The Legitimizing Power of the Royal “We”

The Species of Unrighteous Dominion, Part 1.5

This is not the part 2 that I promised in the series I am currently writing. Rather, this is a follow-up to part 1, based on something I was reading this morning. Let’s call this part 1.5.

This morning I was a reading a book (called Inclined to Liberty: The Futile Attempt to Suppress the Human Spirit) in which the author described precisely one some the points I was trying to make in my previous post (albeit in different words). The author’s name is Louis E. Carabini, and he starts the book by describing a dinner party, in which a number of individuals were talking about what should be done about the perceived inequalities of life:

Some of the propositions offered during that lively evening were:

“No one should be allowed to own a yacht.”

“The salaries of company executives are too high.”

“No one should be allowed to inherit wealth.”

But the statement that I found most intriguing, and the one that initially drove me to write, was:

“It is not fair that companies can terminate their workers just to increase profits.”

However, as I thought of a suitable response, I realized that this proposition was no different in principle from the others. While some statements were more radical than others, each basically contains a notion that something is unfair and that we ought to do something to right that unfairness by instituting prohibitions.

Reading these “is” and “ought” notions into the propositions, the statements then become:

“It is unfair that someone can earn much more than another, so we ought to prohibit people from earning that much.”

“It is unfair that someone can own a yacht, so we ought to prohibit such ownership.”

“It is unfair that someone can bequeath wealth to an heir, so we ought to disallow such transfers of wealth.”

“It is unfair that an employer can terminate workers just to increase profits, so we ought to prohibit employers from doing so.”

The “we” in each of these cases is the royal “we”—that is, the State. The royal “we” connotes a moral justification for physically forcing others to live their lives as the personal “I” sees fit. Imag- ine how alarming these propositions would sound if the personal “I” were used instead of the abstract and justifiable royal “we.” For instance:

“The salaries of executives are too high, so I will personally threaten to incarcerate any executive who accepts a salary and any company owner who pays a salary higher than what I think is reasonable.”

“I will incarcerate anyone who buys, builds, or sells a yacht that I consider too large and luxurious.”

Any prohibition by the State also implies incarceration or death if refusal to comply is carried to its ultimate end. Although incarceration and death hide behind each proposition mentioned that evening, the clear realization of such physical punishments comes to the forefront when we substitute “I” for “we.” The royal “we” seems to moralize and justify acts that the “I” would render reprehensible. …

In a democratic society in which everyone has a say about everyone else’s lifestyle, it’s no wonder we spend so much time debating one man’s pet peeve and another’s grand solution. In a self-reliant society, pet peeves may keep us awake at night, but in a democratic society, we can spend a lifetime of energy creating one pet peeve after another and offering “our” solution, because we now have a voice. Of course, who doesn’t want to be heard, particularly when we know that someone with political power over others will listen?  …

Should a neighbor need help, we would never consider going around the neighborhood threatening those who do not pitch in. We instinctively understand that charity is voluntary, and we are generally eager to help when we see someone in need. In a small setting, we view the use of force as a means to help others to be the antithesis of charity. However, in a political arena, we find ourselves condoning, even promoting, the use of physical force as the proper means to extract aid. And when such force is used, we paradoxically refer to it as an act of charity and compassion. … An act that one would consider reprehensible and nonsensical if conducted in a small group may become quite acceptable in a large setting. …

The very essence of democracy encourages everyone to express opinions about human activities that are none of their business. There are few days that someone doesn’t ask me what I think that “we” (the royal “we”) should “do” about this or that individual, organization, or group activity that is clearly neither my business nor theirs. It is not the answers to such questions that should give us concern; the mere asking has become so commonplace—and with such a sense of democratic pride and entitlement—that today nearly every aspect of human activity is considered public domain.

In a democracy, each of us has license to prescribe for others how to live their lives; run their businesses; whom they may hire; what wages they may pay; what prices they may charge; what, where, when, and how much they may buy or sell; what they may teach; what and where they may smoke, drink, and eat; what they may plant; what medicines they may take; what houses they may build and where they may build them; what they may say; how and where they may practice their religion (even what religion); where they may go; where they may live; how they may die; with whom and how they may engage in sex; whom they may marry and with whom they may associate. On and on this intrusion goes, with more “dos” and “don’ts” added every day. …

A democratic state will naturally gravitate to an ever-greater “tragedy of the commons,” in which citizens try to get a bigger share of the funds acquired by the State. Since those funds are now commonly owned, everyone has a right to claim a share. … Frédéric Bastiat (1801–1850), the famous French political economist, described the state as the great fiction by which everybody tries to live at the expense of everybody else.

