We debate quite a bit about the role of government vs. the role of the citizen but one twist that I have not given a lot of thought to is this:
What responsibility does a citizen have to obey laws passed by a government that violates its own charter?
I recently posted about selective enforcement of laws, so the question is this: if a government ignores laws that it is bound to enforce, if a government official abrogates their oath of office in doing so, do I have any obligation to obey those same laws?
Ace points to a fantastic Glenn Reynolds podcast at PJ Media (transcribed by Ed Driscoll) that gets at this question in a discussion of Louis Michael Seidman’s piece a while back in the New York Times that we covered here.
ROBERTS: We had a recent guest on the program, Louis Michael Seidman, and he suggested that the Constitution’s out of date. It makes us beholden to a group of dead people who lived over two hundred years ago, and we should just ignore it, unless something in it makes sense. He happens to be a defender of the Second Amendment – he wouldn’t get rid of that. Or the First Amendment; he likes that one, too. But, basically [he thinks] we should keep good laws and get rid of bad ones; [keep] good practices, and get rid of bad ones. So you just avoid the Constitutional Convention all together. You just stop using the Constitution! What do you think of his argument?
REYNOLDS: I call this the Raj Koothrappali approach to Constitutional Law. I don’t know if you watch Big Bang Theory, but Raj is Indian of course, and he’s lecturing his sister from India on Hindu rules about modesty and sexual proprietary, and she just looks at him and says, “You’re talking to me about this, as you’re eating a cheeseburger!” He just looks at her and says, “Some of it makes sense; some of it’s crazy – whatta do?!” And that’s basically the Seidman approach to the Constitution, right? The parts he likes make sense, and the others are crazy – whatta do?
Here’s the problem with public officials — because that’s really [Seidman’s] audience — deciding to ignore the Constitution: If you’re the president, if you’re a member of Congress, if you are a TSA agent, the only reason why somebody should listen to what you say, instead of horsewhipping you out of town for your impertinence, is because you exercise power via the Constitution. If the Constitution doesn’t count, you don’t have any legitimate power. You’re a thief, a brigand, an officious busybody, somebody who should be tarred and feathered and run out of town on a rail for trying to exercise power you don’t possess.
So if we’re going to start ignoring the Constitution, I’m fine with that. The first part I’m going to start ignoring is the part that says, I have to do whatever they say.
ROBERTS: But his argument is that we already ignore the Constitution; it’s not really much of a binding document.
REYNOLDS: Oh, well, then I’m free to do whatever I want! And actually, that is a damning admission, because what that really says is: If you believe Seidman’s argument; if you believe that we already ignore the Constitution anyway, then in fact, the government rules by sheer naked force, and nothing else. And if that’s what you believe, then all of this talk of revolution suddenly doesn’t seem so crazy, it seems almost mandatory.
ROBERTS: Well, he would say – well, I won’t speak for him, but some would say that, well, there’s a social contract, we’ve all agreed to kind of play by these rules…
REYNOLDS: Oh really?!
ROBERTS: …of electing officials, and…
REYNOLDS: Well, the rules I agreed to electing these officials are the Constitution. I thought we were going to ignore that. That’s my social contract.
I tend to agree. When mutual respect of the rule of law by citizen and government evaporates, all that is left is rule by threat of force – coercion in other words. That is tyranny, the exact tyranny that sparked the American fight for independence that started in 1773.
The left likes to talk about the “social contract” – but in point of fact of contractual law, a contract contains binding requirements of all parties (voluntarily) engaged in the contract. When one party does not perform as the contract stipulates, then the contract is nullified and the compliant parties have no more obligations to perform (and in most cases, the non-compliant party is subject to penalties). For example, if it is assumed that I have a responsibility to provide tax money to fund welfare programs and yet the recipients never attempt to get off welfare, I have no obligation to continue to fund such programs…when a government takes my money by force of law and then applies it to these programs, they are doing so by coercive force and forcing me to accept terms of a broken contract that is not equally binding on the recipients of those taxpayer funds.
The more I think about it, the more I’m coming to believe that secession or revolution – or perhaps both – are the only possible solutions to our tyrannical government.