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Imagine No Opposition; It’s Easy If You Try


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Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace
–John Lennon, “Imagine” (1971)

The late John Lennon implied in this famous tune that utopia requires the absence of real human differences and firm convictions, as if the communities, beliefs, and civil societies that arise from a free people are the enemy rather than the fruit of peace. Lennon imagined a world in which nothing was worth dying for (and thus not worth living for), that the afterlife offered no hope (“above us only sky”), that a man may not own what is rightly his (“no possessions”), and that life’s meaning is forever severed from a transcendent source (“no religion too”). 

Unsurprisingly, Lennon’s cultural children, who now occupy the seats of power in virtually all our public institutions, view any opposition to their flower-child idealism as by its very nature inconsistent with the “good society,” even if such opposition is a consequence of a free people exercising their rightful powers as citizens. Thus, they do not view their visceral hostility to contrary voices as a prologue to tyranny, but rather, as a legitimate reaction to those who propagate “injustice.”  Consequently, given human nature, and the diversity of social, intellectual, and religious paths that arise from a free people committed to ordered liberty, the world of “Imagine” can only be achieved by suppressing the opposition.

As we learned earlier this month, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) admitted [1] that it had over the past few years targeted for “special treatment” Tea Party and conservative groups applying for 501(c) 4 or 501(c) 3 tax-exempt status. For example, according to one report [2], an Iowa prolife group was asked in 2009 by the IRS to “please explain how all of your activities, including the prayer meetings held outside of Planned Parenthood, are considered educational as defined under 501(c) 3.” They were also asked to “please provide the percentage of time your group spends on prayer groups as compared with other activities of the organization,” as well as “to explain in detail the signs that are being held up outside Planned Parenthood, and explain how they are considered educational.”

In response to these startling revelations, President Barack Obama expressed his condemnation in these words [3]If in fact IRS personnel engaged in the kind of practices that have been reported on and were intentionally targeting conservative groups, then thats outrageous. And theres no place for it. All people of good will should applaud the president for taking such a firm stance.

However, over the past few years, the president, his administration, and his supporters, both in and out of Congress, have conducted themselves in a fashion that seems to give tacit permission for the very IRS actions that the president and most of his allies now rightly condemn. This is because they are at bottom Lennon’s cultural children. For the civil consequences of liberty – the birth and development of free institutions and associations – make the “perfect” world that they “imagine” unachievable.

It began in April 2009 when the Department of Homeland Security issued a report that [4] suggests, “acts of violence could come from unnamed rightwing extremists’ concerned about illegal immigration, abortion, increasing federal power, and restrictions on firearms.” In 2012, during the president’s re-election campaign, the effort acquired teeth and became concerted.

In March 2012 [5], several Democratic senators issued a press release that included a letter they had written to IRS commissioner Don Schulman asking the agency “to immediately change the administrative framework for enforcement of the tax code as it applies to groups designated as social welfare’ organizations.” And if the IRS didn’t take their advice, the senators promised, “to introduce legislation to accomplish these important changes.”

This press release followed the February 2012 tweet [6] in which President Obama singled out two private citizens by name – Charles G. Koch and Bill Koch – and asked his supporters to “add your name [to a petition] to demand that the Koch brothers make their donors public, one of those now outrageous requests made by the IRS to many of the conservative groups it admits to have targeted [7].

Around this same time, the confidential tax returns of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) were leaked by someone at the IRS [8] to NOM’s political opponents, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). HRC then gave the returns to the Huffington Post [9], which subsequently published them [10] online. The disclosure revealed [11] the names of donors that included Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

At the time HRC obtained these returns and allowed them to be published online, its president and Huffington Post contributor, Joe Solmonese, had already been named a national co-chair [12] to President Obama’s re-election campaign. As far as one can tell, the president issued no statement calling for an investigation of the IRS or saying that what HRC did was “outrageous” and that there was “no place for it.”

How could he? When you give tacit permission for your followers to harass private citizens until they disclose what they are not required to by law, and when senators from your own party are calling for an IRS crack-down on tax-exempt associations holding political views you oppose, you’re in no position to declare that there is “no place for” HRC’s misdeed. You would be like Hugh Hefner condemning a brothel owner for promoting promiscuity.

Although I can provide many other examples, the bottom line is this: the president and his allies undoubtedly knew that their tactics, if effective, would result in the suppression of political groups that, if allowed to flourish, would not be congenial to the president’s electoral success.

Imagine no opposition; it’s easy if you try.


Francis J. Beckwith is Professor of Philosophy & Church-State Studies, Baylor University, and 2016-17 Visiting Professor of Conservative Thought and Policy at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Among his many books is Taking Rites Seriously: Law, Politics, and the Reasonableness of Faith (Cambridge University Press, 2015).