By the Ruling Class: Charles Murray’s anti-democratic revolution

Charles Murray has been a Very Big Deal in conservative circles for quite some time now. Before he made waves in 1994 with The Bell Curve, in which he made the case that black people have worse economic outcomes in part because they have worse genes, he helped craft the welfare reform agenda that would permeate American policy throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s.

That Jeb Bush is willing to call the proponent of pseudo-eugenics one of his favorite authors should be enough to establish how respected Murray’s work is within the conservative community. When he writes, they read.

Part of Murray’s reputation has been earned by his refusal to filter the aristocratic libertarian id, taking its ideology to its logical conclusions and refusing to let his arguments get muddied by inconveniences like political viability or basic social norms. When my co-editors and I interviewed Murray via email for The Kenyon Observer in advance of a talk he was set to give at the College two years ago, he was more than up front in saying that he thinks too many Americans (and perhaps too many women) are going to college, and that the “cognitive elite” — a term he relied on heavily in The Bell Curve — have social obligations that go beyond fully exercising their potential; the strong need to lead the weak, whether or not they like it.

However, Murray, seemingly forgetting his role in shaping the welfare reform debate, advised us not to worry because “I don’t think I’ve ever offered a politically viable policy recommendation.”

With Murray’s new book, By the People: Rebuilding Liberty Without Permission, he would probably want to revise that statement: He has never offered a democratically viable policy recommendation.

In By the People, Murray outlines all of the bad policies he feels American democracy has produced — government regulation and the social safety net being his primary target — and further bemoans the fact that, despite how awful these policies are, the American people seem to like them. So much so, in fact, that it will be impossible for even a Republican president, Congress and Supreme Court to undo all the damage that the American voters have inflicted upon themselves. As Murray told the Cato Institute in promoting the book, “the Constitution is broken;” traditional democratic means  — even the courts — cannot take us back to the America he envisions.

The only solution, he concludes, is systematic white-collar civil disobedience in which businesses coerce government, and by extension the public, into an economic state of nature. This entails devising a mechanism by which citizens can declare their “de facto freedom” to “ignore a great many complicated laws” that they don’t like — and wield the oligarchic power to give that declaration teeth.

Murray’s premise is simple: “the federal government cannot enforce its mountain of laws and regulations without voluntary public compliance.” In other words, ignorance and subversion of the regulatory system by the corporate class can neuter the government, making it unable to interfere in the marketplace. To make this brand of civil disobedience effective, Murray proposes a “Madison Fund” — calling on the idea that Madison would turn his nose up at much of the 21st Century social welfare state (other Founders would be totally fine with it). This fund would act as a counterweight to the government’s regulatory infrastructure, challenging regulations in court and paying the fines of citizens who violate those regulations in the meantime.

This fund would essentially turn the focus of Monsanto-style bullying via litigation away from the consumer and toward the government, all while transforming government regulation into an “insurable hazard,” as Murray titles one of his chapters. While Murray proposes the Madison Fund as a means of defending the “small businessman” who’s being picked on by the government, the fund is transparently designed to allow large corporations to sue the government into oblivion for daring to tell them that they have to pay overtime, or that there is such a thing as too much rat excrement in our processed foods.

Murray attempts to address this criticism by arguing that, in his ideal conception, the Madison Fund would only go after regulations that are “egregiously stupid,” carefully selecting them such that they would only pursue cases that would avoid public outcry. But given the corporate class’s ability to turn legitimate consumer protections into “egregiously stupid” regulations, Murray can’t be said to be making this argument in good faith. Federal bureaucracy writes and enforces regulations (to the limited extent that it can), but it doesn’t wage large-scale public opinion campaigns on its own behalf, even when it should. To say with a straight face that McDonald’s is going to respond to public opinion rather than shape it when it comes to government regulations is patently absurd.

With the explosion of globalized capital, along with the ongoing privatization of the public sector, organizations of corporations — or even private citizens — have the means necessary to take on governments and win on a regular basis. As Murray writes: “The emergence of many billion-dollar-plus private fortunes over the last three decades has enabled the private sector to take on ambitious national or even international tasks that formerly could be done only by nation-states.” As government weakens and corporate power strengthens, the scales are tipped to the point at which Murray can advocate for business interests waging legal war on the government and it doesn’t sound all that outlandish.

