Perspectives: We should know our right to ignore the state, no apologies

Image by marrishuanna, iStock / Getty Images Plus, St. George News

OPINION — The past few weeks, I’ve spent a fair amount of time in a courtroom as an observer and commentator on the ongoing federal trial of rancher Cliven Bundy and others involved in a 2014 standoff with authorities in Bunkerville, Nevada. It’s been a remarkable learning experience.

The courthouse itself is a towering and palatial monument to our national government. The taxpayers have funded a magnificent edifice that is both opulent and imposing.

Strict reverence for the power of the state is enforced both inside and outside the building with ever-present surveillance and armed enforcers as a visible and not-so-subtle reminder of who’s in charge there.

It’s the perfect setting to ask the question “Was man made for the government, or the government made for man?”

This is the essential principle that underlies the legitimacy of all government, and how we answer this question reveals whether we see ourselves as citizens or subjects.

If “we the people” are the legitimate source of political power, as the preamble of our country’s Constitution states, then we are the masters of those on whom we confer that authority. If we are their masters, then whatever authority we delegate to our servants must be given voluntarily and can be withdrawn from them as necessary.

If this were not so, those who attain a little bit of government power might be tempted beyond their ability to resist to use that authority in ways that serve their own interests while harming the citizenry. Shocking, right?

Of course, such abuses are far more difficult to excuse when they’re happening to us than when they are being inflicted on someone we don’t know personally.

So what are we to do when those acting in the name of the state begin to act in ways that injure us or deny us the inalienable rights they are supposed to be safeguarding? Are we morally bound to play along with their immorality when we are being abused?

In his book “Social Statics,” Herbert Spencer explains why the state cannot be regarded as a paragon of righteousness:

Not only does magisterial power exist because of evil but it exists by evil. Violence is employed to maintain it and all violence involves criminality. Soldiers, policemen, jailers, swords, batons and fetters are instruments for inflicting pain and all infliction of pain is, in the abstract, wrong. The state employs evil weapons to subjugate evil, and is alike contaminated by the objects with which it deals and the means by which it works.

This means state power must be structured and wielded in such a way as to limit its ability to act in immoral ways.

When authoritarian legislators, judges or bureaucrats become too used to getting their own way without regard to the morality of their actions, they can transform from guardians into self-serving brigands. Anytime this occurs, we have an absolute right to withdraw our consent and to ignore the state.

Naturally, standing up for our rights goes over like a lead balloon with the hubristic political class and the bureaucracies that sometimes behave as if they are our gods. Political superstition and power worship have led a shocking number of the citizenry to behave as if the state is their master.

In reality, it is simply an institution that is serving a temporary purpose, and state power, when it’s not being usurped, is merely borrowed from the people. This is why legitimate government power must be constantly checked and balanced in how it is exercised to prevent it from becoming an institutional wrong.

In his timeless essay “The Law,” Bastiat points out that when state power is turned from a means of securing justice into an instrument of plunder, we lose the distinction between justice and injustice.

When the state behaves in a lawless manner, society eventually tends to lose its respect for the laws.

According to Bastiat:

The safest way to make laws respected is to make them respectable. When law and morality contradict each other, the citizen has the cruel alternative of either losing his moral sense or losing his respect for the law. These two evils are of equal consequence, and it would be difficult for a person to choose between them.

Perverted laws tend to create conflict rather than resolve it. A person who stands against such policies in defense of his or her inalienable rights is not acting as an aggressor. But it’s a certainty that those in authority will do everything in their power to portray them as such.

Those who would use their authority to deny us those inalienable rights guaranteed under the First and Second amendments will never give us permission to disobey them.

It’s up to us, individually, to know our rights well enough so that we will actively claim, utilize and defend them without apology. This may also include exercising our natural right to choose to ignore the state.

Bryan Hyde is an opinion columnist specializing in current events viewed through what he calls the lens of common sense. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.

