civil disobedience

The View from Here

You know what happens when a law is enacted to protect a “minority,” don’t you? The minority acquires privileged status in the eyes of the law. Any action that is claimed to deprive the “minority” of its rights brings the wrath of the state down on the purported offender. And the same law enables members of the “minority” to attain jobs, promotions, and university admissions for which they are otherwise unqualified.

My opening paragraph is prompted by the likely passage of a “gay rights in workplace” bill by the U.S. Senate. The bill is unlikely to be approved soon by the U.S. House of Representatives, but I won’t say “never.” Many members of the GOP are eager to seem “nice,” and enough of them might vote with Democrats to pass the bill and send it to B.O. for signature. Such an act of appeasement will, of course, go unrewarded by voters of the left. But panicked lawmakers are immune to logic, and devoid of principles.

The “gay rights” issue is only a symptom of America’s decay. The official elevation of gays to privileged status is of a piece with several other developments: the very possible failure of efforts to derail death-dealing Obamacare, the equally likely failure of efforts to curb murderous abortion (the gateway to involuntary euthanasia), the ever-growing dependence of Americans on an unaffordable welfare state, an unchecked regulatory apparatus, feminized and gutted defenses, groveling before enemies, and the suppression of dissent in the name of “rights,” “social justice,” “equal protection,” and other Orwellian catch-phrases.

It is altogether evident that America soon will be an irreversibly effete, statist, inhumane, and appeasing realm. In it, every truly beneficial impulse — like those that energized America’s revolution against Britain, the framing of a Constitution that promised the preservation of liberty, the defeat of oppressive regimes in wars hot and cold, and the creation of the world’s most dynamic and productive economy — will be squelched.

The barbarians within, and their willing dupes, are in the saddle. It can happen here, and it is happening here. America is about to become the land of the unfree and the home of the weak-kneed.

*     *     *

Related reading: Joe Herring, “I Am Now a Dissident (and You Should Be Too!),” American Thinker, November 6, 2013

Related posts:
Diversity
Putting Hate Crimes in Perspective
The Cost of Affirmative Action
Why Not Just Use SAT Scores?
The Face of America
Affirmative Action: A Modest Proposal
Race, Intelligence, and Affirmative Action
Affirmative Action: Two Views from the Academy
Affirmative Action, One More Time
Libertarianism, Marriage, and the True Meaning of Family Values
Same-Sex Marriage
“Equal Protection” and Homosexual Marriage
The Course of the Mainstream
A Contrarian View of Segregation
Much Food for Thought
Guilty Until Proven Innocent
After the Bell Curve
A Footnote . . .
Schelling and Segregation
Law, Liberty, and Abortion
Black Terrorists and “White Flight”
Positive Rights and Cosmic Justice: Part IV (with links to earlier parts of the series)
Timely Material
Affirmative Action: Two Views from the Academy, Revisited
It’s the Little Things That Count
A Footnote to a Footnote
Let Me Be Perfectly Clear…
FDR and Fascism
An FDR Reader
“Family Values,” Liberty, and the State
Is There Such a Thing as Society
The People’s Romance
Intellectuals and Capitalism
Fascism
Conspicuous Consumption and Race
An Honest Woman Speaks Out
Fascism with a “Friendly” Face
The Interest-Group Paradox
Parsing Political Philosophy
Is Statism Inevitable?
Inventing “Liberalism”
Civil Society and Homosexual “Marriage”
A New, New Constitution
Fascism and the Future of America
The Indivisibility of Economic and Social Liberty
Rights, Liberty, the Golden Rule, and the Legitimate State
The Perils of Nannyism: The Case of Obamacare
More about the Perils of Obamacare
Health-Care Reform: The Short of It
The Real Constitution and Civil Disobedience
The Near-Victory of Communism
Tocqueville’s Prescience
First Principles
The Shape of Things to Come
Accountants of the Soul
Invoking Hitler
Is Liberty Possible?
The Left
Perry v. Schwarzenegger, Due Process, and Equal Protection
The Constitution: Original Meaning, Corruption, and Restoration
Rationalism, Social Norms, and Same-Sex “Marriage”
A Moral Dilemma
A Conversation with Uncle Sam
Society and the State
I Want My Country Back
The “Forthcoming Financial Collapse”
Undermining the Free Society
Our Enemy, the State
Pseudo-Libertarian Sophistry vs. True Libertarianism
“Intellectuals and Society”: A Review
Government vs. Community
The Evil That Is Done with Good Intentions
The Destruction of Society in the Name of “Society”
About Democracy
Externalities and Statism
Taxes: Theft or Duty?
Bounded Liberty: A Thought Experiment
More Pseudo-Libertarianism
The Meaning of Liberty
The Left’s Agenda
Substantive Due Process and the Limits of Privacy
In Defense of Marriage
The Left and Its Delusions
The Destruction of Society in the Name of “Society”
A Declaration of Civil Disobedience
Crimes against Humanity
Abortion and Logic
The Myth That Same-Sex “Marriage” Causes No Harm
The Spoiled Children of Capitalism
Politics, Sophistry, and the Academy
Subsidizing the Enemies of Liberty
Society and the State
Are You in the Bubble?
Defense as an Investment in Liberty and Prosperity
Our Perfect, Perfect Constitution
Abortion, Doublethink, and Left-Wing Blather
Race and Reason: The Derbyshire Debacle
Race and Reason: The Victims of Affirmative Action
Not-So-Random Thoughts (III)
Race and Reason: The Achievement Gap — Causes and Implications
Don’t Use the “S” Word When the “F” Word Will Do
Liberty and Society
Tolerance on the Left
The Eclipse of “Old America”
The Capitalist Paradox Meets the Interest-Group Paradox
Genetic Kinship and Society
How Not to Cope with Government Failure
Riots, Culture, and the Final Showdown (revisited)
Where We Are, Economically
The Economic Outlook in Brief
Is Taxation Slavery?
Obamanomics: A Report Card
Well-Founded Pessimism
A Declaration of Independence
The 80-20 Rule, Illustrated
America: Past, Present, and Future
Defending Liberty against (Pseudo) Libertarians
America: Past, Present, and Future
Restoring Constitutional Government: The Way Ahead
Economic Horror Stories: The Great “Demancipation” and Economic Stagnation
The Fallacy of the Reverse-Mussolini Fallacy
“Conversing” about Race
Economics: A Survey
IQ, Political Correctness, and America’s Present Condition
The Barbarians Within and the State of the Union
Why Are Interest Rates So Low?
Estimating the Rahn Curve: Or, How Government Spending Inhibits Economic Growth
America’s Financial Crisis Is Now
The World Turned Upside Down
“We the People” and Big Government: Part I
“We the People” and Big Government: Part I (continued)
“We the People” and Big Government: Part II (first installment)

