News

Loading...

Thursday, June 28, 2012

A Right to Rebellion?

Ryan Murphy declares: "I think it’s fair to first assert the right to rebellion"

What would such a right mean? Well, let us proceed by analogy: if I claim to have a right to free speech, I mean the government has no right to stop me from speaking my mind. If I have the right to freedom of religion, the government may not stop me from practicing any religion I choose.

These rights are accompanied by methods of redress: If my right to bear arms is violated, I may sue in court to have that right restored and to be compensated, if I sufferred as a result of the violation.

So a right to rebellion would imply that the government has no right to stop me from staging a rebellion, and, if it does so, I can sue it. Every crank in the country can rebel whenever he wants, and the government can't stop him. This would seem to imply a rotation of presidents every few minutes, as whoever has shown up most recently with a gun takes over, and then immediately loses his right to resist the next would-be president.

(Of course, we can only even talk about this right in a state-based legal framework: in anarchy, there cannot be a right to rebel because there is no entity against which to rebel.)

20 comments:

  1. I only meant it in the Lockean sense. Looking it up, I guess what I was referring more frequently is called "right of revolution"?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, I'm not sure Locke makes any sense here either.

      I am granting that at times rebellion may be not only OK but even morally required, e.g., Nazi Germany.

      But do you think it would have changed the situation at all if the German constitution had included a "right to rebel"?

      Delete
    2. As I said in the blog post, it would have been much hard for Hitler to have done what he did if people owned guns.

      The point is that taking guns out of the hands of citizens places higher costs on them to rebel against an unjust government.

      Delete
    3. As I said in the blog post, it would have been much hard for Hitler to have done what he did if people owned guns.

      Ryan, why? The claim strikes me as a phenomenally unexamined assumption.

      Delete
    4. Yes, I agree with everything you write above. It argues for me to the fact that it may make sense to declare a legal right to bear arms. I'm not sure how it bears on a right to rebellion!

      Ryan, what I'm really trying to do here is push for clarity in rights talk: We can say "Everyone should have the right to have sex with every beautiful person they desire, and also the right to turn down whomever they wish" -- we can say that, but we can't *implement* such a right in any coherent way. Similarly with the "right to revolution": how the heck do we implement that right in a legal system? Let's reserve rights language for things we can actually implement as rights!

      Delete
    5. Jim, you may or may not be right: I don't know the history of the period well enough to weigh in. But even if it were true that, say, a Swiss "lack-of-a-right-to-not-own-a-gun" would have been the answer in Nazi Germany, I can't see how that gets us to a right to revolution.

      Delete
    6. Gene, It does surprise me to see a theist arguing that the only coherent definition of a "right" can be a prerogative that can be vindicated by legal action within the state system. And actually, you seem to be weakening that claim in comments to a request (demand?) that people demonstrate that other proposed definitions have - something. Internal coherence? Utility? Something else?

      Now, I think other definitions clearly pass the utilitarian test of, they provide motivation for people to meliorate existing state-citizen relationships. But I was more interested in why Ryan was so confident that the magic power of guns in the hands of citizens would have - well, not stopped, but much hardered Hitler's job. Said claim sits poorly with two pretty well established facts:

      1. Saddam Hussein's Iraq had one of the highest rates of personal firearms ownership of any country in the world. This caused a hell of a lot of problems for the United States, but not so many for Saddam.

      2. From the moment he took power, Hitler embarked on a zealous and inarguably successful policy of putting weapons into the hands of German citizens. That was his whole idea!

      Delete
    7. "Gene, It does surprise me to see a theist arguing that the only coherent definition of a "right" can be a prerogative that can be vindicated by legal action within the state system."

      Rights talk arose in the context of such systems, and I really think they are best understood in (and used within) that context. The Bible, Augustine, Aquinas, etc: none of them discuss "rights" at all.

      Delete
    8. "Now, I think other definitions clearly pass the utilitarian test of, they provide motivation for people to meliorate existing state-citizen relationships."