Email: bryanh@stgnews.com

Twitter: @youcancallmebry

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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7 Comments

  • beacon December 4, 2017 at 7:38 am

    “If “we the people” are the legitimate source of political power, as the preamble of our country’s Constitution states, then we are the masters of those on whom we confer that authority. If we are their masters, then whatever authority we delegate to our servants must be given voluntarily and can be withdrawn from them as necessary.” Sounds like anarchy, and I don’t think anarchy is what most Americans want. Cliven Bundy and those who think like he does, and apparently like you do, don’t necessarily represent the majority of Americans who don’t want chaos with everyone forcing their individual will, demands, expectations and attitudes on others. It will be interesting to see how the trial turns out. I agree that our system is not without its problems but Cliven Bundy is, in my opinion, a bad example of how things should be done. Interesting column though.

  • Walter1 December 4, 2017 at 10:27 am

    The LDS church controls much of government in Utah for the time being. That control has always been top down. Everyone is to be a good little sheep. That will eventually end as more people who have different ways of doing things move to Utah from other regions. Growth means change. Get ready!

  • DRT December 4, 2017 at 1:37 pm

    “The law is an ass” according to Mr. Bumble!

    It doesn’t take much looking to support his statement, (Oliver Twist).
    For years, during prohibition the law made selling, serving, possessing, or making alcoholic beverages illegal. Look how much organized crime made off this stupid law. But of course, we have now become “enlightened,” which is why people are going to jail for selling, serving, possessing, or growing marijuana.
    For years, there was a nationwide maximum speed limit of 55MPH. We have now become so enlightened that 80MPH speed limits are not unusual. Of course, according to one idiot at UDOT, speed doesn’t cause crashes. Riiiiight driving 80 on ice and snow is perfectly safe.
    And then there is the obvious corruption in the courts, where, if you happen to be a member of certain groups, felony welfare fraud is treated more like a high school prank, than a crime.
    And on the local scene, a woman kills her baby by leaving her in a car for hours in the hot sun, and gets a fundraiser rather than the jail time she deserves.
    I could go on and on about incidents that prove the law is an ass.

  • Riversong December 4, 2017 at 2:58 pm

    There are precious few invariant truths, but one is that anyone who calls himself a “speaker of truth” invariably offers little more than ignorant personal bias, often of an extremist nature.

    This bag of hot air writer exploited this website to spout his personal anarchic rant against government and the rule of law, by which we each surrender some of our rights in order to preserve others and to create a harmonious and safe society.

    Not a single word of this diatribe spells out how the government has abused its authority (it hasn’t) nor why Cliven Bundy et al had a “right” to ignore the state’s legitimate mission to protect public lands for We the People – that is, all Americans, present and future (as the BLM mission states).

    The Bundy Gang has grossly misinterpreted the US Constitution to suit their private interests and ideological bias – just as this author has grossly misrepresented the nature of a democratic republic and the completely ignored the importance of the rule of law.

    Cliven Bundy is a welfare cheat and a criminal subversive. Bryan Hyde is an airhead who has no understanding of republican government or the facts of the Bunkerville standoff.

  • bikeandfish December 4, 2017 at 3:06 pm

    I fully support constantly assessing government law and enforcement. There are plenty of historical and current examples of over reach.
    Ironically though, our major opportunity to influence that reality is through the courts. While Hyde paints these edifices as displays of government over reach American history actually shows they can just easily be symbols of the power of individual liberty. In how many other countries can a single person fight against their government’s behavior and succeed in challenging its over reach?
    And we need this concern more than ever. Right now the federal government is trying a journalist because he was documenting the disruptive innaguration protests. The current administration is criminalizing the free press right in front of our eyes. I don’t agree with Hyde’s example of the Bundy’s but I do agree that we have to challenge the government. He just happens to believe in a more radical first step while I have faith in the justice system in the long run.

  • Lefty December 4, 2017 at 4:17 pm

    Bring it on and count me in – Anarchy in America!
    What I’m going to do is rip the license plates off of my car,
    cancel my auto insurance, and throw my driver’s license away.
    Then I’m going to start driving on the left side of the road.
    And all you government-loving sheep can just get out of my way.

  • old school December 5, 2017 at 7:19 am

    I have a dream! But until I have the resources to out hemorrhage Federal/State governments bottomless pit of tax payer money in a court of law, I’ll keep it to myself

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