Restoring Constitutional Government: The Way Ahead

Despite the narrowness of Barack Obama’s victory last November, there is much cause for despair by the remnant of liberty-loving Americans. Given the broad and bipartisan dependency of Americans on the welfare state, the overthrow of that state by an electoral revolution seems unlikely.

The entrenchment of the welfare state also means the entrenchment of the regulatory state. The two go hand-in-hand; both are born of economic illiteracy by way of power-lust. To put it another way, both are tools of “scientific” governance, which has no place for liberty, which is voluntary — and mutually beneficial — social and economic intercourse.

With that preamble in mind, let us consider the options (not all of which are mutually exclusive):

1. Business as usual — This will lead to more and more government control of our lives and livelihoods, that is, to less and less freedom and prosperity (except for our technocratic masters, of course).

2. Rear-guard action — This option is exemplified by the refusal of some States to expand Medicaid and to establish insurance exchanges under the Affordable Care Act. This bit of foot-dragging doesn’t cure the underlying problem, which is accretion of illegitimate power by the central government. Further, it can be undone by fickle voters and fickle legislatures, as they succumb to the siren-call of “free” federal funds.

3. Geographic sorting — The tendency of “Blue” States to become “bluer” and “Red” States to become “redder” suggests that Americans are sorting themselves along ideological lines. As with rear-guard action, however, this tendency — natural and laudable as it is — doesn’t cure the underlying problem: the accretion of illegitimate power by the central government. Lives and livelihoods in every State, “Red” as well as “Blue,” are controlled by the edicts of the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of the central government. There is little room for State and local discretion. Moreover, much of the population shift toward “Red” must be understood as opportunistic (e.g., warmer climates, right-to-work laws) and not as an endorsement of “Red” politics. (There is a refinement of this option that I call “Zones of Liberty,” which also holds limited promise. Another variation, the Free State Project, is similarly unpromising.)

4. Civil disobedience — Certainly called for, but see option 5.

5. Underground society and economy — Think “EPA-DOL-FBI-IRS-NSA,” and then dismiss this as a serious option for most Americans.

6. A negotiated partition of the country — An unlikely option (discussed in this post and in some of the posted linked to therein) because “Blue” will not countenance the loss of control over millions of lives and livelihoods.

7. Secession — This is legal and desirable — as long as the New Republic of free states is truly free — but (a) it is likely to be met with force and therefore (b) unlikely to attract a critical mass of States.

