The Problem With Cliven Bundy

A Nevada rancher, Cliven Bundy, has (according to 4/16/14) “reignited the debate about federal power and states’ rights: When the Bureau of Land Management seized nearly 400 cattle belonging to Bundy for grazing on federal land without a permit, protesters gathered in a remote part of Clark County, Nev., to show their support for the rancher. Protesters reportedly appeared with weapons and briefly shut down part of Interstate 15, and federal agents used a stun gun on Bundy’s son …Citing rising tension, BLM agreed to return the cattle, but the government says the situation is far from over.”

According to Bundy, he does not recognize the validity of the U.S. federal government. He recognizes instead the sovereignty of the Nevada state government. [See the story for citations.]

State rights versus federal rights? It’s a classic example of a false alternative.

Rights apply to individuals; not governments. Governments exist to preserve, protect and implement the principle of individual rights. The most basic individual right is the right to property, i.e. the right to keep or dispose of your property as you see fit.

In his statements and actions, Bundy appears to be missing the point every bit as much as the federal Bureau of Land Management with whom he’s battling.

Bundy is basically attempting to spark a secession movement from the federal government. He’s anti-federal government, and it’s perfectly understandable. The BLM and other agencies of the federal government routinely and increasingly deny the principle of individual rights every chance they get. The whole premise of such an agency is that lands — at least lands considered valuable by the federal government — essentially belong to society as a whole. You keep or dispose of those lands only with the government’s permission.

The federal government doesn’t apply this injustice across the board and in every case, as a dictatorship would, but it nevertheless (in these contexts) is acting no different from a dictatorship. An attitude of anger or rebellion is perfectly reasonable, especially if it’s your property being seized or controlled by the government.

The problem with Cliven Bundy is that he’s bundling secession from the federal government into his rebellion. He’s taking this strategy for granted without first making a case for it. He’s saying, essentially, that he considers the state of Nevada sovereign, not the United States government. But does this mean the state of Nevada may do whatever it wishes with his property, instead of the BLM or other federal agents in Washington DC? It’s very unlikely this is what he wants, or means. But if you merely shift individual sovereignty (including private property) from one government to another, you haven’t accomplished anything; in fact, you might even make things worse, with all the unintended or unanticipated consequences of secession (none the least of which a civil war, which will certainly ensue.)

What we’re left with is a false alternative: Either support secession and state control of the individual, on the one side; or support the BLM and its constitutionally invalid, often arbitrary actions (part of a much bigger federal government problem), on the other.

It’s in this sense that I refuse to take a side. In a certain sense, my heart is with a rebellion against the unjust and arbitrary seizure or manipulation of private property via the federal government. But I’m not convinced that handing over power to our respective states is the answer, either.

The real battle here isn’t against the federal government. It’s for the preservation and restoration of the rights of the individual. The federal government has abandoned that principle, although it’s still contained in and implied by the original American Constitution. It’s for that document and principle that battles must be fought and won — not in some attitude of pure anger, victim-think or anarchy.  I absolutely favor a radical position in favor of individual and property rights. But why propose secession? What will that solve? Why not propose eliminating or defunding the BLM as a more rational starting point?

Bundy and his ilk see salvation in the state of Nevada. But the state voted twice for Obama (2008 and 2012), and is the same state who keeps returning U.S. Senate Majority leader Harry Reid to power. Reid has called Bundy a “terrorist.” In what world does Bundy think the state of Nevada will be his friend any more than the U.S. federal government has been?

By the way, civil disobedience is not terrorism. Reid and his cohort, Vice President Joe Biden, have applied the label “terrorist” to anyone who disagrees with any Obama administration policies, including Obamacare. A terrorist is someone who initiates violence for its own sake, not someone who disputes the ruling authority.

Opponents of Bundy call him an “extremist.” The implication here is that any consistent, principled position is always wrong. The BLM is right, so long as it doesn’t go “too far,” and (presumably) Bundy is also right, so long as he doesn’t go “too far.” By such an absurd and non-defined standard, anything a government does is acceptable so long as it does so in small doses. Maybe a little bit of Nazism or Communism would have been all right; the problem is that these systems went all the way?

I suspect what some people mean by “too far” is initiating violence. That’s fair enough, but that brings us back to the only proper justification of government (state or federal) in the first place: To protect the individual from force or fraud. In that respect, and in that respect alone, we need a government who will be strong, assertive and consistent.

The problem with our big, expansive federal government which denies individual rights every day is that it ultimately leads to disputes of this kind. If you hate Cliven Bundy, then fine. But remember that the real entity to blame here is the federal government itself. Cliven Bundy is only a symptom of the dissension and restlessness, and perhaps even civil war, which inevitably comes about when any government abandons principles of reason, individualism and justice.

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