confirmed, “A national sales tax is clearly constitutional, so long as uniform throughout the country.”

During the Liberty In the Books meeting, Natelson debunked another view of the Constitution that we have expressed. The idea is that the “commerce clause” grants Congress the authority only to “make regular” (regulate) interstate commerce, not restrict commerce. Not so, says Natelson. Instead, that clause gives Congress power to restrict commerce. However, Natelson explains, the “commerce clause” was intended to grant much less power than is commonly assumed today. For example, properly interpreted it would not allow Congress to force people to buy insurance, as ObamaCare proposes.

We are not convinced, however, that original intent always should dictate Constitutional interpretation. The literal meaning of the text also matters, as do the logical implications of the text.

Natelson offers an example in his book that we think supports this line of reasoning. Originally, Article III established that the “judicial power of the United States” extended to “controversies… between a state and citizens of another state.” Natelson convincingly argues that the Federalists thought this would not overturn “sovereign immunity,” or the power of states not to be sued by individuals. But the Supreme Court decided to read the text literally and allowed a man from South Carolina to sue Georgia. This unpopular decision quickly led to the passage of the Eleventh Amendment, which affirmed that a state cannot be sued by “citizens of another state.”

As Natelson pointed out, Chief Justice John Jay helped decide the Georgia decision. Jay, you’ll recall, was an author of the Federalist Papers. If even Jay looked to literal meaning over original intent, might that justify us doing the same?

It matters very much whether we look strictly to original intent, or whether we also examine literal meaning and logical implications, in evaluating the significance of the First Amendment, “due process of law,” and other key Constitutional provisions.

Yet, regardless of where we may ultimately end up in that debate, we acknowledge that it is critically important to understand the original intent of the Constitution. We thank Natelson for helping us do that.

Assault the Enemy, Not the Citizenry

The following article by Linn and Ari Armstrong originally was published November 26 by Grand Junction Free Press.

“It is TSA’s policy not to hire sexual offenders,” the Denver Post quoted the agency. Well isn’t that reassuring!

But to many airline passengers TSA’s full-body scans and “strip and grope” pat-downs feel a lot like sexual assault. Texas pilot Michael Roberts sued TSA over the scans and “enhanced pat-downs,” telling Sean Hannity, “They wanted to see my penis… and I said, that’s not okay, guys.”

John Tyner told TSA agents, don’t “touch my junk.” Texas reporter Steve Simon captured a chilling video of TSA terrifying his three-year-old daughter as she screamed, “Stop touching me!”

Yet TSA defends its invasive procedures, claiming they are necessary for passenger safety, and at least some passengers agree with this. We regard the “security” procedures as a complete sham and a mockery of public safety.

Moreover, if we want to get serious about checking out people who may be a threat to us, it is perfectly obvious to anyone with a lick of common sense that a three-year-old Texas girl poses no danger. In our era threats come from a small minority of those with ties to the Islamic world.

Far more important than how airlines handle security, however, is the matter of why violent Islamists still want to kill us. The answer is that we have not broken the enemy’s will to fight.

Historian John David Lewis writes in his new book, Nothing Less than Victory: “U.S. military doctrine since World War II has progressively devalued victory as the object of war… The practical result has followed pitilessly: despite some hundred thousand dead, the United States has not achieved an unambiguous military victory since 1945.”

Yes, we sent troops into Iraq: a nation that posed no serious threat to us and where we spent untold resources on infrastructure and welfare programs for the Iraqis. Despite troops in Afghanistan, the Taliban continues to mock us and gain forces in various regions. Meanwhile, the oppressive Iranian regime continues to spit in our face and advance toward nuclear weapons.

It is worth remembering that the war in Afghanistan has now gone on for longer than the Vietnam war. Given the raw military might and technological advantages of the U.S. military over our Islamist enemies, this failure to achieve lasting victory is a failure of the will to win.

As opposed to tepid modern American military actions, Lewis reviews “six major wars in which a clear-cut victory did not lead to longer and bloodier war, but rather established the foundations of a long-term peace between former enemies.”

Lewis reviews several great victories, such as the Greek victory over the Persians several hundred years before Christ and the U.S. victory over Japan in World War II. But perhaps more interesting (and more disturbing) for our purposes is Lewis’s review of the fall of Rome.

Rome did well so long as it maintained internal strength and looked outward in terms of opening trade and fighting back “barbarians.” But when Rome started to decay internally and look inward toward controlling its own citizens rather than taking the fight to the enemy, Rome self-destructed.

Internally, Lewis notes, Rome faced rioting and “decades of coinage debasement,” that era’s extreme version of “quantitative easing.” Wracked by political instability, “barbarian invasions, ruinous monetary inflation, threats to water and grain supplies, and dependence upon provincial armies,” Rome deteriorated.

The Romans began to build a defensive wall around the city around the year 271, and “Rome was now garrisoned by an army unit,” Lewis writes. It is a bad sign whenever a nation turns to patrolling its own citizenry rather than taking the fight to the enemy.

