For some time, I've been thinking about a post about revolutionary rhetoric from certain limited elements of the modern American Right. It's a big topic, and I'm having trouble getting my arms around it. Revolutionary rhetoric has become more common and mainstream since Ezra touched on it last year.
I think revolutionary rhetoric from those limited elements of the Right falls into five general categories:
1. People using images of revolution purely metaphorically to refer to voter movements or changes in political stance;
2. People using revolutionary rhetoric to refer to substantial changes in the structure of American government achieved through political means;
3. People using revolutionary rhetoric to rope-a-dope the Left and the media by using language reasonably interpreted as calling for violent uprising, waiting for the media or the Left to call it out, and then playing the misunderstood victim and using the incident to argue that the media and the Left are irretrievably biased. Trolls, in other words;
4. People using calls to revolution as dog-whistle signals to their base, and maintaining coy plausible deniability over whether they mean to call for violence or not;
5. People genuinely and openly calling for violent revolution.
Some of those overlap, as you might notice.
I've been trying to frame a post that asks this question to the people advocating violent revolution: who lives and who dies, and who decides? Is it all politicians, or just politicians who have voted a particular way? Is it all judges, or just judges deemed unacceptable by some revolutionary tribunal? (Does Scalia live for U.S. v. Lopez, or die for Texas v. Johnson?) When do we get free elections again, and when we get them, do candidates have to be approved by some revolutionary tribunal? Do people speaking or writing in opposition to the revolution get killed? Is your position "in a revolution all sorts of people get killed, nobody decides, it's the luck of the bullet, so you'd better do what we say first?"
I've asked those questions elsewhere, and I think the chances of getting an answer from anyone in category 3 or 4 is very low. I might get an answer from someone in category 5. Maybe Mark Epstein or Texas Fred will answer me.
But that's all for a much longer post, that's time-consuming and difficult to write. Today I want to make a much more limited observation: it's amazing how much modern revolutionary rhetoric from the Right resembles rhetoric from classic Leftist revolutionaries: the Marxists, the Maoists, the Khmerists.
First consider the issue of voting. The central and necessary premise of the modern Rightist revolutionary is that the right to vote, as it exists in America, is insufficient, even useless. There's much complaining about Motor Voter laws and voting fraud and a handful of black guys in berets parading outside of polling places that were already going 95% to Obama, but I've not seen any facts (as opposed to Truther-esque supposition) supporting the notion that on any widespread or routine basis the American people are voting for candidate X but getting candidate Y. Rather, the central complaint of the Rightist revolutionaries appears to be stupid people don't know the right way to vote — the way we think they should — and are too easily misled or distracted.
That, of course, is classic Marxist thought. The modern Right doesn't use the term false consciousness, but they might as well. Their complaint that the modern voting system necessarily protects and promotes the interests of an enemy elite is also classic Marxist-Leninist rhetoric.
Second, consider the modern Right's identification of an enemy class. Angelo M. Codevilla is the darling of the revolutionary Right these days based on his American Spectator essay describing an American elite ruling class and how it makes revolution more necessary (or even, he implies, justifiable). Codevilla's ruling elite is defined by education and the language and culture that flows from it, and by hostility to faith. Leave aside, for now, the other echoes one might hear in a description of a narrow and clannish cultural elite selfishly devoted to its own good at the expense of the decent common people and hostile to the correct faith. For now, consider how much Codevilla's definition of the enemy class along educational lines makes him echo the Khmer Rouge. The leaders of the Khmer Rouge were themselves well-educated, but tried to form a society premised upon the notion that educated people, including but not limited to "intellectuals" or "professionals," were inherently made class enemies by their education. No, I'm not saying that Codevilla or most of his fans want to shoot everyone wearing glasses. But the concept of education transforming people from one social and political class (normal people with acceptable values) to another (selfish ruling elites) finds historical precedent in the ideas of multiple radical Leftist movements.
It would be fatuous to suggest that people on the Right who favor armed revolution are secretly socialists. In fact, they often cite descent into socialism as grounds for revolution. My point is that they have adopted classic socialist revolutionary tropes. Question: is that inevitable? Given that revolutionaries must justify social change through violence despite the existence of a right to vote, will they necessarily resort to classic Leftist revolutionary rhetoric that focuses upon class divisions and treats the populace at large as incapable of deciding its own governance for itself?
Also, does asking the question mean that I ought to be put up against the wall when the revolution comes?
Edit: Note Patrick's disagreement with my observation, set forth in the comments.
Last 5 posts by Ken White
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