by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Libertarian scholar Charles Murray believes it’s no longer possible to use traditional political means — elections, judicial appointments — to restore the American republic the Founders intended.
That’s why Murray’s latest book, By The People: Rebuilding Liberty Without Permission, recommends a targeted campaign of civil disobedience to help debilitate some of the federal government’s worst excesses. Murray suggests that a Madison Fund, “a privately funded foundation to map terrain and probe defenses while helping ordinary Americans who are trying to cope with the regulatory state,” would support Americans who choose willingly to violate carefully chosen laws that strike people of all political persuasions as ridiculous.
That’s the immediate point of the Madison Fund: to be the champion of individual citizens against Goliath. Its longer-range point is to make clear to other Americans that they don’t have to take it anymore. There are ways to force an intrusive government to back off. Specifically, the Madison Fund would have three goals:
1. To defend people who are innocent of the regulatory charges against them.
2. To defend people who are technically guilty of violating regulations that should not exist, drawing out that litigation as long as possible, making enforcement of the regulations more expensive to the regulatory agency than they’re worth, and reimbursing fines that are levied.
3. To generate as much publicity as possible, both to raise the public’s awareness of the government’s harassment of people like them, and to bring the pressure of public opinion to bear on elected politicians and staffs of regulatory agencies.
Those are the goals, and they are achievable. We do not need anyone’s permission to achieve them — not the permission of a sympathetic president, Congress, or Supreme Court.
This reader shares Murray’s pessimism about the limits of the political process but approaches the author’s prescription with no small degree of skepticism. Though Murray wants to limit his cases of civil disobedience to a small subset of rules and laws, ones which clearly serve no useful purpose, it’s still not clear that willful violations of those rules and laws will produce the results he seeks — from the regulators, the media, or the public itself.
Nonetheless, it’s a thought-provoking work. And, as the author concludes, “Systematic civil disobedience may be a long shot, but it is, in fact, a shot. It could work.”