This is not meant to cast blame on those who exploit the democratic system to obtain favors and resources. It is only rational to acquire resources at the least perceived cost. The democratic State simply provides an attractive means for some to acquire the resources produced by others at little or no cost to themselves, while preventing any real recourse for those from whom those resources are taken. Individuals who take resources from others without the strong arm of the State behind them would find it a risky and expensive enterprise.

In other words, he is saying precisely what I was saying in my blog post last week: democracy has a way of psychologically legitimizing the exercise of coercion in ways that would otherwise seem reprehensible and immoral if any of us tried to yield that power alone. Somehow, the voice of the “group” legitimizes intrusions that, when performed privately by individuals, would be deemed criminal. Again, this is not saying that we shouldn’t have the power to vote. This is simply saying that the idea of a democracy—i.e., the idea that the majority has a sovereign power to invade, intrude, and mettle with people’s lives, has many dangers that I think many of us overlook.

I propose that we redefine what it is that we value in democratic systems.

What we should value: the ability to remove leaders to abuse their power to aggress against the populace.

What we should NOT value: the ability of the majority to legitimize coercion that would otherwise be criminal.

Most people would say that they already don’t value the ability legitimize coercion. However, one of the perceived advantages of a democracy is that it empowers the majority to do just that—it empowers the majority to settle conflicts, respond to perceived injustices, and to aright perceived unfairnesses in ways that individuals cannot do alone without being jailed as a criminal.

If I defend my life against a perceived aggressor (let’s say someone barges into my house with a weapon), or defend my neighbor against an aggressor (let’s say I am witnessing a rape or theft), I arm not usually held responsible in a court of law for my actions. My actions are morally and legally permissible, and I am innocent of wrongdoing. I might be liable for any mistakes I make in the process that a reasonable person might have avoided, but even then I am not considered a criminal. Thus, it makes sense that a royal “we” can also defend my life or the life of a neighbor against aggressors. It makes sense that we can, in the aggregate, morally act in ways that we can morally act as individuals. And we can certainly vote as to who represents us in the royal “we” that acts in this regard. Note—I know that Carabini’s use of “royal ‘we’” isn’t strictly in accordance with its dictionary definition. However, I will use the term as he used it, for the purposes of expression and communication.

However, if I forcibly take some of my neighbor’s money with the intent to pay for my medical bills, I will be jailed as a criminal, no matter what rationale I provide for my actions. However, if the royal “we” does so, the supposed nature of the act suddenly changes from theft to “welfare.” In this case, the democratic process—that is, the legitimizing power of group action—somehow legitimized in the eyes of the populace an act that would be criminal if performed by an individual. This is what I’m addressing when I’m talking about the power of group context to legitimize coercion and violence that is otherwise considered unrighteous dominion. And when we vote people into office who promise to engage in activities that we could never morally do ourselves, we are assuming that the royal “we” operates under a different morality than the personal “I”, and that the creature (government) can somehow morally exceed the creator (the people). We are assuming that the majority has a sovereign power to legitimize coercion and violence that is otherwise immoral.

As a society, we are becoming moral relativists. We are assuming that majority opinion determines what actions are morally permissible. People often accuse libertarians of being moral relativists, but in many ways it’s precisely the opposite. I believe that theft is wrong whether performed by the individual or by the royal “we.” Socialists believe that the royal “we” can morally operate under rules determined by majority opinion. Which position is really rooted in moral relativism?

As I described in my previous post, the power of the royal “we” to legitimize acts of coercion and violence that would otherwise be deemed immoral seems little different than the power of the social context of a classroom to legitimize unrighteous dominion by teachers, or the power of the social context of a prison to legitimize the dehumanization of prisoners. Of course, teachers have power and not all exercises of that power are unrighteous dominion. But it often leads to unrighteous dominion. Some might ask, can the state also exercise power that isn’t unrighteous dominion? Sure! However, I believe that when the state engages in actions that would be morally impermissible if done by the personal I instead of the royal we, we will almost inevitably skirt with unrighteous dominion.

