Healthy Defiance Protects Us From the Control Freak Majority

Decoysschmuck-by-natureAn old joke has a policeman parking his car outside a bar shortly before closing time. He's certain he'll bag a tipsy driver or two toward his arrest quota. Immediately, an obvious drunk stumbles from the bar. The drunk drops and retrieves his car keys repeatedly as people leave the bar, enter their vehicles and head home. Convinced that he's found an easy target, the officer ignores the departing crowd. Finally, the drunk reaches the last remaining car, enters and starts the engine. The officer flips on his lights, pulls his cruiser next to the drunk's car—and receives a shock. Grinning and stone-cold sober, the man says, "How's it going officer? I'm tonight's designated decoy."

You don't have to approve of drunk driving to enjoy the joke's rebellious spirit. The idea of people working together to defeat enforcement of a law they dislike draws from a deep-rooted tradition of healthy disrespect for authority in a country founded in revolution.

Of course, some folks take exception to such a spirit of rebellion. They insist that in a democracy like ours, laws are expressions, through our representatives, of the will of the people, and should be obeyed. That will has expressed itself recently through regulations that make pat-down searches a matter of course in airports, demands that property owners get government permission before building on their own land, and bans on smoking in privately owned businesses or drinking large soft drinks. "The people" have apparently become a bunch of busybodies.

Troubling though that is, it's not unexpected. In the 19th century, Alexis de Tocqueville, the French political and cultural journalist, observed, "The French under the old monarchy held it for a maxim that the king could do no wrong. The Americans entertain the same opinion with respect to the majority."

De Tocqueville went on to warn, "If ever the free institutions of America are destroyed, that event may be attributed to the omnipotence of the majority."

America is an enthusiastically democratic country, if the taste for referenda and recall elections is any indicator. But Americans increasingly demand that majority preferences be enforced in areas of life that were previously left to individual choice.

Directly or through elected representatives, voters call on government to abridge civil liberties to combat terrorism, restrict the use of private property so non-owners can enjoy pretty views, order Americans to buckle their seatbelts, and saddle even the smallest businesses with crippling regulations intended to make people healthier, happier, or less inconvenienced.

The story of modern American democracy isn't just a litany of rights violations. Voters also go to the polls to legalize the medical and recreational use of marijuana, reform asset-forfeiture laws, legalize same-sex marriage, and unseat gun-restricting politicians. But the fact that people who want to be left alone have to win their victories at the ballot box demonstrates that individual rights—on which even a democratic government can't legitimately trample—have taken a back seat to the "will of the people."

Democracy and liberty are barely on speaking terms in modern America.

In his 2003 book, The Future of Freedom, Fareed Zakaria warned that democracy is spreading to countries with no tradition of limited government, personal freedom, or the rule of law. Contrary to classroom fairytales about democracy going hand-in-hand with freedom, the result has been a plague of "illiberal democracies" in which elections lead to intrusive laws and repressive regimes. Zakaria echoed the historian J.L. Talmon who cautioned decades earlier that "totalitarian democracy" stood in stark contrast to the individualistic liberal variety, and used elections to enforce "a sole and exclusive truth in politics."

America, with its growing web of laws, regulations, licenses and inspectors imposed by elected officials or by referenda, is abandoning its own traditions of limited government in favor of this unfortunate trend toward democratically imposed intolerance and conformity.

Fortunately, not all of us feel bound to obey the illiberal will of the majority; some people remain wedded to the idea that they have a right to run their own lives no matter what happens at the ballot box. These people are Edward Snowden. They're stubborn restaurant owners who ignore foie gras bans. They're tech company owners who shut their doors rather than collaborate with the surveillance state. They're jurors who free defendants who violated laws that shouldn't exist. Separately and together, these dissenters do their best to thwart democratic tyranny.

This minority of free-thinking and free-acting people have effectively chosen to be our "designated decoys." We owe them our thanks—and we need a lot more like them.

A version of this column appeared in newspapers including the Denver Post.

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  • Live Free or Diet||

    Grinning and stone-cold sober, the man says, "How's it going officer? I'm tonight's designated decoy."

    Obstruction of justice, driving after demonstrating visible impairment...

  • Snark Plissken||

    Littering...and creating a nuisance.

  • Ted S.||

    At least they didn't kill his dog.

  • Rich||

    Resisting (other peoples') arrest

  • Square||

    Don't forget conspiracy!

  • Snark Plissken||

    This minority of free-thinking and free-acting people have effectively chosen to be our "designated decoys." We owe them our thanks—and we need a lot more like them.

    Well said JD.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    The modern GOP utilized this 'abdication of rights via ballot' crusade with anti-gay marriage and anti-abortion movements.

