Take this ten-question quiz to find out what you believe about the right of revolution…enjoy the process of self-identification!
1) Just prior to the American Revolution, Tom Paine said, “If there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace.” What did he mean?
a) It does not matter what he meant. Paine hereby affirmed the hierarchical, Western order whereby parents are presumed to be higher and better than their children. Thus, even his attempt to render justice ends up being unjust.
b) By “trouble,” Paine meant only acts of overt aggression, which the parent should indeed weather on behalf of the child. But he did not intend to include anything more abstract in this category than acts of overt aggression.
c) Paine meant this comment generally, as every parent thinks to himself about his children. The statement is nothing more than a truism and an emotional impulse felt universally. But we should assign it no political or historical value, notwithstanding the fact that the American Revolution very shortly followed. That fact is a mere coincidence.
d) Paine meant these comments specifically and politically. He meant that it is immoral to “kick the can down the road,” allowing future generations to realize the somewhat abstract usurpations of tyrannical government. Cowards will always trivialize present acts of tyranny such as to minimize the burden they thereby shift to their progeny.
2) After a couples’ tennis match in the local park, you are walking with your wife when you cross paths with two male community college students. Just as you pass by, one of them makes an outrageously offensive, intended-to-be-heard comment to the other about your wife’s skimpy tennis skirt. The comment includes calling your wife a disrespectful name. What is the proper husbandly response?
a) As a strong, empowered woman, the wife should make an ugly scene. Just as it was impudent and improper for these male pigs to entertain a disrespectful comment, so it would be for the husband to assume the role of defender—one of the selfsame sexist elements of bourgeois Western culture that tends to produce comments from younger pigs (males).
b) Pretend that neither of you heard the loud comments, and continue walking. Direct confrontation and/or the violence that it risks is never the solution. “In the end, the love you take is the love you make. Sha la la la….”
c) As a respected member of the community, you feel it incumbent to say something—even something ultimately impotent—to these hooligans. But if their response to your comment is to call your bluff or even to “one-up” their initial comment (in terms of its rudeness), taking further action is unthinkable. You took this as far as it could go, legally and morally. Return home and later, to work, and as Twain wrote “pray for a humble spirit to bear it.” Definitely though, share the story for weeks on end: you are a suburban wrecking machine for saying anything at all.
d) Such a comment is, literally, an outrage against a woman. You turn to the hooligan who made the comment, close the distance between the two of you, and say quietly, “What was that, my dear Alphonse?” Unless the hooligan backs off then and there—presuming even that he will not— you are 100% prepared to hit him in the mouth as hard as you can. To yourself, you hope for an excuse to hit him, doubting whether you should have given him a chance to apologize at all for such an outrage.
3) What is the relationship between the Natural Law and the laws of man?
a) There is no such thing as the Natural Law. There are only laws of man: convenient to some, inconvenient to most, and unjust to the proletariat. (Please do not ask me how I define “unjust” while repudiating the Natural Law.)
b) The laws of man resemble the Natural Law only some of the time—more at certain times and less at others. There is no appreciable pattern to the phenomenon: sometimes laws are fair and other times they are unfair. The justice of the laws has little or nothing to do with the popular culture—this would be “blaming the victim”—and more to do with the country’s guilty leadership. The best way to ride out the times of bad laws is through small acts of civil disobedience.
c) It is admittedly a tenuous relationship. Only in 1776 was it possible for a band of English Colonials to draft a document that so perfectly codified the Natural Law into a Declaration and later a Constitution (man’s law) enshrining those rights. This possibility will never again repeat itself. Thus, in America, remediation of bad laws should always come through further legislation and working within the system, however broken it may presently be.
d) The laws of man sufficiently resemble the Natural Law only at the beginning of a healthy republic’s life: viz. when its citizens are virtuous, tough, religious, non-materialistic, and principled. All times thereafter in a republic’s life bear witness to a linear, growing gap between what the Natural Law requires and what the laws of man actually reflect. The return to Natural Law always comes from hitting “refresh” on the republican life cycle. There is no other way, after the public has grown licentious, which only encourages government growth to quicken.
a) Not formally, no. But it stands to reason that any revolution against white male oppressors bears the watermark of some sort of nebulous justice, however ineffable or inscrutable. Those devils have it coming to them.
b) Yes, as a “not religious, but spiritual” person, I believe that I will know at the time which wars are just and which are not, even though I reject any systemic formulations of the principles which just wars require. I don’t believe this position is problematic or contradictory (just as I don’t believe being “not religious, but spiritual” is!).
c) Yes, John Locke, Samuel Pufendorf, and Algernon Sidney were the heroes of American Revolutionaries who gave a concise explanation of the applicability of “just war” theory. The American Revolution is one and perhaps the only example of a perfectly just war, although America’s wars abroad since then may also qualify since they spread democracy to the world.
d) Yes, Thomas Aquinas and the Scholastic thinkers gave the single, coherent, non-contradictory account of just war. Locke, Pufendorf, and Sidney gave self-contradictory accounts of it that could not square with other basic aspects of their philosophies. The American Founders happened to get it right indirectly, only by virtue of the Medieval thought that Locke, Pufendorf, and Sidney channeled in their own philosophies. The just war is a universal principle, applicable anytime and anywhere.
