When Henry David Thoreau decided to get away from it all at Walden Pond in Concord, Mass., he wanted to discover “what, to use the words of the catechism, is the chief end of man, and what are the true necessaries and means of life.” If he set upon the same adventure of carving out a spot for himself in the wilderness today, Walden would likely be a different story: one of bureaucrats, building permits and the overbearing power of the state.
At least, that’s how the story is going for 51-year-old Eustace Conway — a man, who for the past three decades has led a largely agrarian life on his 500-acre farm in the Appalachians of North Carolina.
A recent Wall Street Journal profile of Conway portrays a man living a rugged American dream and giving back to the community in the process. “The Last American Man” — as he was called in a 2002 biography and National Book Award finalist by Elizabeth Gilbert — grows and shoots much of his own food, makes clothing from pelts and mills wood felled on his property to build shelters and outbuildings.
Conway also offers tours and classes to anyone interested in visiting his property and learning the finer points of roughing it through Turtle Island, a nonprofit organization he has run for 20 years.
But last fall, officials from the Watauga County planning department, acting on an anonymous complaint, conducted a SWAT-style raid on Conway’s property. The officials then compiled a 78-page report listing health and building violations on the property. The list includes gripes about such things as primitive restrooms, an outdoor kitchen that could be contaminated by animals and insects, and a lack of fire sprinklers and restrooms in primitive cabins.
Perhaps one of the most ridiculous notes in the report is that Conway has used lumber that isn’t “grade-marked” — read “store-bought.” That is because he milled the wood from trees on his own land.
“These buildings aren’t fit for public use,” Joseph A. Furman, the county planning director, told WSJ.
So officials have ordered Conway to destroy his cabins, barn, kitchen, blacksmith shop and sawmill; he also must install a septic system to host any more visitors.
Conway has attracted the support of libertarian-leaning rights groups who argue that one should have the right to host visitors on his own land without bowing to the will of the state. And a petition of more than 11,000 signatures, urging officials to take a hike and allow him to continue his primitive living classes, is circulating.
It is yet to be seen if Conway will be ruined by the will of the state; but previous, similar happenings throughout the Nation illustrate the unwillingness of bureaucrats to back down when they want to crush individuals who dare question the absolute power of government.
Such was the case in the story of the Southern Nevada Health District’s attack on a picnic at an organic farm when it was deemed the freshly grown produce and organic meat being served were unfit for human consumption. Bureaucrats destroyed the feast with bleach and terrorized guests at Quail Hollow Farm during the unConstitutional raid.
There are a number of stories about government attacking raw milk farms or ordering farmers to raise only one type of state-approved livestock. Non-compliance often results in armed government attacks on the farmers.
And in Letha, Idaho, last year, a man known for his outspoken Constitutionalism was raided by excited SWAT police who believed they had uncovered massive marijuana grow operation in his house. It was actually a group of tomato plants.
The attempt of government to keep people from visiting property or consuming goods that have not been first fingered by the state can be summed up by 19th century Senator Daniel Webster in “Good And Bad Intentions.”
Good intentions will always be pleaded for every assumption of authority. It is hardly too strong to say that the Constitution was made to guard the people against the dangers of good intentions. There are men in all ages who mean to govern well, but they mean to govern. They promise to be good masters, but they mean to be masters.
Citizen self-reliance in any form, it seems, is not a great helper of those who mean to govern and be masters. So those who wish to be self-reliant must be made to jump through government-erected hoops which make it impossible to survive without the blessing of the state.