Anarchy X: The Third Amendment

“No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.”

You don’t hear much about the Third amendment these days. Everyone is more concerned with the Big Five as I think of them (First, Second, Fourth, Fifth, and Eighth) to worry too much about the rest except in theory or in extremis. And why should we? After all, when was the last time the U.S. Army knocked on your door and demanded that you put up a couple soldiers for the night? Doesn’t seem like something we really need to worry about in this day and age.

I like to look a little deeper and consider the philosophical and political ramifications of these things. As I have heard the rights of man explained in many courses and in many ways over the years, there are two approaches. The first, which is more popular (and populist) than I am comfortable with, is that as a member of a community and a citizen of a country, you owe something to your community and country simply by virtue of being a part of it. And no, paying taxes doesn’t cover your obligation. There is a presumption of first claim on your person, on your time, and on your livelihood. This would then naturally extend to a first claim on your belongings, including your residence.

The second way of looking at things is that people are born with certain rights (you might even call them inalienable). These rights exist with or without the presence of a community or a government, and in fact supersede any communal or governmental attempts to restrict or circumvent those rights. This does not mean you have no reason to participate in your broader community or government, but it does put very distinct limits on what can and cannot be asked or demanded of you.

It would seem to me that the Third Amendment more fully supports the latter belief than the former. While there is room in it (that clause “but in a manner to be prescribed by law”) for some impinging on an owner’s right to privacy in their own home, even that is restricted to times of war (and no, I don’t think the Wars on Drugs or  Terror count). That being the case, there are several presumptions that flow therefrom quite logically that have a great deal of bearing on our modern lives. Not the least of these is the idea of government restrictions on how we use our own property, whether it is for housing or running a small business out of our own homes. I’m not a fan of zoning laws in general, but so long as there is no material impact on my neighbors that would be distinguishable from any other residential use, why does the government get a say?

While I’m on the subject of businesses, bear in mind that at the time the Constitution was written, for many business owners their business and their home were one and the same, and even now it’s as often a matter of semantics as reality to distinguish between a small business owner’s home and business. So why does the government get to dictate the terms of how that business is run? So long as everyone is there voluntarily, nobody’s rights are being violated. I know, being “forced” to work in an environment that allows smoking is a terrible burden. Far more so than, say, being out of work because the bar you had a job at went out of business when there wasn’t enough trade to support it… or maybe they just had to fire one bartender.

I have heard the counter-argument made, and I think it’s a fair one worth addressing, that if “every man’s home is his castle” you end up in an anarchic state where anytime you set foot on someone else’s property they can simply claim “this is my land, I make the rules, and I say you’re my slave now.” The counter to this is that the right to be secure in one’s home is based on the right of self-ownership, and that right extends to each and every individual. Violating that right in another is to surrender that right for yourself. That is the value I see in having a government in the first place: to defend the rights we each have against all comers, both foreign and domestic. However, the government that strips away those rights is no better than the brigand it is meant to defend against. I for one prefer the brigand; he is easier to bargain with, easier to fool, and if need be, easier to destroy.


4 Comments on “Anarchy X: The Third Amendment”

  1. rachel bar says:

    Just started reading you blog yesterday. Read only two, don’t know if I’ll agree with everything, but I love the way you think!

  2. samilajami says:

    exquisite Bob. simply exquisite.

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