      Oh, and people are motivated by all sorts of things, such as the idea that scarcity is only created by the capitalists, or that if we don't like something, outlawing it will make it go away. I don't see why acknowledging that they motivate people equates to acknowledging that they make any sense!

      Delete
    9. "The claim [that 'it would have been much hard for Hitler to have done what he did if people owned guns'] strikes me as a phenomenally unexamined assumption."

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Warsaw_ghetto_uprising

      "From the moment he took power, Hitler embarked on a zealous and inarguably successful policy of putting weapons into the hands of German citizens. That was his whole idea!"

      Yes, and there was also a zealous and inarguably successful policy of disarming Jews and other undesirables. Targeted victim disarmament is a pattern that precedes nearly every genocide. Thus, I agree that to be more accurate Ryan should have specified "victims" and not "people."

      Delete
    10. Indeed, targeted victim disarmament works because the victim group commands insufficient political support. Which is irrelevant to a country's general policy on subject/citizen arms-bearing. What stops genocide is a rejection of genocide by the overclasses. Civil arms-bearing is completely irrelevant to this.

      As to the Warsaw uprising link, I recommend reading it to you and Ryan. You'll not only see how little it has to do with the question of arms-bearing in ordinary times, you'll get a sense of just how little good a larger number of firearms would have done the resistance organizations. The Warsaw uprising was a great symbol of the human spirit, but it was never an effort that might have "worked" if only there were more rifles in the neighborhood.

      Maybe the problem for libertarians and anarchists is that it's hard to accept that the only thing that really stops genocide is a certain minimal level of empathy for others, and a willingness to make that a political sticking point. I imagine that, particularly for Randians*, it's preferable to imagine that all it takes is self-interest and self-defense.

      *Not that you or Ryan are necessarily Randians. I have no idea.

      Delete
    11. Gene: Sure. Acknowledging that something motivates people doesn't mean it makes sense. I'm just not seeing three things from your preferred, particular construction of the meaning of the term "rights": the superiority (in coherence and clarity) of this particular definition over all the other candidates; the gain to human welfare from adopting it given the first thing; the urgency of the question given the first two things. That is, it seems extremely important to you to sharply constrict "rights talk," but I'm not similarly moved so far. :) Best I can muster is a Menckenesque, "You may well be right."

      Delete
    12. "As to the Warsaw uprising link, I recommend reading it to you and Ryan. You'll not only see how little it has to do with the question of arms-bearing in ordinary times, you'll get a sense of just how little good a larger number of firearms would have done the resistance organizations. The Warsaw uprising was a great symbol of the human spirit, but it was never an effort that might have "worked" if only there were more rifles in the neighborhood."

      Jim, Jim, Jim... We're not suggesting that this particular uprising would have "worked" if the resistance only had more guns (lol).

      What made the Warsaw Uprising notable is that it was so uncharacteristic; European Jewry generally walked to their death with no resistance (Gandhi would be proud). The Germans had planned on liquidating that ghetto in three days, and a few hundred beaten-down Jews with homemade weapons held them off for a month. In this one instance, a little bit of resistance made the Nazis' job ten times harder. Now, imagine that kind of resistance effort multiplied by several thousand -- imagine if every Nazi in Europe who knocked on a Jewish door expected to face down the barrel of a gun. You're seriously telling me that wouldn't have made the Holocaust overall much more difficult?!

      "Maybe the problem for libertarians and anarchists is that it's hard to accept that the only thing that really stops genocide is a certain minimal level of empathy for others, and a willingness to make that a political sticking point. I imagine that, particularly for Randians*, it's preferable to imagine that all it takes is self-interest and self-defense."

      It would be nice if the Nazis had had a minimal amount of empathy. Unfortunately, Jews had no control over whether Nazis felt empathy. They *did* have control over whether to submit or resist (or at least they would have, if they had the means to resist).

      Lastly, I don't accept Rand's philosophy, although I admit to enjoying The Fountainhead a great deal.

