“Many politicians of our time are in the habit of laying it down as a self-evident proposition, that no people ought to be free till they are fit to use their freedom. The maxim is worthy of the fool in the old story, who resolved not to go into the water till he had learned to swim. If men are to wait for liberty till they become wise and good in slavery they may indeed wait for ever.”
~ Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800—1859)
We live in tumultuous times that demand close attention to the yokes being placed on us. The US government is seemingly in the throes of a coup that is exponentially creeping and expanding into what was formerly a fairly autonomous province. Every sector and branch of human transactions that are palpable in this mortal coil is now being subject to regulation, taxation or both. With no authority whatsoever, entire swaths of American society are being subsumed under Leviathan state.
What is the authority or color thereof that these alien entities are gobbling up entire patterns of human existence? I have hinted before that the denizens of Mordor on the Potomac act as if their authority is unlimited and their ultimate reach is anything they please. We are witnessing a vicious brew of Sovietization and Mussolini-style state corporatism that will take a revolution to undo. The annals of Western history are full of this kind of grand hubris enabled by consent both willing and silent on the part of the populace. Humans tend to submit to a yoke or collar when invested with fear and anxiety about futures worse than now. The corpse-count in the twentieth century topped 165 million outside of warfare through democide.
These morbid thoughts seem intemperate measured against the apparently "peaceful" measures of Mordor to instill Keynesian stability and save the banksters from themselves with nary a peep of protest from the appropriately red-colored Grand Old Politburo. If you ever had the notion the parties were different, just look at the seamless transition between Bush II and Obama. The only difference between these monsters is skin color because collectivism is thicker than water. Look at the temptation — you step into the cockpit of the Offal (Oval) Office and decades of creeping totalitarian weeds have strangled and mastered practically every facet of American behavior and life. A simple touch of the controls and hundreds of thousands of subsidiary bureaucrats in the Executive agencies somewhat smoothly respond to the yoke to amp up taxation here and increase regulation there and the heady brew of total power starts to go to the President’s head. One can count on a single hand the number of Presidents who took the limitations on their power seriously (Van Buren, Cleveland and Coolidge among the all-stars). As Royce pointed out in his brilliant but underappreciated book — The Hologram of Liberty — that the Constitution was doomed at the beginning by Hamilton’s curse (Burr did not get to him soon enough) and the temptations of George Washington to start the executive imperial ball rolling (witness the Shay’s and Whiskey Rebellions) against state sovereignty.
The most basic building block for compliance to illegitimate authority is fear. Drivers speed but always take caution if a hint of police presence or the increasingly ubiquitous camera systems are in place. Rare is the libertarian who wants to pay taxes of any stripe but compliance is heeded to avoid fines and imprisonment, or worse. We do not obey because it is the core right thing to do when it comes to most government edicts. I don’t harm my neighbor nor do I steal his property because it is against the law but my inner moral compass best exemplified by the Ten Commandments or the Categorical Imperative provides my azimuth for behavior. I want to eliminate the perennial bugbear that the MSM and government schools drill into the populace — righteous and correct behavior only emanates from government coercion to make you do the right thing. Step back and examine that proposition. Can you think of any government initiatives or programs that not only supported perverse incentives but made you much worse off? I will let you ponder your own answers but they are legion. Just think — the entire Federal Register provides the enterprising social science researcher with a gargantuan solution set to the second- and third-order effects of perverse incentives and iatrogenic effect that animates the entire sordid history of government intervention.
Consider this. Of late, the usual suspects in Mordor are proposing the abolition of cosmetically offensive (the assault weapons misnomer) weapons at the stroke of an executive pen. There are tens of reasons why this is wrong-headed but one of the reasons proffered by the new Attorney General, Eric Holder, is that the Mexican drug cartels are getting weapons from America to use in their campaign against the Mexican government. So let me get this straight: the American Drug War has not only failed in America but has led to the instability of both Columbia and Mexico, forcing the latter to the brink of collapse which will have untold deleterious effects on every border state in these united States. As a result of these calamitous events, I now have to surrender my weapons to the FEDGOD to prevent them from falling into the hands of drug lords whose very existence is a second-order effect of Federal drug policies that enable their criminal empires. Decriminalize, not legalize, drugs in America tomorrow and in a month all drug cartel threats to Latin America dissolve. Remember the hoary and heavy-handed campaigns by the FEDGOD and their sycophants, the Ad Council, to proclaim in grand Potemkinesque tones the linkage between the purchase of illegal drugs to terrorism? Who is supporting terrorism now? I offer this as an illustration that doing the right thing is by no means the province of the government
Take the red pill a moment and ask yourself what motivates what you imagine to be judicious and right-thinking behavior toward your fellow man. Is it a result of government mind laundering or is it a result of religious conviction or secular philosophy? Among libertarians and anarcho-capitalists, it tends to be the latter and I suspect a burgeoning part of the American population, especially ruralites, arrive at the same conclusion. Which brings us to our next step.
