March 29, 2005

Self Help

I was listening to Hugh Hewitt today & I heard him say a few things that deserve discussion.

He was talking about Terri Schiavo & what could or could not be done in her case. He's not too happy with the outcome (& neither am I albeit for slightly different reasons) but he thinks all that could have been done has been done (well, more or less).

Several callers said they wished Jeb Bush would have taken Terri in defiance of the courts. Hugh wasn't thrilled with that idea because he feels the rule of law should be followed instead of what he called "self help". I disagree.

The rule of law is a means unto an end & it's very important that it be followed as much as possible. But when the means become destructive of the end then it's time to seek new means. Let me give a few examples of self help & how it was the correct thing to do.

Imagine the government declaring your guns forfeit & sending in the cops to take them away from you. You decide that isn't right & shoot back at the cops. Would that be self help that should be disavowed?

If you said yes then please write your congressman & tell him we should submit ourselves to Great Britain. You see, in 1775 the lawful empowered government sent troops (which in those days served in a martial as well as law enforcement capacity) to disarm the people in Massachusetts. & believe it or not the Massachusetts folks decided that going outside the law was their best recourse to secure their Rights. They shot at the cops employed by their lawful government. & it was by no means the first time such events transpired in the colonies. Also I should point you to this article by Fred of Fred's M14 stocks. It shows how a modern newspaper might have covered the events of April 19th 1775.

So if you're against using force to defy an unjust law decreed by your lawfully appointed government then you'd have been opposed to the American Revolution (at least in principle). You can't have it both ways; saying it was alright for the boys on Concord Green to do it but it'd be wrong for anyone today to disobey a law just because it's violative of our Rights.

The Whiskey Rebellion was another example of self help, albeit an unsuccessful one. Shay's Rebellion was another. In a letter to William Stevens Smith in 1787 Thomas Jefferson wrote the following concerning Shay's Rebellion:

"The British ministry have so long hired their gazetteers to repeat and model into every form lies about our being in anarchy, that the world has at length believed them, the English nation has believed them, the ministers themselves have come to believe them, & what is more wonderful, we have believed them ourselves. Yet where does this anarchy exist? Where did it ever exist, except in the single instance of Massachusetts? And can history produce an instance of rebellion so honourably conducted? I say nothing of it's motives. They were founded in ignorance, not wickedness. God forbid we should ever be 20 years without such a rebellion. The people cannot be all, & always, well informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions it is a lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty. We have had 13. states independent 11. years. There has been one rebellion. That comes to one rebellion in a century & a half for each state. What country before ever existed a century & half without a rebellion? & what country can preserve it's liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to facts, pardon & pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots & tyrants. It is it's natural manure..."

A caller brought up Jefferson to Hugh. Hugh's response was that Jefferson didn't participate in the ratification of the Constitution (he was in Paris at the time) & there was no precedent involved in what Jefferson said in a letter. Now if we were arguing case law I'd be forced to agree. Even Jefferson's most famous work - the Declaration of Independence - offers no precedent in our system of law. It carries no legal weight whatsoever. But what is being discussed is not limited to the law; it's about morality &/or action in spite of the law. After all, f the law allowed for forceful resistance or willful disregard then it wouldn't be illegal & the topic would be moot.

What Jefferson's words offer that much of our case law does not is logic. It's persuasive not because a judge stamped his seal on it, but because reason did.

What Jefferson basically said was that even if the people get the facts wrong & act inappropriately in defiance of the law then that's a far better state to be in than to have the people stand idly by or be complicit with what they perceive as a wrong. Inaction in the face of a perceived wrong is worse than action taken in error.

The Battle of Athens, Tennessee was a more recent example of self help. The good citizens of Athens, Tennessee took up arms to ensure a fair election despite very rough tactics used by a corrupt sheriff. Somehow the people of Athens (actually of McMinn County) thought that since their requests to the Department of Justice concerning the crooked elections the past 6 years had not been responded to then it was up to them to make sure things were on the up & up.

Finally I must validate Godwin's law. The Nazi's did everything they did in accordance with German law. They violated treaties & an armistice but internally they simply changed the law to allow them to do as they wished. Would it have been wrong to oppose the law in 1939 Germany? In 1942 would it have been acceptable to harbor Jews or Gypsies despite it being illegal to do so? & in Poland would it have been right to rise up against the local & Nazi authorities? Some very brave folks in the Warsaw Ghetto decided that it was permissible to break the law for the greater good. This is known as the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1943. The reason it wasn't the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1942 was due in part to a misplaced loyalty to compliance with the law.