8. Coup — Suggested several years ago by Thomas Sowell:

When I see the worsening degeneracy in our politicians, our media, our educators, and our intelligentsia, I can’t help wondering if the day may yet come when the only thing that can save this country is a military coup.

Military personnel (careerists, in particular) are disciplined, have direct access to the tools of power, and many of them are trained in clandestine operations. Therefore, a cadre of properly motivated careerists might possess the wherewithal necessary to seize power. But a plot to undertake a coup is easily betrayed. (Among other things, significant numbers of high-ranking officers are shills for the regulatory-welfare state.) And a coup, if successful, might deliver us from a relatively benign despotism into a decidedly malign despotism. But given the nation’s present trajectory, a coup is our best bet for the restoration of liberty and prosperity under a government that is true to the Constitution.

Related reading:
Mark Thiessen, “The People Have Spoken … and They Must Be Punished,” AEIdeas, November 7, 2012
Jeffrey Lord, “Twinkicide: Death by Liberalism,” The American Spectator, November 20, 2012
Bill Vallicella, “A Case for Voluntary Segregation,” Maverick Philosopher, November 20, 2012
Patrick J. Buchanan, “Stirrings of Secession,” Taki’s Magazine, November 30, 2012
Gary Genelin, “On Secession: An Analysis of Texas v. White,” American Thinker, January 10, 2013

Related posts (listed chronologically):
How to Think about Secession
Greed, Cosmic Justice, and Social Welfare
Positive Rights and Cosmic Justice
Secession
The Interest-Group Paradox
Is Statism Inevitable?
Utilitarianism vs. Liberty
Fascism and the Future of America
Secession Redux
Negative Rights, Social Norms, and the Constitution
A New Cold War or Secession?
Rights, Liberty, the Golden Rule, and the Legitimate State
The Real Constitution and Civil Disobedience
The Census of 2010: Bring It On
The Near-Victory of Communism
A Declaration of Independence
Tocqueville’s Prescience
First Principles
The Shape of Things to Come
The Real Burden of Government
Zones of Liberty
The Constitution: Original Meaning, Corruption, and Restoration
A Conversation with Uncle Sam
The Illusion of Prosperity and Stability
Estimating the Rahn Curve: Or, How Government Inhibits Economic Growth
The Deficit Commission’s Deficit of Understanding
The Bowles-Simpson Report
The Unconstitutionality of the Individual Mandate
The Bowles-Simpson Band-Aid
Does the Power to Tax Give Congress Unlimited Power?
Does Congress Have the Power to Regulate Inactivity?
Re-Forming the United States
The Southern Secession Reconsidered
A Declaration of Civil Disobedience
The Repealer
Estimating the Rahn Curve: A Sequel
Constitutional Confusion
Reclaiming Liberty throughout the Land
More Evidence for the Rahn Curve
Secession, Anyone?
Obamacare, Slopes, Ratchets, and the Death-Spiral of Liberty
Another Thought or Two about the Obamacare Decision
Obamacare and Zones of Liberty
Keynesianism: Upside-Down Economics in the Collectivist Cause
Secession for All Seasons
A New Constitution for a New Republic
A Zone of Liberty in the Making?
The Price of Government, Once More
America: Past, Present, and Future

A Declaration of Civil Disobedience

I hereby declare to the people of the United States and to the governments thereof that

The ratification of the Constitution of the United States resulted in the establishment a government of the United States (the central government) for the purposes of making, executing, and adjudicating laws. The Constitution and all laws made in accordance with it are the supreme law of the land. However, the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of the central government have abused their powers by making, executing, and upholding laws contrary to the Constitution; for example:

A decennial census is authorized in Article I, Section 2, for the purpose of enumerating the population of each State in order to apportion the membership of the House of Representatives among the States, and for no other purpose.

Article I, Section 1, vests all legislative powers in the Congress, but Congress has authorized and allowed unelected, executive-branch regulators to legislate on myriad matters affecting the liberty and property of Americans.

Article I, Section 8, enumerates the specific powers of Congress, which do not include such things as establishing and operating national welfare and health-care programs; intervening in the education of America’s children; regulating interstate commerce beyond ensuring its free flow; regulating intrastate commerce and private, non-commercial transactions; lending money and guaranteeing loans made by quasi-governmental institutions and other third parties; acquiring the stock and debt of business enterprises; establishing a central bank with the power to do more than issue money; requiring the States and their political subdivisions to adopt uniform laws on matters that lie outside the enumerated powers of Congress and beyond the previously agreed powers of the States and their subdivisions;  and coercing the States and the political subdivisions in the operation of illegitimate national programs by providing and threatening to withhold so-called federal money, which is in fact taxpayers’ money.  (The notion that the “general welfare” and/or “necessary and proper” clauses of Article I, Section 8, authorize such activities was refuted definitively in advance of the ratification of the Constitution by James Madison in No. 41 of the Federalist Papers, wherein the leading proponents of the Constitution stated their understanding of the Constitution’s meaning when they made the case for its ratification.)

