By Bradley Harrington
“There will never be a really free and enlightened State, until the State comes to recognize the individual as a higher and independent power, from which all its own power and authority are derived, and treats him accordingly.” — Henry David Thoreau, “On the Duty of Civil Disobedience,” 1849 —
So, Dear Readers: After that spew I gave the DOR ladies on Monday, it’s now time to discuss a few things.
First, Let’s Start With Some History
Back in 1776, when old Tom Jefferson wrote that “He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance,” he was referring directly to Britain’s King George III and his minions. For, throughout the 1760s’ and 1770s’, the British had been ramping up their taxes on, and tightening their control over, the colonists and their rights to free association and free trade.
A quick-and-dirty list of British interferences, taxations, regulations, usurpations and other acts of aggression throughout that time period: The Proclamation Act, 1763; the Sugar and Currency Acts, 1764; the Quartering and Stamp Acts, 1765; the Declaratory Act, 1766; the Townshend Acts, 1767; the Boston Massacre, 1770; the Tea Act, 1773; the Intolerable Acts, 1774; and the Boston Port Bill, the Administrative Justice Act and a new Quartering Act, 1775.
So, come April 19, 1775, when the duly-constituted British authorities showed up in Lexington and Concord to seize the colonists’ weapons and arms, the war — literally — was on.
By the time old Tom penned the Declaration in June of the following year, the path of the new nation was clear: (1) Complete and total independence from Great Britain. (2) A declaration that the new government’s role in that process was to be … “– That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed …”
And here we have the Founding Fathers’ greatest achievement: Not simply that they threw off Britain’s oppressive yoke, but that they acted to outlaw the formation of a new, home-brewed tyranny to replace it with. It wasn’t Great Britain’s King, per se, that was the problem: It was the oppression and tyranny instead. As “Common Sense” author Thomas Paine so eloquently put it: “We fight not to enslave, but to set a country free, and to make room upon the earth for honest men to live in.” (“The American Crisis No. 4,” 1777.)
In the American view of government, the power of “society” to control the lives and property of individuals is just as limited, and just as subject to, the standards controlling personal discourse. — That “society,” as such, has no rights, above and beyond the individual rights of all of its members, and that the very purpose of society, indeed, lies in the peaceful organization of individuals and their property.
THIS was the achievement of July 4, 1776, and the importance of that accomplishment simply cannot be overemphasized in regard to its impact on personal liberty. Your individual rights are yours by right, not by anybody else’s permission – and, in the American view, the very purpose of government lies in the protection of those rights.
After the Revolution, and with having some serious problems with the original Articles of Confederation as a blueprint for a successful self-governing society, it was decided in 1789 to establish a Constitution of the United States to fulfill that role instead, as the “Supreme Law of the Land.”
Whether or not the Constitution actually DID fulfill the ideals delineated in the Declaration is highly debatable, however, and there were many — the “Anti-Federalists” — who thought not. It was Congress’s power to tax that killed the proposed Constitution for most of them, along with its lack of a Bill of Rights.
For whatever particular reasons the “Anti-Federalists” rejected the Constitution over, however, their common, more fundamental, theme was clear: They ALL believed that the Constitution, as written, contained too much arbitrary power for government capriciousness, too many loopholes for government to use to grow and intrude itself upon areas never meant for its purview, and too few checks and balances to keep those two tendencies at bay.
All of them, therefore, predicted that, over time, the intentions of the Constitution would be slowly eroded away until it got to the point where the now-national, not “federal,” government would seize control of the entire political apparatus.
Regarding that then-potential abuse of power, perhaps the most salient warning came from the “Father of the Constitution” himself, James Madison, at Virginia’s Ratifying Convention in 1788: “I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power, than by violent and sudden usurpations.”
Typically enough, though, it was the “Anti-Federalist” Patrick Henry, at that same Convention, who put it best: “Virtue will slumber,” he said. “The wicked will be continually watching: Consequently you will be undone.”
So, What Happened?