Of course, this legal war is totally illegal. Intentionally filing harassing or otherwise frivolous lawsuits simply for the sake of delaying or unnecessarily increasing the cost of litigation can cause a lawyer to lose their license. But as far as Murray’s concerned, that’s just what the government wants you to think. As he notes, “All systematic civil disobedience should involve acts that are malum prohibitum: illegal because the state says so, not because they are bad in themselves.” As Murray is couching his oligarchic aims in the language of resistance by an oppressed underclass, that makes rejecting the premise of the legal system acceptable.

But in practical terms, Murray isn’t exactly wrong: Litigating against a movement whose weapon of choice is itself litigation can get awfully circular.

It would also play right into their hands: Corporations figured out long ago that the threat of extensive and expensive litigation is enough to avoid being held accountable by consumers. It should come as no surprise that, sooner or later, they would figure out that they were big enough to do the same with the American government. As Murray told Cato, “I want to pull back the curtain, as happened in [The Wizard of Oz], and instead of this powerful goliath you have a little old guy with thinning hair and a microphone.”

Since Charles Murray published Losing Ground in 1984, government has been steadily weakened and large corporations have become increasingly strengthened. That’s produced populist unrest on the streets, but up in the skyscrapers the rich are planning the real revolution: A method of nonviolent resistance that aims to establish an economic order independent from and superseding public scrutiny.

Even Madison, despite his preference for a limited, passive government, understood that society only works if everyone — citizens, leaders and even Murray’s “cognitive elite” abide by the rules we set for ourselves. As Ian Millhiser pointed out in ThinkProgress:

As a congressman, Madison opposed the creation of the First Bank of the United States on constitutional grounds. Yet, as president, Madison signed the law creating a Second Bank. He explained that the nation had accepted the First Bank, and he viewed this acceptance as “a construction put on the Constitution by the nation, which, having made it, had the supreme right to declare its meaning.”

Charles Murray envisions an American in which the wealthy can — and should — violate the social contract, choosing instead to operate in an economic state of nature. Unlike his previous proposals, this one’s completely “politically” viable. Just don’t call it democratic.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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19 Responses to “By the Ruling Class: Charles Murray’s anti-democratic revolution”

  1. JB Smith says:

    The American Reinvestment and Recovery Act and the brain initiative are the worst scams ever perpetrated on the American people. Former U. S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin Warns: Biochips Hazardous to Your Health: Warning, biochips may cause
    behavioral changes and high suicide rates. State Attorney Generals are to revoke the licenses of doctors and dentists that implant chips in patients. Chip used illegally for GPS, tracking, organized crime, communication and torture. Virginia state police have been implanting citizens without their knowledge and consent for years and they are dying! Check out William and Mary’s site to see the torture enabled by the biochip and the Active Denial System. See Terrorism and Mental Health by Amin Gadit or A Note on Uberveillance by MG & Katina Michael or Safeguards in a World of Ambient Intelligence by Springer or Mind Control, Microchip Implants and Cybernetics. Check out the audio spotlight by Holosonics.
    “Former Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) director and now Google Executive, Regina E. Dugan, has unveiled a super small, ingestible microchip that we can all be expected to swallow by 2017. “A means of authentication,” she calls it, also called an electronic tattoo, which takes NSA spying to whole new levels. She talks of the ‘mechanical mismatch problem between machines and humans,’ and specifically targets 10 – 20 year olds in her rant about the wonderful qualities of this new technology that can stretch in the human body and still be functional. Hailed as a ‘critical shift for
    research and medicine,’ these biochips would not only allow full access to insurance companies and government agencies to our pharmaceutical med-taking compliancy (or lack thereof), but also a host of other aspects of our lives which are truly none of their business, and certainly an extension of the removal of our freedoms and rights.” Google News

    The ARRA authorizes payments to the states in an effort to encourage Medicaid
    Providers to adopt and use “certified EHR technology” aka biochips. ARRA will match Medicaid $5 for every $1 a state provides. Hospitals are paid $2 million to create “crisis stabilization wards” (Gitmo’s) where state police torture people – even unto death. They stopped my heart 90 times in 6 hours. Virginia Beach EMT’s were called to the scene.
    Mary E. Schloendorff, v. The Society of New York Hospital 105 N. E. 92, 93 (N. Y. 1914) Justice Cardozo states, “every human being of adult years and sound mind has a right to
    determine what shall be done with his own body; and a surgeon who performs an
    operation without his patient’s consent, commits an assault, for which he is liable in damages. (Pratt v Davis, 224 Ill. 300; Mohr v Williams, 95 Minn. 261.)
    This case precedent requires police to falsely arrest you or kidnap you and call you a mental health patient in order to force the implant on you. You can also be forced to have a biochip if you have an infectious disease – like Eboli or Aids. Coalition of Justice vs the City of Hampton, VA settled a case out of court for $500,000 and removal of the biochip. Torture is punishable by $1,000 per day up to $2 million; Medical battery is worth $2.05 million. The Torture Act creates a cause for civil action.
    They told my family it was the brain initiative. This requires informed, knowledgeable consent. Mark Warner told me it was research with the Active Denial System by the College of William and Mary, the USAF, and state and local law enforcement. It is called
    IBEX and it is excruciating. If you are an organ donor, they volunteer you. The judges are in on it and they allowed cops to induce a heart attack right in court. The 44 year old didn’t make it.

