On February 21, an author known as Mr. Underhill published an article in which he argues that revolution is not the appropriate method for achieving liberty. I rebutted the article, and Underhill responded with three counter–rebuttals. I countered the first two of these here, and the third here. Underhill has responded yet again, so let us deal with this round of faulty logic as well. His historical arguments were addressed here, and his arguments against the case for revolution will be addressed here.
To close, I want to summarize the logical argument against violent revolution in a general sense, as it seems Reece fails to understand this as well. His objections to it are all straw men, wishful thinking and contentions that the form of the revolution will be “just so” as to happen to work.
This is thoroughly false and misguided, as we will see shortly.
(As an aside, it is important to note that I have never claimed that government agents were not aggressors and that self-defense against an agent of the state is somehow not permissible, but that it will not achieve liberty. This is a large distinction, but one our critic ignores when he reminds us that “using force against them [government agents] meets the standard of self-defense.”)
Underhill did not make this claim, but many other people who advocate against revolution do, so it was necessary to address.
Reece’s argument is basically summed up as follows:
What follows is such a preposterous misstatement of my case that it can only be intentional.
the revolutionaries will all use precisely the appropriate tools to hide themselves, will use precisely the correct strategy to rebuff a more technologically superior military, will act such that the public relations can be turned against the state only,
I never claimed that all revolutionaries will do this; only that a certain number of them will need to do so if the revolution is to be successful.
will not be confused with violent criminals by the mass of the populace,
This concern is largely irrelevant. If we wish to use history as a guide, as Underhill is wont to do, then we must assume that the mass of the populace will not lift a finger one way or the other, regardless of whether they believe the revolutionaries, the state, or both to be violent criminals. Most people are so used to having the state provide them with “security” that they have no concept of how to deal with such issues themselves, let alone take up arms to suppress a group of people who are defeating agents of the state in battle.
will only fight back when the mass of the people are on their side (specifically, on this point, Reece conflates the mixed support for non-violent resistance by Apple with support for violent revolutionaries),
I never claimed that all revolutionaries will wait until there are enough of them to be successful; only that the state will be able to crush them if they make an attempt before they have the means to succeed.
I did not conflate the support for Apple’s resistance to government spying to support for revolution. Underhill claimed that resistance to the state, even by a major corporation like Apple, is demonized on nearly every front. I merely pointed out the falsehood of that statement.
the populace will not use force against people they view as terrorists killing their families in their homes,
I said nothing of killing families in their homes.
and no revolutionary will kill anyone who didn’t “deserve it” for being a government agent.
I did not claim that this will never happen; only that it should be minimized as much as possible to avoid attempts at reprisal and bad public relations.
And there’s no possible case that any of the leaders of this revolution that engage in organizing such things as coordinated strikes across the country, etc., will see an opportunity to gain power out of this and take it (as Lenin did in the October Revolution – which Reece seems to think only failed because it was communist, despite the fact that communism as described by the Marxist-Leninist rhetoric of statelessness was never obtained out of that revolution).
This is a concern, but if existing nation-states can be overthrown, then so can these revolutionaries-turned-statists. The October Revolution failed to produce a stateless society because anarcho-communism is a contradictory ideology that ignores human nature and economic incentives.
Nor, of course, will there be any disagreement among these cells which have no full knowledge of each other as to what constitutes sufficient support for the state to be worthy of death: there will be no Cantwell-style authoritarians involved, viewing the Left as worse than the state, nor Zwolinski-style leftists involved, wanting to have a universal income imposed to help the poor, nor anyone who, like David Friedman, rejects the NAP as the basis for anarchy (turning instead to utilitarianism).
I did not claim that the same standards would be used by each revolutionary cell across all places and times. People who would violate libertarian ethics in a libertarian revolution, such as Zwolinskians and Friedmanites, would make targets of themselves, as they would be initiating the use of force just as agents of the state do. Cantwell is not an authoritarian, nor does he view the left as worse than the state; his view seems to be that if people will not eliminate the state, then the left must be suppressed because the two will reinforce each other when both are present, leading to societal ruin. As eliminating the state is unlikely in the short-term, the left is a more immediate and addressable problem.
And no one will deem military families, unarmed government agents like DMV employees or postal workers, or simply “voters” as providing enough support for the state, I’m sure.
Of course this can happen, but such people can be disavowed or even forcibly stopped by other revolutionaries, as attacking such people is tactically unwise, even though it may be possible to make a moral argument that they are vicariously liable in some way.
Underhill’s use of the revolving Stalin statue meme at this point solidifies his intentional effort to misunderstand the case for revolution.
When we look at all Reece’s caveats and conditions, it becomes readily apparent how fanciful this idea of using violent revolution to rebuff the state really is.
When one misunderstands the case, as Underhill insists upon doing, it certainly can appear fanciful.
