OPINION – The name Bundy is a familiar one in this part of the American West. Right now it’s a name that many are hearing thanks to a longstanding cattle dispute with the federal Bureau of Land Management.
I have personally known Ryan Bundy for many years. I consider him a friend and a good man. I feel the same way about his father Cliven. These are men who are well acquainted with hard work and who are willing to stand for liberty when others are unwilling.
The Bundys are down-to-earth people. They don’t use big words to impress or try to couch their ideas in pseudo-intellectual language. They speak with simplicity. This makes them unsympathetic figures to some.
But it would be very foolish to mistake them for uninformed troublemakers who don’t understand government’s proper limits. They are the last of dozens of area ranchers who have resisted being regulated out of existence by the BLM. One by one, other cattlemen have been forced to abandon their livelihood by an increasingly unreasonable bureaucracy.
Stripped of all the emotional posturing and misdirection, the core principle at stake here is a simple one. Either our federal government exists to protect and guarantee our rights of life, liberty, or the pursuit of happiness or it does not.
It’s not just the Bundys’ property and liberty that are at stake. There are larger implications for all of us. But relatively few Americans recognize why this is so.
Leonard E. Read describes the curious blind spot that afflicts our understanding of liberty:
Most Americans are unaware of a decline in personal liberty, and the reason is obvious: the decline rarely takes the form of personal depravations but, instead, takes the form of unnoticed erosion and, thus, we come to regard whatever state we are in as a normal condition.
Cliven Bundy and his family know what many Americans don’t yet know. They know what it’s like to fight for your livelihood against a corrupted bureaucracy. Understanding the Bundys’ stance requires some historical perspective.
Water and forage rights, and a host of other land use rights are all based in the legal concept of beneficial use. This refers to the right held by a person who has equitable title to real property to utilize that real property while another holds the legal title.
This is what the Bundy family has done for 130 years. While engaging in beneficial use, they have developed the land and made improvements that have benefited wildlife. Most importantly, they have caused no harm.
So why is a federal bureaucracy so intent on bringing them to heel? Because the nature of unaccountable power is to become progressively oppressive and dictatorial.
Is the BLM protecting rights and property when it issues complicated legal rules and proclamations to restrict public access to these lands? Is the BLM serving the American people by making rules when no one is looking?
Do bureaucratic tools like controlled public hearings filled with statistical pseudo-expertise serve the interests of the public or that of the system? Why are we progressively seeing our public lands placed out of reach without a permit?
Shall we the people govern ourselves or be at the mercy of elitists and bureaucrats in some far off district to make those decisions for us? Who is the servant and who is the master?
Michael Rozeff sums up why this is a stand worth making:
A bureaucracy can outlast a person and wear him down. Only a very unusual and heroic member of the public is willing to spend his or her life fighting these bureaucracies and rousing the public.
Cliven Bundy’s courageous stance, coupled with his family’s spirit of rugged individualism tendencies, has enraged the federal supremacists among us.
Critics fume in contrived outrage that the Bundys are violating BLM regulations by grazing their cattle on federal land without a permit. Never mind that the Bundys have lawfully possessed the water and forage rights for generations. Because they have refused to apply and pay for a newly required government permit, the feds now intend to steal their cattle. Like all tyrants, they do it under the color of law.
Those who openly or tacitly support these authoritarian actions are a perfect example of our society-wide ethical breakdown.
We have been conditioned to view government policies only in terms of “legal” or “illegal” but never in terms of rights. Rights are what limit government’s power over us.
Those who stand accused of illegality by someone in power are presumed to have no rights. Eric Peters writes:
It does not matter – that is, it is no “legal” defense – to point out that the ‘illegal’ act has not caused any harm to anyone. Anything – literally, anything – the state decrees to be ‘illegal’ is, by definition, sufficient ‘legal’ pretext to vitiate our rights.
Those who think this is about a family of scofflaws getting their comeuppance are missing the point. Is our government still accountable to the people who created it? Or have we become subjects?
If the Bundys can be legally deprived of life, liberty, and property for having caused no harm, it can be done to anybody.
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Bryan Hyde is a news commentator and co-host of the Perspectives talk show on Fox News 1450 AM 93.1 FM. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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