The Fourth of July is an especially relevant time of the year to discuss the idea of a government’s legitimacy. After all it was the Founding Fathers’ dissatisfaction with George III’s unaccountability to his American subjects that led to the founding of our country. Such slogans as “taxation without representation is tyranny” show that the colonists were acutely aware that they did not possess any mechanism to make their wishes known to their king. Parliament may have been at that time much less powerful as a democratic force in the British monarchy than it currently is but it did represent the common Englishman at the highest levels of government.
The principle involved is that consent of the governed is necessary for a government to be considered legitimate. Whether that consent is grudging or enthusiastic is a matter of degrees and in either case recognizes that the governed concedes to following the laws provided by the ruler. In the ancient world before democracy was a thing often the legitimacy of the ruler was wrapped up in divine right. This assumed that the king was of the same people as those ruled and his relationship with the culture of his people was deep and meaningful to them. In such a situation the people would endure quite a bit before they would revolt because they assumed that their gods had their best interests in mind and so they trusted in their greater wisdom, even when the results were brutally hard.
But when the ruler was a foreign conqueror, an emperor of some other nation then consent was the choice between slavery and death. But even that is consent. It is recognition of the balance of power. It is choosing life over freedom. And to the extent that you want to spare your children it is a long-term agreement.
In the modern era representative government provides much more scope for consent. The formation of a strong middle class has made democratic governments more stable and produced a society where the governed feel that their leaders are accountable to their needs. But with the introduction of socialism and communism in the late 19th century forces have been unleashed on democratic societies that empower the most radical and least disciplined portion of society and turns it into a tool that can be manipulated by demagogues and even powerful elites that see it as a weapon with which to subjugate the middle class.
We are in such a situation now. The Constitution with its enumerated Bill of Rights is being ignored by the elites and their toadies in the government. We are being stripped of freedom of speech and religion and the right to bear arms. What is occurring is a coup d’état facilitated by the elites and empowered by the mob against a middle-class people too habituated by order and stability to react as forcefully as is warranted.
What remains to be seen is when or if the American people withdraw their consent. If they don’t then they’ll become a conquered people no better than the Roman citizens who slowly by degrees became serfs indentured to the Roman nobles and then Germanic chieftains who owned them.
But if instead they come to their senses, they can pretty quickly re-establish their rights. When a court, even the Supreme Court clearly breaches the Constitution it’s time to start ignoring the decisions of that court. It’s time to withdraw consent from that government.
If a state declared itself no longer bound by clearly unconstitutional laws it will be very difficult for even the mighty United States federal government to uphold that law. Much of the enforcement of even federal laws depends on the good will of state and local law enforcement. Without that good will it becomes a struggle just to know if the law is being broken. And if the State government is actually hostile to a law it could become virtually impossible to enforce. And if the federal government is under the leadership of a conservative president it would be simple for enforcement of unpopular laws to fall completely by the wayside. A really far thinking conservative could dismantle whole departments of the federal government whose only job it is to harass the American people with all sorts of bureaucratic restrictions on their liberties.
So, it remains to be seen if the present American nation has as much courage as their colonial predecessors. Patrick Henry said, “give me liberty or give me death.” We can get away with just pointing at the Constitution and saying, “freedom of speech, freedom of religion, right to bear arms, leave me alone.”
Which way do you think it will go?