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Resisting Tyranny: A Universal Right

by Stephen Lendman Saturday, Dec. 25, 2010 at 4:30 PM

Noted figures in support

Resisting Tyranny: A Universal Right - by Stephen Lendman

In America's Declaration of Independence, Jefferson declared:

"all men (are) created equal....with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (code for property). 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 to these ends. it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government," serving them "to effect their safety and happiness."

Long established governments shouldn't "be changed for light and transient causes....But when a long train of abuses and usurpations (establishes) absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government," replacing it with one serving everyone equitably.

In addition, Jefferson said "Resistance to tyranny is obedience to God." Women's rights advocate Susan B. Anthony also said "I shall earnestly and persistently continue to urge all women to the practical recognition of the old revolutionary maxim that 'Resistance to tyranny it obedience to God.' "

In his second Treatise of Government, as part of his social contract theory, English philosopher John Locke, the Father of Liberalism, addressed the "Right of Revolution," saying:

"....acting for the preservation of the Community, there can be but one Supream (sic) Power, which is the Legislature, to which all the rest are and must be subordinate, yet the Legislature being only a Fiduciary Power to act for certain ends, there remains still in the People a Supream Power to remove or alter the Legislature, when they find the Legislative act contrary to the trust reposed in them."

When government fails the people, its "trust must necessarily be forfeited, and the Power devolve into the hands of those that gave it, who may place it anew where they shall think best for their safety and security."

In other words, people have supreme power. Governments are instituted to serve them. When they fail, replacing them is their rightful choice, including by revolution.

St. Thomas Aquinas wrote:

"If the law purports to require actions that no-one should ever do, it cannot rightly be complied with; one's moral obligation is not to obey but to disobey....If the lawmakers (i) are motivated not by concern for the community's common good but by greed or vanity (private motivations that make them tyrants, whatever the content of their legislation), or (ii) act outside the authority granted to them, or (iii) while acting with a view to the common good apportion the necessary burdens unfairly, their laws are unjust and in the forum of reasonable conscience are not so much laws as acts of violence....Such laws lack moral authority, i.e. do not bind in conscience; one is neither morally obligated to conform nor morally obligated not to conform."

"All who govern in the interests of themselves rather than of the common good are tyrants....Against the regime's efforts to enforce its decrees, one has the right of forcible resistance; as a private right this could extend as far as killing the tyrant as a foreseen side-effect of one's legitimate self-defence."

Martin Luther King wrote:

"I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law."

King's strategy, his hoped for cycle of justice, was to disobey unjust laws, accept punishment, arouse public awareness, advocate legislative corrections, have them enacted, and change society beneficially. He practiced nonviolent civil disobedience, not revolution, no matter how just the latter. Importantly, however, he believed that fighting injustice depends on civil action. He defended it on moral grounds, saying "the time is always ripe to do right." He also said:

"I am convinced that noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good." He championed "creative protest." Passivity is no option in the face of injustice.

Published originally in 1849 as "Resistance to Civil Government," Henry David Thoreau's "Civil Disobedience" is an important landmark essay, Thoreau saying:

"Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree resign his conscience to the legislator?"

"The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think right."

"All men recognize the right of revolution; that is, the right to refuse allegiance to, and to resist, the government, when its tyranny or its inefficiency are great and unendurable."

"Unjust laws exist; shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor to amend them, and obey them until we have succeeded, or shall we transgress them at once?"

The state "is not armed with superior wit or honesty, but with superior physical strength. I was not born to be forced. I will breathe after my own fashion....They can only force me who obey a higher law than I."

Slavery, America's Mexican War, and unjust government motivated Thoreau to argue that no one has a duty to surrender his (or her) conscience to injustice. One way is by refusing to pay taxes for imperial wars. Another is by disobeying unjust laws. They deserve no respect, he said, and should be broken.

Famed essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson agreed, believing, on moral grounds, that unjust laws should be resisted. His "Representative Men" essays and campaign against slavery expressed his philosophy. As a committed abolishionist, he wrote:

"I think we must get rid of slavery or we must get rid of freedom....If you put a chain around the neck of a slave, the other end fastens itself around your own."

Slavery still exists in America, a topic an earlier article addressed, accessed through the following link:


Besides growing wage slavery, its forms are involuntary prostitution and sex services, domestic service, exploitive agriculture, sweatshops, restaurant and hotel work, and sexually exploiting children. It persists below the radar because regulatory prohibitions don't exist or aren't enforced.

The "Nullification" Concept

In the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson espoused "nullification" dogma that unjust governments should be abolished and replaced. Unjust laws also, those doing more harm than good or no good at all. Jefferson authored the 1798 Kentucky Resolve to nullify John Adams' Sedition Act, a law against free political speech, in which he wrote:

"Resolved, that the several States composing the United States of America, are not united on the principles of unlimited submission to their General Government, (that under the Constitution) certain definite powers (are) reserv(ed to) each State to itself, the residuary mass of right to their own self Government; and that whensoever the General Government assumes undelegated powers, its acts are unauthoritative, void, and of no force."

