Free Markets, Free People

“Revolutions happen when a system suffers a major loss of political legitimacy.”

Amir Taheri broaches a subject that I’m sure will sound over-the-top to many. He asks, “Is England on the verge of revolution?”

Given the way the British government increasingly treats their citizens as serfs, I’ve wondered if serious resistance to such treatment would build to significant levels. I’ve only had one brief visit to Britain, so I’m in no position to venture an informed opinion. But Taheri finds some evidence that a tipping point may have been reached:

“I do sense a revolutionary mood,” David Starkey, one of Britain’s foremost historians, told the BBC. “I won’t be surprised if we did end up having a revolution.”

The current scandals of British MPs are one of the main drivers of the mood. They seem to be blatantly abusing their offices to feather their own nests (shades of John Murtha, et. al.), and simultaneously becoming increasingly irrelevant and hapless to do anything constructive because of the shift of power to the EU. Taheri thinks this has a pretty dramatic effect on the British:

Every nation has a number of founding myths. Britain’s principal myth is that it is the birthplace of modern democracy and a land where the law is supreme. The shocking realization that “the mother of parliaments” may have been acting as the rudest of street sluts is not easy to stomach. Some of the same politicians who go around the world lecturing others, especially in the “developing world”, against corruption, have been exposed as practioners of petty larceny.

I’m no expert on the British character, but I would not expect such behavior by itself to drive a revolution. However, it has a synergistic effect with a shrinking economy and significantly higher unemployment, which Britain is suffering. No one likes it when they suffer while their political elites are prospering by playing fast and loose with the rules.

Taheri points to the unpopularity of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as additional factors. Given that we have plenty of war opponents here, and that Britain was one level removed from the responsibility for those wars, I suppose they probably have more.

But to me, the main point was captured in the quote I used for the title. Revolutions can only happen when a sufficient numer of the people no longer believe their government is legitimate. It’s very unlikely for one single incident to cause such a shift in thinking. It more of a water-torture, drip, drip, drip process. Items such as the apparent politically-motivated dropping of charges against a serious example of voter intimidation are examples of incidents that don’t look that major on their own, but every one of them risks convincing another small set of citizens that their government isn’t playing by their own rules, and no longer cares about the welfare of the nation as a whole.

I choose that particular incident because erosion of confidence in the rules surrounding the ballot box are particularly damaging to the legitimacy of the government. I’ve talked to people who are convinced that our elections are a sham and participating in them is not only a waste of time, but actually bad because it gives a facade of legitimacy to what they perceive as an illegitimate process.

I’m not advocating revolution, but it’s worthwhile to point out that the ultimate check on an abusive, out-of-touch government is revolution. I don’t see it as a bad thing for our political elites to understand that their authority and ability to abuse us is not infinite. Since Britain is a few steps further along the path that Obama seems determined to take us, I hope our elites pay some mind to what might lie at the end of that path.

(Found via Instapundit)

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13 Responses to “Revolutions happen when a system suffers a major loss of political legitimacy.”

  • While revolution is always a possibility, I think it’s more likely what lies at the end of that path is a heavily regulated and universal welfare police state. If the government provides the people with bread and circuses, given that freedom/liberty does not rank as high for most people as security and consistency, any ideas to revolt will remain marginalized. There were many Loyalists among the US populace during the Revolutionary War, and that was for a government that ruled from another country. Now we all have a say, democracy is the voice of the people, those who want to break away are enemies of the people (not just of the state). Of course I don’t believe that, but it’s an easy sell to the masses.
    The future may not be a boot stamping on a human face forever, but more like a baby being fed and burped and placed back in a crib, forever.

    • The government cant afford to keep us in the crib forever.  Eventually it will go bankrupt, just like Russia did.  And when that happens why wouldn’t a revolution be possible?

  • “I’m not advocating revolution…”

    Oh hell, go ahead advocate it, or maybe not…If we had a tyrannous government one might expect someone to come and investigate them for such talk and cause them great trouble. On the other hand, a truly representative government would pay no attention as the vast majority would feel well served and rightly understand that the, would be “revolutionary”, would not be taken seriously and rejected by that vast majority of his fellow citizens.  

    Clearly, nothing to worry about here, they leave us alone and let us run our own lives…clearly… 

  • I’d expect one or two of the states to attempt a breakaway from federal authority before any sort of national movement and I don’t expect that in my lifetime.  And I think we have a long way to go before a critical mass is pissed off enough to forgo the many comforts of American life and risk everything.

    • I agree, though given the volatile dynamics of such situations, predicting timing is very hard. But I would consider that as “revolution” in the sense of this article. Such an effort, if successful, would probably draw in more states over time.

      Then, if we have one group of states united with minimal government and low taxes, and another forming a rump US carrying on the welfare state, then I’d expect there to be quite a lot of migration both ways. We’ve seen that, for example, many Britains and other Europeans have come here for more opportunity, and going to a former state would be an easier transition. 

      If Tennessee’s wretched and ill-conceived TennCare is an indication, the welfare states would tend to draw in those who feel a sense of entitlement and don’t care to work that hard. That could lead to a pretty nasty vicious cycle, of which we may be seeing an embryonic form in California right now. 

      • I’d certainly welcome a Galt’s Gultch state.  I’d move in a heartbeat. 

  • Freepers are already celebrating Tiller and calling it the “first shot fired”.

    • Yeah, there have never been any wacko leftists celebrating the death of someone on the opposing side of the fence.  Ted Rall, anyone?

  • Let’s see if we can fix this comment to better reflect reality:

    A few nut-case Freepers are already celebrating Tiller and calling it the “first shot fired”, while a majority are condemning them for that position.

  • Yeah, I mean, it’s not like they would take your private property and give it to someone else just because they want too, or force you to tell them what time you leave for work and does your toilet flush in the next census by levying a $5000.00 fine.
    Or tax, soda pop.

    • This is a near endless list.  Take a good look at the codes surrounding construction and you’ll go mad, especially the crap coming down the pike.  And of course we have states banning incandescent bulbs… 

  • This post has been linked for the HOT5 Daily 6/1/2009, at <a href=””>The Unreligious Right</a>

  • Great Britain’s system has withstood some major crises, and is one of the most stable systems on the planet — it even survived the Depression and WWII.  I guarantee you, there will be no revolution in Great Britain.   Legitimacy really comes from longer term trends and practices, not anger over hot button issues.  Moreover, lack of legitimacy more often breeds authoritarian governments than actual revolution.  The distance between complaining or being angry about something and trying to change the system in ways that put ones’ personal situation in jeopardy is immense.   Don’t look for revolutions in the advanced industrialized states.   Social movements that are peaceful and generally legal are more likely.