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I received an e-mail in response to last week’s column which inspired me to think about the rights and wrongs of revolution. While the author agreed with my sentiments, he accused me and other freedom-loving writers of spending too much time on words and not enough on action. Considering that individual rights are now being violated in means more significant and systematic than they were in the time of our revolutionary forefathers, I concede he has a point.
And yet, it is worth considering what forms of action are appropriate for those who would see a return to a constitutional government respectful of individual rights and freedom. I agree that the American political system is irretrievably broken, indeed, the intricate design of checks-and-balances has mutated beyond recognition from what was originally intended to be a limited form of republican democracy, and I do not believe it is possible to effect positive change from within the bounds of the corrupt and monolithic “two-party” system.
Vote Republican, vote Democrat or don’t vote at all – it makes absolutely no difference in matters of lasting significance to the nation.
Thomas Jefferson once praised the benefits of a little revolution now and then, but he may not have been entirely aware of its destructive potential. Indeed, a close look at the differences between three famous revolutions, the American, the French and the Russian, reveal that the manner in which a revolution is conducted has a tremendous effect on its aftermath. The morality, or lack thereof, demonstrated by a revolution’s leaders is a matter of the utmost importance and inevitably shapes the form of the government which inherits the mantle of the old, illegitimized authority.
While the authors of the French and Russian revolutions felt that violence was quite justifiable and resorted to it as a matter of course, it is striking to see how long the Sons of Liberty waited, from the time of their formation in 1766 to “the shot heard round the world” in 1775, before shedding the blood of a single government agent. The Sons refrained from lethal violence even after the 1770 Boston Massacre, and it is worth noting that when the war finally began at Lexington and Concord, the revolutionary action was a defensive one against an armed invasion of government soldiers.
This is very different from the dialectic form of modern revolution, inspired by the French and Russian examples, wherein violent provocation is conceived in order to inspire a violent reaction that, in turn, hopes to inflame the common people to a state where they will rise up en masse to overthrow the government. The problem, of course, is that the people are usually repulsed by the revolutionaries’ own violence, and so successful revolutions of this type usually require significant outside support. In fact, this form of revolution might be better characterized as a paramilitary coup, and it is no surprise that revolutions sown with such seeds of violence tend to reap the bloody harvest of the gulag and the guillotine.
In the case of the ethical revolution, the primary assault must not be on the power, but the confidence of those who rule.
There are few truly evil people in the world, and so it is of vital importance for those who wield illegitimate power to deceive themselves into believing they do so justly. There is no question that had King George and his Parliament chosen to exercise the power of the British military to its full extent, they could have crushed the rebellious movement. However, they did not have the will to do so, because Samuel Adams and his fellows had succeeded in creating serious doubts about the justice of the anti-revolutionary cause among their fellow subjects of the Crown.
The Second American Revolution, if it is to be successful, will depend on a resolute opposition to violence until the moment when the government, facing a crisis of confidence, betrays its true foundation in a manner so vicious that the scales will finally fall from the average American’s eyes. Then, and only then, will it be time to raise the rattlesnake banner and remind our would-be masters of the lethal venom in the people’s liberty teeth.
This does not, you understand, mean that there are not other ways to resist a lawless government that has overstepped its rightful bounds. But more on that next week …