by William “Duke” Smither
“Free people, remember this maxim: we may acquire liberty, but it is never recovered if it is once lost.” – Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Swiss-born philosopher, writer, political theorist and 18th century “Enlightenment Thinker”).
Over the years, I’ve come to think that revolutions, that is, the way we commonly define them, more likely stem from some odd conglomeration of quasi-factual ‘truths’, ambiguous ideas or flat out lies. That includes the fickled fancies within the beliefs used to justify the duty, or right, of a people to overthrow a government which acts against their common interests, depending on which schools of philosophical, political or religious underpinnings one hails from.
Of course, these fragments of ruminations partially sprout from English philosopher John Locke’s 17th-century reasoning that the ‘right of revolution’ was chiefly the people’s safeguard against tyranny. His expositions, along with other philosophical contemplations, led to the American Revolution and our own “constitutional logic” which acknowledged that ‘the people’— not some vile dictator or king– could launch a revolution to replace a government that was not serving the common interests of the citizens. It was part of the underlying beliefs used in justifying the English and French Revolutions, as well.
“To love our neighbor as ourselves is such a truth for regulating human society, that by that alone one might determine all the cases in social morality.” – John Locke (English lawyer, physician and 18th century “Enlightenment Thinker”)
That being said, the ongoing political squabbling and congressional dysfunction in the United States, coupled with the deep-dyed ‘blue-vs-red’ political rancor and rank distrust between Republicans and Democrats, raises the question of whether or not another revolution or constitutional showdown is on our political horizon. Not necessarily another bloody “civil war” between the citizenry (although the best-laid plans often go awry), but another ‘revolution’ in the less rigorous sense of forcing a ‘violent’ overthrow of our government– a constitutional federal republic— and upending our acclaimed democratic way of life.
Besides, isn’t this why the right to vote is so important? And, laws that discriminate or discourage people from voting are stupid and short-sighted?
Of course, no one merely sits down and draws up a revolution overnight. Most regimes don’t change within the “tide” of a single night, nor even a fortnight. Instead, they usually evolve over time, stemming from the collective ideologies of people (revolutionaries?) within a plethora of hazy visions and hopes for some sort of change. Yet, that too depends on whether or not associated change dynamics are ushered in by complete rejection of authority (revolt?) or some politically schemed upheaval, as in the more classical sense of ‘revolution’.
On the other hand, within the murkiness of this dark, unfolding change, there may be some warning signs or foreshadowing, as in the unmistakable black clouds, gathering on the horizon before the storm actually breaks. Yet, the world has a long undeniable history of planned peaceful protests turning violent, even in robust societies such as ours.
In his book, “The Anatomy of Revolution” (Prentice Hall, Inc., 1938; Rev 1952, 1965; New York.), American historian Crane Brinton examines the common threads of the “great overturns in previously stable political societies,” including (1) the English Revolution (1640-1660; 1688), (2) the American Revolution (1765-1783), (3) the French Revolution (1789-1799), and (4) the Russian Revolution (1917).
Brinton paints a picture of painful differences in what people have, the economic and social conditions that exist, and what they want, as well as the overall feeling that the government no longer works well for them. At some point, lobbyists and pressure groups embrace and coordinate the propaganda, disinformation and other activities necessary to correct the wrongs and injustices heaped on the angry masses of people, as gifted and smooth-tongue intellectuals, and other spokespersons, emerge to further stoke the fires of dissatisfaction.
But, it’s apparent that human beings can only handle so much on-going stress and stimulation before the turmoil peaks, the fever breaks and the storm quietens, as the restoration process begins and complex sociocultural systems– implicit and explicit– reorder themselves. Yet, they too remain chockfull of political, economic and ethnic-racial biases within whatever justice system that emerges in the new regime, perhaps, further raising the specter that revolutions are essentially inevitable.
From yet another perspective, consider the “Haitian Revolution.” That includes the whole series of horrors and conflicts before and during the period between 1791 and 1804. It involved the complex and shifting alliances of Haitian slaves, freedmen, mulattoes, and colonists, as well as British and French army troops. Several factors precipitated the event, including a litany of frustrations with a racist society which eventually led to what might be best described as “racial panic” throughout the Americas.
It was the revolution that was widely hailed as the ‘first successful slave uprising’ in the Americas, but less revered because it generated spiraling fears of slave rebellions and white hysteria. Its impact on the sociopolitical and legal landscapes in the United States was felt for decades. Perhaps even now, as select segments of the people actively, and surreptitiously, protest the rise of ‘brown-skinned immigrants’ while the Statue of Liberty, our national symbol of freedom, beckons more of the world’s ‘huddled masses’.
“Any law which violates the inalienable rights of man is essentially unjust and tyrannical; it is not a law at all.” – Maximilien Robespierre (French lawyer, politician and “Jacobin” leader of French Revolution).
Where do we go from here? More dysfunctional government? More partisan political gridlock? More failed and feckless leadership? More divisiveness and income inequality? Or, do we further raise the windows of opportunity and embrace the winds of political reawakening and positive change?
For now, we can at least acknowledge that some sort of storm– political, social or economic– is on the way. And, judging from the hostile political discourse, creeping congressional corruption and political leaders who disrespect the constitution, disrespect each other, and continue to flip-flop on core beliefs for personal gain, we’re in for a doozy of a storm!
Yet, we’ve been here before. Judging from our past history with resurgent racism and anti-semitism, we’re not perfect; but, working together, we can get through it.
On the long scale of the human decency continuum, we’re probably closer to civility than moral collapse. My own personal life experiences, military and civilian, tell me so. Surely, we’ve got issues galore. But, in my lifetime, I’ve been blessed to see and experience the extreme best and worst of our manifest selves. And, right now, collectively, we’re in a much better place than our inward-looking leaders find themselves.
I’m confident that we can get to where the Age of Enlightenment intellectuals and philosophers– and the ideals of our Constitution— have been steering us for the last 300 years or so. We simply need to course-correct with unifying leadership at the helm, with integrity, humility and courage (plus, a competent cabinet). We the People can help — him or her— with the vision for the nation.
“History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.” – Martin Luther King, Jr. (American Baptist Minister, Civil Rights Movement leader and 1964 Nobel Peace Prize laureate).