The Facebook page of the organization called The Federalist Papers posted an image of an American flag today with the caption, “The only entitlement I expect from my government is freedom.” The Federalist Papers is an organization with this purpose: “The mission of The Federalist Project is to get people the history and the civics lessons public schools don’t teach to motivate them to push back at the erosion of our liberties and restore constitutionally limited small government.” The organization relies primarily on social media to communicate its message. What is ironic about its post from today, however, is that freedom is not an entitlement at all.
An entitlement, by definition, is the right to guaranteed benefits under a government program. Such programs–Social Security, for example–are called entitlements because those who are qualified for the benefits are entitled to them. That entitlement, however, and the conditions qualifying one to become entitled to those benefits, are determined by the laws made by the government. Congress, for example, has been gradually increasing the age at which one becomes entitled to Social Security. I do not have a real problem with that, but it is clear evidence that entitlements are created by the government and can therefore be changed by, or even eliminated by, the government. Accordingly, referring to freedom as an entitlement is probably not a good idea.
Ironically, the very source the Federalist Papers claims as its name–the original Federalist Papers penned by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay–would have had very serious concerns about referring to freedom as an entitlement or as something which comes from the government at all. John Locke’s Two Treatises on Government articulated the idea that humans enter into a social contract through which they surrender some natural rights and freedoms in order to establish a government that will protect their other rights and freedoms. Thomas Jefferson famously wrote in the Declaration of Independence that man is endowed by his Creator with certain unalienable rights–meaning that the government does not give them and the government cannot take them away. And then the authors of the Federalist Papers, written to encourage the ratification of the Constitution, vehemently argued that the Constitution gave the federal government only those powers that were enumerated in the Constitution. So passionately did they feel about this that they argued against the need for a Bill of Rights, demanded by the Anti-Federalists, because articulating that the government did not have the powers prohibited in the Bill of Rights would imply that the government had had those powers prior to having them forbidden.
Maybe its semantics, and I understand and appreciate the point the Federalist Papers post was trying to make, but we need to be careful with our words…and the last thing we want to do is suggest that our freedom is an entitlement we receive from the government!