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High-Reliability Self-Governance

The key to self‑governance is for individuals, families, churches, businesses, other organizations, and other lesser magistrates to take action to limit our governments.

James Anthony
September 23, 2022

“We will resist any attempt by a Federal, state or local official to restrict or prohibit the free exercise of our Religion …”

— The Acts 5:29 Statement [1]


The Acts 5:29 Statement is a pledge to resist future lockdowns, mandated masking, and social distancing. It has so far been signed by at least 3,051 pastors, elders, and church leaders. These lesser magistrates are acting in an infrequent but crucial tradition.

Lesser magistrates have interposed themselves against tyrants many times in history:

  1. Around 1025 BC, King Saul’s guards refused the king’s order to kill the priests of the Lord at Nob.
  2. In 40-41 AD, Syrian Governor Petronius refused Emperor Caligula’s order to install an image of the emperor in the Jewish temple.
  3. In 1215, English nobles resisted King John.
  4. In 1320, Scottish earls and nobles resisted English King Edward II.
  5. In 1521, Saxony Prince Frederick the Wise blocked Emperor Charles V from killing or imprisoning Martin Luther.
  6. In 1550-1551, Magdeburg, Germany pastors resisted Emperor Charles V.
  7. In 1558, John Knox and Scottish nobles resisted the Roman Catholic Church.
  8. In 1775-1783, American politicians and militia resisted King George III.
  9. In 1989, Romanian Minister of Defense Vasile Milea refused leader Nicolae Ceausescu’s order to shoot demonstrators.

Other than the American Revolution, all of these interpositions are highlighted in The Doctrine of the Lesser Magistrates, a very-helpful primer written from the perspective of a Christian pastor [2].

In each of these interpositions, the risks were grave:

  1. Around 1025 BC, King Saul then ordered Doeg the Edomite to kill the priests, and Doeg killed 85 priests.
  2. In 41 AD, Emperor Caligula then ordered Governor Petronius to kill himself. Fortunately before the order arrived, the emperor was assassinated by his guards.
  3. In 1215, King John went back on the Magna Carta he had signed. He hired mercenaries, and they tortured the English nobles, stole the nobles’ treasures, and burned the nobles’ castles and villages. Fortunately the next year, the king died and this tyranny ended [3].
  4. In 1320, fortunately, the Scottish earls’ and nobles’ Declaration of Arbroath was received by Pope John. In 1324, Pope John finally recognized Scottish King Robert as sovereign over Scotland.
  5. In 1521, fortunately, although Emperor Charles V had permitted anyone to kill Martin Luther without legal consequence, Prince Frederick the Wise helped Luther escape even being arrested. Luther ultimately started a new denomination.
  6. In 1550-1551, Emperor Charles V used Saxony Elector Maurice to besiege Magdeburg, Germany. Fortunately, Magdeburg’s people endured, and kept their independence.
  7. Following 1558, the Roman Catholic Church and its political allies continued to threaten John Knox and the Scottish nobles. Fortunately, Knox, who remained outspoken against the church, also remained protected and was able to live out his natural life.
  8. In 1775-1783, King George III’s forces took the lives of 9% of America’s population, second only to the Civil War deaths of 1.6% of America’s population. Fortunately, King George III ultimately conceded defeat.
  9. In 1989, Romanian leader Nicolae Ceausescu accused Minister of Defense Vasile Milea of treason, and Milea died by murder or suicide. Three days after Milea died, fortunately, Cfeausescu was tried for genocide and other crimes and was executed.

Interpositions show that tyrannies can be resisted, and that resistance can succeed. Through these actions, freedom builds up.

High Reliability

In self-governance, interpositions are the key to high reliability.

High reliability requires preventing most failures. High reliability critically also requires recovering from failures [4].

Screenshot 2022-09-23 155349

Figure. Organization characteristics for high reliability [5]. Bold type identifies features required by the Constitution’s rules.

High-reliability organizations operate such complex modern systems as power grids, chemical plants, air-traffic-control systems, aircraft carriers, and nuclear plants. But, impressively, when organizations operate the specific complex modern systems that are the most like governments, the types of organizations that deliver high reliability turn out to be those that have the same tailored features that were put in place for USA governments centuries earlier using the Constitution.

