When a majority of progressive slugs call for thievery, I believe that a minority of “selfish” job creators may exercise Thoreau-style civil disobedience.
The Occupy Wall Street protestors setting up camp in Manhattan’s Financial District are not exercising civil disobedience. Rather, they are rousing hatred against an unprotected minority: The rich.
Henry David Thoreau is an American pioneer of civil disobedience. He refused to obey what he considered to be an unjust law—a “poll-tax.” This tax disenfranchised African American voters and Thoreau viewed it as an extension of slavery. Upon refusing to pay the poll-tax, Thoreau was arrested and sent to jail until (to his chagrin) his aunt bailed him out after one night.
In Thoreau’s essay “On the Duty of Civil Disobedience,” he points out that a warped society will perpetuate the notion that a man is “selfish” if he genuinely and completely helps his fellow men, while declaring a manipulator to be a “benefactor and philanthropist.”
Occupy Wall Street protestors wave signs like: “We are the 99%” and “Billionaires, your time is up” by day, and sleep on air mattresses in Zuccotti Park by night. They are essentially asking the government to steal from the rich. These protestors are brazen manipulators but the press hails them as progressives “seeking a voice” and President Obama says they represent the concerns of the American public.
Who is the unprotected minority here? Who is being attacked unjustly? The Occupy Wall Street Protestors are rallying against the wealthy capitalists and entrepreneurs who pay most of the nation’s taxes while they prance around in a park, sew sleeping bags and hold up New York traffic.
Thoreau-style civil disobedience occurs when a rational minority rises up and defends truth, not when an emotional majority storms the public square. Writes Thoreau, “But a government in which the majority rule in all cases cannot be based on justice, even as far as men understand it. … Why has every man a conscience, then? I think that we should be men first, and subjects afterward.”
Thoreau retreated to the woods. He built his house with his own hands and became self-sufficient. He was “desirous of being a good neighbor” and he had no qualm about paying fees like highway taxes. He respected the founding fathers and the Constitution but he abhorred slavery. He agreed to go to jail rather than give up his belief that all men are free and equal. In short, Thoreau only justifies disobeying the government when one is following the dictates of one’s conscience, or natural law.
In his Second Treatise of Civil Government, the philosopher John Locke wrote that there is “a law of nature … which obliges every one” and “reason … is that law.” Both Locke and Thoreau maintained that when a government acts against natural law—when it unjustly seizes a man’s property either directly or via unjust taxes—civil disobedience is justifiable. Thoreau explicitly states that: “[The government] can have no pure right over my person and property but what I concede to it.”
The protests in New York are marked by an absence of natural law, which comes from reason. Occupy Wall Street protestors are acting irrationally in attempting to overthrow the only system, namely capitalism, capable of generating the jobs and equal opportunity they claim to be fighting for.
The current administration is proposing a so-called jobs plan that will seize even more money from the rich—the “one percent” who take risks with their wealth and thereby create jobs and financial security for the “99 percent.”
Thoreau believed that “action from principle”—such as refusing to pay an unjust tax—is “essentially revolutionary.” When Thoreau refused to support slavery with his tax dollars he didn’t protest in the streets, hold up traffic or organize mass sleepovers in public parks. He didn’t ask rich people to pay more taxes so he could ride on their coattails.
Thoreau says that a single man who is courageous enough to stand up against an unjust law is infinitely more civil than a majority that merely opines about freedom: “Moreover, any man more right than his neighbors, constitutes a majority of one already.”
Imagine if one—just one—American billionaire refused to pay the Buffet Tax if it is implemented? Or refused to pay the full 35 percent corporate income tax rate? What if Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates agreed to go to jail for one night on principle? Would not this behavior, where a “selfish” minority opposes an unjust law on rational principle, be true civil disobedience?