    On the bright side, tort reform owes its success to the states.

    OT: After the Broncs/Boys game 60 Minutes aired a piece on the epidemic of Kentucky/West Virginia SSDI fraud cases. The "welfare queen" of the new millennium is a Red State Rand Paul voter!

  • wareagle||

    welfare queens come in all shapes, from the stereotypical baby mama to white trash to Big Whatever. 60 Minutes, predictably, went after a specific narrative. Then again, you would have to be intellectually honest to notice that.

  • KPres||

    Oh, shrikey...

    Share of Recipients of each program that self-identified as supporters of Republican party in 2004-2007 Maxwell Poll:

    Gov. Subsidized Housing: 12%
    Medicaid: 16%
    Food Stamps: 20%
    Unemployment Compensation: 21%
    Welfare or public assistance: 22%
    Disability benefits from government 25%

    Wish as you may, the welfare queens are still Democrats.

    http://wallstreetpit.com/89671.....epublican/

  • Carolynp||

    Curses! Liberals foiled by math again!

  • ||

    Saw that report. It figures that you'd focus on that when in fact you should be concerned about fixing disability fraud regardless of where it is.

    But I don't need to remind you, what, with you being a classical liberal and all.

  • MJGreen||

    He's not too worried. All this fraud will become a big non-issue with Obamacare.

  • Scarecrow Repair||

    I would have guessed Warren Buffet.

  • Brian||

    After the Broncs/Boys game 60 Minutes aired a piece on the epidemic of Kentucky/West Virginia SSDI fraud cases. The "welfare queen" of the new millennium is a Red State Rand Paul voter!

    I thought West Virginia elected this guy for 40 years.
    Is there a new Rand Paul lookalike from West Virginia I'm not aware of?
    Apparently, not.
    Old people on the government dole for SSDI != limited government, Rand Paul supporters. That's like saying that the latest shooting in Washington DC shows that the latest gun nuts are DC democrat beuractats.

  • ||

    The modern Democratic Party utilized this 'abdication of rights via ballot' crusade with ObamaCare.

    "It's the law of the land, bitchez. Suck it up, we won! "

  • mtrueman||

    I'm not sure that the perpetrators of welfare fraud are so different from the designated decoy at the beginning of the article. The fact they include now Rand Paul supporters should make the similarities clearer. By fraudulently claiming welfare, they subvert the purpose and make it all the more difficult for those whom the welfare programmes are intended to benefit from them - a decoy by any definition. And they undermine democracy in America. They deserve praise, I would have thought, rather than stigmatization.

  • DenverJay||

    I heard a NPR story about this a while ago that went into a bit of detail. The way they spun it (and remember: you don't get more lefty than the NPR), a large part of the growth in SSDI cases is a result of policies pursued by state employees. Social workers in many states were under orders to try to shift costs to the Feds. Many welfare and unemployment programs are administrated and (partially) funded by the states, while SSDI is a Federal Program. So, help them get on disability, and the state gets them off their books.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    I thought this article was all over the place until the end when Too Chilly circled back around to decoys. So I was caught like the copper going after the faux stumbler.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    Graham, who is preparing for possibly his last crusade, this time via video, said America is drenched in a "sea of immorality" and suggested that the second coming of Christ is "near."

    “Our early fathers led our nation according to biblical principles,” Graham wrote in response. “‘Hope and change’ has become a cliché in our nation, and it is daunting to think that any American could hope for change from what God has blessed,” he stated, an obvious reference to President Obama’s campaign motto.

    Why does a nutcase Newsmax news feed line the margin of this page? And isn't it a shame that Billy Graham and his sorry-ass lying POS son are still around but Christopher Hitchens is not so he could give them the Jerry Falwell treatment when the old codger dies?

  • Ted S.||

    Why does a nutcase Newsmax news feed line the margin of this page?

    Ever heard of advertising? I know during the elections last year, we had nutcases like Elizabeth Warren advertising here.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    I miss the Hitch although I had profound disagreements with him. Fighting Islamo-fascism is a noble cause but the Iraq War was no way to do it.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    You constantly rail against "wingnut" soundbite-phrases and then you go and use the most FOX-News-iest of them all!

    PB, you are a trip, man!

  • ||

    Elizabeth Warren: Little High Cheek Bones.

  • ||

    Curious. What's your opinion of Mediamatters and Thinkprogess?

  • OneOut||

    What has Billy Graham's son done that deserves your venom ?

  • wareagle||

    But Americans increasingly demand that majority preferences be enforced in areas of life that were previously left to individual choice.

    and, for proggies, this is a feature of the system. So successful has been their inculcation of the notion that govt knows best that even conservatives often subscribe to the rationalization of "if you're not doing anything wrong....". No, fuck you. Proving my innocence is not the burden, nor do I work for govt; it's the other way around.