One of the provisions of Article I, Section 10, prohibits interference by the States in private contracts; moreover, the Constitution nowhere authorizes the central government to interfere in private contracts. Yet, directly and through the States, the central government has allowed, encouraged, and required interference in private contracts pertaining to employment, property, and financial transactions.

Amendment I of the Constitution provides that “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech.” But Congress has nevertheless abridged the freedom of political speech — our most precious kind — by passing bills that have been signed into law by presidents of the United States and, in the main, upheld by the Supreme Court of the United States.

Amendment IX of the Constitutions provides that its “enumeration . . . of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” But Congress, in concert with various presidents and Supreme Court majorities, has enacted laws that circumscribe one of our time-honored freedoms: the freedom of association.

As outlined above, the central government routinely and massively violates Amendment X, 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.”

Legislative, executive, and judicial acts of the central government have perverted the meaning of Amendments XIII, XIV, and XV — which properly abolished slavery and outlawed racial discrimination by government — to require discrimination on behalf of certain “protected groups” designated by law, to the detriment of groups not thus favored.

These and other abuses of power by the central government are grounds for civil disobedience, at the least, and secession, in the extreme.

With regard to secession, there is a judicial myth — articulated by a majority of the United States Supreme Court in Texas v. White (1868) — that the union of States is perpetual:

The Union of the States never was a purely artificial and arbitrary relation. It began among the Colonies, and grew out of common origin, mutual sympathies, kindred principles, similar interests, and geographical relations. It was confirmed and strengthened by the necessities of war, and received definite form and character and sanction from the Articles of Confederation. By these, the Union was solemnly declared to “be perpetual.” And when these Articles were found to be inadequate to the exigencies of the country, the Constitution was ordained “to form a more perfect Union.” It is difficult to convey the idea of indissoluble unity more clearly than by these words. What can be indissoluble if a perpetual Union, made more perfect, is not?

The Court’s reasoning — if it may be called that — is born of mysticism, not legality. Similar reasoning might have been used — and was used — to proclaim the Colonies inseparable from Great Britain. And yet, some of the people of the Colonies put an end to the union of the Colonies and Great Britain, on the moral principle that no person or people is obliged to remain in an abusive relationship. That moral principle is all the more compelling in the case of the union known as the United States, which — mysticism aside — is nothing more than the creature of the several States and the people thereof.

It was only by the grace of nine States that the Constitution took effect, thereby establishing the central government. Those nine States voluntarily created the central government and, at the same time, voluntarily granted specific, limited powers to it. The people of the States that effected the Constitution were led to understand that the central government would exercise only its specified powers, and then only for the general well-being of the States and their people. Every State subsequently admitted to the union has entered into the same contract with the central government.

But, as outlined above, the central government has breached its trust by exceeding the powers granted to it. In fact, the central government’s abuse of power has been so persistent and egregious that a reasonable remedy on the part of the States — individually or severally — is to declare the union null and void. Each and every State, in other words, has the right to secede from the union and to withdraw from the central government its support and the support of its people.

Three facts militate against secession as a remedy for the central government’s abuse of power. First, many of the States (and political subdivisions thereof), having long subscribed to the unconstitutional acts of the central government and engaged in unconstitutional acts of their own devising, are complicit in the central government’s breach of trust and abuse of power. Second, the States and their people have much to gain by remaining joined in union: mutual defense and the free movement of people, goods, and services among the States. Third, because the central government has acquired overwhelming might, and because that might would no doubt be used to suppress secession, it would be sheer folly to secede — despite the moral and legal rightness of doing so.

The only practical alternative to secession is civil disobedience, which may be practiced by individuals. Accordingly, I do solemnly offer the following declaration of civil disobedience:

I affirm my allegiance to the Constitution of the United States, and hereby pledge to do what I can to preserve, protect, and defend it against all its enemies, foreign and domestic.

The central government of the United States, through prolonged and egregious abuses of its delegated powers, has proved itself an enemy of the Constitution, as have many State and local governments. All such governments — central, State, and local — are enemies of the Constitution, and of the people.

A citizen of the United States owes no allegiance to an enemy, and is bound by conscience to thwart the enemy’s efforts to destroy liberty in the land.

Any citizen may therefore refuse peacefully to comply with the unconstitutional laws, regulations, executive orders, and judicial holdings of government — central, State, or local — at times and places of his choosing.

