01 Mar 2010

The Futility of a Violent Revolution

All Posts 15 Comments

I want to give a quick summary of my views on violent resistance to a tyrannical government, in light of the Austin plane attack and the (possible) attack on a Utah IRS facility.

* There is a big difference between arming yourself and saying, “If they come onto my property, it’s show time” versus, “I am going to fly my plane into a government office.” If you’re trying to win converts, the former is a lot more likely to garner sympathy than the latter.

* Proponents of violent resistance have in mind the idea that if we could just get x million fellow citizens to think like us and stand up to Big Brother, we’d eventually win after they killed y million of us. Well OK, but if we had x million fellow citizens who thought like us, then I submit it wouldn’t take violence. They could just stop paying taxes and see what happened. The results would be the same–eventual crumbling of the empire–but with a lot less bloodshed.

* People (like the Austin pilot) who think it’s smart strategy to provoke the government into doing something awful because then the people will rise up, are being awfully optimistic about the mass of Americans they otherwise refer to as “the sheeple.” Remember Waco? How much more awful would the government have to be? But did the average American go buy a long gun and renew his membership in the John Birch society? Of course not. Most Americans just needed to hear a TV anchor give the official explanation. “Oh OK, yeah I guess that makes sense. If I were in charge of rescuing a bunch of children from abusive parents, I’d probably send in chemical weapons and tanks too. Too bad those kids had religious nutjob parents and got burned up.”

Last point:

* People often invoke the Founding Fathers. Yes they were brave and they fought a war to free the country. And yet, many of the same people who love the Founding Fathers go on to chastise present-day Americans by saying, “Our nation of wimps now have a level of taxation far higher than the colonists endured under King George.” Hmm there are two ways to interpret this. One is to say, “It’s time for another bloodletting!” Another is to say, “Hmm maybe the violent American Revolution wasn’t such a hot idea after all.”

15 Responses to “The Futility of a Violent Revolution”

  1. TGGP says:

    You seem to be referring to "foco theory". It has an unblemished record of failure. Maoism is a much better bet.

  2. BadTux says:

    Or the third possibility is that the average American is far wealthier than in the time of George Washington, and views the government as being legitimate with authority derived from We The People and thus having a right to their tax money to the extent needed to keep it going, as vs. during the time of the American Revolution where at least 1/3rd of colonists believed the tax to be an illegitimate infringement of their rights as Englishmen (remember, their cry was "no taxation without representation!", not "no taxes!").

    The reality is that the average American today carries the least tax burden of any major OECD country, and it's hard for the average American to get too upset about taxes when he's fairly comfortable compared to most of his compatriots overseas and he (the average American) actually voted for the representatives who passed the taxes. The slogan "no taxation with representation" simply doesn't resonate.

    Regarding violence: We have a revolution built-in to our political system, it's called the ballot. Look up the term "revolution of 1800". But one point I will make is that the majority simply do not view government violence against armed people as illegitimate. For better or for worse, the majority believes that if you are well armed and espousing an anti-government slogan and advertising a desire to commit violence against government agents who enter your property (and remember, the majority voted for our current government so clearly views it as legitimate), then you are an insane whack job and they simply have no sympathy for you. I am not saying that I agree with that opinion, I've read the Ruby Ridge and Waco reports too, but it is the opinion that most hold about those who are well-armed and resist the government via force of arms, and as long as the government is viewed as legitimate by the majority, taking up arms against The Man is not going to be any more useful than it was when the Black Panthers tried it.

  3. Bob Murphy says:

    TGGP if you want to elaborate I'll listen. But I'm not going to go Google etc. to find out what one of my critics is claiming. 🙂

    BadTux, that's not a "third possibility" at all. I'm saying the people who fought for "taxation with representation" probably had no idea how much taxation and representation they'd be getting. This is one of the problems with democracy: People allow government officials to seize all kinds of power and money because "it's just us."

    I think you are being naive though when you seem to buy into the idea that "we" have chosen our government officials. The system is rigged so that you end choosing between John McCain and Barack Obama.

    Last thing: If people post comments discussing the benefits of violent resistance, I'm sorry to "censor" you but I'm going to delete any comments advocating illegal activities. So please just think to yourself what a sissy I am.

  4. James Rothfeld says:

    The most violent political system in human history, the Soviet tyranny, was brought down by its economic inner contradictions (the irony!) and peaceful resistance.
    No good can come from evil. No moral system can be brought about my immoral means.
    You want to fight the state? Get ready for a long struggle – one mind at a time. Else, you just end up with another state.