High-Reliability Rules

Governments’ fundamental units are policy entrepreneurs [6], who can operate largely autonomously in their own local domains. Because of this, recovering from failures requires localized action.

Analysis of what recovery action to take can be performed by focusing locally on the failing parts of the system. Analysis can also be performed by focusing system-wide, identifying local action that can be taken outside of the failing part of the system to relieve the failing part of the system.

Local analysis is facilitated by arranging the system to be decomposed into atomistic components. Sure enough, USA governments helpfully are decomposed into local, state, and national governments, each of which is further decomposed into branches and departments, most of which are further decomposed into smaller subdivisions that are tasked with independent scopes.

System-wide analysis to find localized relief outside of the failing part of the system to relieve the failing part of the system is facilitated by focusing on actions. Here, USA governments helpfully are subject to the rule that legislators, executive officers, and judicial officers each must take and uphold oaths of office. Each individual’s oath empowers and requires him to interpret the Constitution himself and to use his constitutional powers accordingly to take action [7].

The Constitution’s rules largely function to limit governments, making individuals’ rights more secure from abuses by governments [8]. The individual oaths to support or protect the Constitution should lead each individual to limit others in government. These individual actions would, in the aggregate, greatly limit governments in all jurisdictions.

Insufficient Sanctions

USA governments have in place the necessary high-reliability rules. What stops USA governments from performing with high reliability the function for which governments are instituted—to secure individuals’ natural rights [9]—is that these rules aren’t followed.

There are numerous failures of the multiple seemingly-independent protections [10]:

  • At the local level, (that is, at the level of the individuals who are in these governments or who interact with them), individuals have become somewhat lacking in the knowledge and emotional intelligence of our predecessors—who had to make good on their own, and who developed strong personal Christian faith.
  • At the system level, both major parties have become majority Progressive [11], as have most civil institutions, including media [12], churches [13], and corporations [14].

Individuals who have the required knowledge and emotional intelligence certainly are still out there,  and are gaining in strength[15], possibly sustainably. Towards the end of Trump’s time in office, Conservative Review Liberty Scores of at least 80% pro-liberty [16] were earned by only 8% of that past house and 6% of the past senate. Now, such Liberty Scores ae earned by 13% of today’s house and 12% of today’s senate [17].

Executives who have the required knowledge and emotional intelligence have been more difficult to elect. Progressive executives benefit substantially from the Progressive parties’ candidate-selection processes being substantially front-end loaded [18], [19].

One measure of executives’ knowledge and emotional intelligence is the Liberty Scores of the legislators who are the swing votes on the bills that a given president will sign. By this measure, presidents from both parties have been highly Progressive [20].

Here too, though, there are hopeful signs. Current executive and potential presidential candidate Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has been using his powers quite well against others in other jurisdictions [21]. Going even further, potential presidential candidates Representative Thomas Massie and Senator Rand Paul have also been using their powers stridently against others in their own jurisdiction [22].

Strong personal faith has undergirded strong individual action in the past and could in the future. Strong personal faith has also undergirded strong aggregate action in the past, for example the development of the Dutch Republic, England’s parliamentary government, the USA’s freedom from England [23], and the USA’s abolition of slavery [24].

The interpositions listed earlier involved individuals and also substantial groups. Now, such individuals and groups mostly seem to be absent. As noted, most individuals elected or appointed to USA governments now aren’t following the Constitution’s rules.

Systemically, failures to follow the Constitution’s rules aren’t being remedied by sufficiently-effective sanctions. Government people who defy the Constitution aren’t being laid off [25], fired, summarily impeached and punished [26], criminally punished [27], or replaced by better people through elections [11].  

Sanctioning by government people using their powers against others in government hasn’t been happening at sufficient frequencies. Sanctioning by voters replacing Constitution-defiers with better people hasn’t been happening at sufficient frequencies.

A Progressive Party System

These shortfalls both result from the single systemic fault mentioned earlier that both major parties’ politicians are majority Progressive [11]. Because of this, the parties’ leaders, rules & practices, and cronies have been preventing voters from having the options, on most offices on general-election ballots, to choose major-party candidates who are pro-liberty; that is, constitutionalist.

Parties are legal. But the individual actions that the Progressive major parties make possible are unconstitutional.