  2. WalkingHorse says:

    This preposterous screed is so grievously divorced from reality it barely merits critique. First, the hand-wringing over the power of corporations is entirely misplaced. Corporations have no political power until their affairs become entwined with those of government. There is a euphemism for this melding of government and corporate power: Corporatism. Benito Mussolini wrote that he coined this term to replace the terminology he also originated: Fascism. Fascism is the most cynically practical form of tyranny yet devised by human beings, and virtually all forms of tyranny practice Fascism regardless of the ideology professed by those in power, otherwise their would be no economic surplus for those in charge to steal. We are seriously afflicted with Fascism, and it is foolhardy to deny that truth.

    The attempt to smear Mr. Murray’s honorable idea of making targeted civil disobedience a means for the people to curb government excesses is a project that all apologists for Statism will rally. The victims of our nascent tyranny are generally not corporations, who have largely already made the Faustian bargain with Big Government. The victims are generally small business people, farmers, ranchers, and people simply doing their best to make their own way in life. I look forward to seeing the excesses of unelected bureaucrats, the excesses of legislatures and executive blunted by people empowered to say “Enough!” and not be impoverished and their families ruined for such acts of courage. There is ample intellectual backing for the proposition that their are limits to authority and that the people are morally right in drawing the boundaries:

    Hamburger, Philip: Is Administrative Law Unlawful?
    Huemer, Michael: The Problem of Political Authority: An Examination of the Right to Coerce and the Duty to Obey
    Murray, Charles, By the People: Rebuilding LIberty Without Permission
    Napolitano, Andrew Suicide Pact

    “[a] strict observance of the written law is doubtless one of the high duties of a good citizen, but it is not the highest. The laws of necessity, of self-preservation, of saving our country when in danger, are of higher obligation. To lose our country by a scrupulous adherence to the written law, would be to lose the law itself, with life, liberty, property and all those who are enjoying them with us; thus absurdly sacrificing the ends to the means.”
    –Thomas Jefferson

  3. Bill_Perdue says:

    Elections validate the gains of mass movements.

  4. Badgerite says:

    “State of nature”? Seriously, what the hell does that mean? A state of nature means no roads, no water systems, no electrical power plants. The guy is just a social Darwinist in wolf’s clothing. Always has been. Or maybe the root of his ‘philosophy’ goes even further back. To Hobbs and Leviathan and the Right of Kings to rule. I don’t suppose it has ever occurred to him that even global corporations actually need consumers ( that would be people around who are not slaves and have the means to purchase what they produce). Democratic principles are actually good for business. They provide security ( a safety net) to the consumer that if they buy something it will not kill or maim them or their children. It provides a legal framework through which commercial dealings can be carried out with some assurance that one business will not rob or damage another with impunity. Most of the litigation that goes on in this country and probably the world is businesses suing other businesses.
    Since competition is supposed to be at the root of our system of commerce, the legal system ensures not just the rights of the individual but the rights of the business man as well as against other businsses. As you post notes, it is not the consumer who can mount expensive legal challenges to a particular business practice, it is a competing business with equal resources. For an example of what the corporate world would do without government regulations, all one needs to do is look at the ultimate result of the repeal of the Glass Steagal Act and the lax regulation that ensued and the collapse of the financial markets in 2008. As I recall, Goldman Sachs did not propose to eat the devastating loss that would have resulted if AIG had completely tanked. It called on the regular taxpayer to bail out AIG and thereby prevent a financial disaster to Goldman Sachs.
    The “people” whom he doesn’t seem to think deserve any safety net or governmental protection.
    His theories are a proscription for collapse. Of the economic system as much as anything else.
    The government provides the laws that allow for competition and commerce in this country.
    The corporation itself is a legislative creation designed to further commerce. To recognize the authority of duly elected representatives to exercise sovereignty is an aspect of enlightened self interest on the part of corporate interest both domestic and global. It is the goose that laid the golden egg. If they mess with it, it is at their own peril.