Done, on this Fourth Day of July, in the Year of Grace 2011.

Related posts:
Secession
A New, New Constitution
Secession Redux
A New Cold War or Secession?
The Real Constitution and Civil Disobedience
The Census of 2010: Bring It On
First Principles
The Constitution: Original Meaning, Corruption, and Restoration
A Conversation with Uncle Sam
The Unconstitutionality of the Individual Mandate
Does the Power to Tax Give Congress Unlimited Power?
Does Congress Have the Power to Regulate Inactivity?
Is the Constitution True?
Is the Constitution True? An Addendum
Re-Forming the United States
The Southern Secession Reconsidered

The Census of 2010: Bring It On

I’m waiting eagerly for the census form to arrive in the mail. Its arrival will give me an opportunity to comply with the “real” Constitution by committing an act of civil disobedience. Specifically, I will refuse to answer the questions that have nothing to do with the constitutional purpose of the census.

Yes, the Constitution mandates the census, for the purpose of apportioning membership in the House of Representatives among the States. And it says in the Constitution that “the actual Enumeration . . . shall be made . . . in such Manner as they shall by Law direct.” But the operative word is “enumeration.” It follows that Congress’s power to direct the “manner” of the enumeration is restricted to such matters as when and at what cost the enumeration shall be made.

In fact,  nine of the questions asked on this year’s ten-question census form are  extraneous to the constitutional purpose of determining the number of persons living in each State. It is telling that the “box” in which the constitutional purpose of the census is stated contains only question 1: “How many people were living or staying in this house, apartment, or mobile home on April 1, 2010?” The layout of the form indicates clearly that the other nine questions are unnecessary, not to mention intrusive; for example: Do you own or rent your home? Is it mortgaged? What’s your phone number, age, and date of birth? Are you Hispanic? What’s your race (since the abolition of slavery, relevant only to the exclusion of “Indians not taxed” from the enumeration)? Do you sometimes live or stay somewhere else, and why?

Worse than the basic census form is the American Community Survey (ACS), which is sent to a random sample of addresses. The survey redoubles the constitutional irrelevance and unwarranted intrusiveness of the basic census form by asking about such things as the characteristics of your dwelling (e.g., number of rooms, number of bathrooms, age of building, types of appliances), number of automobiles you own, cost and type of utilities you use, the estimated value of your home, your annual real-estate taxes, the amount of mortgage payment, your education, your type of employment and work status, etc., etc., etc.

According to the Census Bureau,

The 2010 Census will help communities receive more than $400 billion in federal funds each year for things like:

  • Hospitals
  • Job training centers
  • Schools
  • Senior centers
  • Bridges, tunnels and other-public works projects
  • Emergency services

The data collected by the census also help determine the number of seats your state has in the U.S. House of Representatives.

It is noteworthy that the constitutional purpose of the census is stated as an afterthought, whereas top billing is given to several unconstitutional purposes — none of which derives from the powers granted Congress in Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution. The fact that courts have upheld the constitutionality of extraneous, intrusive questions is no proof of their constitutionality. The real Constitution is what the Constitution says, not what some court says.

Nor is there a scintilla of a penumbra of a justification in the Constitution for the use of the census to satisfy the desire of social “scientists” to collect data from which they can derive unconstitutional policy prescriptions..Yet, the Census Bureau boldly proclaims the value of the census as a source of data for such endeavors by quoting one such “scientist”:

“For many sociologists and other scholars like me, the census data that is compiled every 10 years is flat-out the most reliable, comprehensive, and best source of data on the American population.”

– C.N. Le, Professor at University of Massachusetts, Amherst

In addition to the essential unconstitutionality of the census, as it is conducted, there is the potential for the misuse of the census by an administration that is determined to micromanage our lives, as the present administration is wont to do. (A primary case in point: “health care reform.”)

As if that weren’t enough, Hans A. von Spakovsky notes that a court in Delaware has ruled that “there is a separate violation for each question you don’t answer. So, on this year’s ten-question Census form, you could be fined as much $1,000″ — even though it is evident that the law (U.S. Code, Title 13, Section 221) contemplates a maximum fine of $100:

(a) Whoever, being over eighteen years of age refuses or willfully neglects, when requested by the Secretary, or by any other authorized officer or employee of the Department of Commerce or bureau or agency thereof acting under the instructions of the Secretary or authorized officer, to answer, to the best of his knowledge, any of the questions on any schedule submitted to him in connection with any census or survey provided for by subchapters I, II, IV, and V of chapter 5 of this title, applying to himself or to the family to which he belongs or is related, or to the farm or farms of which he or his family is the occupant, shall be fined not more than $100.

