Revolution as Systemic Check

If you think there will be a political solution to today’s problems, you are a part of today’s problems. Tyranny in the modern style depends for its perpetuation and expansion on the continued faith of the oppressed in the very political mechanisms that have been used to oppress them.

In the aftermath of the Trump-fomented riot at the U.S. Capitol on January 6th, many so-called conservative politicians, in the moldy mold of Ted Cruz, took to the airwaves to express mock condemnation of the riot with the worst and most dangerous platitudes, along the lines of, “Violence is never the answer.” Not true. Violence without rational purpose, without defining principles, without a self-limiting goal, and without logical justification in the given context — violence of the sort encouraged by Donald Trump and his sycophants, and perpetrated by dimwitted members of Trump’s cult of personality — is indeed never the answer, because it is violence in response to no coherent question. To say, on the other hand, that violence as such is “never the answer” is to express simplistic pacifism in the face of any and all oppression — to declare without exception that there is no such thing as a last straw, no such thing as a breaking point, no such thing as an insupportable level of humiliation.

In truth, a case could be made that the so-called democratic world in its entirety, certainly including America, has long since crossed the line into illegitimate and fundamentally oppressive government, such that revolutionary action, of the sort represented in modern history by the sentiments expressed by Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence, would be entirely justified at any time — but only if undertaken in the spirit, and with the intellectual dignity, of the American Revolution. Anything less than that level of reasoned, righteous uprising is merely an instigation to chaos and a quasi-justification for more oppressive government in the name of restoring “stability.”

This is in no way a practical recommendation of violent uprising. It is a theoretical expression of the essential mortality and proper vulnerability of any state that expands its powers and intentions beyond the legitimate and defining role of governing authority, which is to promote civility and protect human freedom. The legitimacy of government must always be tied to its basic self-restraint within the limits of its justifiable moral authority. A government which fundamentally forsakes or intentionally oversteps the moral authority that supports its existence ceases to have any rational claim to its continued rule. It should be understood by all that a government which rules beyond the point of having so basically undermined its moral legitimacy does so only by brute force, by the voluntary forbearance of the oppressed, or by some combination of these two. Such a state has no moral case against rebellious violence — but neither does violence against such a state have any moral justification apart from a reasoned argument for the restoration or establishment of ordered liberty.

In short, there is nothing to be said in defense of pro-Trump violence, for there is nothing to be said in defense of the political “vision” Trump represents. He and his supporters — both those actively violent and those egging them on — stand for pure thuggery in the name of nothing beyond Trump’s ego. But it does not follow from this that genuine revolutionary violence is never justified. Far from it. To concede the latter point would be to declare humanity completely and forever at the mercy of whichever form of tyranny happened to engulf a population in any given era.

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