  5. mirth says:

    On this we disagree.

    Walker was only a state official, not the president of a nation. Walker’s actions cannot be compared to Clinton and Obama, although in his state position he certainly demonstrated what he is capable of.

    Elections do indeed bring change. The mass movements you cite were directly caused by what an elected official, specifically a president, was doing or failing to do while in office.

  6. Bill_Perdue says:

    Walker is pretty mild compared to what Bill Clinton and Obama did. In any case elections don’t bring change.

    Elections didn’t build the unions or get us Social Security – mass movements for change did.

    Elections didn’t end the wars in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia and won’t end Obama’s wars in Libya, Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan – mass movements for will.

    Elections didn’t get us abortion rights or suffrage – mass movements for change did.

    And as weak and pathetic as they are, elections didn’t get us civil rights and voting rights laws – mass movements for change did.

  7. Bill_Perdue says:

    I don’t understand what you mean by his fantasies coming to life. They already have and it’s thanks to Bill Clinton and other Democrats and Republicans.

    “In a December 1993 interview with NBC News, then US President Bill Clinton wrote of Murray and Losing Ground: “He did the country a great service. I mean, he and I have often disagreed, but I think his analysis is essentially right. … There’s no question that it would work. But the question is … Is it morally right?” (my underlining.)
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Losing_Ground_%28book%29

    Apparently Clinton resolved his moral qualms, looking ahead to becoming a gazillionaire hauling in money from corporate speeches, because in 1996, the same year he gave us DOMA, he ended welfare with his Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act. “The bill was a cornerstone of the Republican Contract with America and was introduced by Rep. E. Clay Shaw, Jr. (R-FL-22). President Bill Clinton signed PRWORA into law on August 22, 1996, fulfilling his 1992 campaign promise to “end welfare as we have come to know it”.

    Shortly before that Bill Clinton championed the Community Oriented Policing Services Act (COPS) putting 100,000 new killer cops on the streets and militarizing them. Just in case.

    Democrats are Republicans are Democrats. There are no serious differences between the two parties.

  8. Lordwhorfin says:

    It’s notable that what Murray is suggesting is exactly what the Church of $cientology did to get its tax-exempt status back from the U.S. Government. They harassed the I.R.S. into capitulation using the very methods outlined in Murray’s book. Not only do I think Murray sinister, I think his blueprint plausible. Very worrying.

  9. RepubAnon says:

    You forgot to mention – after the average worker and the union guy start fighting, the CEO eats the last cookie, too.

  10. I’ll contribute to a fund to pay the legal fees of anyone who ignores the “complicated law” that we can’t kick this fool in the balls until he passes out.

  11. mirth says:

    Another fine example, Jon, of your dynamic and thoughtful writing.

    There’s little new about this fuckery. From a historical standpoint, always with these moral-less enablers of moral-less business leaders and their moral-less practices is the dance they do around responsibility, as if governmental regulations are arbitrary and needlessly punitive and not a direct, most often after the fact attempt to prevent additional deaths and injury and sickness. Government efforts, increasingly flaccid efforts, to correct such things as disease-belching smokestacks or rat shit and harmful chemicals in food or poisonous sludge siphoned into waterways or destruction of the physical landscape or egregiously unsafe worker environments or insufficient and gender-unequal wages are to these treasonous bastards, since the beginning of our history, seen only as impediments to their personal power and fortunes without thought, and, considering their conservative-wired brains, maybe even without recognition, that it is what prompts the regulations that are the true harm to this country. These are the cold-hearted cretins who would deny essential sustenance to children whose parents are too inept or simply unable to adequately provide for them, with all the wafting harm that causes over time to the larger society.

    Currently, with rampant corruption throughout government and with continually electing more of the same, with a stunned and purposefully-dumbed down populace able to vent their frustration only in mostly idiotic or self-destructive ways, and with a complicit news media, there is no hope, none at all, of an effective revolution for actual change. We are on the cusp of it, maybe, but I don’t believe we citizens as a whole have yet reached the level of despair necessary to begin it much less bring it about to any effective purpose.