The operative phrase is “any of the questions,” meaning any or all of them. Otherwise, the phrase would read “a question.” But arrogant, statist judges — like arrogant, statist executives and legislators — have no respect for the Constitution or laws that threaten to curb their power-lust.

Nevertheless, as von Spakovsky observes,

If there was a mass refusal by millions of Americans to answer parts of the form — like the race question — the U.S. Justice Department would not have the resources to prosecute everyone who violated the law. But you could be prosecuted and fined . . . .

What’s a Constitution-abiding citizen to do? Aside from giving false answers, which is neither principled nor wise (the potential penalty is five times greater than the penalty for not answering), I see three options:

1. Don’t return the census form(s) and avoid the census-taker when he comes a-calling. If the census-taker happens to catch you at home, you can put him off by recording his ID and telling him to return at some future time, after you have had a chance to call the Regional Census Center to confirm his identity. (If the census-taker gives you a phone number to call, explain to him that it would be imprudent of you to rely on him to give you a valid number.) It might just happen that you forget to be home at the agreed time, or that you don’t hear the doorbell.

2. Answer question 1 and its equivalent on the ACS (if you receive it), and return the form(s). Respond to follow-up visits by the census taker as suggested in 1.

3. Answer question 1 and its equivalent on the ACS (if you receive it), and return the form(s) with an note explaining the constitutional basis for your refusal to answer the other questions. Undaunted, the census-taker will come a-calling, and you (equally undaunted) can deal with him as suggested above. Don’t argue; just avoid.

In the census of 2000, I received the long census form (the predecessor of the ACS), and chose to exercise option 3. The census-taker gave up, and I never heard from a prosecutor. I can’t guarantee the same outcome (for you or me) this time around. But I intend, once again, to resist the unconstitutional intrusion of Big Brother’s minions into my life. I urge you to join me in sending this message to Washington:

Get out of my home and out of my life!

UPDATE (05/10/10):

See this, this, and this for more about Census 2010.

The Real Constitution and Civil Disobedience

INTRODUCTION

I have no doubt that there is a “real” Constitution. Randy Barnett makes a good case for it:

Under our system, the Supreme Court has the last word on whether a statute challenged as unconstitutionality will be upheld or nullified. But it does not have the power to change the written Constitution, which always remains there to be revived when there is a political and judicial will to do so. For example, after the Supreme Court gutted the Fourteenth Amendment during Reconstruction, it remained a part of the written Constitution for a future more enlightened Supreme Court to put to good use. By the same token, the current Supreme Court can still make serious mistakes about the Constitution. Because it is in writing there is an external “there” there by which to assess its opinions.

It is equally indubitable that the United States has become a nation of unconstitutional laws — a vast number and variety of them. For proof, if proof you need, peruse the United States Code, the Code of Federal Regulations (which includes presidential Executive Orders), and the statutes and regulations of the States (accessible through State and Local Government on the Net).

Which brings me to civil disobedience:

the active refusal to obey certain laws, demands and commands of a government, or of an occupying power, without resorting to physical violence.

It is entirely reasonable to think of America’s present governments — federal, State, and local — as occupying powers. We might just as well have been invaded by a foreign power that chose to abide by our electoral rules, then substituted its own laws for what, until then, had been America’s more-or-less constitutional ones.

LEGITIMATE VS. ILLEGITIMATE LAWS

As a result of the de facto seizure of America’s governments by forces aligned against the Constitution, Americans and the American economy are weighed down with tens of thousands of intrusive, arbitrary, and wasteful laws and regulations. Every aspect of our lives is touched, directly or indirectly, by those laws and regulations.

Some laws and regulations are legitimate, in that they are consistent with liberty:

Whether a particular regulation is consistent with liberty depends on the justification offered on its behalf. Regulations are not inimical to liberty if they coordinate individual conduct as do, for example, traffic regulations mandating driving on one side of the street or the other. They may also be consistent with liberty if they prevent irreparable tortious accidents before they occur, as speed limits do. . . . Although many libertarians object to government ownership of highways, no libertarian objects in principle to a highway owner regulating its use to enhance the speed and safety of driving. Similarly, contract law is a body of rules regulating the making and enforcing of agreements, and libertarians are not opposed to contract law. . . .

A law restricting conduct is consistent with a right to liberty, therefore, if it is prohibiting wrongful acts that violate the rights of others or regulating rightful acts in such a way as to coordinate conduct or prevent the violation of rights that might accidentally occur. A law is inconsistent with liberty if it is either prohibiting rightful acts, or regulating unnecessarily or improperly. A regulation is improper when it imposes an undue burden on rightful conduct, or when its justification is merely a pretext for restricting a liberty of which others disapprove. And one way of identifying a regulation as pretextual is to assess whether the regulatory means it employs do not effectively fit its purported health and safety ends.

