Joulhiette Bassett


1764. At this point in the Age of Enlightenment, voices were speaking truth. John Wilkes, “The Scandalous Father of Civil Liberty”, was expelled from the House of Commons of Great Britain for seditious libel. Dictionaire Philosophique, Voltaire’s criticism of The Roman Catholic Church and other institutions, was published. Beccaria’s work, On Crimes and Punishments, was perhaps the most influential. It made its way into our Founders’ Recipe class because America’s Founding Fathers recognized its truth and logic concerning penology. Chapter V, “Of The Obscurity of Laws”, has truths that can change your life if you let it.

​There are certain qualities laws must have in order to function. Primarily, law must be simple. Without simple law, you have congress arguing over what the law really says. Over examining can lead to complexity. In class, we used the example of stealing cookies. Many might think the law means not getting caught with your hand in the cookie jar. If this notion is admitted, cookies will be stolen. Consequently, someone will want cookie theft to be prevented by outlawing cookie jars. With unclear laws, liberties could be taken away unnecessarily. To avoid this, make laws using clear language and a pinch of cautious prevention. Furthermore, laws must be constitutional. This may seem obvious, however, a look at today’s United States Code could make you cry. The United States Code is riddled with unconstitutional law. These are called regulations. To those who understand the invalidity of regulations, it is simply words on a page, not something you should go to jail for. Congress makes laws, not administrative bodies such as the IRS. There are regulations that regulate the way you communicate through a CB radio, for example. You must pay a fine of $10,000 if you do not use the proper communicating method. Congress has been unconstitutionally lending its legislative powers to unauthorized branches, and it will continue to do so if we let it. 

​What has happened to American law? Some find the fault in greedy politicians, but I have reduced it down to plain ignorance. We don’t know the constitution, we don’t know the purpose of government, we don’t know our true duties as citizens; what could be expected from such a state? Beccaria wrote:

“Experience and reason show us, that the probability of human traditions diminishes in proportion as they are distant from their sources.”

The traditions of Beccaria, Voltaire, and John Wilkes are quite different than ours. Why? It is not because of a lack of availability. We have the resources, books, and even their journals. It is how much we don’t care that dooms us. We don’t care until a bad law hurts us, and by that time, we have been damaged in ways that are irreversible. By not educating ourselves, we are to blame for the perpetual acts of tyranny. It is expedient that we know how to remedy a bad government. Unless we all turn to the founders’ recipe, we cannot know liberty.

~ Joulhiette Bassett

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