24 April 2014

Bundy vs Occupy

A Facebook friend asks, in a discussion of Cliven Bundy:

Occupy San Francisco was permitted to illegally occupy Justin Herman Plaza for a month. Where was the liberal outrage?

This is a fair question.

There are a number of meaningful differences between Occupy and Bundy.

Occupy was an act of classical non-violent civil disobedience, violating the law while recognizing the legitimacy of the government. If and when cops would arrest Occupiers, while they did not coöperate, neither did they actively resist.

The case for civil disobedience as part of the democratic process is well-defined and well-accepted; we make kids read King's Letter from a Birmingham Jail and Thoreau's Civil Disobedience in school. Civil disobedience is a way of getting a democracy to change unjust laws by revealing the injustices they produce; it fundamentally respects and supports liberal democratic institutions and seeks to improve them.

Bundy and his supporters, in contrast, engaged in active armed resistance, rejecting the legitimacy of the duly-constituted and democratically elected government. When cops came for them, they drew guns and promised a fight.

The case for active armed resistance is also well-defined and well-accepted; we make kids read the Declaration of Independence in school. And it says that armed revolt is justified when a government is not a liberal democracy, when it is regarded as illegitimate by its citizens.

But the US government is regarded as legitimate by its citizens, and while its liberal democratic mechanisms are not as strong I would like them to be, they are there. Bundy's movement does not fundamentally respect the US's liberal democratic qualities; it actively rejects and attacks them through threat of violence.

There is a name for a “populist” movement by an armed minority which attacks the legitimacy of liberal democratic institutions in the name of the nation's “true spirit” which must be rescued from the corrupting influence of lesser races through acts of redemptive violence. It is not “civil disobedience”. It is something else.

Update: Historian Rick Perlstein observes:

Here is a truth so fundamental that it should be self-evident: When legitimately constituted state authority stands down in the face of armed threats, the very foundation of the republic is in danger. And yet that is exactly what happened at Cliven Bundy’s Nevada ranch this spring: An alleged criminal defeated the cops, because the forces of lawlessness came at them with guns — then Bureau of Land Management officials further surrendered by removing the government markings from their vehicle to prevent violence against them.


Wizard Lizard the Magick Educator said...

{I'm a wee bit tired from serving my sir for the last 12 hours, so please call me out gently and with compassion if any of this comes across as too harsh or even trollish}

"But the US government is regarded as legitimate by its citizens,"

How do you know this and what does it mean? I'm certainly no fan of Bundy's -- and don't think my anarchism would assert that what he did was any sort of legitimate blow against an illegitimate government, 'cause it wouldn't -- but he is, ultimately, a citizen of these United States. As are all of his supporters. As am I, and all the other anarchists out there who don't regard the US government as legitimate. As are all the others who DO.

There were citizens of England who believed King George's to be legitimate (I would assume most of the subjects of the Crown IN Britain, for example). There were colonists who agreed (the further South, the more of them there were, in point of fact, but Tories weren't exactly uncommon in the North either). Hell, there were probably plenty of rebels who believed the Crown's government to be legitmate, only not legitimate FOR THEM.

If the regard of "the citizens" is to be our metric, then we need to have some serious discussions about how to measure it. It seems all too easy to me to create in-groups, cliques, scapegoats, insurmountable boundaries, and enemies otherwise.

--Princess Teacup.

Jonathan Korman said...

The question of legitimacy is admittedly a tricky one.

In times of political upheaval, the citizenry can have very mixed ideas about the legitimacy of the government. I don't have a bright line for the key, defining transition when a polity's government has lost its legitimacy.

But that's beyond the scope of this post because the US is nowhere near that threshold.

One may argue politics at a family dinner and have an uncle say that Congress are a bunch of numbskulls who do not understand what the country stands for, with other people at the table seeing that as an opinion they vigorously disagree with but respect. But an uncle who says that the institution of Congress itself isn't really to be accepted as the US government? Such people do exist --- there will always be some people rejecting any government's legitimacy --- but the vast majority of Americans would not simply disagree, but regard that as not a valid opinion worthy of respect at all.