“NOT A STEREOTYPICAL REVOLUTION”
by Michael Maharrey, Tenth Amendment Center, ©2015
As the State of the Nullification Movement report shows, the nullification movement took another leap forward in 2015.
From its early days as a rejection of federal power on a single-issue, the movement grew organically into a loose coalition of disparate groups taking similar actions on a wide variety issues spanning the political spectrum. As little as five years ago, a handful of bills, many of them merely resolutions affirming the Tenth Amendment, counted as a “good year” for nullification.
At the time, the establishment mainstream media considered even these limited efforts something alarming. But over the last several legislative seasons, the movement has exploded with hundreds of proposed bills covering nearly a dozen issues, and the establishment has begun to view some nullification strategies as legitimate.
Last year, state legislators across the country introduced close to 400 bills drafted to reject, or simply ignore, federal authority. Governors in various states signed dozens of bills into law. And individuals took action to opt-out in increasing numbers. The movement spans the political spectrum, with coalitions often developing among people and groups generally considered antagonistic to each other.
The State of the Nullification Movement report connects the dots between efforts that might seem wholly independent of each other to the casual observer, but when viewed as a whole, it reveals a thriving movement that has developed into a revolutionary political force.
Some of these efforts are not self-identified as “nullification” in a more traditional sense, and oftentimes various players find themselves at odds with each other when it comes to overall political goals. But as political theorist Murray Rothbard wrote in his seminal work, Conceived in Liberty, revolutionary movements often feature these traits.
He wrote, “the tendency of historians of every revolution…has been to present a simplistic and black-and-white version of the drives behind the revolutionary forces.” However, he noted that the search for “purity and unmixed motives in a revolution betrays an unrealistic naïveté.”
True revolutionary movements rarely advance driven by a single, narrow impetus or focus. They are, as Rothbard wrote, “made by mass of people, people who are willing to rupture the settled habits of a lifetime, including especially the habit of obedience to an existing government.”
As this report shows, the motives behind the various actors in the nullification movement vary wildly when it comes to political goals and even basic philosophy. Rothbard considered this “dynamism” one of the “major characteristics” of a revolution, as it creates an “unfreezing of the political and social order” for people, whatever their motivations may be.
But although revolutionary, the nullification movement is not a stereotypical revolution – that is an uprising characterized by a physical upheaval against the established order. Instead, it is a deeper, more philosophical revolution.
It is a revolution in thought.
John Adams, founding father and second president of the United States, described the American revolution in much the same way. In his 1818 letter to Hezekiah Niles, he wrote:
“But what do we mean by the American Revolution? Do we mean the American war? The Revolution was effected before the war commenced. The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people; a change in their religious sentiments of their duties and obligations. … This radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the people, was the real American Revolution.”
Today’s nullification movement is revolutionary because it offers the hope of smashing the established political order; an alternative to “voting the bums out” only to see them replaced by new “bums” who violate the Constitution in more costly and dangerous ways each year, or relying on the federal government to limit its own power.
This revolution of thought may still seem small at this time, but as the report shows, it grows a little bit every day. And in the words of American revolutionary John Dickinson, “Concordia res parvae crescunt.” – Small things grow great by concord.
The 2015 State of the Nullification Movement report chronicles this revolution.
The Tenth Amendment Center, based in Los Angeles, seeks to limit federal power through action in the states and education.