View RSS Feed

Memories of the 28th Century

Regarding Civil Disobedience

Rating: 6 votes, 5.00 average.
Like Thoreau I firmly believe in the maxim: The Government that governs least governs best.” And like him I am not completely opposed to getting rid of government entirely; although that would entail more problems now than it would have in 1849, when Thoreau wrote “On the Duty of Civil Disobedience”, but that essay puts forth some arguments that are not commonly given.

I may have missed a few paragraphs, but I reread “On the Duty of Civil Disobedience”, and I was impressed. Thoreau was a powerful writer, and he made some points that should be made more often. Here has been tension between philosophies since even before the Constitution was ratified. The tension is between those who believe that the central government owns sovereignty, of whether sovereignty belongs to the people.

That tension exists in many countries, and it probably began even before Thomas Hobbs suggested that the people assigned their sovereignty to the central government when they consented to be governed. Here in the U.S. the people are commonly said to be the sovereign, but the central government is still commonly thought of as having the power to extend its powers beyond those powers that were granted to it in the Constitution. However, it is clear in the Constitution and in most commentary about it that the federal powers are strictly limited, and that appear to be the view that Thoreau held. Even 165 years ago he regarded the federal government as having exceeded its authority.

The essay is an attempt to get citizens to actively oppose the government when it steps outside its purview. Thoreau went to jail at least twice over laws that he wanted nothing to do with. There are people who that now, but the attitude is different. Thoreau didn’t attack the laws as if he were an invader; he simply refused to comply, because the laws were wrong.

That won’t work when the government conducts a foreign war that is none of our business, as it did in Iraq and Afghanistan, but it would work quite nicely with Obamacare. If people simply refuse to throw their money away on medical insurance and refused to pay the penalty, then it would take decades for the feds to run all of the cases through the courts.

It might take many years for the laws to be rescinded, because the bureaucrats are stubborn; they do not like to give up power. Consider that marijuana was criminalized in 1934, and it is still illegal under federal law; although several states have made it a legal article of commerce. And it probably will take another decade, or longer, to fully legalize it. Then we will have to start working on the other substances that have been made illegal.

There are some areas in which there really should be civil disobedience, especially things that were enacted into laws that violate constitutional limits. Any state law that give some privilege to some people but not to all is invalid and is a prime target for civil disobedience. Such things would include any age restrictions, any forced retirement laws, the differentiation between minors and adults. If we are looking only for federal laws and regulations, then it becomes much easier, because most of the powers of Congress to make laws are in Article One Section Eight. That would include Social Security, Obamacare, the Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of Education, and maybe another.

But the idea of going out and marching up and down is rather pointless; although it can be good fun. Thoreau simply didn’t pay taxes for several years, and eventually was arrested for that. I think that simply ignoring the invalid laws could be quite effective, especially if enough people did that. There is a point where it becomes impossible to enforce a law, because everyone is violating it.

We might also take to filling the court system with actions to invalidate those laws that treat different types of person differently. And there are other ways that one might disobey inequitable laws. One thing that I won’t do (although it might be funny) would be to fil income taxes as non-profit corporation of church; two types of entities that are tax exempt. Hey, if they can be exempt, then why can’t I be tax exempt?

There are many other ways in which we could engage in Civil Disobedience; these are but a few examples. There are many, many other law s and regulations that can be protested after we start showing bureaucrats that they are the problem, not us.

I’m not as familiar with the legal codes of other countries, but there must be laws that are inequitable or otherwise unfair. While few countries were, as was the U.S.A., founded in part on the principle that the people have the right and duty to overthrow governments that violate the social contract, there are fundamental rights that are more basic than anything that has been put into a constitution. Demand basics right and equality before the law.

Writing this makes me feel like Thomas Paine.