Political Animal


May 03, 2013 5:01 PM America-Haters

By Ed Kilgore

In response to my earlier post today calling on conservatives to repudiate the distressingly common revolutionary rhetoric coming from the Right, I had some commenters and Twitter correspondents ask if I didn’t acknowledge some right of revolution for oppressed people?

And of course I do, in cases where there is no remedy for legitimate and urgent greivances through more civilized and/or democratic means.

Maybe I should have been clearer about this, but what bugs me is that revolutionary sentiments that should be reserved for extraordinarily rare and dire situations are being made part of routine, day-to-day politics by large elements of the Right.

I feel about the “right of revolution” in politics much as I feel about “taking a prophetic stance” in religion. If you’re not familiar with this latter term, allow me to quote from something I wrote back in 2005 (in the context of discussing a fine essay by Alan Wolfe) about the Christian Right:

[I]n the Judeo-Christian tradition one who takes a prophetic stance believes the moral and spiritual conditions of a society have become so depraved that the faithful are obliged to step outside the normal bounds of civility and respect for authority and call down the righteous wrath of God. Taking a prophetic stance is by definition exceptional; occasionally essential, but always spiritually as well as politically dangerous. And that is why true prophets are so greatly honored, and false prophets are so feared and despised.
My guess is that the leaders of the religious right know how perilous their adoption of the prophetic stance truly is. And this knowledge explains, better than any other factor, the remarkable tone of paranoia, self-pity, and even hysteria that has come to characterize their political utterances….
[T]he prophetic stance is rapidly leading the religious right and its political allies into a contempt for their own country and their fellow citizens, because, after all, the prophetic stance is implictly reserved as an extraordinary response to fundamentally wicked societies.

So yes, there is a moral “right to revolution” just as there is a moral obligation to take a “prophetic stance” on extremely rare occasions (particularly in a country like the United States, with its many avenues for free speech and activism). When either becomes just another lever of political or cultural conflict, it quite naturally elevates the stakes to the level of virtual warfare, dehumanizing the “enemy,” and debasing all discourse.

Why is revolutionary rhetoric becoming so routine these days? Some of it stems from the kind of “constitutional conservatism” that raises every political or policy dispute to a question of basic patriotism or even obedience to Almighty God. But a big part of it can also be attributed to cynical opportunists who manipulate those fearful (usually without much cause) of tyranny for their own very conventional ends—usually power and money.

Wherever you think it’s coming from, it needs to stop, and if it can’t stop, it must be made disreputable as part of ordinary partisan politics.

At a minimum, those who toy with the idea of overthrowing our government to stop Obamacare or prevent gun regulation need to stand up to the charge that they hate America. It will make them crazy to hear it, but it’s the truth.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • T2 on May 03, 2013 5:09 PM:

    The common thing with these "revolution" people - they are white and big pro-gun. Notice they weren't talking revolt when we had white presidents.

  • Tom Hilton on May 03, 2013 5:25 PM:

    It's also worth noting that while there may be a moral "right to revolution" (in, as you say, extremely rare cases), there is most certainly not a legal "right to revolution".

    The wannabe revolutionaries are asserting (some implicitly, some explicitly) that insurrection is constitutionally protected, which is completely crazy given that the Constitution clearly defines what they contemplate doing as treason.

  • c u n d gulag on May 03, 2013 5:32 PM:

    I wish we could bring Jesus out to these false Prophets in their churches, so that, like Woody Allen brought out Marshall McLuhan in line for a movie, he can look at them, and say, "You know nothing about my work."

    The Prophet they all allegedly revere, when faced with the wickedness, and duplicity of man, when, after being tortured and tried, and sentenced to die, facing the slow and torturous death by crucification on a simple cross of wood, didn't call out to God to smite all of mankind in his righteous anger, and leave only the pure people behind, like in the Old Testament.

    No, he did quite the opposite. He asked God, his Father, to forgive them.

    And these people calling for the Apocalypse, instead of asking God for a Mulligan for the sinners, like them, instead, blame them, let the planet go to hell, and let people suffer, just because they think it'll get them better seats and meals on that eternal Heavenly cruise trip, where they can sit at the right-hand side of God and his Son.
    Like they'd want to have anything to do with intolerant @$$hole racists, misogynists, xenophobes, and/or homophobes, who, every time they open their mouths, demonstrate that they know nothing of God's and Jesus' work - for, if there is a God, and a Jesus, we are ALL His children. And we are ALL loved by him.

    Maybe I've read the wrong Bible.

  • Anonymous on May 03, 2013 5:33 PM:

    There is no "right to revolution" in a society with functioning democratic institutions --period.

    The right wing extremists are confusing "tyranny" -- oppression by a dictatorial regime - with being outvoted by a majority in a democracy and having to accept the consequences. Even in cases where basic human rights are being violated - the south in the 1950's, for example -- the Civil Rights movement never asserted a right to overthrow the government.