Here is how the majority in Lochner distinguished a constitutional exercise of the police power from an unconstitutional restraint on liberty:

In every case that comes before this court, therefore, where legislation of this character is concerned, and where the protection of the Federal Constitution is sought, the question necessarily arises: Is this a fair, reasonable and appropriate exercise of the police power of the state, or is it an unreasonable, unnecessary and arbitrary interference with the right of the individual to his personal liberty, or to enter into those contracts in relation to labor which may seem to him appropriate or necessary for the support of himself and his family?

We may conclude from all this that . . . the fact that regulations of liberty have been upheld as constitutional is no evidence that the general constitutional right to liberty does not exist. It may merely be a sign that the government has met its properly-defined burden of proof. (Randy Barnett, “Is the Constitution Libertarian?,” pages 8-9)

The difficulty is that

the Supreme Court has upheld countless federal laws restricting liberty, primarily under the power of Congress “to regulate commerce . . . among the several states” combined with an open-ended reading of the Necessary and Proper Clause. Further it has upheld the power of Congress to spend tax revenue for purposes other than “for carrying into execution” its enumerated powers, thereby exceeding the scope of the Necessary and Proper Clause. . . .

Beginning in the 1930s, the Supreme Court . . . adopted a presumption of constitutionality whenever a statute restricted unenumerated liberty rights. In the 1950s it made this presumption effectively irrebuttable. Now it will only protect those liberties that are listed, or a very few unenumerated rights such as the right of privacy. (op. cit., pp. 15, 17-18)

I consider few governmental restrictions on action as legitimate, that is, “properly regulating rightful acts,” as Barnett puts it. It is legitimate to set and enforce a low speed limit in a school zone, to exact stiff penalties for drunken driving, and to ban the use of a cell phone while driving. But it is questionably legitimate to ticket a capable, sober driver for exceeding the speed limit by 10 miles an hour on a flat stretch of well-maintained, dry interstate highway, in light traffic. And it is grossly illegitimate to enter a judicial decision that forbids a wheat farmer to exceed a federal allotment by growing additional wheat for consumption on his own farm. Indeed, the law that allows the federal government to establish such allotments in the first place is supremely illegitimate — as are all laws that do harm rather than good because they penalize and interfere with acts that are either harmless or actually beneficial.

THE ROAD TO ILLEGITIMACY, AND THE TOLL

Americans have been lulled by what Tocqueville calls “soft despotism.” As I have said,

Soft despotism is “soft” only in that citizens aren’t dragged from their houses at night and executed for imaginary crimes against the state — though they are hauled into court for not wearing seatbelts, for smoking in bars, and for various other niggling offenses to the sensibilities of nanny-staters.

Despite the absence of arbitrary physical punishment, soft despotism is despotism, period. It can be nothing but despotism when the state holds sway over your paycheck, your retirement plan, your medical care, your choice of associates, and thousands of other details of your life — from the drugs you may not buy to the kind of car you can’t drive, from where you can build a house to the features that your house must include.

How did we get to this point? We got here via the interest-group paradox:

You may believe that a particular program is worth what it costs — given that you probably have little idea of its direct costs and no idea of its indirect costs. The problem is millions of your fellow Americans believe the same thing about each of their favorite programs. Because there are thousands of government programs (federal, State, and local), each intended to help a particular class of citizens at the expense of others, the net result is that almost no one in this fair land enjoys a “free lunch.” . . .

The paradox that arises from the “free lunch” syndrome is much like [two other] paradoxes. . . . It is like the paradox of thrift, in that large numbers of individuals are trying to do something that makes certain classes of persons better off, but which in the final analysis makes those classes of persons worse off. It is like the paradox of panic, in that there is a  crowd of interest groups rushing toward a goal — a “pot of gold” — and (figuratively) crushing each other in the attempt to snatch the pot of gold before another group is able to grasp it. The gold that any group happens to snatch is a kind of fool’s gold: It passes from one fool to another in a game of beggar-thy-neighbor, and as it passes much of it falls into the maw of bureaucracy.

I call this third, insidious, paradox the interest-group paradox. It is the costliest of the three — by a long shot. It has dominated American politics since the advent of “progressivism” in the late 1800s. Today, most Americans are either “progressives” (whatever they may call themselves) or victims of “progressivism.” All too often they are both.

Today, with a century-plus of “progressivism” behind us, more than 40 percent of GDP is controlled directly by government, through taxes and regulations. Those same taxes and regulations, because of their disincentivizing effects, have imposed vastly higher hidden costs on Americans.

