You Say You Want a Revolution? Think Again
Let us make one thing crystal clear: We do not claim the right to indiscriminate violence. We seek no bloodbath…
~ Black Panther Party (March 23, 1968)
One of the benefits of writing for this website is the mail you receive. After enough time you get a rather good feel for the type of person, on average, that frequents this place. The kind invitations I received after my last submission to grab my AK, run to the mountains, and join the fun when it all falls apart was telling. If the rebellious spirit of our Founders still lives at all, it seems to be concentrated between two groups — libertarians and punks. But, while the spirit may reside, would it be a good idea to act on it?
The right to rebellion is sacrosanct in America, the completely humane, just, and natural right of any man to break bonds with another is embodied not only in our very Founding but in our divorce laws, too. No American would consent to law making marriage an indivisible, eternal commitment; we refuse any compulsion to remain wedded to the girl of our nightmares, let alone the likes of Hillary Clinton and John McCain. Anyone who questions the right of divorce and (if made necessary by the political elite) violent action to secure it is, like the pro-slavery proponents of the Old South, seriously deficient in humanity.
Any discussion regarding the dissolution of political bonds belongs to, and only to, the working masses. Naturally, the opinion of any politician regarding this question may be completely discounted. First off, it is none of their business; servants do not determine the length of their employment. Second, addiction to power is in their very nature; it is the be all and end all of their existence. To expect an Obama or a W (or any of their species) to allow the working masses their right to peaceful separation is like expecting a hungry lion to spit out the wounded zebra it has clutched in its jaws.
It takes a statesman, a philosopher king, so to speak, to understand the benefits and justice of liberty, to understand that everywhere and always the struggle for it is the struggle of the workers against the political elite. A true statesman must be a traitor to his class, to be part of what the great Karl Marx promised, "a small section of the ruling class (which) cuts itself adrift, and joins the revolutionary class."
Today, almost without exception, America's ruling caste is bereft of such men.
The Write Way Towards Freedom
…Any change remains possible because citizens are free to communicate with and persuade one another and express their political opinions without being threatened by the Government with criminal sanctions.
~ Glenn Greenwald, Salon.com (March 22, 2010)
The best example of such a statesman is Thomas Jefferson, without doubt the most radical and progressive of the Founders, a man who, unlike even so many of his contemporaries, not only supported the idea of rebellion but also positively encouraged it. This was, and is, in stark contrast to power-mad figures like Alexander Hamilton and Che Guevara, men who are called "revolutionaries" but were nothing of the sort, who as soon struck off the chains of one tyrant went immediately to pot and looked about in a panic for a new set to clamp round their neck.
Jefferson, in contrast, was a true revolutionary, it was a subject he lived and studied his entire life. He believed that while war may be required to get out from under oppressive regimes, it is first of all necessary to have the proper, rational animating idea behind it, to make more likely the rebellion will be a positive step towards liberty rather than what so many revolutions sadly turn out to be; foolish, reactionary steps back into greater political control. Thomas Jefferson's ideas culminated in the bloodless "Revolution of 1800," when he took the presidency and firmly established, for a few years at least, an Executive Branch with a decidedly progressive, radical attitude towards power. This was accomplished not by war, but by the spread of ideas, something done best by, in Thomas Jefferson's words, "the vast dissemination of books." Political leaders burn and ban books for a reason.
Always it is a nation's intellectuals, those who actually read and write the books, who spread the ideas vital to the advance and preservation of liberty. It is telling that while the ideological views put forth in best-sellers such as Edward Kennedy's True Compass, Sarah Palin's Going Rogue, and Barack Obama's Audacity of Hope are not what progressive revolutions are made of, they are today as "mainstream" and apple pie as can be. Consequentially, a revolution today would be a decided step back as it would lack the ideological roadmap to go anywhere but deeper into the badlands.
If this union is to return to its progressive roots it will be not by the sword but by the writings of those dedicated to a philosophy of liberation, by the wide dissemination of radical thought into the op-ed pages and editorials of our newspapers, into the comments section to Internet news sites, into the mouths of the interviewed "man on the street," into the intellectuals' monthly journals and thence most importantly, into the minds of men. It is here where even the most humble advocate of liberty can make a difference, it is the necessary first step that, should we fail to take it, will bring any hard-earned advances to naught.
Pick up your pen and write until your fingers go numb, submit an avalanche, cross you fingers, and hope for the best. That is the one and only way to pull out of this tailspin. Patience and endless repetition, above all, are needed. Keep in mind the words of Rexford Tugwell (one of the more reactionary and conservative of FDR's "Brain Trust") that "a nation does not take a new direction overnight." (Tugwell, 105) Remember that for decades FDR and his fellows wandered in the intellectual wilderness, yet steadily chipped away at the edifice of law, using small, but friendly, publications such as The Review of Reviews and The New Republic as their base of operations.
