Sunday, May 12, 2013

'Revolution' as magical thinking

The revolutionary extremism of the Right has been on display lately.  First there was the news that 44% of Republicans believe that an armed revolution may soon be necessary to protect freedom.  Then the NRA's national conference and its new president showed the organization's commitment to de-legimitizing elected officials and chattering about the importance of the second amendment for maintaining  that last, violent option to defend liberty.

I know some conservatives (namely my brother) who talk like this.  They say it casually, flippantly.  They mention no plans and no lines in the sand.  Thus I  think the good news in all of this is that few people are really serious about wanting to take their guns and seize some federal buildings -- they are not actually turning the NRA into a massive revolutionary militia, they're not drawing up lists of targets or planning on disputing elections by force.  They talk about it like it'll be a simple matter of saying 'I revolt' and that it will not require them to start lining up and shooting Nancy Pelosi's staffers, or sending the executive boards of the Sierra Club and NAACP to some camp*.  They're just talking, and talking like idiots.

This isn't a surprise.  The only revolutionary movements that have seriously threatened the US government are the Southern White Supremacist movements that arose in defence of slavery before the civil war, and during Reconstruction in opposition to the political rights of African Americans.  We Americans, despite our tumultuous founding and perhaps -because- of our tumultuous politics, are not prone to revolutions, particularly compared with Russians or Germans or the French.  (One might point out more generally that established liberal democracies in general are rarely threatened by revolution -- revolutions occur in autocracies or in young republics).

But if revolution isn't a plan of action, if talking about it does not mean that one is serious about overthrowing the elected government and installing one that you agree with through force of arms, what is it?

I think the answer is easy.  Revolution is magical thinking.  It's a talismanic word that stands for the wiping away of everything you don't like in the world and its replacement with all that you think is just and good.  In its current use it is merely a talisman, merely a wistful thought of a 'better' world where politics is simple because everyone you disagree with has disappeared.  It is a childish tantrum against the hard realities that everything doesn't always go your way.

Now just because something is childish doesn't make it harmless.  Even if today's conservative revolutionaries don't draw up plans to sieze government buildings or formulate lists of Unitarian ministers, librarians and trade unionists to be deported to, I dunno, northern Michigan, even then there is a danger.  Because talk of revolution de-legitimizes our elected government, and the general griping can provide cover for those who have more serious plans (as was the case in the 1990's, when general right-wing craziness hid in its midst McVeigh, Rudolf and others).

In the longer term there is the risk that people will believe their own bullshit, that the perfect dream of a world where no one disagrees with them will be too good to ignore, and words will become actions.  Such a thing is always a risk, even it if is, today, a long way off.

*People are generally ignorant of what 'revolution' means -- generally finding the people you disagree with and shooting them in the head before they can do the same to you.  It's not a state of affairs I'd wish for.

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