April 16, 2014

KEVIN WILLIAMSON: The Case for a Little Sedition: The Bundy standoff reminds us that government is our servant, not our master.

A great deal of the discussion about the Cliven Bundy standoff in Nevada has focused on the legal questions — the litigation between Mr. Bundy and the BLM, his eccentric (i.e., batzoid) legal rationales, etc. But as Rich Lowry and others have argued, this is best understood not as a legal proceeding but as an act of civil disobedience. John Hinderaker and Rich both are correct that as a legal question Mr. Bundy is legless. But that is largely beside the point.

Of course the law is against Cliven Bundy. How could it be otherwise? The law was against Mohandas Gandhi, too, when he was tried for sedition; Mr. Gandhi himself habitually was among the first to acknowledge that fact, refusing to offer a defense in his sedition case and arguing that the judge had no choice but to resign, in protest of the perfectly legal injustice unfolding in his courtroom, or to sentence him to the harshest sentence possible, there being no extenuating circumstances for Mr. Gandhi’s intentional violation of the law. Henry David Thoreau was happy to spend his time in jail, knowing that the law was against him, whatever side justice was on.

But not all dissidents are content to submit to what we, in the Age of Obama, still insist on quaintly calling “the rule of law.” And there is a price to pay for that, too: King George not only would have been well within his legal rights to hang every one of this nation’s seditious Founding Fathers, he would have been duty-bound to do so, the keeping of the civil peace being the first responsibility of the civil authority. Every fugitive slave, and every one of the sainted men and women who harbored and enabled them, was a law-breaker, and who can blame them if none was content to submit to what passed for justice among the slavers? . . .

If the conservatives in official Washington want to do something other than stand by and look impotent, they might consider pressing for legislation that would oblige the federal government to divest itself of 1 percent of its land and other real estate each year for the foreseeable future through an open auction process. Even the Obama administration has identified a very large portfolio of office buildings and other federal holdings that are unused or under-used. By some estimates, superfluous federal holdings amount to trillions of dollars in value. Surely not every inch of that 87 percent of Nevada under the absentee-landlordship of the federal government is critical to the national interest. Perhaps Mr. Bundy would like to buy some land where he can graze his cattle.

Prudential measures do not solve questions of principle. So where does that leave us with our judgment of the Nevada insurrection? Perhaps with an understanding that while Mr. Bundy’s stand should not be construed as a general template for civic action, it is nonetheless the case that, in measured doses, a little sedition is an excellent thing.

I think the problem is that the government hasn’t gotten enough pushback. The phrase “the country wouldn’t stand for it” has gone out of the political lexicon. I think it needs to go back in.

It does seem as if we’re seeing more resistance.

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