Tom Woods highlights some recent efforts by certain states (including Vermont, a state that voted 66% for Obama in 2013) to nullify federal laws they deem objectionable. Of course, these recent examples are hardly the only ones we have to draw from. Several conservative states have recently passed legislation nullifying federal gun control laws, and several liberal states have passed legislation that amounts to a de-facto nullification of federal drug laws. Outrageous federal laws are being nullified left and right!
Of course, the opinion makers would still have you believe nullification is a loser. That it’s an “extreme” and “illegal” position that amounts to supporting slavery (if you’re a conservative) or treason (if you’re a liberal). The talking heads in every mainstream news operation (including ideological outliers such as The Huffington Post and The Blaze) agree on one simple thing: nullification is bad. There are virtually zero mainstream voices willing to publicly support the right of the people of a state to nullify unconstitutional federal laws.
Obviously, there is a disconnect here between the establishment media, politicians, and talking heads, and the American public at large. “Well of course!” you say, “Tell me something I don’t know.” Well, I think this particular issue is different from the average example of “The people overwhelmingly want one thing, yet the government does another and the media is completely in the tank for them,” because while I think the average American supports nullification in deed, they do not support it in name. There may be a more pronounced liberal/conservative divide on this one, but I suspect if you ask the average Coloradan whether or not states should be able to nullify federal laws they deem unconstitutional, they would say no, but if you ask them whether they support Colorado’s recent effort to (sort-of) legalize marijuana, they would say yes.
That is to say, there are a lot of people out there who support nullification and don’t even realize it. They think they agree with the talking heads – that it sounds bad for states to just be able to do whatever they want. Don’t you know that without the federal government asserting its dominance over states, all black people would still be slaves? Can’t you read the constitution where it clearly states that federal laws are supreme? What kind of moron could possibly support nullification!?
The answer to that question is: The kind of moron who doesn’t feel the need to ask permission from his federal overlords to exercise his natural rights. The kind who says: “I own my body and can do whatever I like with it, and anyone who doesn’t like that can stuff it.” A lot of Americans already fall into this category. Our duty is to help them realize it. There are hordes of potential libertarians out there, people who believe in individual freedom, but haven’t yet been able to overcome the mental block that has been imprinted on their minds by decades of government propaganda and media indoctrination. This may be our most important duty and responsibility to our fellow citizens. Not to try to necessarily change their minds on major positions, but to help them come to the understanding that on many issues, they already agree with us.
I titled this piece “Progressive Nullification” because I think that’s the road we’re going to have to travel here. The modern progressive movement achieved its ends in much the same way. Even today, most Americans wouldn’t ever admit to being socialists, yet somehow, numerous socialist policies are regularly implemented in America. The progressives figured out how to make this happen. Society changed slowly, yet the labels stayed the same. The socialist party never made any significant waves. No significant number of Americans ever identified as socialists. But it didn’t matter; because they agreed with the socialists on enough issues to help the real hardcore believers achieve their ends. Walk around any major American city and you can’t swing a stick without hitting someone who might say something like: “I’m no socialist, but of course we should have single-payer health care, it’s just a no-brainer!”
I believe we’re on the verge of arriving at this moment with nullification. There are lots of Americans who would never openly endorse the idea of nullification, but might say something like: “I’m no libertarian, but of course states should be able to decide for themselves what type of gun control or drug policy to have, it’s just a no-brainer!” If we can cross that threshold, we just might be able to achieve the goal of liberty in our lifetime.