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Battling the Amoeba

The amoeba in question is large, mostly mindless, and utterly impersonal. It is also ravenously hungry. Most of us call it by another name: the government.

Scanning Instapundit this morning, I discovered a thought-provoking article by Jerry Bowyer about the amoeba called “Americans Revolt Billions of Times a Day.”

I know that “thought-provoking” is one of those anodyne phrases that works more to suppress than express thought. But overlook that, please, and give the article a look. Mr. Bowyer lists a couple dozen ways in which ordinary Americans flout the law daily: by not paying Social Security for their nanny, by stocking up on incandescent light bulbs when they have been declared illegal, by (if you're really a fancy person, like the secretary of the Treasury) cheating on their income taxes. He has rather a long list, which you, Dear Reader, could easily make longer with five minutes’ thought.

But arresting though his examples are, what really struck me about the piece was its premises. The first premise is that there has been a dramatic shift in the nature and extent of government in this country. What was once a limited government with (as Madison put it) powers that were “few and defined” has gradually expanded into government unlimited. This change in the nature of government has instigated a change in the attitude of the citizenry toward government. Mr. Bowyer writes:

It seems to be that as the United States federal government and the Presidency in particular have gradually morphed into something more like a European monarchy, our attitude towards its sovereignty has shifted. Certainly no state or province or faction of the ruling class would dare to challenge the military might of the United States in a single act of open revolt.

But as time goes on we challenge it in small acts of secret revolt.

There then follows that list of quotidian insurrectionary acts.

The idea that the federal government, and the presidency in particular, has metamorphosed from a limited, unintrusive executive into something akin to a European monarchy of old is not itself a new idea. (Scott Rasmussen, e.g., expressed something similar here.)

What I have never seen expressed before is the link between that idea and the habit of casual, often semi-conscious, disrespect for the law. Mr. Bowyer makes this interesting point about the explosion of under-the-radar law-breaking:

It’s not civil disobedience that I’m talking about. It’s the opposite: Civil disobedience is meant to be noticed. It is a price paid in the hope of creating social change. What I’m talking about is not based on hope; in fact, it has given up much hope on social change.