"By pursuing his own interest [every individual] frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it. I have never known much good done by those who affected to trade for the public good." ~ Adam Smith
A Cold Day in April
Column by Emmett Harris.
Exclusive to STR
The prior day's clinging dampness had given way to clear yet cool conditions by the pre-dawn hours of April 19, 1775. Gusts of wind came from the west and the temperature felt colder and rawer than the 46 degrees showing on local thermometers. A robust fire kept the chill away inside Buckman Tavern, but the atmosphere stubbornly maintained an unseen, leaden presence. John Parker exhaled slowly. Another hour would be enough, he thought. If word hadn't arrived by then, he could send the men home. He raised a tankard to his lips, and sipped the last drops of tepid ale that remained. Then the tavern's front door swung inward with a crash and Thaddeus Bowman lurched across the threshold. The room stilled and even the crackling of the fire seemed to pause. Parker read the face of his scout and lowered the pewter mug to the table. In the quiet of the room, the action made a sound like distant musket fire. No one spoke. Captain John Parker rubbed a calloused hand over his face, stood, and pushed past Bowman into the blusterous morning.
Five days earlier, the military governor of Massachusetts, British General Thomas Gage, had received orders from London to disarm the local insurgents and imprison their identifiable leaders, such as Samuel Adams and John Hancock. The punitive Intolerable Acts of 1774 had not quelled the recalcitrant colonists. Instead, it added another lesion to the cluster of sores that had been festering for almost a decade. From the perspective of the Crown, the time had come for action. Weapons elevated even the smallest of gnats into a potentially dangerous adversary, and the local militias were known to be collecting arms caches. Thus, it was time to defang the provocateurs.
Emerson immortalized our conception of what happened later that morning of the 19th, as the first rays of light broke across the commons in Lexington. The skirmish between Captain Parker's militiamen and the British regulars was the first official salvo of the American Revolution . . . and it all started over attempted gun confiscation.
Fast forward to April 2013.
Americans no longer face the prospect of being disarmed by a foreign military. The redcoats now are homegrown and use surreptitious methods to achieve the same aim. Unlike Parker and his contemporaries, more and more people today are willingly acceding to an increasing train of abuses and usurpations. They do so because tyranny is beyond a remote concept for them, it is an impossibility. Tyranny is something that only happens in other countries. Either the gulag is in your face or it doesn't exist.
While belief in American exceptionalism is comforting to some, it is a form of hubris that ignores the nature of bureaucracy. When Jefferson warned that “the natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground,” he probably had bureaucracy in mind. Bureaucracy is the maze of rules and regulations that collectively restrict the ability to live. Bureaucracy is stultifying in all organizations, but it is the hidden structure beneath tyranny, where disobedience is met with real or implied force. Tyranny's outward face can be truly horrific or mildly disturbing. Both are facets of the mailed fist. Enough of Parker's generation recognized this and were willing to stand in opposition to it. Today, too many live in fear of threats that are far more removed than the bureaucratic face of homegrown oppressions.
As the calendar nears the 19th of April this year and a cold wind whispers across the commons in our memories, imagine the belfry alerting John Parker's men to assemble. Their spirit still lives and we should harness that to reflect on the bureaucratic corruption that has crept into the souls of so many of our fellow countrymen. The purpose shouldn't be to ridicule but to find those kernels of self-determination that have been buried beneath years of propagandic morass. Kernels can sprout. We can see it happening in the East, South, and West. These are the barricades against aggrandizing autocrats' rule-making minions. These form the edifice of liberty.