Just when you begin to think that the great Michael Anton can’t possibly top his latest brilliant essay, he goes and raises the bar still higher on ya.
It’s ridiculous for the modern conservative to profess to admire George Washington. The real George Washington did things—many things—that the modern “conservative” cannot countenance in theory, much less in practice.
In the speech I referenced earlier, Joe Biden said, “There is no place for political violence in America. Period. None. Ever.” Leave aside the fact that his team commits such violence almost daily and with impunity. As a historical and theoretical matter, this statement is ridiculous.
It’s just a historical fact that violence birthed America. Granted, that violence was justified, organized, careful, and the furthest thing from indiscriminate. But the American Revolution was still a war waged against a government that considered itself legitimate.
Rather than play along with the conservative desire to get me to, as the kids call it, “fedpost” so that I can be served up to the security state’s wolves, I’d rather turn it around. I have a question for the conservatives—actually several. Which I know they won’t answer. So, really, the questions are for you, the reader, to ponder.
Is the right of revolution ever justified? Was it justified only that one time, in 1776, but never again? If so, why was it justified then and what makes it unjustifiable ever again? Because of historicism? Because the American Revolution was somehow an irreversible leap forward?
Is it that you think things can’t ever get bad enough to justify recourse to this right, or merely that they won’t? Is there some deep structural reason for America’s privileged position, or is our miraculous continued good fortune merely your expectation? If the latter, then you are implicitly admitting, at least in theory, that the right of revolution might, at some point, be justified—and that it has not been obviated by “history.”
Now, we should all hope that this remains merely a theoretical discussion. And, in the terms of that theoretical discussion, I maintain it as axiomatic that you can’t have natural rights without a right of revolution, just as you can’t have the founding without an actual revolution, and since you can’t have the regime of the founders without natural rights, you can’t have the founding principles or the founders’ regime without a right of revolution. Each piece is integral to the machine. Remove one, and the whole thing collapses in self-contradiction.
Finally, what does the denial of this right entail? What would it force us to do or accept? Anything and everything? Where are the limits?
The Declaration of Independence says “while evils are sufferable,” clearly implying that at some point evils cease to be sufferable. But are we to understand that insight to be wrong? Are we to accept all evils as sufferable—forever? Are we required to suffer them? God commands us to accept a certain amount of suffering as the price of living in His creation. Does He also command us to accept eternal torment from the hands of wicked men?
The implicit—and sometimes explicit—conservative answer appears to be “yes.” Turn the other cheek. Bend the knee. Endure your beatings. Forever. For if there is no recourse to a higher principle or law, then there is no other choice. To borrow from Machiavelli, the “effectual truth” of conservative pusillanimity about the right of revolution is perpetual self-subjugation to tyranny. “Weasels, compromisers, mediocrities, and losers” indeed.
The conservatives justify this counsel of perpetual passivity with the observation that things can always get worse. But things can also be made better, by the actions of men. It is the office of prudent men to discern when things are bad enough that action is justified, or even obligatory, and to devise a plan propitious of success. It is the office of the conservatives to ensure that such thoughts are never thought, and punished when they are.
One of Anton’s very best, no two ways about it. Makes me look forward to his next one, which, if the pattern holds, will be even better. Yes, you definitely want to read the whole thing.