  5. Caveman says:


    A "majority" of Americans did not vote for our current government. Even if you exclude Americans under the age of 18, convicts, non-citizens, and those deemed (by the government) mentally unfit to vote the number of Americans who actually voted for the current government is still less than a majority of those who could have. As Bob pointed out, in general, the differences between the candidates in most elections is small enough to be meaningless. Thus, voting is futile.

    The standard of living argument doesn't hold up either. The colonists in America enjoyed a higher standard of living than lots of persons in the world at the time. For the most part, those leading the revolutionary charge weren't starving or in such a desperate state that they had "nothing to lose" by opposing the English crown. The American Revolution was mostly fought over the issue of colonists' rights.

    Today, I think most Americans simply cannot imagine revolting (peacefully or otherwise) against the US government. Most of us have been sufficiently conditioned to believe that our political system–though flawed–is the best available and that even if it isn't we're powerless to change it. And, as Bob said, many Americans believe that "we" are the government. Thus, there's no "other" to revolt against.

  6. BadTux says:

    I have been privileged to work with someone who lived under Soviet tyranny and to also work with people living under the current Chinese version. The difference is stark and goes back to the notion that it is the intrusiveness of government into people's daily lives that makes the difference in whether the government is viewed as legitimate by the people. My ex-Soviet coworker says he was not even allowed to talk to Westerners unless a Party ideological officer was there to monitor his conversation. My Chinese coworkers, on the other hand, talk to me freely without direct monitoring from any government officials about not only work but about their daily lives, indie music, motorcycles, or anything else they feel like talking about. My ex-Soviet co-worker was boggled by that, he could not conceive of a system calling itself "Communist" that did not behave the way he "knew" Communist governments operated. But from what I can tell, both from talking with my coworkers and visits there, the Chinese dictatorship is Communist largely in name only now, otherwise they're pretty much a run-of-the-mill Confucian dictatorship now little different from many other of the neighboring nations at points in the recent past (for example, Korea under Park Chung Hee, or Singapore under Lee Kuan Yew). And the people seem by and large content with that, because the government mostly leaves them alone as long as they don't oppose it and appears to be doing stuff that benefit them by and large, as vs. the Soviet system which was very intrusive into the daily lives of people and was clearly dysfunctional in major ways.

    I guess my point being that for some reason, the majority of people mostly don't care what kind of government they have, just how intrusive it is in their daily lives and whether it seems to be mostly doing stuff they believe government is supposed to do like keep the streets safe, maintain fire departments, things of that sort. At which point, I hear "American Revolution!". But there was no American Revolution, there was a war of secession by the legitimate governments of the American colonies against the English Crown when the Crown, bankrupted by its previous war against France and Spain and unable to get Parliament to raise taxes to pay its debts, decided to assert control over the colonies as Crown colonies and impose taxes unilaterally there, despite the fact that the colonies had been largely self-governing for the prior hundred years and had already developed their own political systems and ruling class. I spent decades puzzled by the question, "how could a million or so colonists successfully win a war of secession against what was then the world's greatest superpower?" But in the end, I did not find the answer in history books, I found the answer in economics. The American victory was not won by force of arms, but, rather, by force of money. The whole reason the Crown attempted to milk the Colonies for money was that it was bankrupt, and going to war against the Colonies didn't make it any less bankrupt. When French and American forces defeated Cornwallis at Yorktown, that was less than 1/10th of British forces on the North American continent. But that was the end of the Crown's money — George III could not afford to hire a new army to replace the one that had been lost or, indeed, properly pay and provision his current army, and an army that has not received its promised pay is one which is not going to go into battle for you. While the guns were important in bringing the Crown to this end, you have to go to the economics to see how a war of secession can be successfully executed — a fact which utterly eluded Jefferson Davis some 70 years later when he attempted his own war of secession, and disastrously failed largely for economic reasons.

  7. Roger Ritthaler says:

    Thanks, BadTux, for that interesting analysis of the so-called "American Revolution".

  8. Jim D says:

    Yeah, thanks Bad Tux for the cool analogy. But speaking of economics, I think that the "far wealthier than" business is an illusion…we sold the grandchildren into slavery for our current opulence. A rendezvous with reality is coming.

