What Will the Next American Revolution Look Like?
Threats against liberty are as old as liberty itself, and all too common. Sometimes the menace is a foreign invader bent on conquest. Such are easily identifiable and opposed. The more nefarious threats exist within our borders, arising from the very institutions established to secure our rights. Such hazards inevitably generate rumors of secret concentration camps, domestic wiretaps, and black helicopters. However, just because basic dangers to liberty can foster eccentric conspiracies doesn’t mean the basic threats aren’t genuine.
Government flows toward tyranny with the natural ease that rivers flow to the sea. Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot, Castro, and just about any head of state on the African continent. Each one held dictatorial power over their societies. Furthermore, let’s not forget how tyranny once reared its head — dressed in the British crown — on American soil. Even today it’s hard to refute the notion that central control is waxing.
Freedom demands a healthy suspicion of government in all its manifestations: the elected politician, the appointed dignitary, the hired bureaucrat. Patrick Henry warned, “Guard with jealous attention the public liberty. Suspect everyone who approaches that jewel.” And according to Thomas Paine, “Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must, like men, undergo the fatigue of supporting it.”
That’s revolutionary talk from true revolutionaries. Suppose a second American Revolution is on the horizon; will it resemble the one our Founding Fathers pursued? There has been no shortage of theories concerning such a struggle, or about who will oppose whom.
Some people believe the battle will be drawn along racial lines; that white and black Americans will someday clash. Others prophesy a class struggle where the poor but worthy proletariat casts off the shackles of the oppressive and aristocratic rich. More likely, any fissure in national unity will arise between the productive and the unproductive, which isn’t invariably determined by wealth or poverty.
Productive people can earn incomes ranging from Bill Gates to the local grocery store clerk. Wealth and status notwithstanding, a common thread exists between these people. They are the horses hitched to the entitlement wagon, which is overladen with people who are unconcerned with self-reliance. Productive people naturally oppose government growth because government taxes their efforts to benefit their unproductive neighbors. The unproductive predictably support government growth because it grants them benefits without effort. But the battle lines there aren’t as simple as they seem. Fomenters of revolution exist on both sides.
The left’s most vocal revolutionaries wear the anarchist badge. Anarchists, it’s assumed, oppose government in all its forms. That’s just not reality. Leftwing anarchists don’t resist government; they resist responsibility. Welfare programs, healthcare subsidies, student loans, and environmental cronyism belie the anarchist’s anti-government image. Few demand more from government than do leftwing anarchists.
The right demands less government, except when it demands more. Farm subsidies generate great support from otherwise small government Republicans. Conservatives are totally committed to pouring millions of dollars into a war on drugs that’s produced little success. And anyone who suggests trimming even the slightest fat from the military budget is accused of granting aid and comfort to foreign enemies.
Where are we to turn amidst such duplicity? If public disgust were kindling the United States would be a tinderbox. Faith in our processes and institutions is dwindling and there are few kind words for the central government. Democrats are angry because America isn’t one big commune. Republicans criticize a federal government that has overflowed its banks while they themselves do little to stem the flood. All we need is a spark, and there are myriad commentators who, spurred by the romanticism of popular revolt, are striking flint against steel. But a second American Revolution won’t likely resemble the first, nor would it produce a workable solution.
There are no British troops marching into town these days, no Redcoats to snipe from the cover of a rock wall or valiantly confront at the nearest bridge. Guns and force won’t secure liberty the next time around, and it won’t keep the peace even if a victory is possible.
Bear in mind, I’m not disparaging the Second Amendment. Bearing arms is a free people’s inalienable right and liberty’s last defense. But 80 million private Americans hold roughly 250 million small arms, far outnumbering the three million or so our government possesses. Government weapons can be perilous to liberty. But they aren’t the prime danger; words, dependency, and fear are.
A substantial number of our 80 million-strong citizen militia benefits from the federal government’s encroachment on liberty. Do we truly believe Americans can form a concerted effort to bear arms against the hand that feeds them? I don’t. What’s more, such a public fight would be the central government’s best friend. Participants in an active rebellion, no matter their reasons or political attitudes, would be easily demonized as “enemies of the State,” “kooks,” and “fringe lunatics.” Under such circumstances most Americans would quickly and happily surrender all liberty for the government’s promise of security.
The first American Revolution began with pens and speeches before consummating with muskets. Our Founders had to convince the people to throw off British rule before armed resistance became practical. The next American Revolution will begin in like manner, but it needn’t finish that way. Like our Founders, we must convince our countrymen to choose liberty over servitude. Unlike our Founders, we needn’t enforce our independence with the gun; we can still do it with the ballot. Should we fail at the first task an armed revolt won’t force freedom on a population hostile to the concept. But should we succeed, armed rebellion is unnecessary.
The tree of liberty can be refreshed with the metaphorical blood of politicians and bureaucrats just as satisfactorily as with the physical blood of tyrants and patriots. The Founders would appreciate that approach. But they would keep their powder dry, just in case.
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