Reece has no conception about the reality of war, only the wishes of his own heart. He has no concern for the life and limb of human beings here, dismissing such concerns as irrelevant.
Underhill proves that it is he who has no conception about the reality of war with his next sentence. Concern for the life and limb of human beings who are engaged in combat against one’s forces is irrelevant for a competent military strategist. The way that wars are won is that a sufficient number of enemy combatants are killed or wounded and a sufficient amount of economic damage is caused so as to make the conflict too costly to continue for the other side. The contention in his subtitle, that fighting fire with fire only burns everyone, further illustrates his ignorance. This only occurs if the two sides are roughly equal in their capacity to use force. But if one side overwhelms the other, then most of the victors will not be burned.
He does not recognize, as Thomas Jefferson did, that “war is an instrument entirely inefficient toward redressing wrong, and multiplies, instead of indemnifying losses.”
Underhill does not recognize, as Otto von Bismarck did, that “not through speeches and majority decisions will the great questions of the day be decided—but by iron and blood.”
He does not understand the contention of Agatha Christie “that to win a war is as disastrous as to lose one.”
With the notable exception of Pyrrhic victories, this contention is false. To win a war is to maintain control of one’s destiny and to have leverage at peace talks, should there be any. To lose a war is to be at the mercy of conquerors.
He simply dismisses concerns of collateral damage, of mass deaths, of the realities of such violent conflict.
This is false. To compare a situation to the alternative and make the case that the alternative is worse does not constitute a dismissal of said situation.
Just as he dismisses the power of non-violent action.
I did not do this. In “Liberty Requires Revolution,” I said, “None of this is to suggest that [non-violent] methods are useless. But at best, they will not defeat the state by themselves. At worst, they ease some of the pain of oppression, which gives people less incentive to end it. Their purpose, if any, must be to weaken the state and grow the population and resources of libertarians to such an extent that revolution becomes feasible, then to aid a revolutionary effort.”
He claims I do not understand that the state “will not magically disappear” if people stop providing it resources. “When this happens, government agents will use force to try to take those resources, making real the threats of violence which have been levied for so long,” he contends. But how successful is the violence of a man who cannot find armaments? Who cannot obtain fuel? Who cannot pay for food and clothing and shelter?
How successful the violence of a man who cannot find armaments, obtain fuel, or pay for the basic necessities of life depends entirely upon how able and willing he is to use force to get more. This is primarily a function of what resources he has available at the moment. Underhill seems to believe that whatever they have on hand will vanish once the state fails.
Soldiers who believed their cause most righteous have often quit fighting because of a lack of resources – how much more so when these unpaid and ill-equipped soldiers are fighting against non-violent protesters and peaceful people in their homes solely in the name of the state that is not paying them? Revolutionary War soldiers often quit because they were not getting paid. The US government had to resort to hyper-inflationary money printing to pay soldiers during the Civil War just to keep them fighting.
Some will quit, but others will not. Underhill has no answer for those who will not, and this is why his pacifist approach fails.
A few soldiers even marched (peacefully!) on Congress in the Pennsylvania Mutiny of 1783 in order to demand payment, forcing the Congress to leave Pennsylvania.
The soldiers took control of the weapons and munitions stores in Philadelphia, blocked the door of the State House where the Congress was meeting, and managed to get the Congress to leave Philadelphia. This was not peaceful activity, although one could make a case that it was justified because the Congress was a criminal enterprise by universal ethical standards.
It is far more powerful to quit using state currency, quit selling to the state, and stop paying taxes. As pointed out by the character Lord Varys in Game of Thrones, “Power resides where men believe it resides. It’s a trick. A shadow on the wall.” And once men stop believing power resides with the state, there is no longer any power the state can bring to bear.
While I agree that alternatives to state currency, refusing to provide services to the state, and refusing to pay taxes are powerful methods, they have the same shortfalls as all non-violent methods. The state will respond to this non-violent resistance with violence long before men can stop believing power resides with the state, and the protesters will either back down, be victimized, or fight back.
The ultimate question here is precisely the one that has gone unaddressed by Reece this entire time, despite it being brought up in the original article I presented. As The Doctor pointed out in the quote I originally used:
When you fire that first shot, no matter how right you feel, you have no idea who’s going to die. You don’t know who’s children are going to scream and burn. How many hearts will be broken! How many lives shattered! How much blood will spill…
This did not go unaddressed; in “Resolve To Understand The Struggle” I explained that this is no argument against revolution because refusing to fire that shot (and it is not the first shot; that would be a government agent’s doing) also means having no idea who will die or how many, except that whoever it is will certainly be an innocent person. Firing that shot means that some who will die will be aggressors, and that less aggression will occur in the long run because the aggressors will face a higher cost for their behavior.
