An Internet Legend: ‘The Bill Of No Rights’

Originally published at IntellectualCapital.com
By K. Daniel Glover

Lewis Napper, a self-described “amateur philosopher and professional geek,” found his libertarian muse one day in 1993 while driving home for lunch from his job as a computer programmer near Jackson, Miss. The inspiration surfaced as he listened to a radio news report about President Clinton’s proposed national health-care plan.

As the chatter about “this right and that right” in the health-care arena increased, so did Napper’s frustration. What makes Americans think they have the right to any government-backed health care, he thought to himself. Or for that matter, what makes them think they have the right to any of the goodies distributed by a government that has become far too intrusive.

And then it hit him. All those misguided defenders of big government had perverted the intent of one of the founding documents of American democracy, the Bill of Rights. Within 15 minutes upon arriving home, Napper had composed his own addendum to the Bill of Rights just for those folks. He dubbed his satire “The Bill of No Rights” and forwarded it to a few friends.

An appreciative audience
Now five years later, Napper’s lunchtime creation has become something of an Internet legend in its own time. Napper receives 10 or 15 e-mail messages a day from people worldwide who appreciate insights like these in Article I and Article III:

  • You do not have the right to a new car, big-screen TV or any other form of wealth. More power to you if you can legally acquire them, but no one is guaranteed anything. …
  • You do not have the right to be free from harm. If you stick a screwdriver in your eye, learn to be more careful; do not expect the tool manufacturer to make you and all your relatives independently wealthy.

People usually discover The Bill of No Rights in one of three ways: in chat rooms, by e-mail messages forwarded from friends, or on a multitude of Web sites.

Napper, of course, has his own Internet home. The author of two technology books and numerous unpublished essays, he created The Binary Bunker in 1993. “I was glad the Web came along so that I had somewhere to put it,” Napper says of The Bill of No Rights and his other works. “For a small cost, I am able to maintain a Web site that is literally seen by thousands and thousands of people all over the world.”

But other Webmasters have discovered The Bill of No Rights without any promotion from Napper and gladly publish it. Radical groups like the Republic of Texas share Napper’s worldview and showcase his work. The Bill of No Rights also has been featured on more personal, catch-all sites like seedship.com and The Thompsons’ Home Pages. And of course the manifesto is an editorial staple on libertarian pages like DeMOCKracy and NERD HERD.

The Bill of No Rights “seemed to fit right in” with the constitutional theme of the NERD HERD site, says Michael T. Saldivar, who, along with Manny Delacruz and Daniel Lareaux, maintains that site out of San Francisco. “The entire political correctness thing is getting out of control,” Saldivar adds. “People are quickly getting offended at things they should be able to laugh at.”

Claiming credit where due
The popularity of Napper’s late-20th century American edict should come as no surprise. With pointed prose that mocks big-government boosters and the politically correct, The Bill of No Rights plays perfectly to an Internet crowd that often leans libertarian.

And the writing is enticing. The preamble alone is laced with enough wit and humor to grab the least interested of readers. It begins with an appeal for “common sense” from “We, the sensible of the United States” to “the terminally whiny, guilt-ridden delusional, and other liberal, commie, pinko bedwetters.” And it ends with this appeal: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that a whole lot of people were confused by the Bill of Rights and are so dim that they require a Bill of No Rights.”

Popularity has its pitfalls, however, especially when achieved in cyberspace. The biggest problem Napper has faced: getting due credit for his authorship of the unpolitically correct declaration. As The Bill of No Rights has made the Internet rounds, its origins have become a subject of debate. Some Webmasters post the piece anonymously; some credit it to authors other than Napper.

In most cases, Napper says, he eventually gets the credit he deserves — and sincere apologies from the people who, sometimes through no fault of their own, were erroneously listed as the authors. He says he did have to threaten to sue one radio talk-show host who claimed authorship on two different Web sites — once after Napper had told the man he was the true author — but most falsely identified authors react as Mitchell Kaye, a state lawmaker in Georgia, did.

Kaye’s name appeared on The Bill of No Rights on more than one Web site before Napper contacted him. Since then, Kaye, who read Napper’s satire in an e-mail message from a friend about a year ago and then forwarded it to several other people, has tried to set the record straight. “[The Bill of No Rights] reflects a lot of truisms in today’s society, and it’s really struck a chord,” he says. “I think it’s a riot. … This one is a classic. … I only wish I wrote it.”

When opportunity knocks, open the door
Perhaps more than others, Kaye can appreciate the mass appeal of The Bill of No Rights. It has generated plenty of unexpected attention for him, including an offer of funding for a congressional bid from the Republican National Committee and several appeals for a “Kaye for President” bid.

While Kaye says he is “just a state representative” with plenty to do in Georgia and no larger political ambitions as of yet, Napper is another story. He has been active in Mississippi’s Libertarian Party for years, and he says he will run for Congress on the Libertarian ticket in the year 2000. “I’m assuming that all seven of the Libertarians in Mississippi will vote for me,” he jokes. “I’m not really expecting to win, but I’m going to run at it as if I am.”

In the meantime, Napper will continue preaching the gospel of “opportunity” his poor parents taught him as a youngster in Bernice, La., a small town just north of Ruston. “Nobody gave my Dad anything except opportunity, and he rose above that,” Napper says as he recalls childhood without indoor plumbing and expounds (minus the satire) on the philosophy of The Bill of No Rights. “No one needs to guarantee anything except opportunity.”

And that, he says, is especially true of the government. “We’ve come to rely on government too much,” Napper says. “Government is not the answer to every problem. … There are better alternatives.”

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