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.
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