A Revulsion Toward Violent Revolution

It is only natural there exists a subsection of anarchists and libertarians – even conservatives – who quietly, privately, feel that we have crossed the point of no return in terms of restoring freedom in America without armed revolt.

As Thomas Jefferson remarked, “the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”

Again, it goes back to the doom and gloom mentality: People hate the way life is going and, forgetting for a moment what war is actually like, pine for simpler, albeit more dangerous times. There is the desire to be a part of something important, historical, rather than wasting away in a -9-5 cubicle desk job and the two-hour commutes to and from work. The banality of modern life is something to behold. Playing Red Dawn sounds like fun, at least for a few hours.

Yet, as much as these people might entertain such notions, I feel bound by the wisdom of collective experience found in history. And history is not kind to violent uprisings and rebellions.

Gary North correctly identifies the Catch-22 that comes with armed revolts, and how the vicious cycle undermines the very cause for which the struggle was started over in the first place. In order to win the war, the rebels set up a government. After the war, the power-hungry take control of the government. One tyrant replacing the other.

If you fight fire with fire, you still have a fire (bold emphasis added).

I am a great believer in secession. I just do not believe in the armed form. Armed secession is sometimes valid as a defensive measure against an illegitimate invasion by the central civil government, but only rarely in history has armed secession not strengthened the political power of the secessionists more than the central government from which the secessionists are seceding.

Secession is first of all a moral rebellion. People perceive that the civil government under which they operate has become inherently immoral. Also, the government shows no sign of reforming itself.

Secession begins when someone offers a moral critique that begins with the individual. Moral reform is above all self-reform. If it is not grounded in a call for self-reform, it is just one more call for a transfer of power to a new group of power-seekers.

Next, this reform impulse spreads to institutions that use private funds and individual talents to begin to reform society. If this program of reform is confined to politics, I recommend the following strategy: keep your hand upon your wallet, and your back against the wall.

Until there is institutional evidence of superior moral performance and superior practical performance in a wide variety of voluntary associations, especially the family, do not commit your money and your emotional commitment to any political reform movement.

Armed rebellion requires arms. Arms require money. Money requires taxation. Taxation has three main forms: direct (income, property, retail sales), indirect (wholesale sales), and monetary inflation.

Armed rebellion requires loans because revenues are never enough to buy the arms.

Armed rebellion requires a top-down chain of command: military ranks funded by centralized taxation.

Armed rebellion throws up — in both senses — new leaders. Their claim to fame during and after the rebellion is their successful management of a new central government.

I would also add that a revolt could result in an even worse government taking control, as it allows all the fanatics and radicals an opportunity to seize power when they would not be able to otherwise through the political process.We could easily as end up with a communist, fascist, or nationalist in the White House.

Think of all the revolutions throughout history. Which one actually brought more freedom to the country? If Russians could have known in advance what the February Revolution would eventually bring into power (Lenin and Stalin) one wonders if they would have shrugged and left the czar on the throne.

I hate giving specific predictions, but my guess is that we will see small, gradual acts of nonviolent secession throughout the country. There may be the United States of America is 30 years, but it will not operate as it does today. We already see that in the way the states are ignoring federal laws they don’t like; the feds can’t enforce them on their own.

Peaceful secession, or revolt, would address the problems North offers. Peaceful revolt doesn’t require taxation or loans. It doesn’t require a government. It doesn’t necessitate a military force. All it demands is that people refuse to obey the law. Enough do this, and there’s little that can be done. It’s also more defensible morally and politically. An armed revolt can be quickly reframed as insurrection and smeared as racist Neo-Confederates, justifying brutal policies and an even greater police state.

It is difficult, however, to send troops against peaceful people without backlash.

But let’s put all of that aside for a second. Think purely in terms of what war – and that’s what it would be -would entail. It is impossible to do the matter justice here in a few words, but anyone who has studied it, or so much as watched a realistic war film, knows how horrific and ghastly it is. There are always unforeseen consequences. More than just the lives of combatants are taken. The price of victory is never cheap, but nor is it always worth it.

The underlying theme of the 2000 film The Patriot notwithstanding, Mel Gibson’s character Benjamin Martin offers a very accurate prediction of what the war will bring upon them before South Carolina votes to join in the revolution against Great Britain.

I do agree with North, at the same time, that political reform (as commonly understood) is a futile endeavor.

