When the three top dogs of the U.S. global empire went to Ohio University, hoping to explain why we needed to drop bombs on Iraq, they were met with fierce resistance. This event, broadcast worldwide, caused the Clinton administration to rethink its bombs-away strategy. A war was averted and untold numbers of lives were saved.
The resistance in Ohio took three forms: Tacit: the arena was only half full, a signal that Americans don’t automatically show up when government convenes a meeting. There’s a reason despots insist on a full house: it creates the illusion of mass obedience. In the same way, a partially empty house suggests a lack of consensus and even disobedience.
Active: 200 protestors disoriented the empire’s spokesmen and brought them down to a human level. This also sends an important signal. In Washington, these people may have roses thrown at their feet, but in the real America, they are treated as agents of the state and enemies of our liberty.
Intellectual: This was the most effective resistance tactic used that night. Many of the people who went to the microphone to ask questions were surprisingly articulate and well-informed about foreign policy. They cited cases of moral hypocrisy, demanded answers on specific matters relating to the politics of the Persian Gulf region, and applied the lessons of history. Their questions were met with evasions and lies.
This three-pronged attack left Clinton administration officials in a daze. They couldn’t believe that they, the masters of the world’s “indispensable” government, were being challenged at all, especially by average citizens whose only role is to pay up, and shut up.
The Clinton administration governs by poll, and the polls said people would support an attack on Iraq. Where was this resistance coming from? Unbeknownst to the Clinton administration, our times have raised up a hard core of citizens determined to resist the encroachment of government in a host of crucial areas, including warfare, gun control, taxes, Internet freedom, home schooling, land rights, and religious rights. This frustrates the designs of the power elites to envelop all aspects of our lives in their welfare-warfare state.
Does this resistance movement have a moral right to exist? Of course, and the politically astute Clinton praised (with clenched teeth) the Ohio resistors for expressing their opinion. But he wasn’t serious. Government by its very nature hates resistance, and schemes to get unquestioning obedience to all its dictates.
But what if those dictates are unjust? Are they to be agreed to merely because they come from a government? The usual response is that we can only express political dissatisfaction at the ballot box. Hillary, for example, calls any criticism of her husband an effort to “overturn the results of the 1996 election”-as if a phonied-up plebiscite confers immunity from oversight.
Democracy no longer means self rule or self government, since neither law nor the threat of secession provides a limit to tyranny. Democracy now means menacing and violating the rights of individuals, families, communities, and businesses to be left alone. Bill Gates startled Washington by refusing to submit to Justice Department orders that he make Microsoft technology conform to his competitors’ demands. What’s more, he told government judges and lawyers that they didn’t know what they were talking about, and demanded the freedom to innovate according to the consumers’ not the government’s-wishes.
Not every act of resistance needs to be public. The explosive growth of the Internet economy is due not only to the convenience of the medium; it is a means of avoiding oppressive sales taxes. The key to its growth is the unwillingness to obey the terms government establishes for us. The same is true of the American sport of tax revolt. Resistance must take many forms if liberty is to have a future. It reminds the holders of power that they cannot expect unquestioning obedience, that they are not exempt from the demands of justice, and that they cannot ride roughshod over people’s lives and property. With every act of resistance comes the message: the state is not a god; my allegiance is conditional.
If the Clinton administration doesn’t like resistance, it should consider Mises’s warning: Do not make the dissenting citizen feel that “his only choice is either to perish or to destroy the machinery of the state.”
FURTHER READING: Etienne De La Boetie, The Politics of Obedience: The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude (Black Rose Press, 1998 ); Murray N. Rothbard, Economic Thought Before Adam Smith (Cheltenham, U.K.: Edward Elgar, 1995), pp.167-74; Ludwig von Mises, Liberalism (Irvington-on-Hudson, N.Y.:FEE, 1985), p. 59.