Lewis contrasts the open roads with the closed walls: “The openness of Roman roads was true power, far stronger than mere walls. These roads were lines in the face of a confident city, the sinews of an invincible civilization with a people who admitted to no threats capable of striking their capital.”

After our nation’s capital was attacked on 9/11, we too turned inward in fear. We turned to assaulting our own citizenry on our modern roads, our airways, with intrusive TSA screenings. We built up barriers to the free movement of goods and people.

Moreover, Lewis writes, Rome’s walls took a psychological toll on the city’s people, for they reminded “every Roman, every day, that he was perpetually at risk.” These “walls were an open admission of permanent weakness and vulnerability.”

We have not deteriorated internally to the degree of Rome, though current “leaders” are striving mightily to achieve that end. Nor do we face enemies with the relative strength of Rome’s enemies. Our problem is not lack of economic or military might, but lack of will to defeat those intent on harming us.

We have convinced ourselves that victory is neither attainable nor morally desirable. So long as that remains the case, we risk going down the same path as Rome.

On Immigration, Too Many Conservatives Oppose Liberty

The following article originally was published May 14, 2010, by Grand Junction’s Free Press.

On immigration, too many conservatives oppose liberty

by Linn and Ari Armstrong

Remember the good old days when conservatives advocated liberty, free markets, and a business-friendly political environment? Now, at least when it comes to immigration, many conservatives instead advocate border socialism, economic protectionism, intrusive identification laws, and criminal penalties on employers for the “crime” of hiring willing workers.

Let us begin with the rights of property and free association, the bedrock of a free market economy. As a property owner, you have the right to invite your neighbor over for dinner. You also have the right to invite your neighbor to help you build a shed. These rights of property and association do not diminish if you offer to pay your neighbor, or if you offer to pay somebody from Florida, Canada, or Mexico.

But what about the Arizonans whose rights are violated when illegal immigrants sneak across their land? We agree that is a serious problem. However, it is immoral and impractical to attempt to protect the property of some by blatantly violating the rights of others. Moreover, the only reason immigrants sneak over the border (generally a dangerous and expensive proposition) is that immigration is largely illegal. With a robust guest worker program, immigrants looking for work would be more than happy to take the bus.

What about border security? With a robust guest worker program, U.S. officials could control the flow of migrants much more easily. Many fewer Mexicans would attempt to cross the border illegally, and U.S. law enforcement would have a much easier time catching them.

It would help if U.S. drug prohibition weren’t enriching murderous Mexican drug lords, ripping apart the Mexican legal system, and promoting the illegal drug trade into the U.S. It is these drug routes that threaten to allow Islamist terrorists to hitch a ride. The obvious answer, which many conservatives are too cowardly to mention, is to repeal drug prohibition and return to individual responsibility. Short of that, at least a guest worker program would allow U.S. law enforcement to focus on the delimited problem of drug trafficking.

But won’t legal immigrants and guest workers take American jobs? In a free society, a job belongs to whomever an employer chooses to hire, and to nobody else. And we are frankly tired of alleged conservatives treating jobs as though they were some sort of socialized property of the collective. It’s time for Republicans to stop channeling Karl Marx when it comes to immigration policy.

Ah, but we hear, some immigrants go on welfare and drain government budgets. Many immigrants pay enormous sums into U.S. welfare programs and never draw out a penny. We advocate a guest worker program that forbids migrants from signing up for U.S. welfare dollars.

Conservatives claim to endorse family values. Why, then, do so many conservatives tolerate or endorse immoral immigration laws that split up families over minor technical infractions?

Many conservatives rightly bristle at the thought of giving their name to the government for a gun purchase. Why, then, do many conservatives now want to force all employers to verify employees with the federal government and force all citizens to carry identification documents to get a job and avoid trouble with the police? It used to be that conservatives were dead set against any sort of “papers please” policy.

These onerous paperwork crackdowns on employers started with tax compliance. Conservatives should be fighting such controls on businesses, not trying to enact more. What do you think the likes of Thomas Jefferson and Sam Adams would have thought about asking the federal government’s permission to hire a willing worker? Now, shamefully, some alleged conservatives call for felony penalties on employers who fail to sufficiently kiss bureaucratic backside.

On a pragmatic note, Republicans are foolish to alienate Hispanic voters. Conservatives claim to support hard work, family values, and a strong sense of community harmony — precisely the values of many immigrants.

To put a human face on the issue, some years ago your senior author knew someone in eastern New Mexico who worked a “truck garden,” requiring back-breaking work to bring vegetables to market. He hired ten to fifteen illegal immigrants for the season, and said many of these workers had been with him for many years. They were hard working, dependable, and trustworthy. Once he ran help wanted advertisements in the local city and school newspapers. A single local high school student answered the advertisement. The student worked for a few short hours, then went home. Conservatives would throw that employer in prison and see his crops rot.