Until there is institutional evidence of superior moral performance and superior practical performance in a wide variety of voluntary associations, especially the family, do not commit your money and your emotional commitment to any political reform movement.

We should dedicate our time, resources, and emotions toward improving our own lives and on matters that we have direct control over. Detaching one’s self from the political process is critical, because it allows you to be an aloof spectator instead of an unwilling participant.

Exercising our right to refusal in ordinary, everyday matters, is the best kind of revolution.

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6 Responses to A Revulsion Toward Violent Revolution

  1. Thanks for posting.

    However, as a libertarian Rothbardian, I would have to disagree with the anti-revolutionary message.

    I understand why it seems that revolution can be counterproductive. After all, violence begets violence, right?

    Well, it’s a little bit more complex than that. The American Revolution, a violent revolution indeed, was a massive movement in the direction of liberty. Yes, I understand the claims people like Gary North and Stephan Kinsella make, that it was a statist movement that resulted in the horrible Constitution and in the horrible American State. However, I view such an understanding as pure ignorance. The Revolution per se did not lead to statism; it was a few men who decided to not embrace the Revolutionary libertarian ideal that formed statism.

    The Russian Revolution I will grant was a terrible thing. But I will venture to say that Lenin’s vanguardist strategy can be learned from in order to form effective revolutionary change.

    As for the French Revolution, which some will inevitably bring up, I will say that, apart from the Terror and the Jacobins and Robespierre, the French Revolution was one of the great classical liberal revolutions. While the General Will emphasis was problematic, its leaders and major concerns were generally liberal (in the classical sense), and in the end, despite all the conflict and terror, France eventually came out a better country, a freer and more liberal country (well, even in its socialist state, it’s probably a lot better than under the Ancien Regime). Barrington Moore Jr., whose work SOCIAL ORIGINS OF DICTATORSHIP AND DEMOCRACY, confirmed me in this understanding.

    Plus, the fact that America, for all its flaws, doesn’t have European-style socialism, moral degeneracy, and Greek-style economic disaster could make the case for our Revolution being not so bad after all.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The Question says:

      The point is a bit nuanced. I don’t share North’s take on the American Revolution and its outcome; what I found insightful was his perspective on secession. It is very difficult to find revolutions besides America’s where the rebels won the military struggle while maintaining (at least most of) the principles for which it was fought.

      I’m not opposed to revolution on philosophical grounds – I believe it is a person’s fundamental right. My qualms stem from practicality. I can’t help but look at its track record throughout history and believe nonviolent resistance is more preferable and more effective. Not only would it possibly avoid unnecessary bloodshed, but it would be hard to be willing to risk one’s life in a struggle against tyranny when there is a good chance another tyrant will take their place and make the sacrifice all for naught.

      The ultimate purpose for which an armed struggle would be waged would be fundamental in determining its success. What are the odds such a rebellion would be waged to get rid of centralized rule rather than just replace our wise overlords in D.C. with a new, fresh batch of sociopaths? This is purely speculative on my part, but based on my own observations the vast majority in such a struggle would fight for the latter. Very few Americans seem to understand how we got here.

      I didn’t make this point in the post, but I think it’s worth adding here: If there was an armed revolt, those who instigated it would have to appreciate that it would be an all-or-nothing gamble. If the government won, they would use their victory to finalize a total police state worthy of East Germany. No privately owned guns. No free speech. Internment camps. Reeducation facilities.


    • The Question says:

      Libertarian activist Christopher Cantwell has also written on the idea of violent revolution. What’s ironic is that while I find nothing in his writing ideologically contrary to libertarianism or even particularly radical compared to what the Founding Fathers had to say on the same topic, these statements have gotten him thrown out of the Free State Project and kicked out of other libertarian groups. It’s a rather strange position for me to side with libertarians like Cantwell on the issue while also writing against the idea of an armed revolt at the same time, but I’m also not opposed to such a proposal on philosophical or moral grounds like his opponents.


      • I can understand.

        So I guess you are coming at it from a practical standpoint.

        Anyways, Revolution is a bloody and violent thing, I will say. No Revolution ever occurred on a flower bed. And yet, the risks are ultimately worth it, for a good Revolution will eventually bring about a better society, even amid the toil and the fear and the blood.

        So I am more friendly to the prospects of Revolution than you (who has no moral objection to Revolution per se) happen to be.


  2. Pingback: Would You Like Some Freedom With That Revolution Of Yours? | The Anarchist Notebook | Libertarian Anarchy

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