“When government is not established upon moral principles but managed by the arbitrary power or one, or a few, at the expence of the liberty of the rest of a community, their acknowledgement of that power is an obedience like that of the prophet’s ass.”
So what can be done about the exorbitant influence of overgrown dukes, knights–and super-PACs ? And what can be done to protect the welfare of the 99%? Although Murray did not propose a simple 4-step plan, he nonetheless offered a few, shrewd ideas that are still useful to us in 2012.
First of all, quit kowtowing to Lord Bigwig or Mr. Fancypants. I’ve always marveled at the following passage with its defiant gutsiness, one so far removed from the customary 18th-century deference to the well-born and well-heeled. Go stuff it, he tells them. Perhaps this is why Sermons to Asses thrilled so many of the 99% before Tom Paine came along:
When any duke or lord, knight or ‘squire come with their drunken rabble of attendants, to solicit your votes by treats and entertainments, put them in mind what they are about, and what they ought to be. Tell them that none who make attempts upon men’s virtue can be faithful to their liberties and interest.
Similarly, if someone plumes himself on being “qualified with so many hundreds of thousands of yearly income” and “approved of by so many of the principal freeholders in the country, or the members of a city,” don’t mince words; “tell him you judge for themselves, and do not walk by the light of other men.”
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, research the candidate in question: “consider what measures he fell in with; was he the dupe of the ministry or a tool of the court?” Maybe we don’t expect either the Donald or the Koch brothers to come a’knocking on our doors to help support their candidates of choice, especially since the 1% are even less likely today to reside in the vicinity of the 99%, but it bears observing that we have even less of an excuse to be ill-informed in the age of the “internets.” Don’t read or watch just one news source. Check out the various candidates and their voting record. Find out if they were “dupes” or “tools” of any particular lobbyists, special interest groups, or other politicians from a range of sources. Because if you reelect the same representative, senator, governor or president who voted against your interests in the past, you have only yourself to blame:
Instead of fruitless complaints against the government, when it is not in your power to help the evil, let it be your study Britons, now when it is in your power, to apply an effectual remedy. Choose none of those for your representatives at the general election who concurred in laying burdens upon you before. Suffer to them to stand as beacons, for posterity to take warning from. Shall the freeholders of Britain again choose such unworthy members of society to manage their public affairs, they may expect to have their burdens continued and fixed more firmly upon their shoulders.
That’s exactly what happened when vast swathes of the working classes–the so-called “angry white male” or “Reagan Democrat”–continued to vote predominantly for outsourcing-, free-trade-happy Republicans. (Certainly, 2010 was no exception when GOP senators broadly voted against a bill from the Democrats ending tax breaks for outsourcing companies and providing incentives for those restoring jobs back home. ) Instead, these “Reagan Democrats” have generally preferred to blame the “greedy Chinese” or any other nation rather than the many fine, upstanding Republicans who gifted those “greedy Chinese” with their very own jobs (hmmm, wonder what those Chinese workers think of conditions at Foxconn?) . Only now are some beginning to wake up to the fact hat some of their worst enemies are right (pun intended) at home. It is no less striking that the same voters have unquestioningly accepted the climate change denialists, lapping up the message disseminated by the likes of the Heartland and Cato Institutes (both, of course, generously funded by the Koch brothers) and failing to discern the relationship between warmer temperatures and storm severity. Too bad few of these denialists realize the consequences for those who do not have the fortune to live in large, well-built mansions with the best insurance and public amenities.
Moving on to point #3: continue to keep an eye on your candidate when s/he takes office:
One cause of our present complaints, both as to civil and religious oppression, is; that we look not to ourselves, but think as soon as we have elected civil or religious governors, we may fall asleep in pleasure, indolence, and inattention…when they do their duty, they are a public blessing: but when they degenerate into tyrants, there is as much of the blame lies upon them; for had those who employed them watched over them as they ought.
Again, there’s even less of an excuse not to be completely informed in this day and age.
Finally, and most importantly: speak up and protest. Murray reminds his readers that when a 4-shilling tax on cider was proposed in 1763, the southwestern, cider-producing region of England rioted. Not less worthy of emulation were the Americans, whose cause he warmly endorsed throughout his works: these great people, he explains, were able to repeal the Stamp Act by a “vigorous resistance of oppression.” So c’mon, “Have the rest of Britain no burdens they want to have removed? Are there none of the necessaries of life taxed, which much affect the poor mechanic, and the mercantile part of the nation? Now is the time to exert yourselves.”
Yes, your parents, priests, ministers, teachers, and all other authority figures were all likely to have preached the virtues of obedience. But sometimes obedience is simply neither wise nor virtuous. In fact, “When mankind are once instructed in their natural rights and privileges, they will not only complain, but struggle to get clear of oppression” because “Wise men know what it is to obey just laws, but will never tamely submit to slavery and bondage.” Submitting to “arbitrary government, without resistance” not only betrays “the want of sense of the rights of human nature,” but also subverts God’s will for complacent “slavery” is nothing less than “finding fault with the conduct of the Almighty to give up his prerogative to his creatures.”
It’s not hard to imagine what Murray would tell us, his “American brethren,” in 2012. Stand up for yourself. Research the facts. And quit tolerating ANY representative who panders to the 1% at the expense of the 99%. Because if you do, you are an ass indeed: “When government is not established upon moral principles but managed by the arbitrary power or one, or a few, at the expence of the liberty of the rest of a community, their acknowledgement of that power is an obedience like that of the prophet’s ass.”
Amen, Reverend Murray–no truer words were ever written.
Copyright © 2012 HISTORY IS ON OUR SIDE (Frances A. Chiu)
Just a few remarks here: I distinctly recall pissing off the guy sitting next to me in the Bodleian when I laughed out loud at some of the comments prepared by Murray for an 1780 (or so) edition of Asses–like: “why is it that banks, brothels, and bawdy-houses are never taxed?” One of my regrets at graduating was assuming that I would rarely ever get to revisit old Murray again. Well, thankfully, the good people of Google have digitized some of his works and the rest of you can enjoy him too: http://books.google.com/books/about/Sermons_to_asses_to_doctors_in_divinity.html?id=XWAUAAAAYAAJ