On a final note, I think Carabini is absolutely right: using coercion to assist those in need is not charity. Turning over our personal responsibilities help those in need to the royal “we” is not discharging our moral responsibilities, it’s abdicating them. It’s saying, “I (the personal I) would rather empower men to take from the masses to help others than voluntarily give of my own income and persuade others to do the same.” I like William Godwin’s assertion in response to this: “If he who employs coercion against me could mold me to his purposes by argument, no doubt he would. He pretends to punish me because his argument is strong; but he really punishes me because his argument is weak.” We need to be better at inviting and persuading others to give and to help. We can be better. But resorting to coercion is not the answer—it is simply admitting that the divine-authorized tools of persuasion, love, and patience are fruitless and that only the man-made coercive apparatus of the state can save us from our social ills.

Anyways, the book is available for free at http://mises.org/resources/3793. I just wanted to share some thoughts from it that paralleled my current series. I’m only a third of the way through the book, so more may come. =)

15 thoughts on “The Legitimizing Power of the Royal “We”

  1. LDSP, well done once again. I think your argument here is unassailable, and the reality is that I have never seen it refuted. What always happens with posts or articles like this is that people change the subject in one way or another instead of dealing with the issue head-on. The issue is: how do we morally justify the type of behavior you describe? And of course the only way it can be justified is by resorting to the “royal we” argument, ie, it is OK if a large group of people decide to steal from a smaller group. I completely reject this argument because it is morally bankrupt and no different than a “Mad Max” scenario where it is OK for a large group of bandits to steal from a smaller group of people trying to defend themselves.

    Let’s see if we get anybody willing to tackle this argument head-on rather than trying to change the subject. Once we accept the immorality of forced charity through government action, we can begin to deal with governmental structures and the other issues involved and how we maintain a just society where some very small level of taxation may be necessary. But first you have to accept and internalize the unassailable reality that forced charity through coercion is not charity at all.

  2. “To fully understand this gift of agency and its inestimable worth, it is imperative that we understand that God’s chief way of acting is by persuasion and patience and long-suffering, not by coercion and stark confrontation. He acts by gentle solicitation and by sweet enticement. He always acts with unfailing respect for the freedom and independence that we possess. He wants to help us and pleads for the chance to assist us, but he will not do so in violation of our agency. He loves us too much to do that, and doing so would run counter to his divine character.” –Howard W. Hunter (ht: Connor Boyack)

  3. A long line of enlightenment figures, from Locke on, found it to be perfectly legitimate that societies enter into social contracts by appointing the state as their agent to carry out certain public goods, including at a minimum collective self-defense. In this worldview the state is the protector of the people from the more worrying prospect of the tyrannical abuse of private power (why are you guys never worried about this?). The entire American project is an exercise in a democratic republican government, not an attempt to create a minimalist state. This post seems to start from the idea that a democratic republican government (i.e. where the government’s powers are coercive but supervised through constitutional restrictions and a democratic process) is a priori an illegitimate project.

  4. Your analysis is quite clear and effective, LDSP. As a non-libertarian, you force me to admit several things, which I gladly embrace:

    1. I value coercion, when it is used by the State, or royal “we.”
    2. I am a moral relativist. I am willing to defer to the whims of the majority on many matters of collective reasoning.
    3. I accept that state sponsored charity is simple coercion, and is not real charity, and certainly doesn’t discharge my own moral responsibilities.

    All these things sound scary when they are laid out so nakedly, and within the context of the LDS doctrine of free-agency. But they are really not so bad.

    I believe that in moderation, some aspects of Satan’s plan can be used within a state context, for the good of the whole. After all, the Law of Moses used lots of extreme coercion within both a state and religious context to enforce many behaviors that libertarians would decry. Yet we claim Jesus was the original author of the Law of Moses, and that it represented a preparatory law to the law of Christ, which one might argue was more libertarian.

    But using the coercive elements in the Law of Moses as a pattern in the modern state is something I believe has value. The Israelites were wicked, selfish, and forgetful. So are today’s Americans. Not all of us are ready for total Christian liberty.

    It will no doubt be argued that the State under the Law of Moses had direct authority from God, and was run by prophets, not elected leaders. Yet this is not true later on in the Bible, when prophets abdicated authority to kings chosen not by the will of God, but by the will of the people, who openly defied the rule of a prophet in favor of a king. When this happened, God willing gave his authority to the wicked kings, who went on to wreck havoc on their societies.

