The experience of every age convinces us, that we must not judge of men by what they ought to do, but by what they will do; and all history affords but few instances of men trusted with great power without abusing it, when with security they could.
John Trenchard, Cato’s Letters #60
What John Trenchard is saying in modern language is: When we decide what power to give to the politicians in our government, we can’t base that decision on what we think they should do. We need to base that decision on what we know they will do. Throughout history, almost every time a government has been given a lot of power, the politicians have abused it as soon as they thought they could get away with it.
Why does that matter?
Well if we know that a government is that likely to abuse great amounts of power, we ought to keep that in mind as we decide how much control we want it to have over our lives.
But over the past few decades we have gotten increasingly willing to trust our government with power. In fact, the people in this country who pride themselves on being reasonable and realistic (admit it, you know someone like this) will often dismiss anyone who raises concerns over the dangers of growing government power as paranoid. But history tells us the idea that the people in government will abuse the power we give them isn’t paranoia, it’s almost a guarantee.
In other words, it’s extremely reasonable to be over-protective of our liberty. Look at it this way: do you lock your doors before you leave your home? Isn’t it a little paranoid to think that someone’s going to try to come in your house and take your stuff? Of course not, experience tells us that there are thieves out there trying to break into houses. It’s just common sense to do whatever you can to protect your possessions.
Our God-given liberty is the most valuable possession we have – or will ever have in our lifetime. It’s time we started treating it that way.