  • The Immaculate Trouser||

    IMO democracy supplanting liberty as the primary American value is another area where progressives have poisoned both themselves and conservatism. It is very common to hear some variant of "the people have spoken" in response to a violation of rights -- as if that in any way justifies the action being undertaken.

  • Square||

    Howard Zinn actually describes the Constitution as a document intended to prevent left-wing revolution - he saw it as one of the last barriers against true democracy.

  • Wizard4169||

    And he was right.The Constitution was intended to prevent tyranny, whether exercised by a minority of oligarchs or a majoritarian mob.

  • Ketogenic Paleo||

    Sorry to nitpick but it isn't progressives but people who are Utopians that are the problem because they need big gov't to implement their genius ideas, as the unwashed masses don't know what's good for them, and they always see themselves as being on the side of Good vs their opponents who are simply Evil.
    It is this Good vs Evil mentality & the accompanying refusal to listen to your opponents that's the problem. Thomas Sowell talks about this a lot & his model for seeing the political divide between nearly all of the Left and nearly all of the Right is a good one. It even explains why the media naturally tends towards the Left.
    It just so happens lefties suffer from this more but some on the right have this problem too i.e. paternalistic types & theocrats & I would argue some anarcho-capitalists that would support statelessness no matter what.

  • The Immaculate Trouser||

    Great article, though it is sad that it has to be written about the US. While people can always find ways to get around laws, the ideal circumstance -- and the one which allows for the greatest prosperity for the greatest number of people -- is one where rule of law and individual rights go hand in hand. Go to Buenos Aires, and you'll see plenty of entrepreneurial people flouting their country's asinine laws. You'll also see far fewer large businesses, finance, and general prosperity than in the US, because the entrepreneurs have to operate in the shadows for their defiance to remain within bounds where they aren't being sent to jail.

    Is TP-less Venezuela better off with black markets than without? Yes, but it would be far better off with legal markets for those goods and services which any free person should be able to avail themselves of.

  • sarcasmic||

  • Aloysious||

    +1 Metallica

  • sarcasmic||

    Those darned libertarians are trying to impose liberty onto society!
    Don't they realize that it will take force to force those who initiate force to stop initiating force? That's an initiation of force and a violation of their beloved NAP!
    /Tony

  • ||

    I was watching the recovery operation of Black Hawk Down on 60 Minutes last night.

    It makes me laugh pundits and dumbasses alike think Somalia is libertarianism at work. No it's not. It's chaos brought about by Islamic murderous warloads and Al-Queda. Nay, it's (was) religious nihilism.

    Whatever it is/was, that ain't libertarianism or classical liberalism.

  • sarcasmic||

    Well, yeah! I mean, if there is something you don't want government to do, then you don't want that something to be done by anyone at all! I mean, if government doesn't do it, then tell me specifically who will do it! You can't! You can't tell me who will fill the void because no one will! Don't give me this crap about markets! Freedom means asking permission and taking orders! If there's no one to give permission and orders, then there is no freedom! So the logical conclusion of limiting government is no government and no nothing because no one will do those things government once did, and no one will be giving permission and giving orders!

    Anarchy! Chaos! Somalia!

  • Square||

    Someone had a fairly brilliant comment recently (I think it was Brian) about how if you set a church on fire, the people who come running out screaming are not atheists, and the resulting situation is not what an atheist society looks like.

    Wanted to hunt down the exact line, but I couldn't remember where I saw it.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    An old joke has a policeman...

    You forgot the punchline. "The cop, angry at being outsmarted, smashes the driver's window in a fit of rage. He then attempts to pull the man out of the driver's seat. The man instinctually puts up his arms in self-defense. This modicum of self-preservation instinct further enrages the cop, who begins pummeling the man's skull. The cop then screams into his radio, asking for backup, while shouting "Stop resisting! Stop resisting!" The man, however, had already succumbed to the repeated blows to his brainpan and is already in a deep coma. After 15 minutes, the cop's "backup" arrive and they help him cuff the bloody and conscious man and take him to the station. The man's body is then thrown in a cell. When the man is checked upon, 24 hours later, it is found that he died from a cerebral hemorrhage.

    And nothing else happened."

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    *unconscious

  • grey||

    +1 for sad truth saying. If you'd had the officer of the law shoot his dog (who was sleeping in the back seat) the story could have been more realistic.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    "The nagging fear that someone, somewhere, might be enjoying himself."

  • grey||

    It's always interesting to see a liberal journalist's own concerns be used in defense of liberty. Even though Fareed Zakaria will never answer the next logical questions as to how an individual may be protected from a majority or even ask after the philosophy from where this right to self owership arises.

