The guys on our side blathering about the “rule of law” in the Bundy standoff need to be reminded of a central tenet: When injustice becomes law, resistance becomes duty.
Of course the law is against Cliven Bundy. How could it be otherwise? The law was against Mohandas Gandhi, too, when he was tried for sedition; Mr. Gandhi himself habitually was among the first to acknowledge that fact, refusing to offer a defense in his sedition case and arguing that the judge had no choice but to resign, in protest of the perfectly legal injustice unfolding in his courtroom, or to sentence him to the harshest sentence possible, there being no extenuating circumstances for Mr. Gandhi’s intentional violation of the law. Henry David Thoreau was happy to spend his time in jail, knowing that the law was against him, whatever side justice was on.
But not all dissidents are content to submit to what we, in the Age of Obama, still insist on quaintly calling “the rule of law.” And there is a price to pay for that, too: King George not only would have been well within his legal rights to hang every one of this nation’s seditious Founding Fathers, he would have been duty-bound to do so, the keeping of the civil peace being the first responsibility of the civil authority. Every fugitive slave, and every one of the sainted men and women who harbored and enabled them, was a law-breaker, and who can blame them if none was content to submit to what passed for justice among the slavers? The situation was less dramatic during the government shutdown, but every one of the veterans and cheesed-off citizens who disregarded President Obama’s political theater and pushed aside his barricades was a law-breaker, too — and bless them for being that.
Damned skippy, right down the line.
Harry Reid, apparently eager for somebody to play the role of General Dyer in this civil-disobedience drama, promises that this is “not over.” And, in a sense, it can’t be over: The theory of modern government is fundamentally Hobbesian in its insistence that where political obedience is demanded, that demand must be satisfied lest we regress into bellum omnium contra omnes. I myself am of the view that there is a great deal of real estate between complete submission and civil war, and that acts such as Mr. Bundy’s are not only bearable in a free republic but positively salubrious. Unhappily, those views are not shared by many in Washington, and, if I were a wagering sort, my money would be on Mr. Bundy ending up dead or in prison, with a slight bias in the odds toward death.
Unfortunately–tragically–both for Bundy and for America That Was, I think he’s right. Which sad fact leads me to conclude that, to use Kevin’s formulation, “a little sedition” isn’t going to be near enough to put us back on the right track. It’s going to take a whole lot of it, plus some.
But if it were up to the “rule of law” crowd, this country wouldn’t even exist at all; to put it bluntly, blind obedience to illegitimate authority is precisely what gets people loaded onto cattle cars and shoved into ovens and gulags in the end, and to hell with Godwin’s Law. I’d be happy to just republish Williamson’s article entire here, but I’ll recommend you go on over and read the whole thing instead.
Glenn notes something equally important:
I think the problem is that the government hasn’t gotten enough pushback. The phrase “the country wouldn’t stand for it” has gone out of the political lexicon. I think it needs to go back in.
As I’ve noted here before, I can remember a time when seat belt laws were being pushed by a crooked coalition of automakers, insurance companies, and FederalGovCo, and there was much dismissive pooh-poohing in op-eds and general conversation about how “the country would never stand for” such an obvious abrogation of individual liberty. Now resistance to such intrusive laws–as we will see in time with resistance to government health care–is simply inconceivable to most people, having been enacted “for our own good” and all.
No, government threats to murder an entire family via militarized bureaucracy over a for-profit land-grab initiated at the behest of one of the most corrupt and worthless politicians in human history isn’t quite the same thing as being forced to “buckle up for safety.” But you’re a blind fool if you think there’s no relationship between the two at all.
We’ve come a long way, baby–in precisely the wrong direction.
Update! Williamson takes it further:
If we are to have the rule of law, then, by all means, let’s have the rule of law: Shut down those federal subsidies and IRS penalties in states that did not create their own exchanges under the Affordable Care Act — the law plainly does not empower the federal government to treat federal exchanges identically to state exchanges. And let’s enforce the ACA’s deadlines with the same scrupulosity with which the IRS enforces its deadlines. Let’s see Lois Lerner and a few hundred IRS employees thrown in the hole for their misappropriation of federal resources, lying to Congress, etc. — and let’s at least look into prosecuting some elected Democrats for suborning those actions. And if you want to get to the real problem with illegal immigration, let’s frog-march a few CEOs, restaurateurs, and small-time contractors off to prison for violating our immigration laws — and they can carry a GM product-safety manager and a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration executive under each arm. Let’s talk about enumerated powers.
Tell you what: We can have a nice, interesting debate about the rule of law — but not while Lois Lerner is at large and Charlie Rangel is a prominent feature of public life. Not until a guy who owns a car lot in Waxahachie gets the same deal on his back taxes that Tim Geithner did. But I have the strangest feeling that a great many residents of Washington would not fare especially well under any robust interpretation of the rule of law. It all makes you not want to think too hard about the fact that President Obama has ordered the assassination of more than one U.S. citizen with no obvious legal authority for doing so.
Cliven Bundy may very well be a nut job, but one thing is for sure: The federal government wouldn’t treat a tortoise the way it has treated him. Harassing a tortoise is a federal offense. But harassing the country? That’s federal policy.
They consider the tortoise to be more valuable than him or any other human, and to have more rights. Meanwhile, Charles Cooke uncharacteristically misses the point:
When can one refuse to obey the law without expecting to bring the whole thing down? Certainly such instances exist: I daresay that I would not stand idly by quoting John Adams if a state reintroduced slavery or herded a religious group into ovens or even indulged in wholesale gun confiscation. But Bundy’s case is not remotely approaching these thresholds. Are we to presume that if the government is destroying one’s livelihood or breaking one’s ties with the past, one can revolt? If so, one suspects that half the country would march on Washington, with scimitars drawn, and that West Virginia would invade the Environmental Protection Agency.
And we’d be better off for it, too. As for his example above of a state bringing back slavery or herding people into ovens, why on earth would he NOT be desirous of bringing such an edifice down? And if such doesn’t suffice to make him start thinking in those terms, what on earth would?
Charles is mistakenly assuming that this government has not forsaken, as Vanderbeogh and Herschel Smith always say, the “mandate of heaven”–that it still enjoys some Constitutional legitimacy and therefore is entitled to the allegiance of its subjects, who still have some means of redress of grievances, whether at the ballot box or in the legal system. But we already know both those systems are rigged and corrupted beyond salvation; who still thinks even a relatively wealthy landowner like Bundy could possibly expect a fair hearing in any federal court when going up against FederalGovCo? And who still thinks voting for someone–anyone–other than Harry Fucking Reid will make one damned bit of difference in the reach and power of myriad omnipotently lawless federal bureaucracies like the BLM?
As government expands and civil society retreats, bad laws pile atop bad laws, and the cause for dissent is magnified and deepened. Cliven Bundy has been dealt a raw hand by a system that is deaf to his grievances and ham-fisted in its response. But this is a republic, dammit — and those who hope to keep it cannot pick and choose the provisions with which they are willing to deign to comply.
No, this is NOT a republic, not any longer, no matter how desperately we go on flattering ourselves by calling it one. No one can realistically “hope to keep it”; it has already been irretrievably lost, and exists only in the imaginations of people desirous of avoiding an ugly reality. No amount of nostalgia, wishful thinking, or Lee Greenwood singalongs is going to bring it back to life, either. The only thing that stands a chance of that is staunch, open defiance of an illegitimate national order. In that sense, and in the long term, Bundy himself and his personal plight were actually far less consequential than the hordes of fed-up people who showed up from all over the country to stand with him, look evil dead in the eye with a pistol on their hips, and say: enough.