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As I have written on the topics of non-violent passive-aggressive civil disobedience and nullification, I often find myself ridiculed by some on the right. Even given the strong history of both tactics meeting with great success on more than one occasion, there is still the detractor or two – or three, or more. Schopenhauer once said that:
All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.
It is wise to remember that ridicule does not negate a point. It is quite often that ridicule exposes an unconscious or even conscious level of discomfort by those who level criticism for criticism’s sake. When ridicule stands alone without the backing of debate or facts, the signpost of truth lights up like the sun for the object of derision. The perpetrator is left attempting to stand on a foundation ripped from underfoot and the reaction is more often than not outright censorship or an unending campaign of sarcasm. Often a type of mob rule takes over as others join the fray until all sense of intelligence has left the building.
It is unfortunate that, as is often typical, we wait until Schopenhauer’s third condition is met before acting, creating an even greater challenge and often finding ourselves in a reactive mode to events that take on a life of their own, making it almost if not literally impossible to effectively deal with the issue under question using a strategy that would have worked in the first place. We must first exhaust strategies that, had we honestly scrutinized and debated their efficacy within the current system, would be found wanting. We stick with the comfortable and work within a system whose rules are already written to guarantee our failure. Men like Gandhi and Martin Luther King understood this. In the past, those on the left have understood this, but most of the entire center-right spectrum does not – or will not. The refusal to even consider a strategy which has freed hundreds of millions of Indians from colonial rule, lead to the success of the Civil Rights movement, and ended apartheid in South Africa, along with a host of other successes is, quite frankly, myopic.
“I HEARTILY ACCEPT the motto, “That government is best which governs least”; and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically.” Thus begins the treatise titled Civil Disobedience by author, poet, and philosopher Henry David Thoreau. Both the man himself and the treatise were often quoted by Mohandas Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It was widely read in the 1940 by the Danish resistance, referenced in the 1950s by those who opposed McCarthyism, influential in the 1960s during the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, and used in the 1970s by anti-war activists. Never before, to my knowledge, has this treatise been used by conservative and/or independent American citizens who want their country taken back from the Statists in Washington.
Perhaps it is time we realize the power of the tactic of civil disobedience and its ability to bring about rapid and real change. To this end, we will take a look at this treatise and the ideas of Henry Thoreau concerning civil disobedience that experience has indicated time and time again actually work.
I would like to begin the discussion with two quotes. First, let us hear from Gandhi as he reference Henry Thoreau:
Thoreau was a great writer, philosopher, poet, and withal a most practical man, that is, he taught nothing he was not prepared to practice in himself. … He went to gaol [a correctional institution used for detention] for the sake of his principles and suffering humanity. His essay has, therefore, been sanctified by suffering. Moreover, it is written for all time. Its incisive logic is unanswerable.
Martin Luther King, Jr. had this to say about Thoreau in his autobiography:
I became convinced that noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. No other person has been more eloquent and passionate in getting this idea across than Henry David Thoreau. As a result of his writings and personal witness, we are the heirs of a legacy of creative protest.
So here we have a strategy used successfully to end apartheid in South Africa, bring Civil Rights to this country, and end the colonial occupation of India by Britain. Pretty powerful stuff. As we stand on the precipice of financial ruin the the question is not if the contemporaneous apocalyptic future outlined in the American Thinker post titled Let It Burn will occur, but when. My assumption in making this statement is that we, as a country, no longer possess the fortitude to pull off a proactive civil disobedience campaign or even nullification. We have become a nation of reactive activists. As much good as the Tea Parties appear to be doing, ObamaCare still passed. Even in November, when the bums are voted out, they will only be replaced by new bums. Try as we might, the fact is that, with few exceptions, even “our kind of conservative” is unprotected against the corruptive power of DC.