Again I'll quote Jefferson; this time from a letter to Isaac H Tiffany in 1819 (scroll down a little):

"Of liberty I would say that, in the whole plenitude of its extent, it is unobstructed action according to our will. But rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limit drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add 'within the limits of the law', because law is often but the tyrant's will, and always so when it violates the right of an individual."

The law is at best a means to an end. When the law becomes violative of those ends then clinging to it becomes counter productive. It harms a society when good people to blindly accept & obey bad laws. But most importantly it harms an individual.

On September the 11th of 2001 we saw an example of this even if we didn't realize it at the time. 19 punks with small knives took control of four aircraft & used them to kill over 3,000 people. The people on those aircraft obeyed a very bad law which contradicts a higher law. The government passed a law some decades earlier which disregarded the 2nd Article of the Bill of Rights. That law said that firearms could not be carried onto airplanes. As a result the only nation with a constitutional acknowledgement of the Right to Arms lost an arms race to punks with boxcutters. If one person had disregarded the law on each flight it's possible that the punks who hijacked the planes could have been stopped.

But the Rule of Law is a powerful chant among those who don't see the folly in accepting laws in place of morality. It's hard to dissuade people of the notion that the proper course of action is to determine whether a law is worth following or not before you follow it.

Now I'll gladly concede that perhaps 90% of the time it's best to simply follow the law even if the law is wrong. This is because the law is enforced by the power of the state & that's a lot of power to go up against. An individual has a lot to lose whereas the government has relatively little in such a confrontation. But there are times when it is not only appropriate but necessary to disregard a law. This is especially true when that law disregards a higher law such as a Constitutional acknowledgement of a Right, or of an unenumerated Right.

But getting back to the context in which Hugh was discussing the issue I'm not certain if Jeb should have grabbed Terri. I am certain that whatever Terri's wishes starvation/dehydration were not part of her plan & any husband who would subject his wife to it is a moral coward unfit to be called a man. If it was her sincere wish to die under her circumstances then the decent thing to do would have been to kill her quickly & painlessly then submit himself for the consequences. Not waiting 15 years would be another decent thing to do if such action was warranted. Needless to say I don't care much for the way she's being killed or the character of her estranged husband in doing things this way.

All that being said if it was my daughter, or mother or grandmother & I was certain that death wasn't her desire I'd have gone to get her myself. If anyone tried to stop me I would have done whatever was necessary to negate the impediment. The result would either be my death or my daughter/mother/granddaughter being safe from such a merciless fate.

The rule of law is a good thing in most cases, but when we neglect the ends which the rule of law is supposed to achieve then I see no purpose in it. The main purpose of the rule of law is the protection of our life, liberty & property from the unjustified trespasses of others. There are details left to question in Terri's case, but there should never be a doubt that it's wrong to lay even one innocent life upon the alter of the rule of law for our own comfort's sake.

There are times when self help is the correct option & perhaps even the only option for a free people or person. It's seldom easy to determine if a particular circumstance warrants it, but it should be obvious that self help should not be dismissed out of hand. After all, without self help we'd be singing "God Save The Queen" at the start of every Cricket game in the united Colonies. & let us not forget that the reason for the 2nd Article in the Bill of Rights wasn't hunting, but so we'd have the most effective means at our disposal should the need arise for us to engage in self help.

Posted by Publicola at March 29, 2005 07:45 AM

Well said.

In this case the "law" has been followed; but the point of the law has been lost entirely.

Mebbe it's getting time to think of fertilizing that tree of Liberty.

Posted by: Esky at March 29, 2005 11:40 PM

If we do not demonstrate to the politicians occationally that the populace knows that its "in control" the politician will consider their positions as theirs by right.

Posted by: Richard Cook at March 30, 2005 02:27 PM

...that should be "occasionally"....damn I can't spell.

Posted by: Richard Cook at March 30, 2005 02:29 PM

A helpless woman starves to death while everyone sits on their hands.

Every day we get the choice between slavery and rebellion, and so far...everyone pretty OK with slavery.

Posted by: Robert at March 30, 2005 09:20 PM

Not everybody, Robert. Not you. Not everybody.

But remember: what good is the Second Amendment if you don't know how to shoot?

And what good is our inspiring history if we don't remember it and remind ourselves of its lessons....

Thank you, Publicola, for the excellent reminder.

Tempus fugit.

Posted by: Cabinboy at April 4, 2005 06:34 PM
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