Now, fast-forward nine generations: The few but highly-significant flaws in the Constitution have now been widened, like the ever-growing initials carved into the trunk of a young tree, until they have all but engulfed the original structure.
Now, if you don’t believe that’s true, consider the 10th Amendment, which states that “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
The idea here is clear: The federal government is to retain its specifically enumerated powers … And that’s it! All other government functions were to be left up to “the States respectively, or to the people.”
Yet here we have just a quick-and-dirty listing of national, not “federal,” bureaucracies, every one of them existing in violation of the 10th Amendment: the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms; the Bureau of Land Management; the Dept. of Education; the Dept. of Energy; the Dept. of Labor; the Drug Enforcement Administration; the Economic Development Administration; the Environmental Protection Agency; the Federal Communications Commission; the Federal Emergency Management Agency; the Federal Trade Commission; the National Council on Disability; the National Endowment for the Arts; the Securities and Exchange Commission; and a whole host of others that, if just listed comprehensively, never mind including a description of their functions, would consume far more pages than the Constitutional text itself.
And here we have a quick-and-dirty list of national, not “federal,” interferences, taxations, regulations, usurpations and other acts of aggression: the National Banking Act, the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, the Tea Importation Act, the Pure Food and Drug Act, the Meat Inspection Act, the Revenue Act, the Federal Reserve Act, the Federal Trade Commission Act, the Clayton Anti-Trust Act, the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act, the Federal Farm Loan Act, the Workingmen’s Compensation Act, the Flood Control Act, the Food and Fuel Control Act, the Volstead Act … And that just takes us up to the Great Depression!
Yep, a “multitude of New Offices” now pollute this land, just as they did 243 years ago, with one very important difference: THESE “Offices,” along with the “swarms of Officers” sent hither to “harass our people, and eat out their substance,” are follies of our own creation.
In every area of our society and on every level of government, we now suffer under a tyrannical yoke of taxation and control far in excess of anything King George ever imposed upon us.
The Founding Generation would be appalled at our herd-like approach to social issues and our pathetic willingness to tolerate nearly any form of regimentation and control, whether that be the cattle-like lines at your nearest TSA airport or the Wyoming DOR’s gross infringements on your rights of life, liberty and property. Quite frankly, I’d be willing to bet that most of the Founders would have been shooting dictators and bureaucrats by now.
So, can this moral and political rot ever be reversed? That, too, is highly debatable; $130 trillion, after all, is a helluva lot of money to pay back, and that’s just one of the less-crippling issues we are being confronted with. There are a number of us who believe — and I number myself in that category — that it’s entirely possible that the only way this national wreckage is ever going to be cleared out of the way will be through complete social, political and economic collapse.
So, for those of us who understand what is happening right now, right before our very eyes: What can we possibly DO about it?
Well, we could take the route of the Founders and kick off a Second American Revolution, for exactly the same reasons as the first. That, however, would pose serious problems on the face of it, for the American people have already, and very foolishly, allowed their government to become far more capable of waging war against them than they are against it.
If there were just some way that the individual “NO” inside a man or woman’s mind could somehow be translated into social action … If there were just some way that the energy of those solitary “NO’s” could be combined, and channeled into a common direction …
Civil Disobedience as a Tool for Course Corrections
As a civilization stumbles further and further down the road to serfdom, larger and larger percentages of citizens become disaffected with that society and culture — but offer up no active resistance.
A much smaller percentage of those disaffected souls DO, however — and their numbers, too, grow with that civilization’s devolution. Sometimes that number grows fast enough, as in Poland — and sometimes it doesn’t, as in Nazi Germany.
And, as history makes clear, it doesn’t take many to start the spark. Indeed, on rare occasions, nationally and internationally, it’s only taken ONE man, initially, to do so.
Consider, for instance, the work of Gandhi in India. Whatever you may think of his religion or politics, there’s no doubt he was an expert at employing the tools of civil disobedience. Consider, for instance, his “Salt March” of 1930, in protest of Britain’s salt monopoly … Which, ultimately, led to India’s independence from Britain in 1947.
