I almost forgot my role in the Oklahoma City bombing.
No – I’ve never been to Oklahoma.
But a 1999 Los Angeles Times review of one of my books made similar points to what Bill Clinton made in his New York Times op-ed on Monday. The reviewer, Anthony Day, was horrified at my rejection of the prevailing political orthodoxy and my debunking of government benevolence.
In the final paragraph of the review, Day makes clear that he was far more concerned about harsh critics than of government abuses.
Los Angeles Times
March 4, 1999, Thursday, Home Edition
A CHILLING INDICTMENT OF U.S. GOVERNMENT;
FREEDOM IN CHAINS, THE RISE OF THE STATE AND THE DEMISE OF THE CITIZEN; BY
JAMES BOVARD; ST. MARTIN’S PRESS $26.95, 326 PAGES
BYLINE: ANTHONY DAY, SPECIAL TO THE TIMES
The rhetoric of liberty has sustained the American republic from its founding
to the Senate’s recent vote to acquit President Clinton on Lincoln’s birthday.
Having no monarchy, no common religion, no ancient history, the country lives by
the words of its founders, who wrote and spoke them not all that long ago.
Those words have served us well. They helped us through a terrible civil war.
They have brought us to our present state, in which we (most of us) enjoy
personal freedom and prosperity unimaginable not many years ago. But along the
way an odd thing happened.
As Richard Hofstadter and other historians have noted, from the beginning of
the new nation there has existed a paranoid strain of political thinking. The
rhetoric of freedom has been turned by a small but noisy minority against the
concept of democratic government itself, so that the government becomes not the
agent of the people’s common purpose but the very enemy of the people. In the
political paranoid’s view, the government assumes an overweening, menacing
aspect. It becomes not the creature of the citizen but the citizen’s mortal
“Freedom in Chains” is an unvarnished example of this contemptuous attitude
toward the American political system. From beginning to end it quivers with
Bovard’s hatred of government. It is a polemic heavily populated with villains.
Jean Jacques Rousseau and Franklin D. Roosevelt, for their support of the common
good, are James Bovard’s principal malefactors, but the American people and
Bill Clinton are not far behind.
Bovard’s opinions about the relation between democracy and its citizenry
suggest a situation that falls far short of the ideal of the framers:
“Governments and citizens blend together only in the imaginations of political
theorists. Government is, and always will be, an alien power over private
citizens. There is no magic in a ballot box that makes government any less
coercive.” “Rather than broadening people’s minds,” Bovard argues, “the exercise
of voting too often merely debases their character.
“The problem with democracy is not only that government routinely scorns
citizens’ values, it is also that government imposes majority preferences that
have no legitimacy. . . . Majorities are routinely the ephemeral creations of
political promises to confiscate one group’s property and render it to someone
else. What virtue does a majority of tenants have when the one policy they
demand consists of little more than the looting of all apartment owners via rent
“Confiscation” is much on Bovard’s mind. Taxes, he says, are “confiscation,”
not the price we all pay for living in a civilized society.
Bovard doesn’t think much of civilized society. He opposes Social Security,
Medicare, federal job training, government spending on education, the Consumer
Product Safety Commission, the Food and Drug Administration, land use zoning
and so on. The reasons for his opposition lie not in an inquiry into the facts
but in his ideology: If it is done by the government, it is coercive and
He admits that some sort of national defense is a necessary governmental
function and concedes that the National Institutes of Health have done some
good. But in the main he brings toward government relentless hostility and
All this is nonsense. Is Bovard’s argument harmless? Not necessarily, and not
always. In Bovard’s defensive and disingenuous discussion of the bombing of the
Oklahoma City federal building, he reveals that he is aware of the possible
consequences of his words.
“Regardless of whether Americans consider the federal government
illegitimate,” he writes, “attacks that kill innocent people are never
justified. The 1995 bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building was
inexcusable. . . .
“The militia movement in this country became highly active only after the
federal killings at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, and Waco, Texas,” Bovard states. “The
fact that no federal officials have been held legally responsible for the
deaths at Ruby Ridge and Waco made many people presume, not surprisingly, that
the government was out of control and a dire threat to their rights and safety.”
And that is exactly the view that Bovard expounds in this chilling polemic.
LOAD-DATE: March 4, 1999