(Fred Weinberg/The Penny Press) – When I was a grade schooler, growing up in the late 50s and early 60s, we learned in history class about the American Revolution.
By and large, our teachers taught us that the big bad Brits smacked us around with their taxes and oppressive government until, crying “Taxation without representation!” we rose up and smote them from the land.
The killing and misery of war was kind of glossed over with an attitude that, well, such an armed revolution would never happen again in the good old USA because we fixed everything back then.
Until, of course, 1860, when the Southern states seceded from the nation and had to be forcibly brought back. That only took a mere five years and, again, the killing and misery of war was sort of glossed over because, what the heck, brothers fight, too.
Since the Civil War ended in 1865, we have become something of an anomaly amongst the world’s nation-states because we have had peaceful transitions of power, civilian control of the military and a government that largely knew its place, its limits, and understood the lessons of the American Revolution and the Civil War.
The reason we have achieved this record is not because our government was that good.
It was largely because the government was scared to death of the wrath of the general public. And because the general public had a healthy respect for the institution of government. If you didn’t respect the man in the office, my father often told me, at least you had to respect the office itself.
In short, our government works, at all levels, on the basis of voluntary compliance.
You cannot have a policeman on every corner, and you don’t have to, because the vast majority of our citizens obey the law voluntarily because they respect the law and the necessity for that law.
But what happens when the government overreaches? When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another?
There’s this smug assumption among many in government, at all levels, that they can do anything they want and the people—descendents of the very people who have revolted in the past—will be too intimidated by the power and might of government to even think about alternatives.
Well, perhaps there will never again be an armed revolution in the United States, but what happens when a large group of citizens is so fed up that they simply refuse voluntary compliance?
Or they elect a majority in Congress of people who refuse to go along to get along? Or they sit on juries and vote to nullify the law because they think it has been misapplied?
Every time a judge in Michigan jails a pastor who refuses to buy a $1 “peace bond” because he “might” burn a Koran, a DMV clerk in Nevada refuses to renew a driver’s license because someone’s given name is not the same as the name he has gone by for the past 20 years on his driver’s license, a Las Vegas policeman arrests a citizen for standing on his own property for videotaping an arrest, respect for the institution of government goes down the toilet.
And those are only stories from last week.
The government assault on the respect its citizens hold for it is cumulative.
And the respect of the citizens as a whole, once it is lost, is going to be pretty hard to get back.
I’m not advocating a particular political philosophy here.
I’m merely suggesting that Government exists to do the bidding of those who put it in power, not the other way around.
And at a time when we appear to be evenly split as to what the proper role of government actually is, bureaucrats at all levels—from the Nevada DMV to the Secretary of Transportation—should tread very carefully before they risk losing the respect of the public.
Because revolutions don’t have to be armed to be effective.