On a Sunday this September, street artist Mark Chase was arrested for “trespassing,” that is, for painting on his own canvasses on the sidewalk without a permit. What’s striking is not the story itself; citizens are routinely evicted from public property without justification every day. What’s striking is the dialogue between Chase and the thugs who arrested him:
“It is my constitutional right to be here without prior approval,” Chase said to the officer at one point.
“Your constitutional rights have nothing to do with the law,” the officer said.
At first, this seems shocking; we have been told that the Constitution has everything to do with the law. The purpose of the US Constitution — of any written constitution — is to delineate the limits of government authority.
In practice, however, the officer was correct. His great mistake was giving the lie to the notion that the state has any intention of honoring the Constitution. All the rights that the Constitution enshrines as absolute and inviolable are under perpetual assault by government goons every single day. The law by which the state governs us has nothing to do with the original law by which the state was to be limited.
But hidden in all of this is a tremendous blessing for those who love liberty.
The increasingly paramilitary nature of law enforcement (culminating in the recent claim by an NYPD spokesman that they could “take down a plane” if necessary), the increasing frequency of violent drug raids, and the perpetual foreign wars since the Clinton administration — all provide abundant evidence that the minarchist dream of (some of) the founders has failed, and failed miserably.
Of all the charges hurled at libertarians by statists, none is as ubiquitous as the accusation that we are merely unrealistic utopians. But who, really, is the utopian? Murray Rothbard answered this well in the closing chapter of For a New Liberty,
The idea of a strictly limited constitutional State was a noble experiment that failed, even under the most favorable and propitious circumstances. If it failed then, why should a similar experiment fare any better now? No, it is the conservative laissez-fairist, the man who puts all the guns and all the decision-making power into the hands of the central government and then says, “Limit yourself”; it is he who is truly the impractical utopian.
Surrounded as we are by such a great cloud of government abuses, it is shocking that the multitudes still spring to the defense of the state, but spring they often do; the conditioning of the masses is comprehensive.
But the tendency of the modern state to reach into every aspect of our lives is a significant weakness. This will be its undoing.
Many who unflinchingly accept state violence, murder, and armed robbery on a global scale recoil in horror when government authority extends to light bulbs, lemonade stands, and street artists. While this attitude might fill us with dismay, it also gives us an opportunity to chip away at the faith in the monstrous edifice of state power.
With every outrage, cracks appear in the façade of “limited government.” A time will come when enough cracks will appear that the façade will fall, the mask will be removed, and the masses will see the state for what it is: legitimized, monopolized, unrestricted violence — slavery in a more benevolent guise. And that will be its end.