    So God is a moral relativist, in that he allows his kingdom to be usurped by the will of the people and their whims. The only place where there can be no moral relativism, is when there is a prophet. And we have a prophet. But the State is not ruled by prophets, but by elected politicians. Thus moral relativism is the natural state of the state, and it has been given authority from God, ever since the prophet Samuel anointed David King of Israel.

  5. Geoff B.,
    I can’t assail the argument because I’m not sure what it is. I’m not saying the post is incoherent, but I just don’t think it was meant to be a complete, self-contained case of the case that any government other than minarchism is immoral.

  6. Geoff, while I disagree with those who would advance this argument, let’s see if I could have a go in the name of being a devils advocate. You can’t really have a good debate with someone unless you understand their position. This is what irks me with so many “liberals” (I really don’t like labels). So many seem to no understand the principles for our position.

    I would assume the argument one would make in favor of a Democratic society being able to “vote” away portions of a persons wealth or income would be that the person who earned said wealth/income agreed to be a part of a Democratic society in the first place.

    If you’re born here, you want to play by the rules. And if you immigrate here, you must also agree to play by the rules. And those rules entail, that as a part of “we” the society, you have to in some instances defer your “I” and “Mine” to the “We”. Because ultimately, a society is a conglomeration of individuals, and if you craft ideas that advance all of society you will advance as well, since you are part of society. Unless of course, you are one of the small percentage of individuals that is so far a head of the rest of society. Then in the rare case, you will actually end up giving up some portion of your wealth/property/income/etc. but that loss will be offset by the broader gains to society, which you in turn benefit from.

    The other half of this argument we should be familiar with is that “you” really didn’t create your wealth. You were in the right place and the right time surrounded by the right societal institutions that allowed that wealth generation. If you think you’re such a valuable worker, presumably you’d have the same success in Somalia. That you can’t achieve the same success there, shows that you “owe” some portion of your success to the society and government and laws that were in place that allowed you to succeed. No doubt, everyone in the USA is on similar footing as you are (although we could raise the issue of birth, region you live in etc. beyond your control) so obviously you have a large share of the responsibility for your success. However, that does not change that the government & society also has some responsibility for your success. If a businessman from NationX profits because rules, and roads, and even/especially the honest ethic of most members of NationX, clearly that businessman owes something back in exchange for the rules, roads, etc. which we call taxes. And those taxes are used to continue building and maintaining the foundation of not only the rules, roads, etc. but to maintain a safety net so all citizens of NationX can continue to live a honest hardworking life.

    Ok, now I don’t buy all of that, but that’s the argument I could see being made, and to some degree it is made.

    Ultimately, either the world and our means of production ultimately belong to God or they ultimately belong to the people. Unwittingly, I feel some in the church end up placing ownership of the means of production in the hands of the people, instead of in God’s hands where it resides.

  7. “If you’re born here, you want to play by the rules.” = If you’re born here, you inherit/must play by the rules.

  8. What DCL said.

    Government of the people, by the people, for the people. The people = we. In a representative democracy _We_ collectively decide what the law of the land will be, including levels of taxation, through elected officials. If we find the current government is taxing more or less than we would wish, or making any other laws that we wouldn’t wish for, we can attempt to change the course of government through elections and attempts to be heard, in whatever medium.

    Possibly the fundamental genius of the Constitution is the way it limits the powers of the various branches of government. Unfortunately, government is not the only source of power that can impact us. The only entity that has either right or ability to check other sources of power is “we”, through the government. I would include in “other sources of power” not only the obvious things like money interests and foreign power, but also things like entropy and human need. By depriving the government of power, we deprive ourselves of our only source of protection against all forms of power outside government. Depriving the government of the taxes is one way of removing its ability, by which we mean our ability, to hedge against the other sources of power capable of imperiling both our freedom and well-being.

    One can certainly argue that the government is no longer representative of the will of the We. But then the right questions are who does it represent (with a possible answer of no one), and how can it be reclaimed. And how do we insure through taxation that it has the funds necessary to do those tasks we assign to it.

  9. DCL, self-defense is a natural right that an individual can legitimately exercise. Likewise, if an individual gets together with any number of others to repel an attack, he and they are also exercising natural rights.

    The tricky part is when it comes to compelling other members of a society to contribute to the common defense. I don’t see how that can be justified under libertarian idealism except on the grounds of practical necessity.

    But libertarians, at least, do not support any more than the compulsion necessary to provide for the common defense, repel force with force, and enforce contracts.

