Taking the King’s Shilling

By | December 8, 2014 | 0 Comments



Most people on the left are not opposed to freedom. They are just in favor of all sorts of things that are incompatible with freedom.
− Thomas Sowell

During the 18th and 19th centuries, a shilling coin was given by a recruiter as an incentive for a new recruit in the British Army or Royal Navy. In those days, a shilling was a significant amount of money for a poor person. Sometimes recruiters would get a young man drunk, place a coin in his pocket and abduct him.
When the man awoke in a barracks or aboard ship, the coin would be pointed out as evidence of his enlistment. He might object that he had been drunk or had not understood the implications of military service. But try explaining that to a sergeant or a petty officer. And back then, infractions were met with severe punishments including flogging, while desertion was punishable by death.
If you took the king’s shilling, you were subject to the orders of the king’s officers. Kings have many officers who issue many orders. That’s what kings do. This was unfair if the enlistment was involuntary, but fair or not, it was a fact. The king had the power to enforce his will on those who had taken his shilling.
● Kings used to wear fur-trimmed robes. Now they go around in business suits or shirtsleeves. But the difference is in appearance, not reality.
● Kings used to wear crowns on their heads. Now they go around as though they had haloes over their heads. But the effect is similar.
● Kings used to sit on thrones. Now they sit in office chairs. But they still look down on us ordinary people.
● Kings used to inherit their power. Now they achieve it by attending the “best” universities and knowing the “right” people. But it is still power over ordinary people, whom kings and their courtiers hold in contempt.
● Kings used to believe their “blood” entitled them to rule the ignorant peasants. Now they believe their “superior education” and their “advanced ideas” entitle them to rule the ignorant citizens.
● Kings used to believe they ruled by “divine right,” which implied that they were subject to God’s laws. Now they believe they rule by their own right, which removes all inhibitions and constraints.
● Kings used to set aside huge areas of land so they could enjoy hunting, while ordinary people went hungry. Now they set aside huge areas of land, so the ordinary people cannot use it to produce the energy they need.
● Kings used to encourage the production of wealth so they could tax it and enjoy riches. Now they discourage the production of wealth so they can control people and enjoy power.
● Kings used to spend vast sums to increase their pleasure. Now they spend vast sums to increase their power by putting shillings in people’s pockets.
Do we really understand the implications of President Obama’s energy policies? He campaigned on a promise to reduce our dependence on Middle East oil. But in reality, he works hard to do just the opposite. He refuses to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, which would help develop Canadian oil. He set aside millions of acres, which now can never be used for energy development. A supporter noted that it would have the most effect in the West, “…where the federal government owns so much of the land.”
If the federal government already owns much of the land in the western states, is it a source of boasting that the government now exerts even stricter control? Yes, the most beautiful of the natural wonders must be protected.
But beyond a certain point, preventing the use of vast areas of wilderness becomes indistinguishable from a medieval king reserving vast forests for his enjoyment of hunting, while peasants froze for lack of firewood and starved for lack of meat.
If it was wrong for a king to enjoy the forest with his nobles while peasants lacked a source of energy, why is it any less wrong for our government to do the same? Why is it permissible for huge areas to be reserved for the few with the ability to drive their SUVs there and enjoy the beauty, while the rest of us pay exorbitant fuel prices that enrich Middle East oil sheiks who hate us?
Did we really agree with the provisions of the huge “stimulus” bill? Did we even know what they were? Is it safe to vote the federal government vast new powers? What part of the Constitution empowers the federal government to control automobile manufacturers, fire their executives, and tell all of us what kind of cars (if any) we are allowed to drive? What part empowers the government to own banks, insurance companies, and brokerage firms?
What part of the Constitution empowers the government to control the 16% of the economy represented by health care? What part empowers the government to tell doctors what treatments their patients can – and cannot – receive? My copy of the Constitution contains no such provisions. But if we have, in effect, scrapped the Constitution, in what sense are we a republic and not a monarchy?
Beyond a certain point, all this becomes indistinguishable from a medieval king, who was believed to own all the land in the nation. And all of his subjects, rich or poor, held a piece of land only as a vassal of the king − and held it only so long as the king was satisfied with his vassals’ service to him. In effect, everyone except the king was a tenant, not an owner. Are we not well on our way along that road?
Some may call these developments “progressive,” but in reality they mark a regression to an earlier, less free time.
Beyond a certain point, are we not empowering the federal government to become the tyrant against whom we rebelled in 1776? Recall the words of the Declaration of Independence, which set forth our complaints against George III:

He has erected a multitude of new offices, and sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.

How, precisely, is our bloated federal government different in any significant way? If anything, it is even more intrusive than the government against which we rebelled. George III was mentally ill in his later years. But even he would never have tried to control what kind of toilets and lights people could use, much less what kind of treatments their doctors could prescribe.
Esau sold his birthright for a bowl of soup. He had contempt for his birthright, but at least he satisfied his hunger. We are selling our birthright of freedom, and we are likely to wind up poorer and hungrier as well. Before we take the king’s shilling, we should make sure the king is competent to achieve his aims − and most important, we should make sure we agree with those aims.
But if we want to keep what is left of our freedoms, we should tell the king to keep his shilling. After all, it isn’t really the king’s shilling. The king has no shillings of his own – he got them by taxing us. In short, the king is bribing us to give up our freedoms one by one – by giving us back a few of our own shillings. How bad a deal is that?
And then we should ask ourselves why we have a king in the first place.

Contact: dstol@prodigy.net. You are welcome to publish or post these articles, provided that you cite the author and website.


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