5) Patrick Henry’s famous ‘give me liberty or give me death’ speech of March 23, 1775, was preceded by the following less known, more important quote: “They tell us, sir, that we are weak; unable to cope with so formidable an adversary. But when shall we be stronger? Will it be the next week, or the next year? Will it be when we are totally disarmed, and when a British guard shall be stationed in every house? Shall we gather strength by irresolution and inaction? Shall we acquire the means of effectual resistance by lying supinely on our backs and hugging the delusive phantom of hope, until our enemies shall have bound us hand and foot? Sir, we are not weak if we make a proper use of those means which the God of nature hath placed in our power.” Was Henry’s language here rhetorical, hasty, necessary in (and only in) 1775, or applicable in all times of despotism?
c) Necessary in (and only in) 1775
d) Applicable in all times of despotism
6) What is pacifism?
a) It is a good thing in most instances—EXCEPT when the workers and the oppressed races of the world have the chance to unite to rise up and overthrow the shackles of their capitalist oppressors. Then they should go for it, and I would support them.
b) It is a good thing all the time—a way of life that should be sought at all cost. Violence is never the solution to any public or private problems. (Please do not follow up by asking me about any of the historical injustices that have been overthrown by the use of righteous force. That would be unjust.)
c) It is rarely a good thing. As long as the United States sends its armies into the world to fight to set up democracy, the best form of government for all peoples, I’ll repudiate pacifism. The exception to this rule is when the Tea Party “hobbits” begin applying 1776 rhetoric to 2014 (implying that all citizens of all republics bear civic duties of vigilance and that we should look to our home sooner than looking abroad), at which point pacifism sounds sensible. At that point, to avoid Civil War, looking for alternatives becomes the best option.
d) It is never a good thing: pacifism is a categorical rejection of justice insofar as it carte blanche rejects the idea of just force meeting unjust force. But this doesn’t mean that violence is ALWAYS the solution: just violence must always be proportional to the degree of the infraction. Pacifism represents a categorical commitment to knuckling under to tyranny and thus it is immoral.
7) Jefferson’s famous “tree of liberty” quotation was preceded by the following lesser known lines about the Shays’ Rebellion: “God forbid we should ever be twenty years without such a rebellion…We have had thirteen states independent eleven years. There has been one rebellion. That comes to one rebellion in a century and a half for each state. What country ever existed a century and a half without a rebellion? And what country can preserve its liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance?” Was Jefferson’s cheeky assertion correct?
a) No. There is no true revolution which is actually moral by nature, except that of women and minorities rising above a despotic order of Euro-American phallocentrism. There is no just revolution we have ever seen, just as there is no such thing as true peace.
b) No. The American Revolution, while admittedly more successful and less violent than its contemporary French Revolution, was premised around the self-interest of planters and merchants. Self-interest is at best an amoral proposition, and it was the crux of the event. Peace should be preserved at all cost.
c) No. Even though as a gentleman-revolutionary he had just “put his money where his mouth was,” Jefferson missed the fact that the “right of revolution” belonged exclusively to 1776, a more or less one-time exception to the broader moral rule of pacifism. It is good that peace was NOT preserved by Jefferson et al in 1776, but thereafter, it should ALWAYS be (lest I may sometime have to do the scary thing that Jefferson did!). That is the difference between the pre-Modern and the Modern eras.
d) Yes. As long as the response by the people—the single bona fide sovereign in a republic—is proportional to the amount of tyranny perpetrated by the government, they retain a perennial right (a “one time right” is not a right!) to determine the regime under which they will live.