Also in 1798, Madison authored a similar Virginia Resolve, saying:

"in case of deliberate, palpable, and dangerous exercise of other powers, not granted by the (Constitution), the States who are parties thereto, have the right and are duty bound, to interpose for arresting the progress of the evil, and for maintaining within their respective limits, the authorities, rights and liberties appertaining to them."

Modern nullificationists have Jefferson and Madison as precedents, besides figures like St. Thomas Aquinas, John Locke, Thoreau, Emerson, Martin Luther King, and Mahatma Gandhi's spirit and satyagraha (truth force) - resisting tyranny by mass civil disobedience, in his case nonviolently.

In his book "Nullification: How to Resist Federal Tyranny in the 21st Century," Thomas E. Woods, Jr. wrote:

"Governments are notoriously difficult to control, even under the best of conditions."

"There has been no more destructive force in the history of the world than the modern state....The predatory modern state corrupts everything it touches."

"Nullification provides a shield between the people of a state and an unconstitutional law from the federal government....In the American system, the sovereigns are the peoples of the various states."

He explained "nullification," how it works, and why figures like Jefferson and Madison envisioned it as a constitutional tool individual states could use against the federal usurpations of their rights.

It means they can use their sovereign authority to nullify unjust federal laws regarding free speech, trade (like the WTO and NAFTA), unconstitutional searches and seizures, federalizing militias, military conscription, and lawless measures like the USA Patriot Act.

A key theme is that competing jurisdictions give liberty more breathing room as opposed to centralized unchallenged authority. It's vital to American freedoms. It champions checking absolute power, an idea more relevant now than ever against growing federal tyranny, heading the country for bankruptcy and ruin.

Advocacy for Palestinian Nullification

On November 27 Reuters headlined, "Hamas: Palestinians must resist against Israel in West Bank," saying:

Hamas leader Khaled Meshal (today at a Damascus news conference) said that his group faced 'huge challenges' in the West Bank as a force against Israel.

"Our inalienable rights are threatened with extinction if the scene in the West Bank does not change by launching the resistance against the Israeli occupation and the settlements."

"The Palestinian people will not be bribed. They will not be cowed by (America's US Security Coordinator for Israel and Palestine, Lt. Gen. Keith Dayton)."

Noting the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority's (PA) mass arrests of Hamas members, he denounced the bogus peace process, saying it will sell off Palestinians rights.

"We are not talking about a business deal or making a profit. Our only capital is the land, identity and dignity. When there is such an imbalance of power, negotiations become a process of daily humiliation." Negotiating under these conditions is surrender, not compromise.

Haaretz writer Gideon Levy agrees, telling The Real News Network (TRNN) last December 4:

"There is no peace process. It's a joke....There are some games going on, a masquerade, but not a real peace process, because nobody has the intention, really, to implement major steps. Israel wants negotiations (because) when (they're ongoing) the pressure on Israel is much smaller....For Israel, the negotiations are a win-win situation....(Just like Oslo, there may be) an agreement, another peace plan, but nobody does anything about it. This is the time to put an end to all negotiations."

Even a unified PA under Arafat, a strong leader, accomplished nothing. Divisions now between Fatah and Hamas assure failure. Israel knows it. So does Washington, Hamas and Fatah. It's time they said so publicly. Meshal did earlier and again on November 27.

A Final Comment

Israel's new referendum law defines Jerusalem as its "eternal and indivisible" capital, as well as requiring a two-thirds Knesset majority to cede East Jerusalem land to the Palestinians or in Golan to Syria. Failing that, either withdrawal would be subject to a national referendum. In other words, Jews alone will decide whether or not to return some stolen land. Those losing it have no say.

Israeli Professor Galia Golan called it an obstacle to peace, saying:

"It's another barrier towards any kind of an agreement. It's quite clear that any future deal has to deal with Jerusalem." While polls show Israelis favor an agreement, they'll vote otherwise about Jerusalem separately. "The good news," said Golan, "is that this is not a basic law and can be changed."

In his November 28 article titled, "Israel can't put occupation up for immoral referendum," Gideon Levy called it:

"Israeli trickery at its best: Legislators pass laws relating to the day an arrangement is forged whose point is to defer that day's arrival for as long as possible. And Israeli morality at its best: A manifestly immoral question is formulated for a referendum, and insult is added because only we Israelis, ("chosen people") will decide on the fate of another people (who've lived for decades) under occupation, and we dare to call all this tomfoolery democracy. In fact, this is Israeli chutzpah at its worst."

"Here's the real question: What the hell do you all want, and where are we headed? Settlements will keep being built, the occupation will deepen and consolidate...."

Eventually, all land Israel wants will be confiscated, developed solely for Jews. Nothing will remain to negotiate, and Israel will accomplish its goal - an exclusive Greater Israel, Jerusalem totally Judaized. Palestinians will be confined to worthless contonized scrub lands, exploited as beasts of burden, virtual slaves with no rights, no land, no capital, and no peace.

What better time and place for nullification, a proud people determined to resist, perhaps inspiring indifferent Americans to do likewise.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net. Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.


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