Or think about Poland’s Lech Walesa of Solidarity, engaging in strikes and other forms of civil disobedience in the depths of communist slavery all throughout the 1980s … which led, in 1989, to the first popularly-elected non-communist Prime Minister in Poland since the Soviets began occupying it during World War II.
So, there’s no doubt that civil disobedience can, if employed properly, be an incredibly capable tool for resisting State tyranny and oppression, and I suspect that very few people actually understand the degree to which social systems can be agitated, or even toppled, by it. Even fewer understand the very small percentages of the population that’s required to pull it off.
You see, when push comes to shove and citizens start shouting that “No!” in their minds, they sometimes reach a certain point where there’s just no voluntary cooperation any longer.
Once citizens reach that critical flash point of consciousness, they are then impervious to the rules of the State. You can jail them, you can shoot them, you can chop their heads off, you can steal their wealth and plunder the wealth of their families, you can beat them with clubs and kill them on their Salt Marches — but you can’t make them follow an order. And, trust me, in every instance of dictatorial rule on this planet you care to name, the rulers live in constant fear that ultimately, one day, the allegedly mindless peasants out in the fields will figure that out, pronounce that “No” in their minds, and … Wipe their rulers off the face of the Earth.
So, What’s Next?
Hell, who knows? I’m certainly aware that Barbie and I are in complete violation of several statutes. Tsk, tsk, Dear Readers, for let me tell you: We, like Gandhi’s Salt Marchers or Walesa’s strikers, have now reached the point where we just simply REFUSE to obey unjust and intrusive laws any longer. And anybody who doesn’t like it can just come and arrest us. And we’ll be mouthing off the whole time until then, for however short or long that time of “freedom” will be.
Now, to get an idea of the incredible energy present in a potentially-occurring civil-disobedience operation, just imagine if: 100, only 100, business owners in this state were to stand up and tell the Wyoming DOR the same thing I did this last Monday. Are they going to jail and kill us all?
At what point, as an exercise in social psychology, does the resistance to such tyranny reach the point where the Rule of the Thug simply collapses on itself? 200? 250? 500? I guarantee you that if only 1,000 business owners in this state took our stand, the Wyoming DOR would be so flooded with problems of cooperation and enforcement that they’d probably not even be able to function any longer. In computer lingo, think of it as a “Denial of Service” attack.
Or, you can do as I did for so many years: You can put up with the slavery and control. Take warning, however: That’s what most of the population did during the consolidation of the Nazi regime in Germany throughout the 1930s’, and I’d be willing to bet, could such people be asked, that a whole lot of them would have resisted sooner if they had only realized the direction in which their nation was headed. Unfortunately, by the time they did, it was TOO LATE.
So: If it is now the policy of a large majority of my fellow Americans, to say nothing of our American government itself, that the State and Federal Regimes are now entitled to plunder our pockets at will, to regulate and interfere with our lives and to destroy the liberties the Founders fought for — then this country is most likely doomed anyway. Why would I ever want to sign on to that? Of what use is it to pursue values, when they are stolen from you at every turn?
So, Dear Readers, here’s the only solution we’ve got: The few of us who understand the issues, or who are just sick and tired of being treated like cattle by the people supposed to be supporting and protecting our individual rights — need to actively engage in civil disobedience if anything is ever going to change.
In the words of Frederick Douglass, former slave and virulent Abolitionist: “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.” (“West India Emancipation Speech,” 1857.)
So, Dear Readers, any time you get sick of it, you really can fix it. That’s what we’re doing, and it would be great to have some company.
And, if not, we’ll just sit in jail and pay our respects to the United States of America that used to be …
Bradley Harrington is a computer technician and a writer who lives in Cheyenne. He also blogs at www.reignitinglibertystorch.com. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
NOTE: This column was originally published on the “Truth to Power” blog on August 3, 2019.