8) Were the imperial British regulatory offenses leading to 1776 greater than the present economic incursions of the American federal government?
a) It simply does not matter. America began as a white, male, immoral, racist political experiment and it continues to be the same. White males clamored for undeserved “property” rights back then; they clamor for fabricated “property” rights at present. It’s always been about white males dodging the paying of their “fair share”—then and now.
b) Obviously. Even though the Colonials did not have to pay any sort of “capitation” (income tax), this expectation was coextensive with their primeval lack of care for the destitute; compared against the cultural contexts of 1776 that were prevalent at the time, the present regulatory and economic incursions by our government are mild.
c) Probably: the economic conditions prior to 1776 are impossible to put into context from our postmodern point of view. Conditions of life before and after 1776 are simply not commensurate: prior to 1776 was pre-modern, afterward it was the Modern era. But it suffices to say that present-day economic infractions by the US federal government are probably far gentler, if those contexts could be somehow compared.
d) No. The colonials of 1776 wanted “no taxation” and were stirred to revolution by less than an aggregate 5% taxation on income by the Stamp, Sugar, Tea, and Townshend Acts by the Crown; conversely, in 2014 the half of Americans that pay federal taxes forfeit in the neighborhood of 50% (FIFTY!) of their total taxable wealth to the federal government, via one tax or another.
9) Were day-to-day British offenses against colonial personal and conscience rights greater than the present offenses by the federal government in America?
a) It does not matter. White males clamored for fabricated, “religious” rights back then; they clamor for fabricated, “religious” rights at present. Such “religious” rights always strip away the REAL rights of women, gays, economic minorities, people of color, and atheists to live in a morally tolerant community.
b) Yes. The rights violated by the Crown lay in the Crown’s dictation of which sect of Protestantism that the colonials had to select. In America, on the other hand, we happily have a “separation of Church and state.” As long as the “separation of Church and state” remains air tight, as it is today, the US government will continue to acknowledge personal and religious rights far better than the Crown did in 1776.
c) Yes. In America, we have a Bill of Rights which would never allow the violation of these rights. The very existence of our Bill of Rights proves that our present federal government cannot infringe on these rights. Colonials did not enjoy a written bill of rights in 1776. The only way that our present woes could equal those of the Colonials in the realm of personal and conscience rights would be if the federal government were to revoke the Bill of Rights altogether.
d) No. Unlike the US government’s activity today, there were very, very few personal and conscience rights of the Colonials that the Crown actually revoked or even concerned itself with. In fact, the American Puritans were the ones who left the Church of England, thinking it too loose for their taste. It was not the other way around: neither the Church of England nor the Crown “oppressed” Puritan Protestants. The “separation of Church and state” was simply a way that Puritan Americans began in the 1800’s—teaming up with the proto-secularists of the time—to restrict politically the rights of non-Calvinist Protestants and especially Catholics.
10) Massachusetts Son of Liberty and firebrand Samuel Adams once said: “A general dissolution of principles and manners will more surely overthrow the liberties of America than the whole force of the common enemy. While the people are virtuous they cannot be subdued; but when once they lose their virtue then will be ready to surrender their liberties to the first external or internal invader.” Was Sam Adams being folksy, clichéd, drunk, or completely literal?
a) Folksy. Only the hopelessly bourgeois believe there is any connection between popular morality and the “God-given” right to exist as a republic.
b) Clichéd. While this is a nice sentiment, Sam Adams didn’t and couldn’t have meant that the connection between morality and toughness is literal. It is a fairy tale.
c) Drunk. While I wish I were this brave, I am not, and so I will chalk it up to human impossibility.
d) Completely literal. You bet that this is the centermost idea of both self-rule and of healthy revolutions.
If your most common answer was a): You are a Marxist and do not believe in the Natural Right of revolution or the use of force. You are tremendously confused as to the value of force, the existence of justice, the worth of goods and services, and confused probably also, as to where your next meal is coming from. May God have mercy on your wayward soul!
If your most common answer was b): You do not believe in the Natural Right of revolution or the use of force. While you self-identify as apolitical, you are a pop pacifist. You find yourself very comfortable with popular answers to “use of force” types of questions given in the schools and in the media. The more these answers come from a stage or screen performer, the more you are inclined to agree. Notably, even though you’ve learned by example to espouse distrust for all politicians, those politicians who espouse a pragmatic affinity for the cautious center cling to positions about the use of force very near yours. You and I are probably not fated to spend much time together enjoyably!
If your most common answer was c): You do not believe in the Natural (recurrent!) Right of revolution or the use of force. It didn’t only exist in 1776! Most likely, you qualify as a Straussian, a neo-Whig, an establishment Republican, an America-utopian, or some other strain of neoconservative (although, as Father Merrin says in The Exorcist, “there is only one” because these are all basically the same thing!). Although remote, there is some hope for you (unlike categories “a” and “b”), but only after hours upon hours of studiously reading The Imaginative Conservative!
If your most common answer was d): You do believe in the Natural Right of revolution and the proportional use of force and qualify as 1) one or another strain, among many, of paleo-conservative (the more paleo—the more D’s answered— the better), and 2) a “brother from another mother” with whom I would love to consume pint after pint of sweet, golden IPA.