Charter of no authority: Why the Baltimore City government is not legitimate

Lysander Spooner famously demolished the notion that the US Constitution was a legally binding contract on US citizens in his classic essay “No Treason“. The argument is basically this: the Constitution is only a binding contract on those who personally signed it. Those people, the delegates of the states to the original Constitutional Convention, were just a small minority of Americans at the time, so we have to ask on what grounds the document was held to bind all the other citizens of the several states. Not only that, we have to ask on what legal grounds the document binds all subsequent generations of Americans, none of whom have ever signed it or been given the option to refuse its authority.

What about the government of Maryland or of Baltimore City? Do these command the legitimacy that the US government lacks? By no means. Here is a brief summary of how the current state constitution was drafted and ratified:

“The Constitution of 1867 was drafted by a convention which met at the state capital, Annapolis, between May 8 and August 17, 1867. It was submitted to the adult non-black male citizens of the state for ratification on September 18 and was approved by a vote of 27,152 to 23,036. It took effect on October 5, 1867.”

So the constitution can at best be said to have bound those 27,152 adult non-black males who voted for it in 1867. It did not bind the 23,036 adult non-black males who voted against it and it did not bind any of those excluded from that narrow category, i.e. blacks, women and children. And since no subsequent generation has ever been asked to re-ratify the entire constitution (as opposed to individual amendments), it binds no one after the last of the original Yes voters died. At best it only binds those who have explicitly sworn to uphold it, such as those who have taken public office.

What about the city? Throughout the US, the authority of local governments is held to derive from their respective states. Baltimore is no different. The city government was created by Article X of the 1867 Maryland constitution. As far as I can tell, Baltimore residents were not even asked to ratify the provisions of the state constitution that pertained to the city; their form of government was simply handed down from Annapolis and the only popular ratification was the one held for the state constitution itself. Certainly subsequent amendments to the city charter have been subject to local popular votes, but only by the sufferance of the state. And even the amendments are only by right binding on those who actually voted Yes and only for the duration of the lives of those who voted Yes.

So it seems the city government is an emperor with no clothes.  Baltimore residents should learn about this history and recognize that those who rule over them even locally have no moral basis to that authority.

thinking about libertarian rhetoric and strategy

Hi followers,

A profound apology for being away for so long. Our family had to move house suddenly and then I started a new job and then some family members got either very sick or died and it’s been hard to find time or energy to focus on this blog. So let’s try to get this started again.

I’ve been reading and thinking a lot about libertarian strategy and rhetoric recently. I’ve come to see that this is a particular challenge for libertarians in a big city like Baltimore, where so many people are dependent on government in one way or another. The temptation to write off the general population as naive about the government or even as worthless parasites is very strong, but it’s a temptation that must be resisted.

Keeping people dependent is an important aspect of our ruling elite’s strategy and we have to recognize a distinction between a net tax recipient who is socially powerless, like most poor welfare beneficiaries, and those who actually control the levers of power, i.e. the upper echelons of government and those of the upper socioeconomic classes whose wealth and power depend on access to government privilege. And it is not a trivial task to establish who constitutes this elite and thus who should be the target of our attack.

I just finished reading Social Class and State Power, a collection of essays in the classical liberal tradition of class analysis (which predated and inspired that of Marx). The basic takeaway is that the enemy is not just the government and not just the rich but an unholy alliance between the two. Libertarians put slightly more focus on the government, since that constitutes the organized use of violence, but the ability of the wealthy to use the government for its own ends cannot be ignored. I highly recommend this book to all libertarians serious about building a broad coalition to bring down the elite that oppresses us.