At this point in time, the average American citizen neither understands nor desires liberty. Today, even in the unlikely event of victory on the battlefield for the forces of liberty, it would all quickly amount to nothing. Freedom is impossible to force onto a people, and we would soon find, as even did God with the rebellious angels He cast out of heaven, that he "who overcomes by force, hath overcome but half his foe." (Milton, 32)
So leave your AK hanging over the fireplace, it is not time for that.
We hold these truths to be self-evident…that whenever any form of government becomes destructive…it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it.
~ Declaration of Independence (1776)
As an alternative to open rebellion, some raise the age-old question of secession, seeing the federal behemoth broken up by a peaceful, democratic process. Should anyone think those people in D.C. will simply let the workers go free, as if Pharaoh will give Moses and the Israelites (after a hardy clap on the back and a best of luck) leave to walk away into the desert, a quick trip to any library's history section should quickly end their delusion.
While Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. effectively practiced passive resistance this, too, is no means to bring about peaceful change as the political mind is, above all, exceedingly prone to violence. It was once written of Europe's rulers "these were fierce and lawless…war was the business and delight of their existence" (Mackay, 293) and pick up today's papers and see, is the American politician any different?
Judging by their past and current behavior, from the War of Terror to that on drugs, or obesity, or smutty television shows, America's ruling class look for any excuse to call out an army, be it of soldiers, police, or bureaucrats. Goading a political beast as highly militarized as the US federal government, even by use of a vote to secede or a simple, peaceful course of civic disobedience is to guarantee bloodshed. While Lincoln most certainly did not put to rest the question of the right to secede, he most certainly did put to rest any question of how America's political elite will react to any sign of it. Forget "In God We Trust," it'd be better that every US dollar bear a more accurate slogan for our current regime. "If I Can't Have You, Nobody Will."
So vote to secede or not, engage in peaceful resistance or not, if you want out of America you are going to have to fight your way out, and as of this moment we are not ideologically prepared for that struggle. Years after the glory of 1776, John Adams reminisced to Thomas Jefferson about what, more than anything, allowed such a progressive victory to be gained. He dismissed the actual fighting as of no import to the revolution, "it was only an effect and consequence of it," meaning the true revolution takes place in the minds of men before you can have any hope of success, before any rifle is loaded. "The Revolution," Mr. Adams went on to say, "was in the minds of the people, and this was effected…before a drop of blood was shed at Lexington." (Bailyn, 1)
Before America can be liberated, she must first desire it.
A Change Is Gonna Come
If (a revolution) happens, I expect it will more closely resemble the French Revolution than the one in 1776."
~ Wendy McElroy (2010)
Today, give me liberty or give me death no longer rings true, the typical American is content to put up with any outrage because he's so ideologically stripped as to no longer have any idea he should be outraged. Harboring a completely materialistic view of politics that equates material comfort with freedom, he'll bear any assault on liberty with timid submission so long as the hi-def cable stays on. The intellectuals fare no better in this regard, as they are the very ones who spread the ideas that made hi-def cable more important to us than trial by jury.
In the event of rebellion, the American people would lack any leadership with the ability, or even the urge, to guide them back to liberty. Even if the occasional outrage morphs into a tea party, the vast majority of Americans, lead by the intellectuals, take most assaults with quiet approval, and for now I thank God for it. To go to war is something even the most ignorant savage does with relish; but to start a revolution requires the ability for calm, rational thought and a manly courage to risk it all that does not currently exist in this country. Where once our forefathers shot at government troops marching through the Massachusetts countryside towards Lexington and Concord, today we are a frightened little flock that goes to pieces at the thought of Goldman Sachs suffering a well-deserved bankruptcy. 2010 America does not possess what successful revolutions are made of.
So, thank you all who sent me a kind invitation to share a mess kit and a fight, but when you Thomas Jefferson wannabes grab your AK-47s, pull on your surplus camouflage uniforms, and go rushing off into the mountains please count me out and don't wait up. I'll be watching the slaughter from afar, Barcelona perhaps, Amsterdam more likely, and doubtless I'll wish good luck and God speed to you all.
As of right now this country is simply not prepared for secession, civic disobedience, or rebellion; and under the current regime they all would be considered the same in the eyes of the ruling elite. Any move in that direction would be setting you up for a hopeless task; to free a people that neither wish for liberty or could handle it if won.
Read the op-ed pages and editorials of any newspaper, glance at the comments section to any Internet news site, and listen to the interviewed "man on the street," read our intellectuals' monthly journals and agree; modern America is too uncivilized and savage for freedom.
If you wish for a change back to liberty, forget your rifle — grab your pen.
Bailyn, Bernard. The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1967)
Milton, John. Paradise Lost (Barnes & Noble Classics, New York, 2004)
Tugwell, Rexford. The Battle for Democracy (Greenwood Press, New York, 1969)
March 27, 2010
CJ Maloney [send him mail] lives and works in New York City. He blogs for Liberty & Power on the History News Network website. His first book (on Arthurdale, West Virginia during the New Deal) is to be released by John Wiley and Sons in February 2011.
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