You Say You Want A Revolution?

Thomas Jefferson is quoted as saying “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”

Can you envision a situation or set of circumstances so bad in this country that an armed revolution would actually take place? What do you think it would take to actually have large groups of people taking up arms against the government? Is such an event or set of circumstances ever likely to happen?

Of course it’s not likely to happen, because we have elections in this country, and if people are so fed up with the government that they’re willing to take up arms against the government, their first choice would be to vote for new leadership, and thus rendering the need to take up arms moot.

And note that if you’re taking up arms against the government, there must neccesarily exist factions who are taking up arms for the government. If you have a rebels fighting the government, there must exist government forces. So why are those government forces fighting for the government instead of the rebels? George Bush can’t just declare himself dictator one day and send in the army to crush the Democratic party, because the army isn’t going to obey such orders. He’d first have to take over the army so that the army is loyal to him personally rather than to the country. And how do the cops and the soldiers benefit from helping to turn the US into a dictatorship? Soldiers aren’t brainwashed robots who obey orders blindly, they are American citizens.

Speaking from the conservative wing of the extreme left…no.

By definition, a radical seeks fundamental change in the structure of governance. But this is not the same thing as seeking immediate and revolutionary change. The history of revolutions is not, by and large, encouraging, it offers far too much to opportunists who seek to leverage chaos to their own advantage. The history of revoutions betrayed is somber reading.

Talk to the people, listen to the people, change the people. It is tiresome, it proceeds with agonizing slowness when it proceeds at all, but finally, it is the only way.

I think a pretty convincing argument can be made the Civil War was seen, at least by some Southern factions, as a “revolutionary war.” It had all the ear-marks of one. So while it may not be likely to happen again, it certainly has happened in the past. I’m just trying to think of another issue (if there even is one) that would raise the temperature so high as to set off such an event again.

Of course such an issue could arise in the future, pick your science fiction scenario. Of course, such an issue would almost certainly not sort out along regional lines like the US civil war, but on factional lines like the English civil war. And again, for this to happen we’ve got to postulate from the first that democracy and the rule of law have already been lost, otherwise the citizenry could peacefully petition for a redress of grievances. Except just waving your hands and saying that we’ll be in a dictatorship skips a couple of important steps.

I don’t think it can happen for two reasons.

First there’s the quality of life issue. For the Massacuesetts Minutemen and others who took up the fight against England, their life was pretty much secure. They mostly lived on farms or in small towns that were nearly self-sustaining. They knew that however the war turned out, life would remain pretty much the same. If they lost, they could return to their farms and go on farming much like they did before.

In the intervening centuries, we’ve adapted to a higher standard of living and an inter-related economy. War would disrupt everything: utilities, transportation, basic services. Hence fewer people would be willing to pay the price of war against the government.

The second issue is culture. Our culture no longer celebrates individualism and independence from the government and society at large. Our ideal is no longer small farmers and businesses. Hence it’s tough to imagine a group like the Minutemen acting to preserve their independence.

You mean something like Lincoln getting elected?


That aside, since I already recognized the Civil War experience. I was thinking of something happening during current or not too distant future.

I liked the scenerio in Seven Days in May: the President insists on a course of action so unpopular with the top military brass that they decide deposing him is the lesser of two evils. IRL a civil war would be the almost certain result.