    By the way, check out the video a commenter offered as proof of left-wing violence in Seattle - the protesters were spraying the police with silly string.

    AK-47 with banana clip, silly string - same thing, right?

  • jim filyaw on May 03, 2013 5:33 PM:

    of course, there are "natural rights", one of which would be revolution against a perceived tyrant. then, there is the reciprocal right of those who bear true faith and allegiance to this government to consider these fools as treasonous, perfidious, and contemptible, just as our forebears did. further, we have the right to hang them, for which i would gladly contribute the rope.

  • rk21 on May 03, 2013 5:35 PM:

    I have lived in many parts of the world (parents being transferred from place to place). All were democratic, no one was ever fond of their govt. The general sentiment was that the bastards are no good and need to be voted out. But it's only in the US that I hear talk of armed revolution. And this, in a 200yr old democracy where presidential elections are held every 4 yrs and congressional ones every 2 yrs. You get elections at every level (even the fricking school boards comprise of elected officials). If the media was not so awful it would point out that all this talk of revolution is not because of loss of "freedom", but is actually a desire to overthrow a democratically elected president. They didn't get what they want at the ballot box, so now they want to resort bullets. But because they are white men they have to be treated seriously at all times however treasonous they are.

  • DRF on May 03, 2013 5:38 PM:

    Those who mutter about the possible need for armed revolution fail to understand that the best protection against tyranny in this country isn't their guns, which in any event are no match for the power of the police, state and Federal law enforcement agencies, National Guards and (in the event of real insurrection) the U.S. military, but rather the traditions of our country, our adherence to the rule of law, the backbone of which is the U.S. Constitution, and our professional and independent judiciary.

    The ones who talk about armed insurrection also talk a lot about the Constitution, but for the most party they have no idea what the Constitution says or stands for. Unfortunately, respect for the real principles of Constitutional law runs a mile wide and an inch deep in this country.

  • Davis X. Machina on May 03, 2013 5:48 PM:

    An oppressed majority -- the last word in American exceptionalism.

    Pull the other leg, it's got bells on it.

  • Bruce S on May 03, 2013 5:51 PM:

    I started referring to the "Hate-America Right" years ago - it has been evident at least as far back as, ironically, 9/11 when Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson reacted to the terrorist attacks as evidence of God's having lifted a "veil of protection" from our Sodomite baby-killing Hell Hole.

    It's only gotten worse, more pervasive and more extreme. The rhetorical demonization of liberalism was one of Newt Gingrich's innovations, with his Greatest Hit probably being his claim that Susan Smith murdering her children "reminds every American how sick the society is getting and how much we need to change things...The only way you get change is to vote Republican." This from a relatively "respectable" conservative.

    Which brings me to one of my pet peeves about the GOP - we don’t actually have a conservative party in this country anymore – more like an aggregation of the usual soulless opportunists bolstered by a reactionary radical wing pushed hard right at “the base” by paranoid white populist zealots and crank theocrats – with the necessary funding injected by single-issue plutocrats who will use any motley, know-nothing crew to keep taxes low and regulations soft. There's nothing "American" in any of that mix - unless one considers dregs of such as the Confederacy, corrupt politicians and the "men without a country" among our avaricious economic elite roaming the globe for any "competitive advantage" as typical Americana. I happen to think better of it.

  • Peter C on May 03, 2013 6:15 PM:

    Well, during the Bush years I was very worried. I saw our government lie us into war, break laws in secret and then claim they didn't apply (FISA), torture an American citizen into insanity after repeatedly denying his habeas corpus rights (Jose Padilla). I marched through Manhattan against the war (in the driving rain) with thousands of other in a protest that was ignored by the media. Having watched the recount in Florida in 2001 which was stopped by the Supreme Court in order to declare a winner by inauguration day (rather than waiting for an autoritative result), and the questionable count of the 2004 vote in Ohio (with its subsequent lawsuit featuring the 'inadvertant' destruction of evidence), I was not convinced that the elections of 2006 and 2008 would be fairly administered. There were times when I wondered if I had to act.

    But, what I wondered was whether it was time for me to sit down in the middle of the street. I didn't dream of violent overthrow.

    The far right isn't focused on paperless voting machines, though. I was in those fights and they weren't there. No, they know they are in the minority. They dream of breaking away - of seceding - of setting up their own small communities - of nullification. They don't fear tampering with the voting booth but rather the domination of the voting booth by we 'others' (browns, blacks, atheists, liberals).

    We, though, would treat them better than they would treat us. What would we do? Give them universal health care. Sounds scary, huh?

  • Bruce S on May 03, 2013 6:38 PM:

    "What would we do? Give them universal health care. Sounds scary, huh?"

