Rebuilding America’s Greatness by Challenging Federal Overreach

Published July 28, 2015

Review of By the People: Rebuilding Liberty Without Permission, Charles Murray, Crown Forum, 2015, 336 pages; ISBN-13: 978-0385346511: $17.18 on

American freedom is being threatened. 

Whether we are trying to run a business, practice a vocation, or just raise our families, we continually run afoul of the government, not because we are doing anything wrong but because the government thinks it knows better than we do. 

In his provocative book By the People: Rebuilding Liberty Without Permission, political scientist Charles Murray explains why we may not be able to reduce the federal government’s power by normal political processes and how the irreparably broken U.S. political system can be fixed by an army of Davids banding together against the Goliath of Washington, DC.

Power to the People

Murray says the way to fix the seemingly unfixable is to use the legal system to siphon power away from the federal government and into the hands of individuals and communities.

 Tracing the history of the U.S. concept of freedom, Murray calls those fighting for the ideals that built our nation and inspired Alexis de Tocqueville as “Madisonians,” named in honor of James Madison.

The federal government has co-opted roles traditionally belonging to state governments and community organizations through the creation of new cabinet-level departments and hundreds of unneeded government agencies and boards.

Murray says the national government binds state and local governments with strings attached to federal grant money, and it interferes with the economy through billions of dollars in crony-capitalist contracts with for-profit corporations.

Saving the Future

The description of America’s current state in By the People may strike some as depressing, but Murray explains how freedom’s future can be saved by everyday people banding together. Through nonviolent and unthreatening civil disobedience against overly burdensome regulations, the people can force a reversal of past trends and put the country back on track.

The majority of the general public believes the federal government has become an entity acting to preserve its self-interests instead of pursuing the interests of the electorate, Murray says. Capitalizing on this understanding of the beast’s behavior is the key to the success of Murray’s plan.

The Plan to Save the Nation

Murray says if the public peacefully resists the federal government’s mountains of laws and regulations, the national government would lose its power over our lives, because it lacks the resources needed to enforce mass compliance.  

 “What looks like Goliath is actually the Wizard of Oz,” Murray wrote. “Let’s have a private-sector counterweight that pulls back the curtain and exposes the Wizard’s weakness.”

Banding Together

By creating a private legal defense organization, hypothetically called the “Madison Fund,” to defend individuals accused of violating federal regulations and educate the public about regulatory harassment, the pressure of public opinion would be applied against lawmakers and regulatory agencies’ staff to remove Washington DC’s boot from the people’s neck.

 One of the most appealing aspects of Murray’s Madison Fund plan is its organic, bottom-up approach to achieving its goals.

Speaking of the Madison Fund’s ends, Murray writes, “We do not need anyone’s permission to achieve them—not the permission of a sympathetic president, Congress, or the Supreme Court.”

Renaissance Within Reach

By banding together and disobeying the old, dysfunctional machine, a new American renaissance is within reach, Murray says.

“A by-product of systematic civil disobedience can be a reinvigoration of civil society,” Murray writes. “A society in which a central government tries to surveil everyone is on its way to tyranny.”

By the People: Rebuilding Liberty Without Permission is an engaging and thought-provoking analysis of our government’s daily fight against the American people’s interests, and it offers a novel roadmap to returning the country to the ideals that once made America great and can make the country great again.

Jay Lehr, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is science director of The Heartland Institute.