Archive for June, 2011
Why do we call the upcoming U.S. holiday (holy day?) simply “the 4th of July”? Why don’t we call it “Revolution Day”?
Because God forbid we remember that it is supposed to be a revolution that we’re honoring. Okay, it was a certain kind of a revolution, one that favored the best interests of a certain group of people at the expense of others (one should always ask, cui bono…who benefits?). Still, it was a revolution of sorts, and a world-historical one at that.
What would happen if we really thought about revolution? It is probably too much to ask, to dangerous to consider. I get that, I suppose. I’m comfy…aren’t you?
But here is Tom Paine (from “The American Crisis“), with some updates underlined to ponder:
These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated. Britain [or America], with an army to enforce her tyranny, has declared that she has a right (not only to TAX) but “to BIND us [and any other country it chooses] in ALL CASES WHATSOEVER,” and if being bound in that manner, is not slavery, then is there not such a thing as slavery upon earth. Even the expression is impious; for so unlimited a power can belong only to God.
Ponder that…. I know I got my comfiness pretty cheaply, if truth be told.
William Godwin, in hisEnquiry Concerning the Principles of Justice (1793), patiently and at length explains the dangers of government, whose power (as Lord Acton rightly noted) inevitably corrupts. And then Godwin asks what is to be hoped. He answers, speaking here of the juridical power of the state:
The reader has probably anticipated me in the ultimate conclusion, from these remarks. If juries might at length cease to decide and be contented to invite, if force might gradually be withdrawn and reason trusted alone, shall we not one day find that juries themselves and every other species of public institution, may be laid aside as unnecessary? Will not the reasonings of one wise man be as effectual as those of twelve? Will not the competence of one individual to instruct his neighbours be a matter of sufficient notoriety, without the formality of an election? Will there be many vices to correct and much obstinacy to conquer? This is one of the most memorable stages of human improvement. With what delight must every well informed friend of mankind look forward to the auspicious period, the dissolution of political government, of that brute engine, which has been the only perennial cause of the vices of mankind, and which, as has abundantly appeared in the progress of the present work, has mischiefs of various sorts incorporated with its substance, and no otherwise to be removed than by its utter annihilation!
Thomas Jefferson wrote, in a letter to William S. Smith, Nov. 13, 1787, this famous line (with its subsequent, not-so-famous line attached):
The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots & tyrants. It is it’s natural manure.
In other words, revolution can be good sh#t!
But Jefferson’s metaphor is apt: revolution is not mere destruction. It’s more like horticulture, gardening, growing beautiful & nourishing things. And sometimes in life, for the sake of something better, you’ve got to prune.
Our Founders pruned. But pruning is not a once-and-done deal. Not in gardening, not in political life.
In the lead-up to “Revolution Day,” why need read a little more of Jefferson’s letter to Smith:
I do not know whether it is to yourself or Mr. Adams I am to give my thanks for the copy of the new constitution. I beg leave through you to place them where due. It will be yet three weeks before I shall receive them from America. There are very good articles in it: & very bad. I do not know which preponderate. What we have lately read in the history of Holland, in the chapter on the Stadtholder, would have sufficed to set me against a chief magistrate eligible for a long duration, if I had ever been disposed towards one: & what we have always read of the elections of Polish kings should have forever excluded the idea of one continuable for life. Wonderful is the effect of impudent & persevering lying. The British ministry have so long hired their gazetteers to repeat and model into every form lies about our being in anarchy, that the world has at length believed them, the English nation has believed them, the ministers themselves have come to believe them, & what is more wonderful, we have believed them ourselves. Yet where does this anarchy exist? Where did it ever exist, except in the single instance of Massachusetts? And can history produce an instance of rebellion so honourably conducted? I say nothing of it’s motives. They were founded in ignorance, not wickedness. God forbid we should ever be 20 years without such a rebellion. The people cannot be all, & always, well informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions it is a lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty. We have had 13. states independent 11. years. There has been one rebellion. That comes to one rebellion in a century & a half for each state. What country before ever existed a century & half without a rebellion? & what country can preserve it’s liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to facts, pardon & pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots & tyrants. It is it’s natural manure. Our Convention has been too much impressed by the insurrection of Massachusetts: and in the spur of the moment they are setting up a kite to keep the hen-yard in order. I hope in God this article will be rectified before the new constitution is accepted.
