Professor Reynolds cites Ann Althouse, who remembers one of the many “political protest” bombings of the late Sixties and early Seventies. Althouse’s commenters are properly (for today) disdainful of such goings-on and wonder at the incredibly light sentences the murderous bastards got, and many of them piously protest that they were anti-war and even protested, but never got into anything like that.

Bullshit. Forty years on, what’s crystal clear about the protesters of that era is, one, that the nasty dirty Goldwateran reactionaries of the time were right — the protesters’ motives were drugs, sex, and refusal to accept their duties as citizens — and two, that the “movement” was almost instantaneously hijacked whose motive was to damage and weaken the United States, primarily operatives of the Soviet Union. Believe me or not as you please — I don’t give a damn — but I’ve actually had dinner with one of the low-level operatives involved in that effort, who regarded it as a triumph for International Socialism.

What’s missing in all the present discussion of that era is that Ayers, Dohrn, the mad bombers of Wisconsin U, and hosts of others got light sentences and were returned to society to do more damage because in the minds of the American people, the original protesters had a point, whether or not the Movement had been hijacked by Russian imperialists. It is virtually impossible for anyone who wasn’t an adult by, say, 1968 to comprehend the United States of that era — a place where ammonium nitrate and even dynamite could be bought in bulk with no questions asked (though the seller would remember who bought dynamite and tell the cops if asked; much safer to acquire fertilizer in 50-lb bags); where a “country boy” with two rifles and a shotgun in the rack in his pickup’s back window could drive into the city and get sneers for lack of sophistication rather than sirens and a SWAT team, and go home after a restaurant meal with his armory intact; where you could walk onto an airport at 2:00 AM with a 30-06 over your shoulder, and the fat, slow security guard would politely ask you to leave because you might damage a plane shooting varmints. By that time, though, there were already signs that that was changing, visibly as a result of “anti-drug” efforts, but more significantly (and much more ultimately damaging) from the intersection of Civil Rights, sovereignty theory, and opportunistic lawyers.

The Constitution of the United States begins with the phrase “We the People…” The original vision of the Founders was that the Sovereignty of the United States was embodied in the people; exercise of the powers and privileges of Sovereignty was granted to Government to a limited degree, on the ground that such exercise was awkward and troublesome for the average citizen who just wanted to get on with life. Civil police built on the Robert Peel model cannot operate in that environment. They require that Sovereignty be held by some entity higher up the chain of “Authority” (actually Power), which entity can grant them a limited portion of it to empower them to carry out their duties, and the mere existence of such a police force has the effect of sanctifying that theory. A person with a gang of armed men at his disposal is empowered to enforce prohibitions, and is irresistably tempted to consolidate and extend that power; the Temperance movement, the original Progressives, and FDR’s “social justice” measures provided moral and ethical theories justifying such extensions, leading directly to today’s “nanny state” and population-controlling “security” systems. Prior to about the 1870s, prohibitions and speech control would have been impossible because there were no police to enforce them; thief-takers were private citizens exercising their Sovereign powers, often organized in private companies like Wells Fargo and Pinkerton’s, and up with such nonsense they would not put.

By the 1950s the Civil Rights movement had morphed into an active defense, led by lawyers imbued with the notion of top-down Sovereignty. Under that rubric, a policeman who violated the civil rights of a citizen could not be effectively punished in his own person; the guilt for the violation belonged higher up in the chain of Power where the grant of Sovereignty the cop was exercising originated. The legal experts pushing that theory had another motive: the higher-ups they could blame had access to money taxed from the citizens, and the lawyers wanted to be paid — their clients, mostly (and genuinely) poor and downtrodden, had no resources to compensate the people working on their behalf, and somebody had to pay the electricity bill for the legal office. As a result, a cop who beat or killed someone exercising their free speech got a short suspension (with pay) to deter him from future excesses of zeal, and the city paid a gigantic Court judgement, which was taken from the pockets of citizens who would never have supported such an outrage and sympathized with the person suffering abrasions and contusions.

You better look out kid, they keep it all hid,
Better jump down a manhole, light yourself a candle,
Don’t wear sandals, try to avoid the scandals,
Don’t wanna be a bum you better chew gum
The pump don’t work cause the vandals took the handle

(Bob Dylan, Subterranean Homesick Blues, ©1965 Special Rider Music)

This inversion of the original principles of the Nation is so totally familiar today, so much a part of the perfectly normal landscape, as to pass without notice or remark. In the Fifties and Sixties it was still new enough that NBC could produce a popular show  in which the earlier system was celebrated and have it be comprehensible to the audience. Tales of Wells Fargo, starring Dale Robertson and William Demarest, could not be made today because the number of people in a modern audience who have any concept of what it was about, what those people were up to, or what they were driving at is so small as to generate an Arbitron number near zero. When the “hippies” and their protests were new those referents were still in existence if subliminal, and the protesters were judged by them. William Ayers owes his pension to nostalgia for an earlier day, when stupidly counterproductive behavior produced headshakes and a rueful declaration that it’s a free country, rather than a flying-wedge of nannystate bureaucrats anxious to save the poor fellow from himself or a police team determined to suppress the assault on community values.