      Delete
    13. "As to the Warsaw uprising link, I recommend reading it to you and Ryan. You'll not only see how little it has to do with the question of arms-bearing in ordinary times, you'll get a sense of just how little good a larger number of firearms would have done the resistance organizations. The Warsaw uprising was a great symbol of the human spirit, but it was never an effort that might have "worked" if only there were more rifles in the neighborhood."

      Jim, Jim, Jim... We're not suggesting that this particular uprising would have "worked" if the resistance only had more guns (lol).

      What made the Warsaw Uprising notable is that it was so uncharacteristic; European Jewry generally walked to their death with no resistance (Gandhi would be proud). The Germans had planned on liquidating that ghetto in three days, and a few hundred beaten-down Jews with homemade weapons held them off for a month. In this one instance, a little bit of resistance made the Nazis' job ten times harder. Now, imagine that kind of resistance effort multiplied by several thousand -- imagine if every Nazi in Europe who knocked on a Jewish door expected to face down the barrel of a gun. You're seriously telling me that wouldn't have made the Holocaust overall much more difficult?!

      "Maybe the problem for libertarians and anarchists is that it's hard to accept that the only thing that really stops genocide is a certain minimal level of empathy for others, and a willingness to make that a political sticking point. I imagine that, particularly for Randians*, it's preferable to imagine that all it takes is self-interest and self-defense."

      It would be nice if the Nazis had had a minimal amount of empathy. Unfortunately, Jews had no control over whether Nazis felt empathy. They *did* have control over whether to submit or resist (or at least they would have, if they had the means to resist).

      Lastly, I don't accept Rand's philosophy, although I admit to enjoying The Fountainhead a great deal.

      Delete
  2. See, e.g., the New Hampshire Constitution: [Art.] 10. [Right of Revolution.] Government being instituted for the common benefit, protection, and security, of the whole community, and not for the private interest or emolument of any one man, family, or class of men; therefore, whenever the ends of government are perverted, and public liberty manifestly endangered, and all other means of redress are ineffectual, the people may, and of right ought to reform the old, or establish a new government. The doctrine of nonresistance against arbitrary power, and oppression, is absurd, slavish, and destructive of the good and happiness of mankind.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dick, I didn't doubt that people had *asserted* such a right. And I'm not even saying it is always wrong to rebel. But what sense is there writing such a right into a constitution? Do they expect the despotic government to to accept a lawsuit and rule that they can be overthrown? The dictator is going to say, "Yes, I HAVE perverted the ends of government, and it's now OK to shoot me in the head."

      Delete
  3. Some people declare they have a right to their life. But what would such a right mean? It implies that the government has no right to stop a person from living, and, if it does so, it should face legal proceedings. Every crank in the country can go on living all he wants, and the government can't stop him.

    Now I don't doubt that people have *asserted* such a right. But what sense is there in writing such a right into a constitution? Do they expect the despotic government to accept the lawsuit and rule they are guilty of murder? The dictator is going to say, "Yes, I HAVE killed an innocent, and it's now OK to shoot me in the head."

    ReplyDelete
  4. "Some people declare they have a right to their life. But what would such a right mean? It implies that the government has no right to stop a person from living, and, if it does so, it should face legal proceedings"

    That is exactly what such a right means, and if the government deprives you of your right without the due process of law, then your survivors can take legal proceedings against the government.

    I have a sense you are trying to parody my post, but instead you have *illustrated* how a "right to life" is meaningful, while a "right to revolution" is nonsense.

    "But what sense is there in writing such a right into a constitution? Do they expect the despotic government to accept the lawsuit and rule they are guilty of murder? The dictator is going to say, "Yes, I HAVE killed an innocent, and it's now OK to shoot me in the head.""

    OF COURSE, any constitutional right is only meaningful when the existing government can be made to honor it. But the right to rebellion is only valid in the case of a government that WON'T honor constitutional rights: in other words, exactly when it could be invoked is exactly when it is completely useless.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I'm confused. Are you arguing that it isn't a right, or are you arguing that it doesn't make sense to annotate it as a right? If it is the latter then I completely agree.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Joe and Jim, new post on the blog addressing your questions.

      Delete