On Monday, January 21, 2013, President Obama gave his second inaugural address on the steps of the Capitol Building in Washington, DC. What follows is an analysis of that address from a philosophical libertarian perspective.
Before we begin, it is best to address one fallacy that is persistent throughout the entire address, so as not to be redundant throughout. President Obama continually speaks in the first person plural, as though he is speaking as the head of a collective. Given his belief system and the office he holds, this is understandable, but it is still philosophically incorrect. There is no entity that one can point to that represents the whole of a collective, therefore collectives do not exist in and of themselves. Only the individual entities that comprise a collective actually exist. Thus it is fallacious to refer to “we” as in “We the people.” With this fallacy addressed, let us move on to the speech.
“Vice President Biden, Mr. Chief Justice, members of the United States Congress, distinguished guests, and fellow citizens, each time we gather to inaugurate a president, we bear witness to the enduring strength of our Constitution.”
As Lysander Spooner once observed, the Constitution has either authorized the government we have or has proven itself powerless to prevent it, which makes it unfit to exist. The strength of the Constitution is therefore an immoral strength, as it purports to justify the government that prevents the freedom of every American.
“We affirm the promise of our democracy.”
America was not set up as a democracy; in fact, the Founders were very much afraid of the concept. Benjamin Franklin once called it “two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for lunch.”
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. That they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, and among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Today we continue a never ending journey to bridge the meaning of those words with the realities of our time. For history tells us that while these truths may be self-evident, they've never been self-executing. That while freedom is a gift from God, it must be secured by his people here on earth.”
To say that we “bridge the meaning of those words with the realities of our time” is to suggest that the principles upon which America was founded are not principles at all, but rather a set of loose ideals that may be bent to serve a utilitarian purpose. Utilitarianism, like all forms of consequentialism, is false because the future is unknown and unknowable, making any utility equation computationally intractable. Furthermore, freedom is not a gift from God. It is the right of each person because assuming otherwise leads to logical contradictions. As logical contradictions are a sufficient condition for falsehood, it is possible to prove the existence of natural rights by assuming their nonexistence and showing the contradictions.
“The patriots of 1776 did not fight to replace the tyranny of a king with the privileges of a few, or the rule of a mob. They gave to us a republic, a government of, and by, and for the people.”
Earlier, President Obama claimed that we have a democracy. Now he says our forefathers did not fight to replace the tyranny of a king with the rule of a mob. Democracy is the rule of a mob.
“Entrusting each generation to keep safe our founding creed. And for more than 200 years we have.”
This was not the universal view of the Founding Fathers. Thomas Jefferson, for instance, believed that a new constitution should be written every 19 years. There has also been an anti-Constitution view that has remained in the spectrum of ideals in America since the days of the Founding Fathers, from the anti-federalists of the late 18th century to the individualist anarchists of the 19th century to the anarcho-capitalists of the modern day.
“We made ourselves anew, and vowed to move forward together. Together we determined that a modern economy requires railroads and highways to speed travel and commerce, schools and colleges to train our workers.”
No one who was alive in the immediate post-bellum period is still alive today, so the use of “we” and “together” to refer to the American people both then and now is incorrect. To say that we “vowed to move forward together” presents quite the revisionist view of the Reconstruction Era.
“Together we discovered that a free market only thrives when there are rules to ensure competition and fair play.”
It is understandable that a Keynesian would think this, but those of us who understand true (which is to say, Austrian School) economics know that a free market is self-regulating. The problems of the late 19th century that are commonly attributed to a supposedly free market were actually the result of government meddling in the economy in the early-to-mid 19th century, as well as the aftermath of Lincoln's War.
“Together we resolve that a great nation must care for the vulnerable and protect its people from life's worst hazards and misfortune.”
Caring for the vulnerable and protecting people from hazards and misfortune can be done and has been done by private enterprise, most notably by friendly societies in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Government is not necessary for this purpose.
“Through it all, we have never relinquished our skepticism of central authority, nor have we succumbed to the fiction that all society's ills can be cured through government alone.”
The use of violence cannot solve social problems, and will always produce the opposite of the intended results when so used. Not only is the idea that all society's ills can be cured through government a fiction; the idea that government can play any role in the cure is a fiction.
“Our celebration of initiative and enterprise, our insistence on hard work and personal responsibility, these are constants in our character.”
Unfortunately, these are not constants in President Obama's governance. Welfare programs have expanded tremendously under Obama's presidency, and such programs subsidize a lack of hard work, personal responsibility, initiative, and enterprise, leading to a greater lack of these qualities. And where was the personal responsibility for those on Wall Street and in Congress whose actions caused the recession? Bailouts of failed businesses transfer labor and wealth to those businesses, and away from businesses that may more efficiently employ those resources, resulting in a lowered standard of living for everyone.
