Necessary Conditions for A Just Revolution
One of the great falsehoods of late modernity is that our political structures are so ingeniously self-renewing and self-correcting that the days of the just revolution are over. This position is not only untrue, but likely an indication of devious motives on the part of those who maintain and seek to perpetuate it. For political leaders to say, as President Biden and others have said of late, that political violence is never justified, is simply for power to declare itself immune to redress by the people. In truth, the ever-present (though normally quiescent) threat of violent upheaval, whether physical or institutional, to reverse extreme corruptions or usurpations of the regime, is, and was understood by modernity’s political founders to be, an essential and indispensable bulwark of the system.
Having said that, there are two conditions that must be met to justify any such upheaval, to wit: (1) a corruption or usurpation so radical, and so widely understood as deleterious to freedom that it cannot realistically or readily be undone within the normal mechanisms of representative government, and (2) a recognizable and rational plan of renewal and reorganization to be instituted promptly and with broad public acceptance in the aftermath of the revolution, i.e., a political goal which may be presented to the people at large in understandable terms, and which represents a genuine restoration of liberty and civility.
There is, at present, a legitimate question as to whether the advanced nations of today — some or all of them — have indeed reached or even long surpassed the point of no return with regard to condition (1). This goes a long way to explaining the general unrest and extreme tribal bifurcation observable in so many countries today. Millions everywhere sense that their interests as citizens are not being served, and their concerns not being addressed, for reasons that often appear to transcend ordinary incompetence or debatable alternative approaches, and instead seem more like malicious intent on the part of the ruling class (official or unofficial), or at best the sort of extreme paternalism that the great thinkers and statesmen of modern liberalism abhorred and decried as the velvet glove concealing an iron fist. One could therefore make the case that in certain countries at least, such as The United States and Canada, where the chasm between the foundational promise of individual freedom and the current entrenchment of government omnipresence has become too wide to be overleaped by any normal means, there is plenty of justification, in theory, for largescale resistance and defiance of the government, which would entail rejecting the typical calls to “respect the institutions,” on the grounds that those institutions are no longer what they were intended to be, but merely serve as rhetorical bludgeons with which to beat down earnest rebellion against the growing tyrannical impulses within “the establishment.”
But this leads us to condition (2), the recognizable and rational plan of renewal and reorganization. It is palpably obvious that there is no such plan ascendant at present, if by ascendant I may be understood to mean “representative of or widely approved by a substantial plurality of the general population.” At this moment, I am thinking of the U.S. midterm elections, where the Republican Party is buoyant as I write this at the prospect of making major gains in Congress. But the Republican Party is currently divided within itself between the establishmentarian faction and the Trump faction, the former being invested in the political status quo, and therefore of no benefit (quite the contrary) to those seeking serious institutional renewal, and the latter, the populist wing, being, almost by definition, simply the “anti” party. They hate the left, they are angry at the establishment, and they are convinced that their heroes and demigods, if elevated to power, would make America great again; but they show, collectively, zero evidence of having any rational conception of what America was supposed to be, let alone what made her “great,” such that they might reasonably hope to revive that greatness. They merely want to “win,” to punish the other side somehow, to mock those who will not join them, and to force their idol-worshipping simplemindedness and materialistic superficiality down everyone else’s throat.
The Trump movement is a revenge fantasy, and a peculiarly childish and unformed one, having no identifiable goal beyond such empty chants as anti-wokism, anti-Marxism, and above all anti-anti-Trumpism. Meanwhile, they not only feed all the very things they claim to be combatting, by combatting them with such vitriolic stupidity and anti-intellectualism, but they also display their utter lack of rational and liberal alternatives by openly defending, if not admiring (and in most cases, apparently, deeply admiring) certifiably tyrannical figures whom they foolishly identify with their incoherent cause, such as Vladimir Putin, not to mention their divine entity Donald Trump himself. And this movement appears to have its equivalents in all the popular resistance movements of the moment, worldwide. But if this immature and anger-driven populism is the alternative being offered to the corrupters and usurpers (real or alleged) currently in power, then the peoples of the world have clearly failed to meet condition (2), and thus provide no legitimate grounds for rebelling in the name of a hope which neither they nor their nominal leaders can articulate, and which moreover they do not in fact represent.
To summarize: The political institutions of late modernity have been largely ceded to men and women of a totalitarian mind, and this totalitarian spirit has been prepared, and is continually reinforced, by generations of compulsory or otherwise inescapable indoctrination of various insidious sorts. To combat this fruitfully at a practical level would require serious thinkers dedicated to the cause, and serious leaders intelligent enough to appreciate and support those thinkers, and to bring their principles to the people in a form calibrated to inspire and hearten them against the risks and pains of a long-term and uncertain struggle, but a struggle with a definable and beautiful goal. Not “winning,” but freedom. Not licentiousness, but moderation. Not brazen disrespect for those outside of one’s tribe, but disarming civility. Not collective anger, but individual principles. Not simplistic certainties, but openminded rational investigation. Not inventing new truths to suit one’s wishes, but cleaving to the known while accepting the implications of natural ignorance. Not bitter nostalgia, but a thoughtful understanding of the causes of tradition. Not hating “Them,” but persuading them where possible, or subduing them as a last resort and only where absolutely necessary in the name of preserving the foundations of liberty. Above all, not merely destroying what they have built, but erecting sensible and universally beneficial institutions in their place — “universally” meaning “for everyone, including them, insofar as they are willing and able to strive alongside you.”
We advanced peoples of the world will almost certainly experience no just political revolutions in our lifetime, for one of the necessary conditions, established at a sufficiently broad level, is no longer possible in the current state of things. Our revolutions today must be private, individual, spiritual. They will and must entail great forbearance, and likely much suffering, with no hope of the comforting safety of a tribe, no great uprising. We true rebels, we revolutionaries for human nature and freedom understood as something more than material wealth and pleasure, and something more than beating the other team, must fight alone. And our battles will be fought primarily against ourselves, or more precisely against the battering ram of late modernity, both its oppressive institutions and its mock-revolutionary chanting tribes, thudding continuously against our hearts and our reason.