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The Sacramento Bee


Is Government So Powerful We Need A New American Revolution?

June 29, 2011

By Ben Boychuk

THE ISSUE: Many of us this weekend will celebrate the 235th anniversary of independence from the British with fireworks, barbecue and block parties. While offering a respite from politics, the holiday is also an occasion to reflect on whether we’ve strayed too far from the spirit of 1776. Is the government too big? Are the laws tyrannical?

Is government so powerful we need a new American Revolution?


Ben Boychuk: Yes!

Every government in history has grown too big, too powerful, and too expansive to be safe. Ours is no exception.

America’s founding generation held certain truths to be “self-evident”: that human beings were born equal and possessed certain rights that no government could rightfully give or take away. Government exists, they said, to protect the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness—not to allocate “rights” and “privileges” like party favors.

Most important, America’s founders understood that the relationship between the government and the governed must be one based on mutual consent.

“The mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs,” Thomas Jefferson wrote 50 years after he penned the Declaration of Independence, “nor a favored few, booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately by the grace of God.”

Today, you may consent either to a full-body scan or a thorough frisking at the airport—and it’s a federal crime to refuse either intrusion and choose simply not to fly that day.

Why would a free and independent people put up with that?

Why would free citizens—as opposed to mere subjects—tolerate a criminal code so vast and overbroad that, as liberal attorney Harvey Silverglate put it in a 2009 book, the average American unwittingly commits three felonies a day?

Why would free citizens continue to endure a tax code so complicated that it is impossible to get the same answer about a vague provision from two different IRS lawyers?

In making his case for the Constitution, James Madison insisted the powers delegated by the proposed charter to the federal government were “few and defined.”

Today, of course, the federal government assumes powers vast and numerous. A federal government that regulates everything from the car you drive and the medical insurance you must buy to the cheese you eat and the paper your children’s books are printed on is a government that has exceeded the bounds of its charter.

We don’t merely have a “big government.” We have unlimited government, which undermines the very foundation of our constitutional order.

But Jefferson said, “Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends”—of securing our natural rights—“it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it.”

The revolution we need today, in short, is one that restores the principles and the spirit of 1776.

Ben Boychuk is associate editor of the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal. (


Pia Lopez: No!

Revolution is about overthrowing a form of government and replacing it with another.

Jeez, Ben, has the U.S. system of government really become so tyrannical that it should be dissolved and a new system of government put in its place?

Unlike Thomas Jefferson, who penned the Declaration of Independence, and other founders, who drew on very specific ideas about what constitutes tyranny and justifies revolution, you seem to believe that tyranny is simply laws and policies you don’t like or didn’t vote for—a complicated tax code, airport screenings, auto emission regulations, the like.

You seem blithely willing to overlook the fact that, with extremely rare exceptions, revolutions involve violence—including the American Revolution.

Your silence about what means you would choose to “alter or abolish” the U.S. government speaks volumes to me.

If you mean amending the U.S. Constitution or electing new officeholders or peaceably assembling and petitioning government, that’s not “revolution.” That’s using the existing form of government to win changes.

I’m all in favor of that.

Those who signed the Declaration of Independence understood, as Jefferson wrote, that “governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes.”

They pointed to specific, “repeated injuries and usurpations,” drawing on understandings going back to John Locke’s treatise of 1689. When the governors prevent the legislative body from assembling or from acting freely, make threats to win votes, alter elections, fail to execute the laws and set up their arbitrary will in place of the laws, then revolution is justified.

But revolutions are not justified, as Locke wrote, simply because of “many wrong or inconvenient laws, and all the slips of human frailty.”

Ben, I’d ask you the same question that newly elected President Abraham Lincoln asked the Southern states after their revolutionary act of secession: What rights, plainly written in the Constitution, have been denied?

On July 4, 1861, Lincoln made a pitch for “exhaustion of all peaceful measures before a resort to any stronger ones.” The proper course, he argued, was “time, discussion and the ballot box.”

I have to say that I’m with The Beatles on this one: “You say you want a revolution/Well, you know/We all want to change the world/... But when you talk about destruction/Don’t you know that you can count me out.”

In this time of partisan dispute, let’s hope cool, conservative heads prevail, as Locke might say, over busy heads and turbulent spirits.

Original Source:



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