“For we have always understood that when times change, so must we, that fidelity to our founding principles requires new responses to new challenges, that preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action.”
There is no such thing as collective action. There is only the sum of individual actions.
“For the American people can no more meet the demands of today's world by acting alone than American soldiers could have met the forces of fascism or communism with muskets and militias. No single person can train all the math and science teachers we'll need to equip our children for the future. Or build the roads and networks and research labs that will bring new jobs and businesses to our shores. Now, more than ever, we must do these things together, as one nation, and one people.”
No one is suggesting that such problems can be solved by a single person. But the sum of many individual actions can solve such problems. In fact, it is the only thing that ever has.
“This generation of Americans has been tested by crises that steeled our resolve and proved our resilience. A decade of war is now ending.”
The available evidence does not support this conclusion. The occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq may be coming to an end, but American troops will soon be deployed to new battlegrounds, perhaps in Algeria, Iran, Mali, or Syria.
“And economic recovery has begun.”
The available evidence does not support this conclusion either. What is actually happening is a false recovery before a much more serious financial crisis. While the stock market has recovered, this is because of growth overseas and currency debasement, not because of real growth in America. When interest rates return to historic mean levels, the false facade of recovery will quickly fall away.
“For we, the people, understand that our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it.”
This is the fault of the Federal Reserve System. When the politically connected elites get printed money to spend at current value that debases existing money and causes a loss for everyone else, and such a scheme continues for 99 years, it is no surprise that a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it.
“We understand that outworn programs are inadequate to the needs of our time.”
The problem is not that government programs are inadequate for needs. The problem is that government programs are based on violence, and violence cannot solve complex social problems.
“So we must harness new ideas and technology to remake our government, revamp our tax code, reform our schools, and empower our citizens with the skills they need to work hard or learn more, reach higher.”
Education is best provided by a free market, not a state-run, one-size-fits-all apparatus. Taxation is a moral crime, and the solution to crime is to eliminate it, not revamp it.
“But while the means will change, our purpose endures. A nation that rewards the effort and determination of every single American, that is what this moment requires. That is what will give real meaning to our creed. We, the people, still believe that every citizen deserves a basic measure of security and dignity.”
Government programs cannot end poverty by providing a basic measure of security and dignity. In fact, they have prevented the end of poverty that was in the process of being provided by the free market after the end of World War II.
“We must make the hard choices to reduce the cost of health care and the size of our deficit.”
Was the purpose of Obamacare not to reduce the cost of health care? And if we must reduce the size of our deficit, why does President Obama refuse to make meaningful cuts in spending?
“But we reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future.”
Truth is independent of belief, and the mathematical truth is that government spending cannot continue at current levels. And why not allow the current generation and the generation that will build America's future to keep the money they have earned and invest in themselves, rather than stealing it from them and misallocating the resources, as the state always does?
“For we remember the lessons of our past, when twilight years were spent in poverty and parents of a child with a disability had nowhere to turn. We do not believe that in this country freedom is reserved for the lucky or happiness for the few. We recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives, any one of us at any time may face a job loss or a sudden illness or a home swept away in a terrible storm.”
This is an inaccurate description of the past. See the above argument concerning friendly societies. Also, an essential part of liberty is the freedom to take one's own risks and suffer one's own consequences. Choosing not to prepare for potential troubles ahead is a risk that a free person can choose to take.
“The commitments we make to each other through Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security, these things do not sap our initiative. They strengthen us. They do not make us a nation of takers. They free us to take the risks that make this country great.”
Entitlement programs are not commitments that we make to each other. Like any system constructed by laws, entitlement programs are a set of opinions enforced by the guns of the state and paid for by taxation. This theft of income by the state hinders the ability of entrepreneurs to take the risks that make this country great.
“We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity. We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.”
As anything that is not remaining exactly the same is by definition changing, the term “climate change” is so vague as to be essentially meaningless.
“Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms.”
This is a tautology, as each meteorological event is a change in weather, and each weather event contributes some change to the climate. To suggest that such events are a direct result of “climate change” is to commit the post hoc ergo propter hoc logical fallacy, as it is possible that there are other causes.
“We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries. We must claim its promise. That's how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure, our forests and waterways, our crop lands and snow capped peaks. That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God. That's what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared.”
This does not require government action, as people in a free market will find the optimal way of providing energy and protecting the environment. Also, invoking God in an argument is an example of the logical fallacy known as argumentum ad verecundiam, and is a sign that the arguer has run out of rational arguments.
