Think of civil disobedience and what springs to mind?
Protesters locked arm in arm against police onslaughts in the Selma of Jim Crow. Perhaps Gandhi bringing imperial Britain to heel with his message of non-violence.
You never think of a regular guy with a good job, a wife, 2.2 kids and a picket fence. But maybe you will…
Charles Murray, libertarian author and political scientist has fluttered the dovecotes with a controversial new book urging an unlikely form of civil disobedience. It is a book whose time has come. It’s called By the People: Rebuilding Liberty Without Permission.
Hold on — did you catch that? Rebuilding liberty without permission. Whose permission? The government’s…
Make no mistake, this book is subversive. But unlike most subversive literature, this book directs its shafts not at the downtrodden or dispossessed. No. It recruits the solid and respectable. This book exhorts Americans, especially conservatives, to issue “a declaration of limited resistance to the existing government.” Strong medicine for a conservative audience married to law and order, no doubt.
The book is a manifesto for the radical center, a rebel yell for the least likely revolutionary of all — the average, hard-working American citizen who asks for nothing but the opportunity to paddle his own canoe. That is, the man who seeks nothing but peace and quiet in this world. It is that man the government cannot abide.
Murray’s thesis is as simple and ringing as it is disturbing: the government has grown far too large to control. And neither the political process nor the Constitution can contain it anymore. Today’s American is more subject than citizen; he’s no longer the sovereign of his circumstances.
The unaccountable, unelected regulatory state is his new master. He’s shackled to the floor by the unbreakable chains of law and regulation it’s laid upon him. In the words of author Jarod Kintz, “Laws are chains to the many, and whips to the few.”
Need I remind you who holds the whips in this master/servant relationship? Or who feels their lash? And these chains grow heavier by the year…
From humble beginnings in the New Deal of the 1930s the regulatory state has grown fat beyond all recognition.
When first published in 1937 the Federal Code of Regulations ran to 3,450 pages. It now rings in at an impossible 180,000. That’s 140 Bibles. Except this bible contains nothing but commandments — 180,000 pages worth. God only needed one for His.
And the bureaucrats enforcing it can be given to the basest forms of cruelty and malice. They bite in the clinches. They hit below the belt. One determined bureaucrat can ruin a livelihood. Conjecture? Hardly. It’s happened countless times.
But what about our elected representatives and the courts? Why can’t they put a stop to it?
Murray concludes sadly that elections cannot reverse the rot. The regulatory state has built impregnable walls around itself. Judges can’t reverse it either. Not without collapsing the entire scaffold of Constitutional law erected since the 1930s. And they won’t do it. Not unless they’re willing to heave Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and a hundred other programs overboard. The only solution, according to Murray?
Murray supplies the answer to Thoreau’s question: “Unjust laws exist: shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor to amend them, and obey them until we have succeeded, or shall we transgress them at once?”
We should transgress them all at once is his answer, clear as the midday sun.
If everyone ignored the petty, idiotic rules the government couldn’t possibly enforce them. Widespread civil disobedience would overwhelm the system, letting us “pour sugar into the gas tank of the government.”
There just aren’t enough bureaucrats to collar all of us. And we’d pack the courts to suffocation if they tried. Chaos would follow, and they’d have to cry uncle.
To put teeth into his proposal, Murray proposes a private legal defense fund — the “Madison Fund,” in honor of the father of the Constitution — that businesses and citizens can resort to for defense against federal zealots. He hopes a few ultra-wealthy donors sympathetic to the cause will create it. No one has risen to the bait just yet.
By forcing the government into costly and lengthy litigation for clients refusing to comply with idiotic rules, the fund would tax government resources and throw bridles upon its bureaucratic ambitions. The state can target an individual or company for ruinous legal action, but as Murray writes, “Goliath cannot afford to make good on that threat against hundreds of Davids.” Bravo, Charles. Force them to try putting out a hundred brush fires at once. They can’t.
Important to note is that Murray is an unlikely, even reluctant revolutionary. As a firm believer in the rule of law, it brings him no joy to prescribe such a bitter medicine. And he suffers great pains to remind us that the law should not be shoved aside for “light and transient” causes. The law in question must be so obnoxious it mocks liberty openly.
But his proposal has blemishes. Gray areas will no doubt exist and Pandora’s Box would always be within reach. At what point does a questionable regulation break the tripwire? And who decides?
Fair questions, but the most egregious regulations would show neon colors visible to all but the bureaucrat. Start with them and let the proverbial chips fall where they will, I say.
Will any of this happen? Probably not. But the larger lesson is clear, and it’s not a new one to Laissez Faire Today readers. Look what happens when you smother the people with chains of regulation. You have not more law and order but less. More chaos, not less. More resentment, not less.
You get people, including conservatives who normally worship the crown of law and order, entertaining dangerous ideas undermining the very rule of law binding us together. All in the name of law. The term “unintended consequences” jumps to mind.
But the state is what Nietzsche called “the coldest of all cold monsters.” It has one imperative: growth. The regulatory state won’t be slain easily. But here’s the question: if not now when, and if not by us, who? Perhaps you don’t care for Murray’s medicine. What’s your suggestion? And please, more of the same is no answer.
Critics have given Murray’s book a round slating for its anarchism.
But I say three cheers for Mr. Charles Murray. He’s struck a blow for liberty.
Thanks for reading.