Do We Need and Should We Start a Second American Revolution?
Do We Need and Should We Start a Second American Revolution?
If we take a WWJD approach (What Would Jefferson Do?), we find that the preconditions for revolt are:
The government becomes destructive of the proper ends of government
which are the protection of life, liberty and property and/or pursuit of
prosperity. This does not mean that a government should be abolished if
it fails to perfectly protect these foundational rights. Such a
principle would lead to chaos since no government can possibly protect
It does not even mean that we may abolish a government if it attacks
those rights. The government must become destructive of those rights,
which means that IN GENERAL and ON BALANCE the government destroys those
rights more than it secures them.
After all, the government that the founders created was not a perfect
Jeffersonian paradise. It permitted national deficits which Jefferson
and others believed violated the liberty of future generations. The
government founded a national bank funded with taxpayer dollars which
the Jeffersonians believed was an exercise of power not enumerated by
the Constitution, and therefore a violation of the limits which were
placed on the government in order to protect the taxpayers. But
Jefferson did not call for an armed revolution against the nascent
republic. He even participated in the compromise which led to the
creation of the bank.
All governments that have ever existed have sometimes protected and
sometimes attacked the foundational rights of life, liberty and
property. What triggers the right of abolition according to the
Declaration of Independence is whether, all things considered, the
government is a destroyer rather than a protector of those rights.
But even if the government goes so far as to become a net destroyer
of liberty, even that is not sufficient logical grounds on which to
abolish it. If the point of a declaration of independence from a
government is to end the condition of vanishing liberty, it follows
inevitably that such a declaration would only be advisable if the new
government were to be a better protector of our liberties. My friend,
Glenn Reynolds — law professor and Instapundit — says that revolutions
are like throws of the dice. You just don’t know for sure what you are
going to get.
This is not a trivial point and the many revolts since Independence
Day 1776 tell us that the odds for improvement are actually quite poor.
After all, we the people pretty much get the government we ask for. The
policies we have in place now have not been imposed by some foreign
army; they been imposed on us by us. What reason do we have to believe
that we would impose something better on ourselves after years of armed
conflict than we are imposing on ourselves now? Do revolutions or civil
wars (and revolutions really are civil wars) make us calmer, wiser, more
And is it worth the cost? Such wars are incredibly bloody affairs. I
think that few revolutionaries truly count the ‘transaction cost’ of
trading one regime for another. The genuinely evil ones don’t even try
to. We did this twice in our history. First the colonies dissolved their
relationship with the Crown. This was a eucatastrophe ending much better for the human race than anyone really had a right to expect.
The second revolt was a deformed grandchild of the first in which the
southern states hid behind the language of freedom in order to avoid
taxes which were constitutionally imposed, preserve the institution of
chattel slavery and make way for dreams of a Southern Continental
empire. The exercise ended badly for the instigators and was awesomely
painful even for the victors. Does anyone seriously believe that we are a
people more ready to rebuild than that generation? Do you see any
leader on the horizon more able to bind up the wounds of the nation than
The founders believed that what happened here was some sort of
historical miracle and it’s easy to understand why. The preconditions
for success were uniquely strong. Revolutions usually don’t succeed
because they destroy the society in which they occur; tearing down the
old social order and forcing a new one to revolve up into its place
(hence the word ‘revolution’). That why it almost never works.
When Mel Brookes has Count Demoney telling the king that ‘the
peasants are revolting,’ the king looks at them and agrees. Classical
literary references aside, Brookes is right. The revolutions are ugly
and the results are even uglier.
But here, we did not have a revolution. Most of the founders
studiously avoided the use of that word. We had a war for independence
in which local units of government dissolved their ties with a distant
tyrant. We didn’t have to tear our country apart, just tear it apart
from Great Britain. Ours was not a rising up of the downtrodden or the
debtor class as so many of the ancient Greek and Roman revolutions had
been. It was not a fight of the bottom against those above them. It was a
fight of the middle, which had been functioning as the de facto
governing class of the nation for generations before.
It wasn’t a rabble revolution. Deriders in England called it things
like the ‘shopkeepers revolt’ and the Presbyterian rebellion. It came
from a law abiding class of people who put their arguments in terms of
‘the ancient rights of Englishman’ not the revolutionary utopian terms
like for example the instigators of the peasants revolt in Martin
The amazing success of our effort has inspired many a delusional
imitator who believed that all you had to do was kill a king to achieve
heaven on earth. Almost none of them have succeeded.
Left-wing dreams of people’s revolutions were at best delusional, and
given the results of France in 1789 and Russia in 1917, such dreams are
no longer bemusingly foolish; they are evil. But conservative ‘exodus’
and secession dreams seem only a little better. After all, we’re
supposed to know better. We’re the ideology which is in touch with
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