“We, the people, still believe that enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war.”
Then why has there been no move toward a non-interventionist foreign policy during Obama's presidency?
“Our citizens seared by the memory of those we have lost, know too well the price that is paid for liberty. The knowledge of their sacrifice will keep us forever vigilant against those who would do us harm.”
Where was that vigilance on September 11, 2012 during the attack on the diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya?
“America will remain the anchor of strong alliances in every corner of the globe. And we will renew those institutions that extend our capacity to manage crisis abroad. For no one has a greater stake in a peaceful world than its most powerful nation.”
The Founding Fathers wisely advised against entangling alliances. Managing crisis is really just a term for more military interventionism, which will only help to provoke a new round of uprisings and terrorist attacks.
“We will support democracy from Asia to Africa, from the Americas to the Middle East, because our interests and our conscience compel us to act on behalf of those who long for freedom.”
Democracy is actually a threat to freedom, as it does nothing to curb the violent monopoly that is state power, but rather places such evil in the hands of more people.
“Not out of mere charity, but because peace in our time requires the constant advance of those principles that our common creed describes; tolerance and opportunity, human dignity and justice. We the people declare today that the most evident of truth that all of us are created equal -- is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.”
While President Obama probably did not intend to echo Neville Chamberlain, a false belief in collectivism will ultimately lead to more suffering on the sort of scale seen in Chamberlain's time. Given that government invariably threatens individual freedom, the freedom of every soul on Earth depends upon the elimination of that threat, which is presumably not the argument that President Obama wished to make.
“It is now our generation's task to carry on what those pioneers began, for our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts.”
If President Obama really wants equal pay for women, he could start with his own White House.
“Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law, for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal, as well.”
Equal justice under law is impossible because law is based upon the initiation of force by the state, which violates the non-aggression principle. Equal justice is a virtue, and virtue cannot be accomplished through immorality.
“Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote.”
No matter who one votes for, the state remains in power. If one votes, if one participates in this statist system, then one is consenting to be governed by it and making oneself an accessory to the crimes of the state. As Emma Goldman once noted, “If voting changed anything, they would make it illegal.”
“Our journey is not complete until all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are cared for and cherished and always safe from harm.”
There is no such thing as absolute security, and an attempt at providing absolute security will always lead to the destruction of essential liberty. And what of other children, such as those in Pakistan and Yemen who are murdered by drone strikes ordered by President Obama?
“That is our generation's task, to make these works, these rights, these values of life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness real for every American. Being true to our founding documents does not require us to agree on every contour of life. It does not mean we all define liberty in exactly the same way or follow the same precise path to happiness. Progress does not compel us to settle century's long debates about the role of government for all time, but it does require us to act in our time.”
Again, truth is independent of belief. Liberty is defined as the power to do as one pleases, freedom from physical restraint, freedom from arbitrary or despotic control, the positive enjoyment of various social, political, or economic rights and privileges, and the power of choice. True progress requires us not only to settle the debate about the role of government, but to reject the state as an illegitimate and immoral institution.
“For now, decisions are upon us and we cannot afford delay. We cannot mistake absolutism for principle or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate.”
Principle is defined in Webster's Dictionary as “a comprehensive and fundamental law, doctrine, or assumption.” A principle is inherently absolute. It is also worth mentioning that most of the name-calling in Washington comes from Democrats and their allies.
“My fellow Americans, the oath I have sworn before you today, like the one recited by others who serve in this Capitol, was an oath to God and country, not party or faction. And we must faithfully execute that pledge during the duration of our service.”
This is false, because if such a pledge is violated, the American people have no recourse under the current system. Only by acting outside of the current legal framework could individual citizens seek redress for the violation of such a pledge.
“But the words I spoke today are not so different from the oath that is taken each time a soldier signs up for duty, or an immigrant realizes her dream. My oath is not so different from the pledge we all make to the flag that waves above and that fills our hearts with pride. They are the words of citizens, and they represent our greatest hope. You and I, as citizens, have the power to set this country's course. You and I, as citizens, have the obligation to shape the debates of our time, not only with the votes we cast, but the voices we lift in defense of our most ancient values and enduring ideas.”
The Pledge of Allegiance was invented by a socialist as an oath to the state. Only a statist would view this as representative of our greatest hope. A citizen is defined as a member of a state, and as the state is an illegitimate and immoral institution, we cannot morally be members of it or be obligated to it for any purpose.
“Thank you. God bless you. And may He forever bless these United States of America.”
If God exists, then you have no business telling Him what to do, and if God does not exist, then this phrase is meaningless.