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.

Bill Quick has a different perspective on Bruce Walker’s article (see the previous post):  “Liberty and Government“, The Daily Pundit, 29 March 2010:

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”.


  1. Has our government ever been legitimate by Quick’s standard?
  2. Dangerous works from John Locke; use with care
  3. The best analysis of this mindset
  4. Other declarations that our government is illegitimate, by Quick and others
  5. Afterword

(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.”

By others:

  1. The Call to Resist Illegitimate Authority” (1967)
  2. This government is illegitimate“, Ron Neff, The Last Ditch, 19 December 1996 — “… and you don’t have to be an anarchist to see it.”
  3. “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
  4. 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.”
  5. An Illegitimate Government“, Sanford Butler, ResistNet (home of the patriotic resistance), 26 February 2010
  6. To all modern Sons of Liberty: THIS is your time. Break their windows. Break them NOW.“, Sipsey Street Irregulars, 19 March 2010
  7. The US Is “a Distorted, Bastardized Form of Illegitimate Government“, Ed Ward (MD, MT), The Price of Liberty, 30 March 2010
  8. The Illegitimate President website.

7 thoughts on “Is the US government illegitimate? If so, does that justify violent revolution?”

  1. The US gov is clearly illegitimate : Congress no longer represents its Constituents (the bailout, NSA, …) and the Executive no longer follows the rule of Law or the Constitution.

    Our gov rewrote the Constitution in secret, and lied about it. The fedgov has lied about everything for the last 20 year. There is no more definitive statement that ‘I am not on your side, I am pursuing my own goals’ than a lie in what is supposed to be a positive-sum game.

    1. lew2048,

      I do not believe you understand how this Republic works, or what it means for it to “represent” its people.

      To mention just one specific: we hold elections every two years, and the retention rate for Congressmen (and women) indicates that your view is not that of a majority of your fellow Americans.

  2. Augustine Thomas

    Fabius Maximus,

    Less than 30% of my fellow Americans vote. Clearly this is not a legitimate government. Only crooks and idiots support it.

  3. Fabius Maximus,

    Merely holding regular elections does not create legitimacy in and of itself.

    The fact is that the two-party system which is run by two private, non-governmental organizations (RNC, DNC) have very sophisticated methods to exclude third party opposition, and limit choices to those chosen for us. Regardless of which candidates are chosen, the goal of the parties is to aggregate and keep power, not to serve the highest good for all. Both parties are corrupted by money, and the process selects first for those with the ability to “fundraise”…aka, sell political influence.

    Regardless of our elections, the status-quo maintains. As Machiavelli said, change will not occur, because those who benefit from the status-quo have all the power, and those that would benefit from change have no power. The US government is actively eroding civil rights and consolidating power. It has become illegitimate.

    1. George,

      “Merely holding regular elections does not create legitimacy in and of itself.”

      Yes, absolutely so. Nothing creates legitimacy by itself. All that matters is how the regime is seen by its people. Legitimacy, like love, is purely subjective.

      “Regardless of our elections, the status-quo maintains.”

      Absurdly false. If we elect populist leaders, they will take office and act.

      “As Machiavelli said, change will not occur, because those who benefit from the status-quo have all the power”

      Machiavelli was describing 15th century Florence. It’s absurd to so describe 21st century America. This is the usual American excuse for sitting on our butts and whining: “we’re so weak and helpless”. If so, it’s fortunate for us we have the 1% to run America.

      In the real world, however, the political machinery the Founders created – and following generations of American’s expanded — lies their, idle but powerful should we engage it.

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