Look What's Happenin' on the Streets...

Gotta revolution

"How a revolution erupts from a commonplace event -- tidal wave from a ripple -- is cause for endless astonishment. Neither Luther in 1517 nor the men who gathered at Versailles in 1789 intended at first what they produced at last. Even less did the Russian Liberals who made the revolution of 1917 foresee what followed. All were as ignorant as everybody else of how much was about to be destroyed. Nor could they guess what feverish feelings, what strange behavior ensue when revolution, great or short-lived, is in the air." -- Jacques Barzun, From Dawn to Decadence, p. 7

You may intend your revolution to bring about the brotherhood of man, or a society free of coercion. But your revolution will take its own course, and only one thing is certain: what you wanted will not be what emerges at the other end.


  1. "only one thing is certain: what you wanted will not be what emerges at the other end."

    Even that is not certain. It may be only one possibility out of a myriad but it remains a possibility.

  2. Yes, traumerei, I must admit, you are right, but only in the sense someone who says, "Face it, you're not going to win the lottery" is wrong: there is a chance the person will win the lottery, and a chance the revolution will come out as you expected. But the first is one-in-a-million, and the second... one-in-a-trillion?

  3. The more I think about politics, the sillier revolutionary rhetoric seems to me.

    Can I use your couch, Gene?

    My libertarianism is essentially a strong formulation of the presumption of liberty and an emphasis on exit over voice thereafter. Interventions require justification, not vice versa.

    When asked to justify minimal government during an interview, Tyler Cowen suggested that people stop theorizing from the ground up. He said that what government has going for it is that there is a tomorrow, and that this ongoing tomorrow is usually better than the day before. I was struck by the realization that even were my stated political theory correct in a vacuum, in actual civilization, radical changes require justification for precisely this reason. When libertarians call for the abolition of most or all government, they bear the evidentiary burden because they are risking everyone's "ongoing tomorrow", which is produced by our imperfect status quo.

    Obviously this doesn't mean that libertarian critiques of the administrative state aren't correct; but that philosophy, theory - cannot reasonably be our only consideration.

  4. Anonymous9:06 AM

    I'm definitely more a fan of subversion.

  5. Eh, I dunno Gene, this kind of stuff gets tricky. Couldn't somebody say, "The German people in the late 1930s knew something was wrong, but they decided to mind their own business and let things work themselves out." Oops.

  6. Bob, who said anything about "minding one's own business"? Have you ever known me to mind my own business? How could you possibly think that's what I advocate?

    And of course, their may be situations so bleak... like, let's say, your country has launched disastrous wars that will result in its destruction, and is stuffing millions of people into gas chambers, where a violent revolution is worth the huge risk.

    My point is, just don't think you can control what emerges on the far side of it! The czar, for instance, was pretty bad, but the liberals who overthrew never imagined just how much worse things could get.

  7. "The czar, for instance, was pretty bad, but the liberals who overthrew never imagined just how much worse things could get."

    Indeed- Lvov, Kerensky, et. all had the best of intentions and it sort of seems like Russia had been on some sort of inevitable march to some form of liberal democracy since the reign of Alexander II or so. What could go wrong? They were replacing an autocracy that had lost millions of its people in a war to keep the Serb family on the throne, imprisoned dissidents in Siberia for years, and generally treated its people as naive expendables.

    Of course by the end of their short-lived experiment with dual power (power sharing between the Soviets and the Provisional Government) a somewhat well armed minority party was able to launch a coup de'tat and create an even worse recreation of the above situation. Funny how intentions can end up meaning so little when a gang of opportunists becomes strong enough.

  8. As if one has the choice of stopping a tidal wave.

  9. Are you analogizing revolutions to tidal waves, Leo? Because I feel that is a mistake. Revolutions occur because of human action. And human action is based on choices.

    Now, the analogy gains some traction because no one of us can ever control the choices of any others. But we certainly can opt not to body surf the tidal wave. And who knows what would have happened had, e.g., Luther, decided to pull back and say, "No, I certain;y don't mean we should create our own church!" After all, when he pulled back from the radically anti-authoritarian implications of his early work, the peasant uprisings were crushed.

    The truth in what you say is that none of us can control the human future. My demurring is because that future *is* made up of all our choices, and your choice and my choice help create it. So we have a responsibility to choose our moves wisely, even if we are not in control of the game as a whole.


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