    Small government conservatives have basically the same view, except with a broader notion of “public nuisance” – public display of the pornographic and the obscene in particular, and a wider view of property rights – to include basic zoning restrictions, for example. It is basically the same idea though.

    The key point here though – practically the very foundation for classical liberalism – is the proposition that the power of a sovereign government does not entail a natural right for it to exercise that power.

    Untrammeled majoritarianism is radically contrary to the American project. The entire Bill of Rights is an attempt to contain it, as are the enumerated powers of the federal government, the separation of powers within it, and the similar structure of constitutions adopted by the states.

    We may rightly say that the proposition that the majority may override natural rights beyond the bounds of necessity is the American project turned on its head.

    That is, of course, the animating concept of Progressivism and its European counterparts – big government in pursuit of the greatest good. Classically liberal where expedient, but otherwise a gloved fist. Democratic where possible, but mostly rule by unelected elites. In essentials, theocracy at the point of a gun.

  10. I will attempt to address a few of the arguments and then bow out and let LDSP address the others if he so wishes.

    DCL — The “private power” that Locke was most worried about was the power of the king and the church, ie, the state. The Constitution reflects this — all of the rights in the Bill of Rights are powers limiting the government. The Constitution clearly lists the enumerated powers of the different branches of government and says that all other powers are left to the people and the states. If we had kept to the original vision of the Constitution, people like LDSP and I probably would not be having this conversation, but clearly we have not, and so we must.

    Nate — you show unusual honesty on this subject, and I am glad you are facing up to the realities of your ideology. You seem like a really smart, nice guy, and I think eventually you will see the philosophical dead ends of where you are heading. But at least you are addressing the issues head on, and that is good.

    Chris — good job playing devil’s advocate. Let’s illustrate the problems with your line of argument the following way. Instead of discussing the right to property, let’s discuss the right to personal liberty and see where it gets us.

    “I would assume the argument one would make in favor of a Democratic society being able to “vote” away portions of a person’s (liberty) would be that the person who earned said (liberty) agreed to be a part of a Democratic (?) society in the first place.

    If you’re born here, you want to play by the rules. And if you immigrate here, you must also agree to play by the rules. And those rules entail, that as a part of “we” the society, you have to in some instances defer your “I” and “Mine” to the “We”. Because ultimately, a society is a conglomeration of individuals, and if you craft ideas that advance all of society you will advance as well, since you are part of society. Unless of course, you are one of the small percentage of individuals that is so far a head of the rest of society. Then in the rare case, you will actually end up giving up some portion of your (liberty). but that loss will be offset by the broader gains to society, which you in turn benefit from.

    The other half of this argument we should be familiar with is that “you” really didn’t create your (liberty). You were in the right place and the right time surrounded by the right societal institutions that allowed that (liberty) If you think you’re such a valuable worker, presumably you’d have the same (liberty) in Somalia. That you can’t achieve the same success there, shows that you “owe” some portion of your (liberty) to the society and government and laws that were in place that allowed you to (be free). No doubt, everyone in the USA is on similar footing as you are (although we could raise the issue of birth, region you live in etc. beyond your control) so obviously you have a large share of the responsibility for your (liberty). However, that does not change that the government & society also has some responsibility for your (liberty). If a businessman from NationX profits because rules, and roads, and even/especially the honest (liberty) of most members of NationX, clearly that businessman owes something back in exchange for the rules, roads, etc. which we call (working as a slave). And those taxes are used to continue building and maintaining the foundation of not only the rules, roads, etc. but to maintain a (safe, secure state) so all citizens of NationX can continue to live a honest hardworking life (at the whims of the state).

    (Therefore, all citizens of NationX must give 40 years of their lives to the state, working at whatever job the state determines they should work, at the salary the state determines they should have. They have no rights to emigrate, they must marry the person the state decides they marry. They cannot protest against this arrangement or try to change it. If they do, they will be thrown in prison. It goes without saying that they must worship at state-approved religions, read state-approved books, etc, etc).”

    Thomas Parkin, you have correctly described our current situation without understanding why it is not working for so many people. Again, the problem with “we” deciding is that “we” can decide in favor of majoritarian tyranny over individual natural rights. This is what “we” did for many decades when “we” decided it was OK to enslave people because of the color of their skin. And then “we” decided that it was still OK to lynch and pass Jim Crow laws against these same people when we ignored the 14th amendment. So, clearly “we” make a lot of mistakes. The only just way of running society is to recognize that individuals have individual, natural rights to life, liberty and property (see the 5th and 14th amendments and D&C 134:2) that supersede group rights and majoritarian desires. Once we understand that individual rights should be our supreme code, we can discuss many other things (such as how to raise enough revenue to run a minimal government), but we are far from understanding that right now.

