We Americans generally understand and appreciate the value of our citizenship. We know that we are fortunate to be living in the freest, most prosperous and most powerful country on earth. We thank our lucky stars that we were born in the United States rather than in Russia, China or Zimbabwe, and welcome new citizens from abroad to our shores. However, not enough of us understand that our citizenship is a boon not only, or even primarily, because it is American citizenship, but because of what our citizenship actually entails. The United States Constitution secures the “privileges” and “immunities” of American citizenship. These ultimately derive from the natural rights affirmed in the Declaration of Independence, and are referred to as the “blessings of liberty” in the Preamble to the Constitution.
Our natural right to liberty is secured, not granted, by the government. So our rights can, under that protection, be called “privileges and immunities” because they belong solely to American citizens.
When the Constitution refers to “privileges and immunities,” it is securing rights which are enjoyed equally by all citizens. In other words, no citizen legitimately enjoys a right at someone else’s expense, either monetarily or in some other way. This confusion between rights and what has been called entitlements is at the heart of the difference between citizens and subjects.
Of course, our citizens are subject to the authority of the Constitution and the laws, but they are certainly not subjects of the president, Congress or the Supreme Court, nor of state and local governments. The people are, in fact, the ultimate sovereign, having agreed to establish a government in the first place by their uncoerced consent, giving it their continued support through periodic free elections.
Subjects, on the other hand, enjoy only those rights which have been conferred on them by whatever government happens to exist, and by whatever means it was established and has been maintained — including force or fraud.
Unfortunately, one of the most powerful temptations of free citizens is to seek privileges for themselves at the expense of others. There are, truth to tell, enabling politicians who are more than happy to appeal to, if not to stir up, this sentiment, by means of which they can assemble majorities that elevate them to office, and provide support for the passage of confiscatory legislation that redistributes the wealth of one class of citizens to another.
This is also a fundamental difference between our two major political parties. Democrats emphatically favor treating their fellow citizens as mere subjects to be manipulated and looted in order to secure their own political power, although they will do all that they can to mislead people who stand to be looted or others who do not approve of the forced redistribution of wealth.
Republicans have always been opposed to redistributionist schemes in principle, but some of them have felt compelled not to oppose those programs when they are popular with the citizens. Frequently, their strategy is to advocate less expensive or oppressive programs than the Democrats.
It is a testament to the lasting legacy of Ronald Reagan that he managed to place Democrats on the defensive. They stopped calling themselves liberals because Reagan had convinced millions that liberals stand for precisely the wealth redistribution programs that responsible and self-supporting Americans oppose. They now prefer the label "progressive," which is no better but less odious to the public.
More specifically, Democrats misrepresent the various government programs that they favor by trying to pass them off as “investments,” rather than forced transfers or drains on the public treasury. Somehow, by Democrat logic, investments made by Americans who are enterprising enough to persuade others to stake their money in corporations and businesses are not legitimate investors, even though no one was, or could be, forced to fork over their money to them.
Today, Democrats want to seize the profits of American oil companies to finance so-called “soft energy” alternatives to fossil fuels, as if the former were bleeding the country and the latter were forcibly held back by the power of the oil companies. In fact, it is much cheaper and more efficient to pump oil and natural gas than to rely on ethanol or windmills, notwithstanding anyone’s contrary wishes.
We are bombarded with never-ending streams of government programs to solve every purported problem. It is up to our citizens to remember that they are not obliged to accept politicians’ claims at face value and to take all necessary steps to ensure that they are not converted into mere subjects of powerful politicians or interest groups that see their fellow citizens as fair game for their schemes.