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Blupete's Weekly Commentary


March 26th, 2000.

"Revolutions."

"Rise, like lions after slumber,
In unvanquishable number,
Shake the chains to earth like dew,
Which in Sleep had fall'n on you --
Ye are many -- they are few."
Shelley.

"A populace never rebels from passion for attack,
but from impatience of suffering."
Edmund Burke

Revolution is the people's tool; it is a Lockian right. The threat of revolution is the ultimate check against the abuse of governmental power. And though it is a tool that can be used in a creative act, like all tools, it can be misused. Revolutionists always point to an evil as they urge their followers on; it is an ancient formula for arousing, sustaining and organizing men's energies, energies to be used as the revolutionists go about upsetting the status quo, in their revolutionary fight. They declare that men's problems are not natural, that they arise because of the activity of some group or another, -- by priests, nobles, capitalists, imperialists, liberals, aliens. Revolutionists proclaim that the evil will disappear when the evil group is relieved of its power. The silent representation is that all else is pure: the people are pure and their revolutionary leaders are pure.

Walter Bagehot, ever wise, said this about revolutions: "In fact you may place power in weak hands at a revolution, but you cannot keep it in weak hands. It runs out of them into strong ones." (The English Constitution.) The French Revolution, of course, is the grand example. Panic was its result as fetters were let loose and men rose up, who had not the "the wisdom and tranquillity of freemen": men "who had been dupes and slaves for centuries." Demagogues, turned tyrants, committed atrocities; no one, it would seem could hear the plea of reason. "Can he who the day before was a trampled slave suddenly become liberal-minded, forbearing, and independent"?

"Since wealth is an order and procedure of productions and exchange rather than an accumulation of (mostly perishable) goods, and is a trust (the "credit system") in men and institutions rather than in intrinsic value of paper money or checks, violent revolutions do not so much redistribute wealth as destroy it. There may be a division of the land, but the natural inequality of men soon re-creates an inequality of possessions and privileges, and raises to power a new minority with essentially the same instincts as in the old. The only real revolution is in the enlightenment of the mind and the improvement of character, the only real emancipation is individual, and the only real revolutionists are philosophers and saints."
-- The Durants, The Lessons of History.
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Peter Landry

March, 2000 (2011)