The sanctions provided in the Constitution would be sufficient for broken-windows policing if most everyone would follow the Constitution [26]. And these sanctions have been sufficient to sometimes provide temporary, modest pauses in the most-dramatic abuses. But these sanctions have not proven sufficient to disrupt the longstanding systemic multiparty Constitution defiance [28].

Visualizing the overall system of government as if it is an electrical circuit with components that are designed to provide multiple independent protections, the Progressive parties are operating like water shorting out this bare circuit’s conductors. The Progressive parties short the components of enough power that the protections don’t work—at exactly the time when we the people most need these protections to work.

In the terminology of layer of protection analysis, which is used to increase the safety of highly-hazardous processes, here the individual components each have a high probability of failure on demand [10]. The problem is that we don’t have at least one major party in which most of the politicians use their constitutional powers against others in government.

Personal Faith and Widespread Interposition

Solutions are possible, and can emerge quickly. A good executive [25] can get elected and from there can create a good major party [29}.

Or local activists can secede as county regions from state governments and begin instituting state-level governments [30] that provide the nominally-guaranteed republican form of government. Such county-regions governments’ politicians would in turn start using their constitutional powers to also limit people in the national government [31].

Most likely, many of the pastors, elders, and church leaders who are signing the Acts 5:29 Statement haven’t fully appreciated the crucial role they are playing through this action. Clearly they know that they can undergird helpful moral personal behavior. But most likely many of them haven’t fully appreciated how consequential such action has been in producing freedom from tyranny, and, further, in also going on to bring us our modern comforts in life [23].

Like them, most likely many of us also don’t fully appreciate all of the actions that together constitute what works here. The key to self-governance is our own actions—as individuals, in families, in churches, in businesses, in other organizations, and in governments—in our roles of being our own governments’ lesser magistrates.


