To the eye of Charles Murray, the situation is grim—grimmer than you realize. Our government is increasingly corrupt. The legal system is lawless. The regulatory agencies possess tyrannical levels of power. Murray, social scientist and author of Losing Ground and Coming Apart, no longer believes these problems can be solved by a series of conservative victories at the ballot box. The most basic elements of our government, including its constitutional foundation, are irreparably broken, he contends. However, By The People: Rebuilding Liberty Without Permission is no bugle cry to retreat. We have been defeated on the field of political process, but Murray calls all good patriots to join him in a subversive campaign of civil disobedience.
In many ways, Murray’s cause is a populist one. His work is leveled directly at the thousands of federal regulations which complicate your attempt to run a business, send your child to school, or mail a letter. (Indeed, bureaucrats aside, it would be difficult to find a fan of federal regulation.)
By The People makes a strong case for the grimness of the situation. Part I, titled “Coming to Terms with Where We Stand,” demonstrates the impotence of the Constitution, as well as the morbid obesity and corruption of the regulatory state. Here Murray performs the hardest part of his job, delivering the prognosis to the loving citizens. Medically speaking, he describes the infection as “systemic.”
In this advanced stage, drastic steps must be taken. Murray does not immediately expect you to join the resistance. He knows that like-minded Madisonians are already persuaded, but he takes the time in Part II to reason with moderate readers for civil disobedience. To his credit, Murray is not the kind of radical to speak lightly about breaking the social contract. Unsurprisingly, Murray and the founders agree that when in the course of human events the government abuses the natural and God-given equality of citizens, they have every right to revolt.
And the situation is worse now than it was under the yoke of the British. The spending of the British monarchy probably never averaged 40 percent of total GDP. King George never hired 19.3 million government employees. The tea tax was bad, but the Redcoat tax code was never 74,608 pages.
When did it all go wrong? Murray predictably blames the Progressivism and liberal Supreme Court Justices who are so bold as to interpret a “living Constitution.” In Murray’s telling, the country was free and manifest destined until 1937-1942, when a sinister series of Supreme Court decisions set today’s crisis in motion. These cases included Helvering v. Davis (1937), in which the Supreme Court permitted Congress to broadly “promote the general welfare,” opening Pandora’s welfare box forever. Murray blames several such decisions as the beginning of decline. To the extent that, “The founder’s Constitution has been discarded and cannot be restored.”
Since Republicans and Democrats are complicit, the perfect electoral storm no longer promises a solution. The only remaining option is civil disobedience. The plan is two part. First, everyday citizens will intentionally break the law and appear in court supported by private legal defense funds. Thousands of these micro-lawsuits will overwhelm the courts making many regulations practically unenforceable. These cases will also give the Supreme Court consistent opportunities to interpret the Constitution, and get it right this time.
Second, a new type of insurance will protect citizens and small businesses from government regulations. It would be in the private sector’s interest to pay a little each month to protect itself from the thrashing regulatory state, a force Murray sees as easily as unpredictable and disastrous as fires and flooding.
But as many critics have pointed out, the title, By the People, is unintentionally ironic. Because, though reducing federal regulation is a populist issue, Murray’s proposed campaign is not. It will be carried out by a small group of Madison-minded billionaires, who will donate to legal defense funds, created to protect innocent citizens from federal agencies. With the help of elite .01 percenters, Murray intends to overload the courts with thousands of small-size lawsuits against the government. Koch brothers, are you taking notes?