TJ wasn’t always right, wasn’t always on the side of the angels, was he? Be he has a point here….
There is a constant temptation to anarchism. Why? For at least two reasons. First, we are all possessed of a natural feeling of autonomy, a sense that nobody tells me what to do, that you’re not the boss of me. We naturally bristle any time anyone forces us to do anything we do not choose to do ourselves. Second, we see that those who do rule us usually rule badly, acting from their own self-interest at the expense of the common good, that their political (and other) power corrupts them. Thus the temptation to anarchism, to throw off rulers of every sort. Anarchy, it is argued, should scratch both itches. It would mean I am free to do as I please and that the commonweal would be better served as a result. This sounds tempting.
But the question is whether we should give in to this temptation.
Actually existing anarchism – whether right-leaning libertarianism or left-leaning revolutionism – is both strong and violent.
If I am going to give in to the temptation to anarchism, I am going to want a version of anarchism that is weak and gentle. This will put me at odds, perhaps, with everybody. All powers-that-be are threatened by anarchism…they always have been and they always will be. But both anarcho-capitalists and anarch-communists will no doubt be repulsed by the idea of “weakness” and “gentleness.” How in the world, they will ask, can we attain our ends by being “weak” and “gentle” in the violent world of empire?
Good question. I am searching for answers….
I think it will be useful to develop a distinction between “weak anarchism” and “strong anarchism.” Others have their ideas about this distinction. Some see “weak anarchism” as a position tolerating some state action in certain circumstances (somewhat like minarchism although perhaps more ad hoc). Some see “weak anarchism” as a watered down, thoughtless reaction against power (as distinguished from a rigorously theoretical understanding of an anarchist organization of a highly complex society). Some see “weak anarchism” as simply apathy and lack of interest in the res publica. Weak anarchists talk about it; strong anarchists do something about it.
It seems to me it might be better to make the distinction like this: strong anarchism is thought to be a what, weak anarchism is more like a how. Most anarchism today is strong anarchism, in other words it is one more political ideology (with both left-wing and right-wing flavors) along side all the others political ideologies. Some work to advance it; some just wish it were so. But most treat it as if it had a certain kind of content, as if it were a certain kind of “thing,” an end-in-itself.
To me, weak anarchy is more like a way than a destination. In fact, I think that if it were a destination then it can never be reached. I think that anarchy – if it is truly to be an-archism (if there is such a thing) – ought to be considered more like deconstruction than like Marxist or Neoliberal ideology. The force of weak anarchism, so considered, is like the gentleness that nevertheless heaps burning coals, figuratively, on the heads of one’s enemies. It rejects the arche of violence (although it is not necessarily pacifist). It ought to revisit and critique the metaphysical underpinnings of strong anarchism. Weak anarchism ought to take some cues from what is known as “weak thought” and “weak theology.” It ought to understand the relation between love and law.
Again, it is easy to anticipate objections to something that sounds so pusillanimous. In a world like ours that valorizes strength and a certain form of courage, this has to seem, well, weak. We don’t like weakness, do we? We certainly don’t think as much as we might about those who are weak, do we? But maybe we need to re-think weakness.
In any case, it seems to be it would be valuable to have a thorough-going understanding of something like weak anarchism.
If you are a college student today enrolled in four classes during any given semester, it is likely that only one of your teachers is employed by your school in a permanent position that comes with a middle-class salary, job security, and benefits. The other three are contingent faculty, often called “adjuncts”; they have job titles like “instructor” or “lecturer” rather than “professor” but their roles in the classroom are the same.
I am inaugurating a new category of posts called “Adjunctivitis,” focusing on issues of concern to adjunct/contingent faculty, their spouses and families, their students, their tenured or tenure-track colleagues, college and university administrators, policy makers, and concerned citizens. Watch for tweets of interest as well.
A free society is an interplay between a more-or-less permanent framework of social commitments, and the oasis of economic liberty that lies within it. What risks (to health, loss of employment, etc.) must be removed from the oasis and placed in the framework (in the form of universal health care, employment insurance, etc.) in order to keep liberty a substantive reality, and not a vacuous formality?
This video, from 1978, is shaky; it breaks up in spots, goes out of phase, out of focus, seems like it’ll quit at any moment…like life, as you get older. But listen to the music! That sound, that glorious sound! It comes through loud and clear, no matter what things look like.
Tears tonight…but joy comes in the morning! That sound will live on and on, like Life after life.