    Yes, apparently it does - "Death Panels!"

  • Amusing Alias on May 03, 2013 6:50 PM:

    Sorry Ed, you've got this wrong. Right-wing extremists don't hate America; they just hate most of the people who live there.

  • Citizen Alan on May 03, 2013 6:52 PM:

    At a minimum, those who toy with the idea of overthrowing our government to stop Obamacare or prevent gun regulation need to stand up to the charge that they hate America.

    Thank You! Thank! You! It is high time we start shouting the obvious truth from every street corner and mountaintop -- that the GOP is a fascist, treasonous organization that is the sworn enemy of American democracy.

  • Grag on May 03, 2013 9:29 PM:

    The first line of the Declaration of Independence: "When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another . . ."

    The right of revolution is presupposed by the opening lines of the Declaration of Independence. We long ago reached the point at which it became necessary for the people of the several states to dissolve the political bonds that have connected them with one another.

    The U.S. has been in a state of low level civil war for some time: war between various tribal factions among the populace, war between the ruling political factions, the war being waged by the ruling party factions against the people, the war these factions are waging against the most basic rights and liberties guaranteed by the constitution.

    Take a look at the grievances outlined in the Declaration of Independence and ask yourself how many apply once again today, and consider how many more might be appended to this list of grievances. There are no paths to the resolution of these grievances by means of the normal political process. That process has been corrupted and perverted by the ruling factions, to maintain and further strengthen their power, influence and control.

    The federal government should be dissolved and the states freed from the tyranny of the federal union.

    The next revolution cannot happen soon enough.

  • Doug on May 03, 2013 9:49 PM:

    "On a national level, we have lost our democracy. IT DOES NOT EXIST."

    Does that sound like some wild Tea Party Nut? Not quite. Cenk Ungar,the founder of 'The Young Turks' said that last week at a conference in SF.


    Here's a liberal nut from Harvard, Lawrence Lesig, who wrote the book - literally - on corruption in Congress, speaking at TEDtalks.


    Bottom line - some very influential liberals agree with some very influential conservatives - we HAVE NO DEMOCRACY at the federal level. Step away from your political bias. It's on this blog today - Obama nominated a subprime banker for SEC of Commerce because she was a big fundraiser for Obama. It's been reported and ignored - the democratic party 'suggested' to new freshman elected to the House - they need to spend FOUR hours per day on the phones fundraising. And that's the democrats - the GOOD guys! Did anyone notice how STOCK got gutted on a bipartisan basis and signed into law?

    Almost half the retiring Congress from 1998 to 2004 (voluntarily or lost the election) went to work as lobbyists. (50% of the Senate 42% of the House) earning on average FOURTEEN times what they made in Congress! If anyone wants to bet that they were all republicans, put your money on the table! Ed, you hold it.

    Conservatives aren't angry because of the tyranny of low-flush toilets. They know Congress does not represent Americans - but they are sure it's the democrats who did it! We liberals are convinced democracy has been thwarted - but we buy into the meme that it's the GOP who done it!

    We have to choose between a polarized nation with a Congress who serves the rich - or a polarized Congress who serves the people. I prefer the latter, and the only way I will get it is by working with conservatives who also see how corruption is the bottleneck that's holding up progress on EVERY issue you care about. We have to work together to end the corrosive influence of big money in politics - and both parties are in it up to their necks! Fix the money and you fix the politics.

  • Neildsmith on May 04, 2013 5:43 AM:

    These poll results are not surprising. Demagogues have stirred up tribal warfare for all of human history and there is no reason to think America today is immune. But instead of berating politicians for refusing to stop it, perhaps the better response is for to acknowledge that the progressive agenda is simply dead for now. It is pointless in this environment to attempt any new policy or program beyond what we already have in place.

    Progressives (and I include myself here) have long misjudged the American people. We convinced ourselves that Americans were kind, generous, and compassionate people. Nothing could be further from the truth. From our vicious take no prisoners economic model to our unending wars to defend and sustain corporate profits, we have become an enemy to civilization.

    Progressive attempts to mitigate the suffering of the poor and elderly have left us advocating polices to defend the very groups who either don't vote or vote for our political enemies. What sort of stupidity is that?

    We aren't going to fight to beat the evil demagogues. Every time they take a policy hostage, we give in. We've taught them that they can get what they want by threats and intimidation. You can negotiate with terrorists and blackmailers to slow the death spiral, but there really is only one way to stop it.


  • Steve on May 04, 2013 7:27 PM:

    Oh, crap.

    Let's just get it over with.

    I want to see these clowns dodging Hellfire missiles fired from Predator drones.

    Bring it on, babe.

  • impartial on May 06, 2013 9:53 AM:

    Well said, c u n d gulag.