As long as the disease of Statism is allowed to exist and the power is not returned to the rightful owners – the people and the states – then big business, unions, and other special interests will continue to make the rules that defined the culture of large, centralized power in DC. The only way – only way – to get back that power is not by relying on others currently or soon to be placed into the very system that delivered us to this place, but the collective power of liberty loving Americans willing to do the hard work of taking this country back through self-power. Can we do it? I have my doubts. Today’s society is filled with distractions designed to occupy our minds on anything but that which we should be most concerned. Even our successes turn into failures. When we gathered in the town halls of last August, culminating in over 2 million people on the DC mall, our voices were still not heard. We fight amongst ourselves while the enemy marches deliberately onward. Some pride themselves on the lack of organization of some of the Tea Parties, not realizing that it is through organization and cooperation that efforts are magnified many times over. We know that inside DC there exists a bubble that insulates those who govern from the reality of the governed, yet pursue strategies that use that very system as if somehow, magically, the system will correct itself by the sheer force of our will when no point of reference exists past or present as an objective guidepost this strategy holds any hope of success. Meanwhile, Rome burns.
It is pre-1776 again and the sovereignty of the British parliament is now replaced by the sovereignty of a small city called Washington DC. What our founders fought and died for is itself a dying dream. When they looked across the pond and noted how much power resided in the hands of so few people, they put the aggregate might of their considerable intellectual power behind creating a system of government where power resided in the people and the states with limited powers reserved for the federal government. In short, they looked at Britain and did the opposite. However, over 200 years of abuses by the Supreme Court, in collusion with the other two powers of the federal government, morphed a philosophy of government by the people and turned it on its head into a government over the people. Dr. Larry Hunter, former policy advisor to President Ronald Reagan and a good personal friend and mentor describes it well in his article Political Law of the Hammer: Pound the People:
The Law of the Hammer states: Give a child a hammer, and he will discover everything needs a good pounding. It holds for politicians as well.
However, while children grow up and learn to use many of the other implements available in the human tool kit, politicians never grow up because their tool kit—government—contains only hammers. They come in various sizes and shapes but all government’s tools are hammers in one form or another, and all politicians and bureaucrats act like children when they get their hands on them: Pound the People.
In other words, all government is capable of doing is pounding on people and inflicting pain. Even when it gives money away to a select group of favorites, government first must extract the money from someone else by pounding on them. Government has no capacity to create anything so it first must take in order to give. It must harvest the fruits of others in order to bestow those fruits on someone else. Politicians call it “fairness” and “good government;” the people experience theft and pillage and feel violated. Consent of the people has become a sick joke; it’s the consent of a prisoner—consent or get pounded.
What then distinguishes government from organized crime? Not much although government certainly is less efficient than the mob. What essentially separates government from the Mafia is that government operates under the color of law and through a complex web of propaganda and public education (all publicly funded of course) that has been able to convince people to accept government’s oppression as legitimate because the color of law is tinted in pigments of “democracy.” As the president said recently in a commencement address:
What troubles me is when I hear people say that all of government is inherently bad. . .When our government is spoken of as some menacing, threatening foreign entity, it ignores the fact that in our democracy, government is us.
Well, there is some truth to that. As Pogo famously observed, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
This pillage under the color of law is what the president means by “sharing the wealth” and why he feels free to lecture us so blatantly that “at some point you’ve made enough money.” Pound the People, Mr. President.
In that same recent graduation speech, Obama acted out as democratic demagogue-in-chief when he played on the fear of the masses by warning that boisterous and full-throated criticism of government is illegitimate “partisan rants and name-calling under the guise of legitimate discourse,” which he insisted poses a serious danger to America’s democracy, and may incite “extreme elements” to violence. Give the president a hammer, in this case a teleprompter, and watch him pound the people.
It is interesting that democracy has become America’s secular Puritanism since the Founding Fathers understood well the vagaries of democracy and went to great lengths to prevent it from getting a grip on the United States. Regrettably, their efforts to house democracy in a constitutional cage and keep in on a leash when taken out to do some work have been proven by historical events to be a stupendous failure.
Democracy, like any form of government in its purest form can be distilled into the aphorism, “Might Makes Right.” What distinguishes democracy from monarchies and dictatorships and oligarchies is that rather than the might of a single person or a small clique of people making right, the might of a simple majority gives a bare 51 percent of the people the right to impose its will on the largest conceivable minority of people.