What constitutes legitimate authority? Traditionally, it has been divined from the family and to the extended relationships formed among family and friends. Do you create friendships out of fear or affection? Coercion or persuasion? Then we examine how network and tribal relationships start to bloom as people start to establish communities from whence increasing concentrations lead to cities and consummate in the horrid state of affairs we are in now with overweening and oppressive government. If we tease apart this oversimplified flowchart, we discover that legitimacy of authority tends to the abstract the more impersonal the relationships evolve. In other words, the farther the authority strays from genuinely personal relationships, the more reliance on fear and coercion is necessary. Hence the government tends to use this as an exclusive means of shaping and conditioning obedience. Which bring us to the central question.
What constitutes legitimate government authority? Lysander Spooner far more eloquently answers the question than I can when examining the Constitution. To wit:
The consent, therefore, that has been given, whether by individuals, or by the States, has been, at most, only a consent for the time being; not an engagement for the future. In truth, in the case of individuals, their actual voting is not to be taken as proof of consent, even for the time being. On the contrary, it is to be considered that, without his consent having ever been asked, a man finds himself environed by a government that he cannot resist; a government that forces him to pay money, render service, and forego the exercise of many of his natural rights, under peril of weighty punishments. He sees, too, that other men practise this tyranny over him by the use of the ballot. He sees further that, if he will but use the ballot himself, he has some chance of relieving himself from this tyranny of others, by subjecting them to his own. In short, be finds himself, without his consent, so situated that, if he use the ballot, he may become a master; if he does not use it, he must become a slave. And he has no other alternative than these two. In self-defence, he attempts the former. His case is analogous to that of a man who has been forced into battle, where he must either kill others, or be killed himself. Because, to save his own life in battle, a man attempts to take the lives of his opponents, it is not to be inferred that the battle is one of his own choosing. Neither in contests with the ballot — which is a mere substitute for a bullet — because, as his only chance of self-preservation, a man uses a ballot, is it to be inferred that the contest is one into which he voluntarily entered; that he voluntarily set up all his own natural rights, as a stake against those of others, to be lost or won by the mere power of numbers. On the contrary, it is to be considered that, in an exigency, into which he had been forced by others, and in which no other means of self-defence offered, he, as a matter of necessity, used the only one that was left to him.
Mind you, apart from the temporal considerations of support for the Constitution, he further makes the keen observation that mere numbers and democracy are not the moral means to elicit support and in fact lead to the opposite of voluntary support. The Anti-Federalists were very wary of democracy and made their misgivings known at the time. Mr. Spooner further avers:
One essential of a free government is that it rest wholly on voluntary support. And one certain proof that a government is not free, is that it coerces more or less persons to support it, against their will. All governments, the worst on earth, and the most tyrannical on earth, are free governments to that portion of the people who voluntarily support them. And all governments though the best on earth in other respects — are nevertheless tyrannies to that portion of the people — whether few or many — who are compelled to support them against their will. A government is like a church, or any other institution, in these respects. There is no other criterion whatever, by which to determine whether a government is a free one, or not, than the single one of its depending, or not depending, solely on voluntary support.
If you are not a student of Lysander Spooner, you are poorer for it. I am trying to offer the suggestion that not only is democracy the wrong vehicle to determine the legitimacy of authority in government but leads to Bastiat’s prediction which is evident from every press release from Mordor: “The state is that great fiction by which everyone tries to live at the expense of everyone else.” So we have identified some of the vehicles for legitimate authority but how do we parse the difference between legitimate and illegitimate species.
It all depends on your own moral compass and the principles you live by. Pol Pot and Stalin certainly had their own ideas which were in direct contravention to the notions of Jefferson and Spooner. The legitimacy of the authority is given power through compliance. Those who fail to comply and stand out as individuals will reap the greatest whirlwind but someone will have to stand up much like the ahistorical Kubrick production of Spartacus in which the Romans finally surround and defeat the slave Army. A Roman officer strides forward and demands that Spartacus identify himself. Spartacus stands up and does so and then one by one other members of his Army stand and declare — "I am Spartacus" — with the full knowledge that they are all going to suffer the gruesome death of crucifixion along the Appian Way for participating in a slave revolt.
The times ahead are going to be as challenging and devastating as the late War of Northern Aggression. It may be the right time to start considering how much compliance you are willing to lend to illegitimate authority as you measure it by your own moral compass.
Bad laws were meant to be broken.
"I do all the evil I can before I learn to shun it? Is it not enough to know the evil to shun it? If not, we should be sincere enough to admit that we love evil too well to give it up."
~ Mohandas Gandhi