Revolution against government

Depending on who’s in government, there are always people of one stripe or another who want to stage a violent revolution against the state. Right now, with Trudeau and Biden in charge, English-speaking North America has its revolutionary voices located mainly on the right.

Whoever’s feeling particularly revolutionary in a given moment likes to emphasize that there are indeed situations in which the appropriate, or even the obligatory, thing to do is to overthrow the government in a sudden show of force.

That’s true. Theoretically, and in my opinion also historically, there are moments when the regime is so bad that a citizen’s responsibility might be to participate in insurrection.

However, that’s usually not why people want revolution, when noisy ideological voices talk about the need for revolution. What they like to talk about is how revolutions can sometimes be justified. That’s what they want to convince themselves and their friends and their audiences is the reason pushing them to fantasize about revolution. But that’s not really it.

They just want to be David fighting the evil Goliath. They want their lives to be meaningful and exciting. They want to be the underdog republic fighting the galactic empire, the overburdened colonists resisting the pompous Brits.

They dress that desire up and try to disguise it. They squint at the political situation of the moment and seek out plausible reasons why today we have to act right now or else the future is handed over to totalitarianism. They try to convince themselves there’s a legitimate and even noble motive for their imagined scenarios of heroism, of bulging muscles and swinging guns, slain tyrants and awestruck masses.

The only valid reason for insurrection is when the consequences of leaving the government in place are clearly worse than all the negative consequences that will come from violent regime change and civil war. That is a fantastically high bar to meet. It means that in a lot of situations a pretty seriously bad government should be tolerated rather than overthrown. Tolerated here doesn’t mean accepted or embraced; it only means that patiently working to improve things by the legal, institutional, political means already available within the state is almost always going to be the superior choice to bringing about sudden change in a political community by force.

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