Giving up in Oklahoma

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Lawmakers who oppose the policies of Barack Obama have added their voices to a small chorus of voices on the right that have been confessing ideological impotence lately:

Frustrated by recent political setbacks, tea party leaders and some conservative members of the Oklahoma Legislature say they would like to create a new volunteer militia to help defend against what they believe are improper federal infringements on state sovereignty.
If this sounds familiar, it should. Not so long ago, Governor Rick Perry of Texas made noise about seceding from the union, and other, lower-ranking members of the executive branch of the government have displayed a similar ignorance for the role of debate in representative government, not to mention a disregard for the importance of the rule of law.

Aside from the fact that this latest idea is blatantly impractical, we are far, far from the point where it would be appropriate to raise the issue of armed insurrection at all, as I mentioned in a previous post when I contrasted the "oath takers" to the tea partiers (or at least the rank and file as far as my impression has been).
At least the tea partiers understand that America remains free enough that moral and political debate can preserve the freedom we have left and bring the government back around to its proper purpose of protecting individual rights. Many of them are wrong about particulars, but they at least appreciate the proper approach to political change in a nation founded on the principle -- apparently forgotten by the "oath-keepers" -- of consent of the governed, and in a nation of laws, and not men. The tea partiers offer their views for the consideration of others, and, from what I have heard, many are actively seeking the intellectual ammunition they need to better understand what went wrong with America and what they need to know to appeal to the best within their countrymen before the next election.
I will add, however, that the news story about this proposal for a state militia to oppose federal mandates claims that it has support from "[t]ea party movement leaders." If this is true, and these leaders represent a significant trend within that movement, this is very bad news.

-- CAV


Doug Reich said...


Allow me to play devil's advocate here as briefly as possible.

I completely understand the argument against the common notion of "states' rights" especially as it pertained to slavery. In other words, many advocates of states rights wrongly argued that, in essence, a state should be able to do whatever it wants including enslaving its own population and opposed the federal government, not because the fed's were violating their liberty, but because the fed's were not allowing them to violate their own citizen's liberty!

Exchanging one tyranny for 50 tyrannies is not a good idea, but I think the context is different in this case.

In the 1780's, post Revolution, the states were sovereign loosely linked by the Articles of Confederation. The idea of a strong central government was anathema and the proposed Constitution was very controversial. I blogged about this here:

The "Federalist Papers" which made the case for the Constitution were met with the "Anti-Federalist Papers" which argued vehemently and eloquently against it. My point is that many of the Founders foresaw what has now happened in terms of strong central government abrogating individual liberty.

What is the purpose of a federal government? Really, there were many practical issues that made the Articles unworkable in terms of interstate property law and litigation, common defense and so on. But it was a good question and certainly a legitimate question today to ask, what does any state actually get out of the current union?

It is obvious to me that the Federal government has gone far beyond even the worse nightmares of the anti-federalists in terms of its power, yet, the government has largely failed at its main task of defending the country.

If one argues for "states rights" based upon this idea that a state no longer benefits from union and the federal government has become an instrument of tyranny and despotism, I hold that this is a plausible argument. In another words, I think you can make this argument for the right reasons. As the federal government gets more despotic, more states will push back and should say: uh, why did we sign up for this again?

Interested in your thoughts.

Gus Van Horn said...


You raise good points and, although I'd forgotten about this until I started looking for what I'd said in the past about states' rights, I have also been impressed by your thoughts on that question before.

At first blush, I can't argue conclusively against the a stronger concept of the states as having stronger, better-codified sovereignty as a check on the federal government, although I see two general types of problems.

First, the concept of states rights is perverted in the minds of most politicians today, who would see strengthening them as an avenue towards establishing 50 tyrannies, be they from the be they from the left or the right. (And the libertarians will give them plenty of fresh ideas when they run out.)

But in addition to the primrose path we're on, there is the matter of where we've been historically. I doubt Jim Crow would have ended so soon, if at all, in my home state of Mississippi (or any of several other southern states) had the state been able to simply secede or the federal government not clearly been superior to that of the states. So we have at least one instance of the strong federal government checking a threat to individual rights in several states.

Second, would secession for legitimate reasons even be viable? If the Federal government is indeed an instrument of tyranny, would it suffer a state leaving without a fight? I doubt it.

The problem boils down, again, to the fact that the law can accomplish only so much, and when the culture is debased enough, it effectively loses force. My gut says that if a state reached the point that it had to secede, the point of de facto civil war has also been reached.

War is, as Ayn Rand once put it, the second greatest evil a society can perpetrate. As cold a comfort as that would be, perhaps a proper understanding and implementation of states' rights could have made that option more viable than it is today.

So my initial thoughts are that states' rights could have served as a very, very crude final check on tyranny -- by making a civil war formally easier to start.

Interesting, but I'll allow that line of thought to percolate in the back of my mind a bit before committing to it.

Thanks for that question.


Rob said...

Here's my post on the current state of the Tea Party movement in Oklahoma:

Rob Abiera

Gus Van Horn said...


Thanks for sharing that information.

"{Speaker] Paul Blair is the founder of Reclaiming Oklahoma for Christ and the current national director of Reclaiming America for Christ, both organizations devoted to injecting religion into politics and government."

That's quite unfortunate. I do have a qustion,though. Was this bird among the speakers or was he a main speaker?


Rob said...

"Was this bird among the speakers or was he a main speaker?"

Pastor Blair's name is among the first of several speakers listed for each respective rally.

Gus Van Horn said...

Well, I don't like him getting undeserved support from the tea partiers any more than I do Sarah Palin, but if he's just one of a list, that doesn't upset me as much. Rather, it strikes me as a think to keep an eye on and to try to counteract by offering better ideas of our own.

The tea party is unlike the libertarian party in this important respect: It isn't pretending to be an intellectual movement. Because of that, I do not see attendance at one of its events as necessarily lending undeserved moral sanction to people like this.

Rob said...

You may or may not want to post this as a comment but I wanted to send you this info regarding a Tea Party in Tulsa anyway:

Mike Kurtz, whose group USAPatriots sponsored the Expo Square event, said his organization’s priority is bringing Christian morals to government. One of Thursday night’s featured speakers was Rick Scarborough, a self-described “Christocrat” best known for his book “In the Defense of Mixing Church and State” (and no relation of ex-Congressman/TV host Joe Scarborough).

Gus Van Horn said...

Thank you, Rob. This unfortunately backs up your impression that the theocrats are attempting to coopt the TPM, and it is consistent with the following observation from a friend of mine who attended a tea party in Texas:

"I ran into a bunch of John Galt related signs which turned out to be from members of the local Objectivist club. ... A few of the speakers were good. But overall, the speakers were not as good as last year. And some of the speakers talked more about God than I would like. It doesn't bother me if someone mentions the fact that they are religion in passing or takes it as a given that the majority of the people in attendance are going to be religious. But a few speakers I think went too far in that direction - which was not the case a year ago. "