And, modern-day democracy has taken this tyrannical calculus one step further to mean the might of a plurality of people interested and politically skilled enough to finagle the system and divide people into more than two factions gives that minority plurality the right to impose its rule on the greater majority of the people. The evil genius of democracy is that overtime, democratic elections give everyone a crack at their right to impose democratic oppression on their fellow citizens, creating a dynamic of alternating pluralities, each with its hand in everyone else’s pockets, each with a spyglass on everyone else’s actions, each with the right to hand out hammers to bureaucrats to pound on their fellow citizens on the oust at the time.
Read the whole thing, for it elucidates the very situation in which we find ourselves in a way only Dr. Hunter can.
Many are beginning to realize the slow approach to dealing with this problem is untenable. I describe here why any belief that ObamaCare will be repealed at the federal level is unrealizable. I also describe why any striking of the individual mandate by the Supreme Court will only hasten single payer socialized medicine of government backed insurance cartels. In both cases, some entity whose interest is the bottom line and not your personal health will stand like a wall between you and your doctor. However, we forget that ObamaCare is a symptom of the disease of Statism. Thomas Jefferson noted that it is sheer madness to assume that any federal entity will act to limit its own power, so we are left with what appears to be an immovable object. When faced with such a situation and when all the objective observations point to the inefficacy of current political movements and strategies it is time to check one’s premises. What is missing from our approach? What has worked in the past and worked well in so many other situations that we are currently ignoring? The answer to that question is clear – a massive campaign of non-violent passive-aggressive civil disobedience. Henry Thoreau understood this. When faced with a situation in the body politic where standard tools are impotent in the face of overwhelming power two options become available – violent revolution or civil disobedience. The later stands out not only as a viable solution, but one that can bring lasting change while empowering the governed to transform into those who govern themselves as our founders intended.
I urge the reader to read in its entirety the treatise by Thoreau. I certainly do not agree with the essay in its entirety, but disagreement on a few points does not negate the value of wisdom gleaned. Many years separate Henry Thoreau from you and I so it is not at all surprising that some references are esoteric while others will be quickly seized upon and held up by detractors as evidence the entire work be nullified forthwith. Just keep in mind that those who have made use of this work have prevailed and its power stands on its own against any naysayers, for who can deny the facts of history or the great men and women who have used Thoreau’s philosophy on the matter of civil disobedience as a successful means to their goals of freedom and liberty? While we struggle with the issue of minority rule by the self-created fiat of a few in DC, this timeless work is our guide in taking back that which has been taken away from us. Here are some select parts of the essay I found to possess the greatest power (emphasis mine):
Yet this government never of itself furthered any enterprise, but by the alacrity with which it got out of its way. It does not keep the country free. It does not settle the West. It does not educate. The character inherent in the American people has done all that has been accomplished; and it would have done somewhat more, if the government had not sometimes got in its way. For government is an expedient by which men would fain succeed in letting one another alone; and, as has been said, when it is most expedient, the governed are most let alone by it.
Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience, then? I think that we should be men first, and subjects afterward. It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right. The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think right. It is truly enough said that a corporation has no conscience; but a corporation of conscientious men is a corporation with a conscience. Law never made men a whit more just; and, by means of their respect for it, even the well-disposed are daily made the agents of injustice.
In most cases there is no free exercise whatever of the judgment or of the moral sense; but they put themselves on a level with wood and earth and stones; and wooden men can perhaps be manufactured that will serve the purpose as well. Such command no more respect than men of straw or a lump of dirt. They have the same sort of worth only as horses and dogs. Yet such as these even are commonly esteemed good citizens. Others, as most legislators, politicians, lawyers, ministers, and office-holders, serve the state chiefly with their heads; and, as they rarely make any moral distinctions, they are as likely to serve the devil, without intending it, as God. A very few, as heroes, patriots, martyrs, reformers in the great sense, and men, serve the state with their consciences also, and so necessarily resist it for the most part; and they are commonly treated as enemies by it. A wise man will only be useful as a man, and will not submit to be “clay,” and “stop a hole to keep the wind away
It is not a man’s duty, as a matter of course, to devote himself to the eradication of any, even the most enormous wrong; he may still properly have other concerns to engage him; but it is his duty, at least, to wash his hands of it, and, if he gives it no thought longer, not to give it practically his support. If I devote myself to other pursuits and contemplations, I must first see, at least, that I do not pursue them sitting upon another man’s shoulders. I must get off him first, that he may pursue his contemplations too. See what gross inconsistency is tolerated.