  • Robert||

    Americans increasingly demand that majority preferences be enforced in areas of life that were previously left to individual choice.


    I'm not convinced that's true. It's certainly not self-evident; evidence for it can easily be juxtaposed with evidence against. Show me something convincing that this is an actual trend, rather than an observ'n of selected incidents.

  • DH||

    the Washington Post said that 91%of Americans support Universal Background checks, and 74% of us NRA members support universal background checks so it must be true.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/.....slam-dunk/

  • Robert||

    But how do you know those wouldn't've been the poll answers any time in the past?

  • Robert||

    More importantly, how does this support Jerry Jr.'s assertion that "Americans increasingly demand" such things, when all it is is an answer to a poll? You ask people a question, they tell you their preference; doesn't mean they'd've lifted a finger for it on their own.

  • Square||

    I agree - if the US has always had a strong rebellious streak, it's also always had a mouth-frothingly self-righteous sector of the population crusading against public immorality.

    A significant proportion of the early settlers, after all, were Puritans who were kicked out of both England and Holland (two of the most religiously tolerant countries on the planet) because of their rabid intolerance for any behavior they didn't condone.

  • LarryA||

    England may be religiously tolerant now, but back in the 1600s failure to worship the Anglican way was a serious offense. On into the 1700s even Methodist meetings were subject to being raided.

  • Ornithorhynchus||

    Yeah. England's religious tolerance didn't begin until the end of the Civil War (and even then it was very intolerant by modern standards), which was after most of the Puritan settlement of New England.

  • Square||

    There was a wild pendulum swing - Elizabeth started out very hard on the Catholics, but then moved towards more of a "don't ask, don't tell" policy later in her reign. Secret gatherings, while known, were tolerated; propagandizing was not.

    That policy of relative tolerance continued until Charles I, who started trying to force people to be Anglican, and that resulted in the Civil War and the rise of Cromwell's Commonwealth, which was an iron-fisted Puritan theocracy.

    After the Restoration, policies of religious tolerance came to be more firmly enshrined in British Law. The Commonwealth crowd were exiled.

    They came here.

  • Flyboy||

    To this:

    I'm not sure it's true of the whole of society. I am fairly convinced that the legislating class believes it to be true. Remember, our government is composed of people who sought power, who think that they would do well to be in charge; fundamentally, that means they think they can do a better job of running the show than anybody else. That being the case, they're naturally going to be out-of-touch with the "I can run my own life" crowd.

    I'm convinced that power seeks more power. I'm not convinced that the People agree with offering more power.

  • Robert||

    The out-of-touch-ness is especially striking with present & former prosecutors & judges. They see a very skewed sample of humanity.

    I'm convinced that power seeks more power. I'm not convinced that the People agree with offering more power.


    Could it be, then, that fluctuations in net power-seeking are a result of the ebb & flow of trust in Top Men? That is, at times "the People" see more need to have faith in elected & appointed officials, and at other times less? It is said that Watergate had a profound effect for some years on feelings in that regard in at least the USA.

  • ReasonableS||

    A more healthy defiance of unjust laws was the backbone of the Civil Rights movement, civil disobedience where people don't attempt to evade the consequences of their defiance, they force law enforcement and legislators to face the consequences of creating and enforcing an unjust law.

  • ||

    some people remain wedded to the idea that they have a right to run their own lives no matter what happens at the ballot box. These people are Edward Snowden. They're stubborn restaurant owners who ignore foie gras bans. They're tech company owners who shut their doors rather than collaborate with the surveillance state. They're jurors who free defendants who violated laws that shouldn't exist.

    And they are also Republican Tea Party congressmen who shut down the government rather than go along with the ACA.

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  • jdgalt||

    I'm not all that sure that a lasting majority supports all those control-freak laws; politicians are good at selling them by inventing phony emergencies to justify each one, but eventually the public sees through each of those lies.

    Still, some parts of our freedom, at least, can and should be placed beyond the reach of legislators by putting them in constitutions.

  • elfieareeda||

    my roomate's mother-in-law makes $62 hourly on the internet. She has been fired for 8 months but last month her income was $19895 just working on the internet for a few hours. Read Full Article================

    http://www.Works23.Com

  • Ketogenic Paleo||

    Part of the problem is this irrational belief that democratic governments are "for the people, of the people, by the people", when in reality they are just glorified dictatorships that peacefully change leaders every few years. Politicians are still the nobility, only in another name. People who would naturally oppose and distrust the rule of monarchic governments seem perfectly fine allowing democratic governments to run their lives, forgetting that rulers basically think the same way between democracies and monarchies, they only operate differently but what's the point when The People vote for their own subjugation (and then complain about it)?

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