Wednesday, October 1, 2008

subversion, revolution and warm beer

Helen: "Subversion before revolution, always."

Silence, exile, cunning is close to my mantra, and I have profound respect for those who can at once resist in everything they do and yet avoid violence. But while I know that anti-revolutionary sentiment is a hallmark of conservatism, I find that resistance to revolution to be profoundly incompatible with conservatism's recent vogue for pro-democratic rhetoric. I hate to bring up the same old point, but revolutions happen when the status quo becomes untenable for people, untenable because the pain of what they are denied-- freedom, agency, fulfillment, abundance-- becomes too great to bear. The reality of that pain is not the only criterion for us to consider, as either moral citizens or members of a democratic polity. It isn't even necessarily the most important criterion.

But I would like a conservatism that is more willing to argue on the principle that sometimes difficult decisions must be made about supporting revolutions that could help suffering people, instead of insisting as some conservatives do that revolution has purely malign consequences. (Not that I'm suggesting that Helen thinks that.) I know that arguments ad the Founding Fathers tend to be clumsy, but it is always worth remembering that this country was created through a painful and contentious war of revolution, and the American revolutionaries faced far less repressive and painful conditions than many in the world today.

More specifically-- I understand Helen to be saying that you should always try subversion before revolution, and not that you should only subvert and never revolt. And fair enough; as I said I have a kind of aesthetic preference for smart subversion anyway. But I would argue that there are times when the armed uprising of the populace against the state, or the military, or the bosses is the only way for people to gain independence and liberty. As much as we should attempt to avoid armed insurrection, when the stakes are higher than Beer Bellies, our history and world history suggests that at times that is the only recourse of the people-- and, perhaps, their moral responsibility.

And as my old friend and mentor Mike Alewitz once said to me, "The problem with nonviolence is, if you don't fight back they'll kill you."

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