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? Men generally, under such a government as this, think that they ought to wait until they have persuaded the majority to alter them. They think that, if they should resist, the remedy would be worse than the evil. But it is the fault of the government itself that the remedy is worse than the evil. It makes it worse.
Statesmen and legislators, standing so completely within the institution, never distinctly and nakedly behold it. They speak of moving society, but have no resting-place without it. They may be men of a certain experience and discrimination, and have no doubt invented ingenious and even useful systems, for which we sincerely thank them; but all their wit and usefulness lie within certain not very wide limits. They are wont to forget that the world is not governed by policy and expediency. Webster never goes behind government, and so cannot speak with authority about it. His words are wisdom to those legislators who contemplate no essential reform in the existing government; but for thinkers, and those who legislate for all time, he never once glances at the subject. I know of those whose serene and wise speculations on this theme would soon reveal the limits of his mind’s range and hospitality. Yet, compared with the cheap professions of most reformers, and the still cheaper wisdom and eloquence of politicians in general, his are almost the only sensible and valuable words, and we thank Heaven for him. Comparatively, he is always strong, original, and, above all, practical. Still, his quality is not wisdom, but prudence. The lawyer’s truth is not truth, but consistency or a consistent expediency. Truth is always in harmony with herself, and is not concerned chiefly to reveal the justice that may consist with wrong-doing. He well deserves to be called, as he has been called, the Defender of the Constitution.
They who know of no purer sources of truth, who have traced up its stream no higher, stand, and wisely stand, by the Bible and the Constitution, and drink at it there with reverence and humility; but they who behold where it comes trickling into this lake or that pool, gird up their loins once more, and continue their pilgrimage toward its fountain-head.
No man with a genius for legislation has appeared in America. They are rare in the history of the world. There are orators, politicians, and eloquent men, by the thousand; but the speaker has not yet opened his mouth to speak who is capable of settling the much-vexed questions of the day. We love eloquence for its own sake, and not for any truth which it may utter, or any heroism it may inspire. Our legislators have not yet learned the comparative value of free-trade and of freedom, of union, and of rectitude, to a nation. They have no genius or talent for comparatively humble questions of taxation and finance, commerce and manufacturers and agriculture. If we were left solely to the wordy wit of legislators in Congress for our guidance, uncorrected by the seasonable experience and the effectual complaints of the people, America would not long retain her rank among the nations. For eighteen hundred years, though perchance I have no right to say it, the New Testament has been written; yet where is the legislator who has wisdom and practical talent enough to avail himself of the light which it sheds on the science of legislation?
The authority of government, even such as I am willing to submit to — for I will cheerfully obey those who know and can do better than I, and in many things even those who neither know nor can do so well — is still an impure one: to be strictly just, it must have the sanction and consent of the governed. It can have no pure right over my person and property but what I concede to it. The progress from an absolute to a limited monarchy, from a limited monarchy to a democracy, is a progress toward a true respect for the individual.
We stand on the precipice, corralled to this place by years of apathy and gripped by the chains of those who feel powerless, swept up by events instead of defining them. One day each of us will face and question the purpose of our existence. Perhaps as we are dying, or perhaps on some quite afternoon many years from today or sooner for those who are older. On that day, we will look back over the course of our life and ask of ourselves, “What have I done to better the world”? Did I bow before tyranny, or stand up and face it? We are about to be pushed over the cliff. Some of us will all but gladly jump of our own volition. Who amongst us will pivot about and face the wardens of our prison and free ourselves?
In other news and opinion:
The Consent of the Governed. A very timely piece.