    Which is why by not voting and why I’m willing to risk one of the current Republican candidates making it to the White House. Bring it on, m’k’rs! For the sake of my country, I believe we need that sledgehammer rather than the continuing softer blows of a rubber mallet held in Democratic fists. Not mewling Jeb, either. Let someone like Walker have at it. Let the populace here and in the world see what he and his uneducated, low-functioning, meanspirited, evil ideas are made of – there’s your revolution startup, right there. Once we recover from the fallout, and eventually we will, I’m betting the prize will be something closer to our ideals, maybe something that positively affects other corrupt governments, maybe even something close to grand.

    You may think me wrongheaded by not voting, but don’t label me unpatriotic. My family has been in this country since the early 1600s. With several standout exceptions, they were mostly of the working class and all participated fully in whatever their country needed of them and in whatever was asked of them to help her grow into a worthy potential. Like they were, I am the definition of a patriot. And now, like many of my fellow citizens, I think the majority of us, poised and waiting at the starting block, I’m in for the setting-right fight. But if it comes before the proper setting (or, worse, if we just keep on keepin’ on while hoping it will magically get better), then nothing but essentially useless suffering is ahead and we pass even more dysfunction on to a new generation.

  12. Houndentenor says:

    We’ll see what happens at the next financial meltdown. We may see the end of the destruction of our country at the hands of the 0.01% or we’ll just admit that they get whatever they want and the rest of us are fucked. We’ll know soon enough. It’s coming in the next few years.

  13. 2karmanot says:

    We behooves us to take up knitting when the Revolution comes—- the deFarge Effect you know………..

  14. Butch1 says:

    It that type of society, this person usually goes after the intelligent, professors, teachers and those who question his authority rounding them up and having them murdered. That takes care of the thinkers and allows the rest to remain drones and worker bees for his type of world. Haven’t we seen this once before Circa 1939, Germany?

  15. dcinsider says:

    I shudder to think about the revolution we would encounter if this blowhard’s fantasies came to life. I have no doubt that poor Americans will continue to elect individuals against their own personal interest (see Tea Party). Because that is a fact, his concept has the ring of plausibility.

    It’s the old joke about the CEO, the union guy, and the average worker at a table with 12 cookies. The CEO takes 11 and tells the worker, watch out that union guy is after your cookie.

    As so many dumb Americans vote Republican because they’ve been duped into believing that one day they too will be rich, thus backing policies that can never help them, we may live to see a version of this reality.

    Sort of makes me queasy.

  16. The_Fixer says:

    The only problem with Charles Murray’s plan, from the point of view of those who would love to see it happen, is that now the cat is out of the bag. The “poors” and their sympathizers (anybody with an ounce of human compassion and sense of fairness) now know about it.

    This guy is evil slime. He’s also the result of our allowing the rich to amass so much wealth and power that they can actually give the government a run for its money.

    For all of this guy’s wealth and influence, he apparently has forgotten history, and forgotten how this country came to be. There are a lot more of the “poors” out there than the wealthy. When we break the social compact, it will be very, very bad for people like Charles Murray.

  17. Doug105 says:

    Still another Rand worshipping asshole.

    Here is a quarky little rewrite of rand’s vision, what would happen if you dropped an evil would be world conquering tyrant in?

    Atlas Shrugged: The Cobra Commander Dialogues

    If you’ve been reading the comments on my Atlas Shrugged posts, you’ve probably seen the hilarious “Cobra Commander” dialogues written by commenter and jet-setting billionaire playboy author Sneezeguard (that’s how he requested to be credited).

    In it, the fictional evil overlord inserts himself into the plot of Atlas Shrugged, accompanying the characters and trying to comprehend the difference between Rand’s heroes and villains, and learns for himself that even evil has standards.

    I’ve been enjoying reading these for a while and thought they should be archived somewhere more visible than a Disqus comment thread. Sneezeguard gave his permission, so here’s an archive page for them. Enjoy!

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism/series/atlas-shrugged/the-cobra-commander-dialogues/

  18. mtiffany says:

    Sweet zombie Jesus, not this asshole again. “The federal government
    cannot enforce its mountain of laws and regulations without voluntary
    public compliance.” Except of course for the governmental monopoly on
    the legitimate use of force. Yes Mr. Murray, the federal government most
    certainly can compel the people to comply with laws and regulations —
    at the end of the barrel of a gun, if need be. See also: Little Rock
    Nine, the.

  19. 2karmanot says:

    Wow, shredding the pseudo cloak of Libertarian rubbish and revealing its basic sewer of anarchy: oligarchy. Well done!

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