By Nathan Barton
“Your right to swing your arms ends just where the other man’s nose begins.”
It is a quote many of us (self-governors, libertarians, anarchists, Christians) have heard. It was written by Zechariah Chafee, Jr., a man few know anything about.
He was something almost unheard of today: a lawyer and college professor (at Harvard, no less) who was a classical liberal – a libertarian, in other words. He was an advocate of civil rights, and of freedom of speech in particular. A New Englander, he taught until a year before he died in 1957, and before New England turned fully into the progressive sewer that it is today. And before Harvard and the other elite schools, public and private, became the enemies of free speech and other liberties.
He opposed the Wilson regime’s actions during the Great War (WW1) and has been called “Freedom’s Prophet” for his writings and teaching, including his last book, The Blessings of Liberty. While he was certainly not an anarchist, he was a reasonably-rational (and even extreme) minarchist. I suspect that if he lived today, he would have been far more radical. Much of what he warned would happen has – and things of which he did not even dream.
Government, bad as it was under Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and Franklin Roosevelt, has become intolerably more bad as we near the end of the second decade of the twenty-first century.
We are indeed boiled frogs.
Claire Wolfe, in her classic book “Don’t Shoot…” , wrote in part about a vital question. “Where do we draw the line?” How far do we allow government (or ANY aggressor) to go before we react with more than words? Words (like this commentary) are useful, even valuable. We can gripe, complain, and attack with words – gain support and encourage resistance. And words can easily lead directly to peaceful resistance: civil disobedience. But at what point do we respond to violence with violence?
I’m not talking about revenge: I am writing about actions – violent actions – to respond to violent aggression against us (and others: family, friends, neighbors, and even people we don’t even have a direct connection to). When do we counter violence with violence?
It is something that has been debated for a long time – much longer than Claire or Mama Liberty, than Zechariah Chaffee, or the Founding Fathers. There was a Man who once spoke about “going the second mile” and “turning the other cheek.”
Like that Man, Chaffee came to a conclusion: perhaps a bit more permissive than the earlier prophet. My nose: direct physical harm. (Actually, he may not be that far off the “other cheek” – a slap is an insult, and not the physical damage associated with getting punched in the nose.)
But applying that standard on a daily basis and in our own time is tough. And it is hard to actually apply what we have reasoned out to the next situation we face.
Years ago (back in the 1970s) I took a job in eastern Rhode Island, working with people there and in nearby parts of Massachusetts. I would often hear local people talking about the taxes that increased yearly, the laws and regulations that cost so much time and money to comply with, the growing welfare state, and more problems with government. I was told by several people that if things continued like this for just another five or ten years, there would be revolution. They compared themselves to their ancestors in the early 1770s.
They were, of course, wrong. Instead, even though matters grew worse, government demands increased on a constant basis, and taxes, debt, and regulations exploded, right there in New England, people accepted it. Again and again and again. So that now, more than 40 years later, New England endures a tyranny as bad as any in Old England, and arguably far worse than those states enjoyed in the 1770s. And the 1970s.
Those people who told me that they could not tolerate much more clearly found a way to do so. And do so today.
To put it another way, they are the very reason that they are subject to the abuses of government today. Because they kept wiping out that line in the sand and drawing a new one, only to again change how far they were willing to go. They refused to take a stand.
Of course, it isn’t just a matter of physical aggression: taxation and regulations being prime examples. Yes, ultimately, taxation is enforced by the threat of physical violence. But how often do we actually reach that point? Even when there is physical aggression, and the threat of violence, the vast majority of people give up and do not fight. Even when thrown off their farms, out of their homes, out of their businesses.
Part of this is obviously fear of being harmed or killed. But is it possible that part of it is not a lack of physical courage, but a fear of what will happen to family and friends? And is it possible that much of it is due to a lack of MORAL courage? Of not holding the principles that we claim are dear to Americans? Of liberty, of freedom, of doing what is right, even if we do not win?
Answer that question in your own heart before you have to answer in the heat of a crisis.