  1. The Acts 5:29 Statement. 2022, acts529.com. Accessed 23 Sep. 2022.
  2. Trewhella, Matthew J. The Doctrine of the Lesser Magistrates: A Proper Resistance to Tyranny and a Repudiation of Unlimited Obedience to Civil Government. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2013.
  3. Bovard, James. “King John Butchered Authors of Magna Charta.” JimBovard, 15 June 2015, jimbovard.com/blog/2015/06/15/king-john-butchered-authors-of-magna-charta/. Accessed 23 Sep. 2022.
  4. Rijpma, Jos A. “Complexity, Tight–Coupling and Reliability: Connecting Normal Accidents Theory and High Reliability Theory.” Journal of Contingencies and Crisis Management, 5, no. 1, Mar. 1997, pp. 15-23.
  5. Schulman, Paul R. “Heroes, Organizations and High Reliability.” Journal of Contingencies and Crisis Management, vol. 4, no. 2, June 1996, pp. 72-82.
  6. Arnold, Gwen. “Distinguishing the Street‐Level Policy Entrepreneur.” Public Administration, vol. 99, no. 3, Sep. 2021, pp. 439-53.
  7. Anthony, James. “On the Reading of Old Constitutions.” rConstitution.us, 9 Oct. 2021, rconstitution.us/on-the-reading-of-old-constitutions/. Accessed 23 Sep. 2022.
  8. Barnett, Randy E. “Is the Constitution Libertarian?” Cato Supreme Court Review, vol. 9, Sep. 2009, pp. 9-33.
  9. USA Declaration of Independence, 1776.
  10. Willey, Ronald J. “Layer of Protection Analysis.” Procedia Engineering, vol. 84, 2014, pp. 12-22.
  11. Anthony, James. “Voters’ Dilemma.” rConstitution.us, 17 June 2022, rconstitution.us/voters-dilemma/. Accessed 23 Sep. 2022.
  12. Wytmar, Rick. “Analysis: How Readers Rated the Media Bias of AP, BBC, The Epoch Times, and More.” The Epoch Times, 12 May 2021, www.theepochtimes.com/how-readers-rated-the-media-bias-of-ap-bbc-and-the-epoch-times-and-more_3805916.html. Accessed 23 Sep. 2022.
  13. Schnabel, Landon, and Sean Bock. “The Persistent and Exceptional Intensity of American Religion: A Response to Recent Research.” Sociological Science, vol. 4, 2017, pp. 686-700.
  14. Zywicki, Todd. “Rent-Seeking, Crony Capitalism, and the Crony Constitution.” Supreme Court Economic Review, 23, no. 1, 2016, pp. 77-103.
  15. Anthony, James. “Wave Election Harnessing.” rConstitution.us, 24 June 2022, rconstitution.us/wave-election-harnessing/. Accessed 23 Sep. 2022.
  16. Anthony, James. “Votes Matter When a Party Requires Good Voting Scores.” rConstitution.us, 6 Nov. 2020, rconstitution.us/votes-matter-when-a-party-requires-good-voting-scores/. Accessed 23 Sep. 2022.
  17. “Scorecard.” Conservative Review, libertyscore.conservativereview.com/. Accessed 23 Sep. 2022.
  18. Steger, Wayne P. “Do Primary Voters Draw from a Stacked Deck? Presidential Nominations in an Era of Candidate-Centered Campaigns.” Presidential Studies Quarterly, vol. 30, no. 4, Dec 2000, pp. 727-53.
  19. Knight, Brian, and Nathan Schiff. “Momentum and Social Learning in Presidential Primaries.” Journal of Political Economy, vol. 118, no. 6, Dec. 2010, pp. 1110-50.
  20. Anthony, James. “Republicans: The Key Progressives.” rConstitution.us, 21 Aug. 2020, rconstitution.us/republicans-the-key-progressives/. Accessed 23 Sep. 2022.
  21. Anthony, James. “Why DeSantis Matters.” rConstitution.us, 30 July 2021, rconstitution.us/why-desantis-matters/. Accessed 23 Sep. 2022.
  22. Anthony, James. “Trump, DeSantis, or Massie?” rConstitution.us, 7 Jan. 2022, rconstitution.us/trump-desantis-or-massie/. Accessed 23 Sep. 2022.
  23. Anthony, James. “Economic Growth Is a Natural Effect of Christianity.” rConstitution.us, 3 Dec. 2021, rconstitution.us/economic-growth-is-a-natural-effect-of-christianity/. Accessed 23 Sep. 2022.
  24. Anthony, James. The Constitution Needs a Good Party: Good Government Comes from Good Boundaries. Neuwoehner Press, 2018, pp. 83-4.
  25. Anthony, James. “The First 1,461 Days of a Constitutionalist President.” rConstitution.us, 8 Jan. 2021, rconstitution.us/the-first-1461-days-of-a-constitutionalist-president/. Accessed 23 Sep. 2022.
  26. Anthony, James. “Constitutional Impeachment Is Loss Prevention.” rConstitution.us, 5 Feb. 2021, rconstitution.us/constitutional-impeachment-is-loss-prevention/. Accessed 23 Sep. 2022.
  27. Anthony, James. “Treason Remedies.” rConstitution.us, 6 Aug. 2021, rconstitution.us/treason-remedies/. Accessed 23 Sep. 2022.
  28. Rothbard, Murray N. The Progressive Era. Edited by Patrick Newman, Mises Institute, 2017, pp. 163-97.
  29. Anthony, James. “Starting a Party by Running as a Republican for Congress, Then as an Independent for President.” rConstitution.us, 25 Mar. 2022, rconstitution.us/starting-a-party-by-running-as-a-republican-for-congress-then-as-an-independent-for-president/. Accessed 23 Sep. 2022.
  30. Anthony, James. “Why Stop at the States? A Republican Form of Secession.” Mises Institute Power & Market Blog, 19 July 2022, mises.org/power-market/why-stop-states-republican-form-secession. Accessed 23 Sep. 2022.
  31. Anthony, James. “rSecession: County-Region Secessions to Form Small-r republican State Governments.” rConstitution.us, 9 Jul. 2021, rconstitution.us/rsecession-county-region-secessions-to-form-small-r-republican-state-governments/. Accessed 23 Sep. 2022.

James Anthony is the author of The Constitution Needs a Good Party and rConstitution Papers, publishes rConstitution.us, and has written in The Federalist, American Thinker, American Greatness, Mises Institute, and Foundation for Economic Education. Mr. Anthony is an experienced chemical engineer with a master’s in mechanical engineering.


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