Is the US government illegitimate? If so, does that justify violent revolution?
Summary: US constitutional law discusses illegitimate government motives, purposes, and actions. But political extremists have long labeled our political regime itself as illegitimate. Now such views move into the mainstream. It’s poison, preventing rational discussion and compromise — much as the discussion about slavery turned toxic in the decade before 1860. This post looks at an example, with links to others — and asks what John Locke said about illegitimacy.
A truth all too often forgotten, but true nonetheless. No matter what form of government you live under, the moment that government starts to infringe liberty is also the moment it begins to undermine its own legitimacy. By those standards, our current democratic republic has become almost wholly illegitimate.
Strong language! As so often the case, one political extreme copies and exaggerates the claims of the other. The Left declared illegitimate Bush Jr’s election. Now Quick declares our entire political regime illegitimate. He does not explain, in this post at least, how our government has infringed liberty so much that our republic “has become almost wholly illegitimate.” Or what we should do about it. Perhaps he should change his website’s tagline: “Home of the Loyal Opposition”.
- Has our government ever been legitimate by Quick’s standard?
- Dangerous works from John Locke; use with care
- The best analysis of this mindset
- Other declarations that our government is illegitimate, by Quick and others
(1) Has our government ever been legitimate by Quick’s standard?
Considering the infringements of the past, mostly corrected now, the present limitations must be (in his mind) quite large!
- In the past aprox 1/10 of our citizens suffered severe infringements of their basic rights in many States. To their equal treatment before the law. To their right to vote. To their right to ride in the front of buses.
- In the past aprox 1/2 of our citizens suffered severe infringements to their basic rights in many States. To equal treatment before the law. To their right to vote. To their right to own property.
Has Quick written that the US government was illegitimate during those years, comprising most of our history? What are the current infringements on liberty that compare with those? Perhaps Quick believes the leftists of the 1960s were right.
The policies of the Obama Administration are almost identical to those of the Bush Administration. Their foreign and economic policies are virtually identical (as in this Stratfor analysis). ObamaCare is similar to RomneyCare in Massachusetts, and far less radical than Richard Nixon’s proposal (see his speech of 6 February 1974). Therefore the US government has been illegitimate for quite some time. Perhaps Quick agrees with those saying the Bush Adminstration was illegitimate.
Probably Quick agrees with neither the 1960′s leftists or the Bush-haters, slingign accusations of illegitmacy as means to gain partisian advantage. It’s a dangerous game. Once such claims become common currency in our political discourse they’ll discredit every adminstration, hampering both rational discussion of specific policies (why debate a tyrant?) and America’s ability to respond to the many challenges looming ahead. One thing we know: the people casually throwing about these grave charges will disown any responsibility for the chaos that results from them.
(2) Dangerous works from John Locke; use with care
Let’s go to the source for an analysis of government’s legitimacy: John Locke’s The Second Treatise of Government (1690). He describes 3 forms of illegitimacy:
- an unjust foreign conquest
- internal usurpation of political rule
- tyrannical extension of power by those who were originally legitimately in power
Quick implies the third form, which Locke discusses in Chapter 18: “Of Tyranny“.
As usurpation is the exercise of power, which another hath a right to; so tyranny is the exercise of power beyond right, which no body can have a right to. And this is making use of the power any one has in his hands, not for the good of those who are under it, but for his own private separate advantage. When the governor, however intitled, makes not the law, but his will, the rule; and his commands and actions are not directed to the preservation of the properties of his people, but the satisfaction of his own ambition, revenge, covetousness, or any other irregular passion.
… May the commands then of a prince be opposed? may he be resisted as often as any one shall find himself aggrieved, and but imagine he has not right done him? This will unhinge and overturn all polities, and, instead of government and order, leave nothing but anarchy and confusion. Sec. 204. To this I answer, that force is to be opposed to nothing, but to unjust and unlawful force; whoever makes any opposition in any other case, draws on himself a just condemnation both from God and man; and so no such danger or confusion will follow, as is often suggested …
But if either these illegal acts have extended to the majority of the people; or if the mischief and oppression has lighted only on some few, but in such cases, as the precedent, and consequences seem to threaten all; and they are persuaded in their consciences, that their laws, and with them their estates, liberties, and lives are in danger, and perhaps their religion too; how they will be hindered from resisting illegal force, used against them, I cannot tell.
Saying such things leads us to dangerous territory, which Locke discusses in the aptly named and scary Chapter 19 “Of the Dissolution of Government“.
(3) The best analysis of this mindset
“The paranoid style in American politics“, Richard Hofstadter, Harper’s Magazine, November 1964. It deserves to be read in full; here’s a snippet:
“The old American virtues have already been eaten away by cosmopolitans and intellectuals; the old competitive capitalism has been gradually undermined by socialistic and communistic schemers; the old national security and independence have been destroyed by treasonous plots, having as their most powerful agents not merely outsiders and foreigners as of old but major statesmen who are at the very centers of American power.”
(4) Other declarations that our government is illegitimate
By Bill Quick: “The Illegitimate President and His Gang“, The Daily Pundit, 7 January 2010 — He prefers polls to elections, at least now. “Barack Hussein Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid represent a tiny minority of the American people.”
- “The Call to Resist Illegitimate Authority” (1967)
- “This government is illegitimate“, Ron Neff, The Last Ditch, 19 December 1996 — “… and you don’t have to be an anarchist to see it.”
- “Dampening the Illegitimacy of the United States’ Government: Reframing the Constitution from Contract to Promise”, Malla Pollack (Professor, American Justice School of Law), Idaho Law Review, 2005
- “Congress Illegitimate And Off The Table“, Ted Lang, Rense, 4 August 2007 — “By helping the Bush regime destroy and invalidate the Constitution, they have in effect destroyed and invalidated themselves.”
- “An Illegitimate Government“, Sanford Butler, ResistNet (home of the patriotic resistance), 26 February 2010
- “To all modern Sons of Liberty: THIS is your time. Break their windows. Break them NOW.“, Sipsey Street Irregulars, 19 March 2010
- “The US Is “a Distorted, Bastardized Form of Illegitimate Government“, Ed Ward (MD, MT), The Price of Liberty, 30 March 2010
- The Illegitimate President website
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