Age Group 19-21
A WALL OF SEPARATION:
Between Civil Society and State
by Scott Van Bergen, age 21
Thomas Jefferson wisely called for "a wall of separation between
church and state." This principle inspired the First Amendment to the
Constitution, ensuring religious freedom for Americans.
Unfortunately, the Founding Fathers failed to include in the
Constitution adequate restraints on the state's ability to interfere
with other areas of civil society.
As a result, government has extended its meddlesome influence
virtually everywhere. No business is free from government's onerous
regulation, no worker is immune from government's heavy taxation, and
no individual is safe from government's overbearing police state.
Government, in its perpetual quest for power, has destroyed the very
freedom the Founders fought to achieve.
The Founders promised that America's government would preserve
liberty, not consume it. But they made the mistake of believing that
the "virtue" of politicians could be counted on to properly limit
government. Politicians have instead given government a virtually
unlimited role that allows it to ride roughshod over the liberty of
Enough is enough! It is time for Americans to reassert their
individual sovereignty. It is time to revive civil society. And it is
time to reign in government.
To bring about these important changes, we can draw inspiration
from an old idea put forth by Jefferson and apply it more broadly
than he did. Let's work toward extending the wall of separation
between church and state to include a wall of separation between
civil society and state.
Civil society includes the entire scope of voluntary activities
among individuals and groups. Economic transactions, social
engagements and, of course, religious activities all fall under civil
society. If an individual doesn't like a particular business, church,
or other organization within civil society, he is perfectly free to
avoid dealing with it.
The state, on the other hand, is that institution which has a
monopoly on the use of force. Every law and every government program
are backed up by the barrel of a gun. If a citizen opposes a
particular government program or believes a law to be unjust, he is
not free to exercise his own discretion. He is forced to participate
in the program. He is forced to obey the law.
Whereas in civil society individuals are free to act according to
their own minds, in a politically controlled society everyone must
subordinate their own will to that of the state's. Civil society
promotes the dignity of each individual. Government demands mindless
conformity. When civil society is left to the voluntary interaction
of individuals, we call that liberty. When civil society is dominared
by government, we call that statism.
Rational human existence is impossible under statism because
individuals are deprived of the freedom to act according to their own
minds. Freedom itself is a necessary component of human life. Without
it, individuals die spiritually, if not physically.
Government, being organized force, can only limit freedom when it
attempts to control voluntary interactions. Just as it is
illegitimate for government to tell us what gods to worship, it is
illegitimate for government to tell us what social goals to pursue.
And just as government should be secular with regard to religion, so
should it be secular with regard to civil society.
For freedom to endure, it must be founded on principles, not
whims; on laws, not men. Therefore, I propose new amendment to the
Constitution. This amendment is modeled after the establishment
clause of the First Amendment and would extend separation of church
and state to include separation of civil society and state. It says,
Congress shall make no law respecting a peaceful establishment of
civil society or a peaceful activity within civil society.
The Separation of Civil Society and State Amendment would free
Americans to pursue whatever economic, religious, or social goals
they please so long as they refrain from engaging in or threatening
violence against others.
What would separating civil society and state mean for the
economy? It would mean that all lawful economic transactions are
based on voluntary exchange and that all voluntary exchanges are
lawful. Laissez-faire capitalism would, for the first time in the
history of modern civilization, be legal!
Religion would finally enjoy the full freedom that the First
Amendment sought to establish. The massacre of the Branch Davidians
in 1993 shows that the government is capable of crushing anyone who
practices a religion that lacks its approval. By separating
government from religion, no religious group would ever again have to
worry about being persecuted.
As for the rest of social activity, anything that's peaceful would
be tolerated. While some may choose to pursue foolish ends, it is
important to bear in mind Jefferson's words of wisdom: "Reason and
free inquiry are the only effectual agents against error...It is
error alone which needs the support of government."
Despite the dangers of state action, some will inevitably argue
that government should do whatever is necessary to promote the public
good. The public good benefits everyone, so there is no reason to
keep civil society and government separate.
Don't be fooled by this deceptive, yet all too common, line of
argument. There is plenty wrong with delegating to government the
task of promoting the "public good." Promoting the "public good" has
been the rallying cry of nearly every king, dictator, and tyrant. The
reason for this is simple: there is no such thing as the public good!
"Public good" means whatever one arbitrarily chooses to ascribe to
it. In practice, the "public good" is whatever happens to be good for
the statists who are empowered to implement it.
And let's be perfectly honest about what statism is. It is a
religion. More precisely, it is the most deadly religion in all of
human history. There are many statist denominations - socialism,
fascism, and welfare statism, to name a few - but all statists share
a common desire to impose their dogmatic creed through the brute
force of the state.
Karl Marx published the Communist Manifesto in 1848, and for many
decades afterward not much happened. It wasn't until 1917 that
Marxism became united with a government. Thereafter, death and
destruction ensued. From Lenin to Stalin to Mao to Pol Pot, Communist
dictators have been responsible for the deaths of tens of millions of
people and the sufferings of hundreds of millions more. This is the
logical consequence of an ideology that calls for the complete
substitution of government (force) for civil society (voluntary
While it is unlikely that the United States would suddenly fall
under a dictatorship, statism can just as easily develop gradually.
James Madison warned that "there are more instances of the abridgment
of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those
in power than by violent and sudden usurpations." Indeed, little by
little, government has taken away some of our most cherished
The United States is no longer the land of the free. The Founding
Fathers would be horrified to learn, for example, that more people
are imprisoned in the United States for victimless crimes than are
imprisoned for all crimes in France, Germany, England, and Japan
Government will continue to encroach on our liberty unless we
stand up and defend it. It is time for Americans to break the bonds
of oppressive government and reclaim the freedom that is rightfully
ours. The goal of freedom lovers everywhere should be nothing less
than to build a wall of separation between civil society and state.
Bear in mind that walls are built one brick at a time. Every
effort, no matter how small, can help. If we work together, we can
build a wall strong enough to keep government out of civil society
The time to act is now. Let the rebirth of liberty begin!