  9. Jim D says:

    Analogy??? ooops…should've been analysis.

  10. MIchael says:


    Very interesting. What you say makes alot of sense, that the U.S. revolution was a success for the colonies because the cost of fighting outweighed the benefits for the Crown.

    Applying that to the Vietnam War, it is interesting that the French got out after Dien Bien Phu and yet when the Americans came in, they stuck it out for a long time. It seems that for the Americans, the "cost" of loosing was too high for many years, and so they stuck it out, until the cost of staying was too great. Here, I am referring to the political costs. I doubt the executive/legislative branches were too concerned over the monetary cost. One slogan was something like, "Vietnam is not in my district" meaning that the politicians didn't care what happened there, so long as their constituents were happy/indifferent.

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  12. Brian N. says:

    "remember, their cry was 'no taxation without representation!'"

    The precise substance of that claim rests on very slippery grounds.

    Get the scoop:


    It certainly did exist at the time, but it was probably not the popular slogan we were all told it was back in school.

    "and remember, the majority voted for our current government so clearly views it as legitimate"

    That's not true. A majority of [i]voting voters[/i] voted for the present government. Not everyone was eligible, barely a majority (about 61-63%) of those eligible actually voted and only a relatively slight majority of popular votes (~53%) were cast for Obama against McCain's minority (~46%).* I realize that's a difference of roughly 10 million people, but that's not my point.

    * – source – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_presidential_election,_2008#Turnout

  13. BadTux says:

    Brian, if you read the writings of our Founding Fathers from that era, you'll see that they're all in a lather about "the rights of Englishmen". One of which, they lament, is the right dating all the way back to the Magna Carta for Parliament, not the King, to control taxation of Englishmen. There was also the additional (but somewhat irrelevant) complaint that Parliament had no Colonial representatives (I suppose tossed out there just in case Parliament ever *did* decide to levy taxes upon the colonies). We tend to shorten all that today in our short-attention-span soundbite culture to "no taxation without representation", but of course that's just shorthand.

    From reading the writings of our founding fathers, it's clear that the Crown assuming direct control over colonial affairs, not taxes themselves, were their primary complaint — the reassertion of the King's authority over colonies which had been largely self-governing for over a century chapped their rears pretty good, and for anybody who'd been brought up in the English legal system, it would appear to them to be completely illegal and contrary to the fundamental rights of Englishmen. Taxes were just one thing, of many things, that they were irritated about the Crown illegally imposing upon them — indeed, in the Declaration of Independence that mentions the colonies' complaints against the Crown, taxes get only one line out of 26 specific complaints alleging Royal misdeeds, and note that they are complaining about the *KING* imposing taxes upon them — not about taxes in general (which they'd been paying to their own duly-constituted representative governments since the formation of their respective colonies).

    Regarding voters: There are three general categories of voters:

    1) Those who vote for candidate A, the winner
    2) Those who vote for some other candidate
    3) Those who don't care whether candidate A wins, or whether some other candidate wins, all the candidates are satisfactory to them, and thus don't vote at all.

    Category 3 (the "I like all the candidates" non-voters) can basically be counted as votes for whoever wins the election, because they clearly had no problem with him becoming their Senator/governor/Representative/President or they would have gone to the polls and voted for some other candidate. The notion that the existence of Category 3 somehow means we have a dictatorial government imposed upon us by a minority and thus the government is illegitimate doesn't resonate with most people, unlike in Colonial times when we were quite clearly having a dictatorial government imposed upon us by a minority — a minority of one, in fact, King George III of England.

  14. Patrick says:


    We can't really say anything about people who don't vote, and silence is not equivalent to consent. I, for example, don't vote as a matter of principle. I will not participate voluntarily in a system that is predicated on violence. Many others, I think, view voting as a futile exercise, a position which does not suggest an acceptance of the system, merely an acceptance of the fact that they have no real power in it.

    As for people who vote for "the winner", this could just as easily be defensive voting as support. When given the 'choice' to be beaten with either a rubber mallet or a long metal club with spikes, one may 'choose', but it doesn't mean one would't prefer not to be beaten at all. Same argument applies to votes for the loser.

  15. scineram says:

    Category 3 (the "I like all the candidates" non-voters) can basically be counted as votes for whoever wins the election, because they clearly had no problem with him becoming their Senator/governor/Representative/President or they would have gone to the polls and voted for some other candidate.

    Yes, that's BS.