Dec 29, 2003: Liberal Revolution–Means and Ends

Being a liberal requires one to be a revolutionary, one who makes conscious and deliberate efforts to establish a new order. And, yet, liberalism, as a movement, is not revolutionary. It can on occasion be radical or shrill in its demands and claims, as the libertarians often are, but it has been deprived of its revolutionary character for some time.

Liberals and libertarians are certainly doing a number of positive things, even those who still harbor hopes of somehow working within or alongside the current political system. In fact, it is from this group, we would assert, that the richest veins of liberal thought may be found.

The theoreticians, by nature, have tended to take the long view and understand the degree to which culture and history create the present and the future, and they, therefore, try to win the “battle of ideas”, as some say, or more usefully, change the cultural and philosophical foundations that under-gird contemporary society. We admit that when viewing the sweep of history, one can be overwhelmed with the conceit that the “masses of world history” are either too numerous to be accounted for or too great to be overcome. Both such notions are excuses for inaction and assume a knowledge of that which cannot be known, namely the course of the future.

Nevertheless, the richest analysis comes from this quarter, as it should, but the genuine liberal can have but little interest in merely hoping that some distant generation might become free someday. The genuine liberal, we humbly submit to the scholars, should feel the full force of tyranny, not merely constraining his actions, but acting within him and shaping his very self. Such a tyranny must be fought in all places, not only in the realm of ideas, but in that of will and action, as well.

In that realm, not a little is being done. It should already be clear that voting is not only useless but harmful, insofar as it casts a veil of legitimacy over the injustice of the majoritarian system. Voting suggests that one has need to ask, not only the next-door neighbor, but hundreds of millions of people scattered across a continent, for the privilege of exercising one’s right to self-determination. Unfortunately, the handful of those who abstain from voting on principled grounds is vastly overwhelmed by those who simply do not bother to vote, although that in itself is an indictment of the status quo.

There are those, fewer still, who do what they can to withdraw from the system altogether, by refusing to take part in social security, for example, or by home-schooling children. These are useful acts perhaps and are certainly some sign of resistance, but could just as well indicate an attempt to hide in the shadows and wait for some divine act of salvation, for it does not seem to be consciously directed at securing freedom, except for one’s progeny with any luck.

In terms of active resistance, there is little, if any, to note. The most active liberals and libertarians, aside from the theoreticians, seem to be, for the most part, propagandists and alarmists. They attempt to paint the current situation in nightmarish colors and to depict the federal government as fascist or communist or at least as imminently such. It is not enough for them to draw out these tendencies and possibilities in our society, but feel they must rally people to their cause through exaggerated and outlandish claims of jackboot thugs on the march. Naturally, their existence and their inaction belie reality.

So, then, what is to be done? If a liberal must, by definition, be a revolutionary, what must he do? What might a liberal revolution look like? Naturally, the means are determined by the ends. The revolution must embody its ideals. If the fundamental economic principle of liberalism is the right to property, then the fundamental political principle, indeed the overarching principle of liberalism, must be that of absolute democracy, the consent of the governed.

The question of consent is precisely where the political battle will ultimately be won or lost. It must be the goal of any such revolution to expose the illegitimacy of the government. American government purports to be founded on the principles of self-determination, democracy, and consent. It is this myth that is the true source of all its power. It is only through a campaign to reveal this myth of majoritarianism, that liberalism can achieve victory.

In a word, we must provoke the governments (it is more proper to use the plural) into showing their essentially authoritarian colors in their response to a campaign of passive resistance or civil disobedience. And, it is for this reason, among others, that we must shun violence of all kinds, against both man and property. On the question of violence and non-violence, a problem that must be squarely confronted in any revolutionary movement, we will have much more to say later.

One swallow does not a summer make, nor will one act of civil disobedience make a revolution. It must be a sustained, focused campaign and will therefore require sacrifice and commitment, as well as coordination and planning. It is past time for the liberals, as well as libertarians, to put forth their vision of a free society and plan what concrete steps might be taken to realize that vision.

December 29, 2003


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