And there is more to come, as the demi-gods in Washington seek to repeal the laws of economics by promising more medical care to more persons while discouraging entry into the healing professions and the development of beneficial drugs. On top of that they seek to repeal the laws of physics by further constraining the economy in a fruitless struggle against global warming, which is not a man-made phenomenon.

If you think your liberty (such as it is) has survived (or will survive) those and other economic depredations, think again, for social liberty is indivisible from economic liberty:

There can be no freedom of the press if the instruments of printing are under the control of government, no freedom of assembly if the needed rooms are so controlled, no freedom of movement if the means of transport are a government monopoly, etc. This is the reason why governmental direction of all economic activity, often undertaken in the vain hope of providing more ample means for all purposes, has invariably brought severe restrictions of the ends which the individuals can pursue. (Friedrich A. Hayek, Liberalism, part 16)

A small sample of control, in today’s America, is found in a recent action by the Department of Health and Human Services. HHS prevented government-regulated insurance companies from advising policy holders of the ill effects that Obamacare would have on their insurance coverage. So much for freedom of speech.

More generally, I offer the following thoughts by Walter Lippmann (via Don Boudreaux):

I recalled this wise warning from Walter Lippmann (found on pages 105-106 of Lippmann’s 1937 book The Good Society):

“Though it is disguised by the illusion that a bureaucracy accountable to a majority of voters, and susceptible to the pressure of organized minorities, is not exercising compulsion, it is evident that the more varied and comprehensive the regulation becomes, the more the state becomes a despotic power as against the individual.  For the fragment of control over the government which he exercises through his vote is in no effective sense proportionate to the authority exercised over him by the government.”

THE LEGITIMACY, POSSIBILITY, AND URGENCY OF CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE

The seizure of America’s governments by the lawless occupying powers of “progressivism” not only has cost Americans dearly but also has made us hostages in our own land:

Voice is now so circumscribed by “settled law” that there is a null possibility of restoring Lochner and its ilk. Exit is now mainly an option for the extremely wealthy among us. (More power to them.) For the rest of us, there is no realistic escape from illegitimate government-made law, given that the rest of the world (with a few distant exceptions) is similarly corrupt.

Under the circumstances, it would be natural — and legitimate — for Americans to resort to massive civil disobedience.

And Americans often do resort to civil disobedience, but mainly in relatively trivial ways (e.g., exceeding speed limits on open highways, under safe conditions). The general reluctance of Americans to commit acts of civil disobedience is unsurprising, given the apparent entanglement of government in our lives and businesses. Unless one chooses a truly self-sufficient life, it is practically impossible to avoid governmental notice of and influence on major events and transactions, for example, births, weddings, employment, the acquisition of life’s essentials (food, clothing, shelter, medical care), and the enjoyment of stimulants, entertainment, and so on.

Accordingly, it is natural for individuals to believe that the heavy hand of government is inescapable. Thus most of us do not try to elude government’s heavy hand, except in relatively trivial ways. And we believe that those who do try to elude it — bootleggers and black marketeers, for example — are often found out and punished. But that impression is due to a kind of reverse survivor bias; that is, we know about the bootleggers and black marketeers who are caught, but we don’t know about the ones who elude official notice.

Imagine an America in which most individuals and businesses routinely commit acts of civil disobedience. Could the various governments in and of the United States possibly detect and punish more than a small fraction of those acts of civil disobedience? The answer, of course, is “no.”

What keeps most individuals and businesses from committing more than trivial acts of civil disobedience is the fear that their particular transgressions will be among the small fraction that is detected and punished. This kind of fear has an especially strong deterrent effect under oppressive regimes that rely on informants and harsh punishments to discourage acts of civil disobedience. The contrast between America and, say, Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Russia ought to give heart to Americans. Informants and punishments there are, and always will be, but in American neither of them is on a scale to match the insidious and barbaric regimes of Hitler, Stalin, and their ilk. Not yet, at least.

And in the preceding sentence there is both hope and urgency. Our daily lives are not yet completely dominated by the state. We still have options in many aspects of our lives — even if those options, themselves, are shaped by laws and regulations. Houses and automobiles, for example, must meet thousands of government specifications, but they still are available with a broad array of features, for a broad range of prices.

But how much longer will our illusory freedom last against the onslaught of statism? That is the urgent question, given the prospects at hand for effective government control of the economy through environmental legislation, a complete government takeover of medicine, the punishment of “thought crimes,” the general expansion of paternalistic policies, and on and on.

I leave the enumeration of legitimate acts of civil disobedience as an exercise for the reader. But the time to consider civil disobedience is now, while there is a spark of liberty in the land.