Book Review

by W. Brewster Gillett

Lost Rights:

The Destruction of American Liberty

James Bovard

St. Martin's Press
1994 335 pages
ISBN 0-312-10351-4 $24.95

James Bovard is a journalist and policy analyst who has written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, Washington Post, New Republic, and many other publications. His open and engaging writing style makes this copiously-footnoted volume easy and pleasurable to read despite the sometimes dry subject matter. "Copiously-footnoted" may be an understatement. Not counting the short first and tenth (introductory and concluding), this book averages over 250 footnotes per chapter.

For at least thirteen decades, since its "success" in the Civil War, the federal government our founders so painstakingly created has been probing and testing the fences those founders wisely erected around its powers. Almost every significant portion of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, particularly those dealing with the rights of the individual, have been subjected to a constant erosion which has had the effect of aggrandizing the power of the Federal Government while sharply lowering that of the States and individual citizens.

On those infrequent occasions when our rulers bother to attempt to justify these assaults on our liberties, they usually trot out the usual over-hyped "crises"which call for immediate suspension of constitutional guarantees in order that we might preserve the republic from destruction. It appears that a steadily growing number of "mainstream" citizens are finally starting to see through these charades. It seems to be getting more difficult for our politicians and bureaucrats to marginalize as nutcases anyone who speaks up in favor of protecting constitutionally-guaranteed rights. Either that or some of us marginalized nutcases are indulging in wishful thinking.

Bovard's well-researched book will open your eyes and curl your hair. Even those who have been paying attention to these issues for many years will find some startling examples of infuriating government encroachments in this volume.

Were you aware that since 1985, federal, state and local governments have seized the property of over 200,000 Americans under asset forfeiture laws? In a great many cases these forfeitures have been carried out on the strength of no more evidence than unsubstantiated assertions from anonymous government informants.

Did you know that the number of federally authorized wiretaps has almost quadrupled since 1980, that Americans must today obey thirty times as many laws as their great-grandfathers had to obey at the turn of the century, or that an ever-greater proportion of the enforcement and regulation carried on by government is not specifically authorized by statute, but is instead made up by bureaucrats as they go along?

This is pretty serious stuff, and Bovard doesn't sugarcoat it. Lost Rights is liberally sprinkled with documented examples as well as thoughtful analyses of trends, and Bovard lards it with just enough humorous asides to keep us entertained.

Go ahead and accuse me of being an alarmist; I realize that many of you are probably bored to tears by the whole subject. All I can suggest is that unless more Americans bother to get themselves informed about the destruction of our liberties, and unless we begin to realize that these liberties apply to all of us, not just drug dealers and tax cheats, we will soon be sinking into a quicksand from which there may be no escape.

James Bovard, and others, are performing an immensely valuable service by getting the word out about these very real dangers. The least we can do is pay attention.

Return to Port Of Call Home Page
Return to Aug/Sept 94 Table of Contents