Just got through reading the critical biography of Thomas Jefferson. It’s an excellent book, and I highly recommend it to Jefferson fans. The author is not a Jefferson fan, and takes as many potshots as is possible to take at Jefferson, but Jefferson soars through it all, which makes me even more of a fan. Nicely done.
One of the things we Americans rarely talk about when we talk about our War of Independence is how most of the Founding Fathers expected another revolution in the United States. While they were publicly optimistic, Adams thought it would be in a hundred years. Jefferson had the heart of a poet and thought it could be any time. He was always going on about how the people should be able to rise up again to throw off oppression. Witnessing the beginnings of the French Revolution, a terrible affair, did nothing to dissuade Jefferson that governments should be overturned on a regular basis.
But that’s not the way it turned out. Yes, the southern states thought they were having their second war of independence in 1861, but they lost. The United States became very good at suppressing rebellion, mostly by giving people wide-ranging freedoms, privacy, and leaving them alone. Being able to vote with your feet had a lot to do with it as well. If you didn’t like the puritanical New England states you could just move out west.
So what happened to the revolution?
Observing many organizations with tight rules, and reading about various forms of government with strict laws, I’m left with the following conclusion: people can rebel without there being any drama or violence at all.
In fact, Americans are rebelling all of the time, billions of times each day. When they have work done, they pay people cash. They drive faster than the speed limit. They download files for free. They use illegal drugs such as alcohol and marijuana. They don’t pay sales tax on internet purchases. They don’t pay parking tickets. The jaywalk. They double-park. The list goes on and on. The only factor people are interested in is whether they can get away with it or not. They can play the game of pretending to look for work while enjoying generous unemployment benefits.
What with the war on terror and the new, bigger federal government, the government has started to view Americans themselves as a potential threat, so they track and monitor us. Whether because of terrorism, security, environmentalism, application of social policy, or whatever else the government is fixing, the grip grows tighter and tighter. People of 30 years ago would be horrified to see the NSA keeping files on all citizens, virtual strip searches at the airport, cities using eminent domain to seize mortgages, DNA databases of everybody — how could we tolerate living like this? Do you have any idea of what law enforcement can do with your cell phone without a warrant? It’s like something out of a sci-fi novel.
As the grip tightens the rebellion continues. The citizens are just going to stop playing by the rules. There won’t be any marches, or any armed violence, or political leaders, or sit-ins, or anything so dramatic. People will simply stop producing, stop cooperating, and stop participating. A little bit at a time, in a million different ways, people will rebel. There will be no one person to blame and no one political party to be the party of rebellion. Everybody will simply stop participating.
As the economy sinks and a rich political class starts lording more and more over everyday folk, everybody will wonder. What happened to the growth. What happened to the jobs? Why are newcomers so dynamic and energized while people who have been here for generations so passive, bitter, jaded, and lackadaisical? What sorts of extra government help and control do we need to fix our problems? And so the news media will be full of stories about financial crises, debt problems, lack of jobs, and failure in education. Politicians will trot out the bad guys they’ve always loved to blame: corporations, Wall Street, bankers, and so on. (These folks deserve to be blamed about a lot, but many times they are just acting the same way as the rest of us do, only with more money.) It will be quite a donnybrook, and it might take 200 years for things to finally fall apart. Or 20. Time really isn’t a factor here. There won’t be any armies or military campaigns, just more and more stories about the symptoms. You won’t read or see anything about the causes.
this revolution will not be televised.
NOTE: Apologies for the gloomy tone. The point here is that you can have total destruction of an organized system of people without massive dramatic events. When we think of things like a big company going broke or a government losing power, many times we think of it in terms of drama. But in many cases that’s not the way it really plays out. Or if there is drama, it’s just the drama of the symptoms. It has nothing to do with causes.
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