The choice is clear. Either you support liberty, free markets, the rights of property and association, and security against government intrusions, or you support restrictive immigration. But if you choose the latter, please do not call yourself a conservative. Use the correct term for your views on this issue and call yourself a socialist.

Linn Armstrong is a local political activist and firearms instructor with the Grand Valley Training Club. His son, Ari, edits FreeColorado.com from the Denver area.

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Comments

Anonymous May 14, 2010 at 2:06 PM
Instead of viewing immigrants for what they contribute, we view them for what they cost. We try to figure out how much in “free” government services they use, health care, education, welfare, etc. We aren’t moving towards less government, so divisions between neighbors will likely keep growing.

mtnrunner2 May 14, 2010 at 9:59 PM

Armstrongs, you’re absolutely right.

Just this AM I commented on a Tea Party site web that was flush with words like “freedom”, “rights”, and “constitution”, yet they were promoting the awful http://standwitharizona.org/ action.

On the premise that at least some of them were mistaken or ignorant, I left the link to the excellent Objective Standard article on immigration: http://www.theobjectivestandard.com/issues/2008-spring/immigration-individual-rights.asp.

Advocates of freedom need to realize they are not helping the cause by backing overly restrictive and protectionist federal laws.

Neil Parille May 16, 2010 at 4:34 AM

Ari,

While I agree with some of what you say (in particular the drug war), I don’t think the large number of immigrants in this country is a good idea.

I’m curious if you would place a limit on the number of guest workers? In addition, we would still have the same problem. These workers would come to the US and have children. What would we do when the duration of their visa is up and tell them to take their citizen children with them?

I understand conservatives opposing the high level of immigration we have. It certainly isn’t making the US more conservative. Areas with high immigrants such as LA are hotbeads of multiculturalism, leftism, and labor unionism.

Would you extend the guest worker program to people from Islamic nations? That would open the door to terrorists since it’s unlikely that most would-be terrorists would tell the border agents that they support terrorism.

Incidentally, the author of the above-refernced article is Craig Biddle. I asked him if believed Israel’s policies on immigration are immoral and he didn’t respond. (Israel would become a Moslem country if it followed Biddle’s advice.)

-Neil Parille

Ari May 16, 2010 at 8:42 AM
Neil,

It would be pleasant if you would respond to any of the arguments the article makes against your position. Nevertheless, I will briefly respond to your points.

1. By my reading of the 14th Amendment, it is true that anyone born here automatically becomes a citizen. I don’t see this as a problem. What percent of immigrants have babies here? Many males work here seasonably partly to support their families in Mexico. Why does this concern you? If we cut off immigration from welfare benefits, this would create zero problem. I would, however, be open to an amendment slightly altering the rules about citizenship.

2. Immigrants certainly are not the driving force of the left. That is, instead, homegrown ideologues.

3. So your strategy for preventing more “leftism” is to impose more socialist, collectivistic controls? You will not win the ideological battle by promoting collectivism. (Or, rather, you will win the ideological battle FOR the left.)

4. Your assumption that border checks would be limited to guards asking questions is asinine. Anybody with a suspicious background should be checked out, possibly delayed or denied entry, and possibly tracked more carefully if allowed through. But the fact is that most would-be terrorists hate America and want nothing to do with us. You want to prevent Catholic Mexicans from working in the U.S. in order to prevent Islamist terrorism from the Middle East?

5. I don’t know much about Israeli policy and therefore cannot say much about it. When my dad visited there he noticed that many Muslims in fact live in Israel. Obviously, Israel has to be especially careful about border crossings, given the number of Islamists who openly declare they want to destroy the Jews. Israel is very nearly at war with its neighbors. If the U.S. were at war with Canada or Mexico, obviously that would effect our immigration policies with respect to those regions for the duration of the conflict. But your argument seems to be that we should keep out obviously peaceful people because Israel’s neighbors are murderously hostile.

Your arguments are so laughably inept that I have to wonder whether you’re trying to divert attention away from your primary agenda with distractions.

Thanks, -Ari

mtnrunner2 May 16, 2010 at 9:16 AM
Neil,

Open immigration does not mean national suicide.

Anyone who is an *objective security risk* is a candidate to be barred entry to the country. Who that is remains to be determined based on the objective security requirements of a given nation, whether it’s Israel or the US.

However, common arguments for limiting immigration are often thinly disguised protectionism or racism and violate the rights of peaceful individuals. Or they are a fallback position made in response to the failures of bad foreign policy.

Ari May 17, 2010 at 1:14 PM
Notes on the comments:

1) If you submit a comment that is gratuitously insulting, then I will not waste my time reading it. Certainly I will not post it or bother responding to it.

2) If you submit a comment that significantly misrepresents my stated position, or that fails to respond to it, then I will not post your comment .

If you want to criticize my position, then do so using honest argument, not misrepresentation and personal attacks. Thanks!