    Mark D, well said.

  11. Look guys, there is a substantial body of work on the positives and negatives of majoritarian rule easily accessible in the federalist papers, the Constitution itself, and the writings of everyone from Hobbes to Hayek. I think its safe to assume we all have an 8th grade knowledge of that – and also the way in which the founders chose to enumerate specific inviolable rights of individuals rather than completely proscribe the powers of government. What you won’t find in the founding documents of our country is an argument that majoritarian rule in areas that do not violate enumerated rights is per se illegitimate, which seems to be the point of this post. (Mark D., you seem to retreat somewhat by conceding that the scope of government power includes what is within the “bounds of necessity.” I suppose then we have a constitutional argument, which this post is not).

    It is unclear that private property rights were even included in natural rights as classically understood, or that property rights can even exist outside of a regulating social structure. It is unclear that natural rights are a sufficient basis on which to organize a society anyway, since there isn’t a non-normative way to describe them. The Founders probably got it right when they picked a few they all agreed on, attributed them to the Creator, and went from there.

    Contract rights and property rights are extremely complicated to enforce and an argument can be made that a lot of the size of government today can be traced back to these two things. In many of the wrong ways, though, yes.

    Libertarianism is revealed to be a Modernist utopia when it makes simplistic assumptions that property rights and contract rights are self-evident, universally understood and easily enforced, and more dangerously, that economic markets spontaneously protect these rights. The serious libertarian writers lean towards anarchy so that the legitimate use of force becomes atomized among all property owners (or their agents, private armies, or insurance companies! – like Yeltsin’s Russia). There is a tremendous optimism in it – an optimism that people will not invariably seek to infringe the rights of others.

    Mark D, let me help you identify a number of social ills that can squarely be laid at the feet of the nanny-state liberals: their reliance on constant warfare to maintain big government spending, the federal monetary system and its inevitable corruption, and the co-dependency of wall street and big government. Just because libertarians correctly identify these problems does not mean that a proscription of minarchism or anarchism is the best solution. There are many on the mainstream right and left who identify the same social problems and can propose solutions that work within our constitutional system.

  12. I think its safe to assume we all have an 8th grade knowledge of that – and also the way in which the founders chose to enumerate specific inviolable rights of individuals rather than completely proscribe the powers of government.

    Perhaps you don’t know that the reason why many of the states didn’t want to ratify the bill of rights was because many people in the future might think exactly that. In fact, it was argued that the bill of rights was unnecessary, since the constitution doesn’t authorize the violation of those rights in the first place (since it wasn’t in the enumerated powers of the federal government), and so why do they need it? They feared that by including the bill of rights, people would assume that the federal government had those powers prior to those explicit constraints. In fact, I think two of the states who refused to ratify the constitution did so on precisely those grounds. They were assured by the constitutional convention that the bill of rights would not be construed as the sole limits on government, and that they were just an extra safeguard in case the federal began to expand itself beyond the enumerated powers.

    But sure enough, they were right. The bill of rights was ratified, and now people believe that they are the only constraints on government. It’s because people don’t know their history, and that it was assumed at the time that the federal government was limited only to specific, enumerated powers, and that the bill of rights was just an extra warranty/guarantee.

  13. In fact, it was argued that the bill of rights was unnecessary, since the constitution doesn’t authorize the violation of those rights in the first place (since it wasn’t in the enumerated powers of the federal government), and so why do they need it? They feared that by including the bill of rights, people would assume that the federal government had those powers prior to those explicit constraints. In fact, I think two of the states who refused to ratify the constitution did so on precisely those grounds. They were assured by the constitutional convention that the bill of rights would not be construed as the sole limits on government, and that they were just an extra safeguard in case the federal began to expand itself beyond the enumerated powers.

    This does not match the historical record.

    It was the Federalists who argued that a Bill of Rights was unnecessary. They argued this during the Constitutional ratification debates, because the Constitution then did not include any Bill of Rights. The Anti-Federalists were the ones pushing for a Bill of Rights as an *additional* check on government. The Bill of Rights came after the Constitution was already ratified. They were passed by the First Congress and ratified by every State then existing.

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