Recently, Cliven Bundy and his supporters had a showdown with the United States Bureau of Land Management (BLM) over grazing rights on land claimed by the federal government. They started rounding up Mr. Bundy's cattle but were confronted by armed, liberty-minded people. Fortunately, the feds backed down. (Those needing to get up to speed on this can do so here.) LewRockwell.com published a great article written by a former federal agent speculating on how the US government will retaliate titled “What’s Next for the Bundys?”. All of this got me thinking about the power the federal government has and why it shouldn't have it.
The useless constitution seems to be clear about what the federal government can and can't do. Article I, Section 8, clause 15 is the only part of the constitution that mentions how the federal government can enforce its laws. It reads “To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions” [emphasis added] That's it, nowhere else does the constitution mention how to enforce federal law. The 10th Amendment limits the federal government's powers to only those listed. Nowhere does the constitution give the US government the power to create law enforcement agencies. This makes the BLM and the rest of the alphabet soup of federal law enforcement agencies unconstitutional.
The point of having a well regulated militia is to avoid arming the government in the first place. Informing the Founders on this subject was one of John Trenchard's Cato's Letters, No. 95 Further Reasonings against Standing Armies. In it he warns:
It is certain, that all parts of Europe which are enslaved, have been enslaved by armies; and it is absolutely impossible, that any nation which keeps them amongst themselves can long preserve their liberties; nor can any nation perfectly lose their liberties who are without such guests: And yet, though all men see this, and at times confess it, yet all have joined in their turns, to bring this heavy evil upon themselves and their country.
Modern readers can be forgiven for thinking that we don't have an army among us. In order to get around the people's antipathy to having soldiers on the streets ruling us police forces were introduced in the mid-nineteenth century. Think of the standing army not as literally a military force but as any organized bodies of armed men under the government's control. Today's standing law enforcement establishment functions domestically the way a standing army would. That's exactly what we saw on display at the Bundy ranch. During the debates over the Second Amendment Rep. Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts argued:
What, Sir, is the use of a militia? It is to prevent the establishment of a standing army, the bane of liberty .... Whenever Governments mean to invade the rights and liberties of the people, they always attempt to destroy the militia, in order to raise an army upon their ruins.
Imagine if the government didn't have the BLM and its thugs to bully Cliven Bundy. Imagine if to go after him congress would have had to meet and then vote to call forth the Nevada militia. Does anyone seriously think that a militia composed of Mr. Bundy's neighbors would have even tried to enforce the federal government's tyranny on him? Of course not. If we don't give the government the power to oppress it won't. The only way to secure our rights is to disarm the government while arming and organizing the people.
A note on the “militias” that protected the Bundy ranch. They were brave, determined people that I'm glad succeeded in defending the ranch. What they aren't is militias in the sense meant by the Founders and thinkers like Trenchard. The militias are supposed to be part of the system not groups or individuals outside of it. Explaining the issue from a constitutional point of view Edwin Viera wrote an excellent article on the subject titled “True Vs. False Militia And Why The Difference Matters”. In it he wrote:
As wholly private organizations with no legal authority peculiar to themselves-- for certainly not a single one of them has been empowered by a State statute to participate in the activities they have taken upon themselves -- these "militias" are necessarily not parts of the government of any State or Locality. Indeed, they view themselves as at least potential antagonists and opponents of "the government" in general
“Militias” set up outside of the system are revolutionary groups. (I don't want to be misunderstood here. I'm not saying opposing the government is wrong or bad, I'm just trying to set the record straight about what militias really are.) Mr. Viera gets the principle right though his application is wrong. As an anarchist libertarian I'm more anti-government than any “militia” member will ever be. What we need aren't constitutional militias but militias that are part of a stateless system.
The bottom line is that if the government didn't have a “standing army” in the form of the BLM and the system's enforcers were the very people that tyranny would be inflicted on they couldn't even have tried to do what they did. Imagine that, our liberties would be secure and the Bundy ranch free of federal invaders.