Sunday, June 24, 2007

Revolutionary Despair

Joel S. Hirschhorn, contrairian author and former congressional staffer, has written an interesting article on revolution in America and why it isn’t happening. He notes that the approval rating of both the president and congress hovers around the 25% mark, and that polls show 68% of Americans do not believe the country is headed in a positive direction. Despite this dissatisfaction with the state of political affairs, the U.S. remains in a decidedly non-revolutionary mindset. Hirschhorn feels this lack of revolutionary fervor is due to a dumbing-down of the American public:

The rational way to understand this is that ordinary, oppressed Americans are in a deep psychological state of self-delusion. Despite all the empirical, objective evidence of a failed government, they fail to see rebellion opportunities…they are not feeling enough pain to seriously consider rebellion. And it is visceral pain that must drive people to the daring act of rebellion.

In this, Hirschhorn is quite correct. As long as people’s lives are reasonably comfortable and stable, they will see little reason to rebel. There will of course always be revolutionary fringes on the far left and right, but most people will be content to allow the existing political order to continue so long as their material needs are being met. Hirschhorn believes that weaning people away from their petty luxuries and educating them can alter this state of affairs and awaken people to their right to call for a new constitutional convention. I would disagree in that I think Americans as a whole would have no interest in rebellion even if they had less consumer toys to play with. Most people in this country, if not ecstatically happy, are at least content with their day-to-day lives. Revolutions have historically occurred only in nations where people’s basic physical needs are not being met. So long as most Americans have adequate food, shelter, and clothing, they will not want to risk their stable lives for the uncertainty of revolutionary upheaval. Bitching about the state of the American government acts as a safe way for citizens to blow off steam while not seriously risking their comfortable existence. This of course bodes ill for revolutionary groups in general. Until such a time as circumstances make most Americans feel truly desperate, their causes will have little chance of success.


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