In Defense of Sedition

America’s conservative movement, writes Sara Robinson, is engaged in “sedition in slow motion, a gradual corrosive undermining of the government’s authority and capacity to run the country.”

If only it were so! Alas, even using Robinson’s preferred definition (“Crime of creating a revolt, disturbance, or violence against lawful civil authority with the intent to cause its overthrow or destruction” — Britannica Concise Dictionary), she’s not even close.

If anything, America’s right-wing statists have a better claim to support of “lawful civil authority” — the US Constitution, which they frequently invoke and at least occasionally recognize as authoritative — than left-wing statists of Robinson’s ilk, who ignore or mock it whenever it stands between them and their latest plot against human liberty.

What I really take issue with, though, is not Robinson’s mistaken contention that the specter of sedition haunts North America, hovering over assorted Tea Party gatherings, militia musters and talk radio rants. My problem with Robinson is that she thinks sedition is a bad thing.

Does the following ring any bells?

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

In 20/20 hindsight, the authors of the Declaration of Independence (a “Committee of Five” — John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Robert Livingston and Roger Sherman — appointed by the Second Continental Congress) invited the calamity that is our current situation by misunderstanding or misstating the purpose of government. That purpose, of course, is not to “secure rights” for all, but to transfer wealth and power from the productive class to the political class.

The Committee’s failure on that count is, to my mind, forgivable for two reasons.

First, the Declaration represented a giant step forward for its time. It preceded (by half a century or so), presaged, and to at least some degree inspired, the 19th-century development of anarchist theory which made the failure clear.

Secondly, it made clear that the hypothetical “legitimacy” of any government which resulted from action on its claims must rest firmly on a basis of … you guessed it … sedition … “the Right of the People to alter or to abolish” the “lawful civil authority.”

No sedition, no revolution.

No revolution, no United States of America.

No United States of America, no Sara Robinson choking on her outrage at the temerity of those uppity serfs who dare propose limits on the powers and prerogatives of a government already orders of magnitude larger and more oppressive than the one thrown off by the seditious conspiracy of 1776.

Later in life, Jefferson (the Declaration’s primary author) felt his way cautiously and haltingly toward anarchism. It’s my belief that, had he lived to write a second such declaration in, say, 1850 or so, the relevant passage might have read something like this:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That whenever any Form of Government becomes disrespectful of these rights, as all forms of Government inevitably must, it is the Right of the People to abolish it, and to dispense with Government altogether, freeing themselves to effect their Safety and Happiness.

The outfit Robinson writes for styles itself the “Campaign for America’s Future.” If America has a future worth fighting for, that future is to be discovered in and from a healthy respect for the good old-fashioned sedition of America’s past.

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