We return to this to ask this of our critic: who must die so that you can be free?
The answer is simple: unrepentant aggressors must die for liberty. People who commit acts of aggression, refuse to stop doing so, refuse to make restitution, and cannot be subdued by non-lethal means must be killed in self-defense if people are to secure their liberty.
Sure, you’ll start with the government agents; the police and military members that provide the force for the state. But what about their families? What about your family? Your friends? Your neighbors? The people going about their daily lives in peace? Voters? Non-voters? Other anarchists who don’t support your violence? Mothers, fathers, sons, daughters?
Underhill makes a hysterical and intentional effort to misrepresent the case here. None of these people need die. Of course, some may, but this danger does not go away by not engaging in revolution.
Only a fool believes that there will be no innocents slain in your violent revolution that would otherwise go about their lives in peace.
Only a fool believes that the number of innocents slain in an effort to end the state would come close to the number of innocents who have died and continue to die because of the state.
Just as an eye for an eye makes everyone blind, so too does violent retribution only increase death, destruction and heartbreak.
Much like Underhill’s contention that fighting fire with fire only burns everyone, this demonstrates a lack both of historical knowledge and of how conflicts proceed. The threat of an eye for an eye is what ultimately keeps the peace, as evidenced by the efforts of most tyrannical rulers to disarm their citizens and the lack of total warfare since the invention of nuclear weapons. What really increases death, destruction, and heartbreak is a situation in which proverbial eyes can be put out with no consequences for the aggressors.
And so, I must stand with Martin Luther King Jr. and declare that the solution is not violence, but peace, love, and non-violence. Justice and liberty are not served by bloodshed and revolt, but by peaceful resistance and refusal to submit.
Underhill again fails to understand that peaceful resistance and refusal to submit are incompatible as soon as the state resorts to force.
As that great man said:
And the other thing is that I am concerned about a better world. I’m concerned about justice. I’m concerned about brotherhood. I’m concerned about truth. And when one is concerned about these, he can never advocate violence.
If one is concerned about justice, brotherhood, and truth in a world where violent criminals perpetrate injustice and falsehood by force, one must advocate defensive force to stop them.
For through violence you may murder a murderer but you can’t murder murder.
It is impossible to murder a murderer because a murderer has forfeited self-ownership by destroying the self-ownership of another person.
Through violence you may murder a liar but you can’t establish truth. Through violence you may murder a hater, but you can’t murder hate.
This is not in dispute.
Darkness cannot put out darkness. Only light can do that. And I say to you, I have also decided to stick to love. For I know that love is ultimately the only answer to mankind’s problems. And I’m going to talk about it everywhere I go.
This approach cannot deal with situations in which darkness would put out light. For this, we need Malcolm X’s approach:
“Be peaceful, be courteous, obey the law, respect everyone; but if someone puts his hand on you, send him to the cemetery.”
Let us make a final point to conclude this debate, as further correspondence would appear to be fruitless, given our respective dispositions. Underhill’s general position is described almost exactly in Brandon Smith’s essay “Understanding The Fear Of Self-Defense And Revolution” (2015). Smith laments:
Over the course of half a century, the philosophy of “anti-violence” has come to include a distinct distaste for self-defense. Self-defense is now consistently equated to “violence” (and is, thus, immoral), regardless of environmental circumstances.
Even in the liberty movement, there are people who disregard physical defense as either barbaric or “futile” and have adopted rather less-effective pacifist ideologies of more socialist activism. The problem with certain factions of libertarianism is that they tend to live within their own heads, reveling in a world of Randian and Rothbardian political and social theory, while abandoning the other side of concrete resistance. Some in the survival community call these people “egghead libertarians,” and I think the label fits.
They have almost no experience with and, therefore, no respect for the concept of self-defense and revolution. And they have no capacity to fathom what such an endeavor would entail. This unknown scenario inspires fear in them — a fear of struggle, a fear of failure, and a fear of death.
While taking action from a position of love for one’s fellow man is indeed noble, it is sometimes not enough in the face of pure evil — the kind of evil inherent in the ranks of elitism and the globalist ideology. It is important to keep at least one foot on the ground when building a movement of dissent and realize that while maintaining the moral high ground is paramount, there are limitations to what peaceful resistance can accomplish, depending on the opponent. If you are not prepared to use both peaceful means and physical defense if necessary, your movement will ultimately fail against an enemy without conscience.
To illustrate this point further, as Underhill indicates an interest in historical fiction in his footnotes, let us consider such a work. “The Last Article” (1988) is a short story written by Harry Turtledove. In this alternate timeline, the Nazis won World War II and thus gained control of the British Raj in India. Gandhi tries the same tactics against the Nazis that he used against the British in our timeline, but the Nazis are unmoved by Gandhi’s pacifism, opting instead to slaughter protesters. The movement collapses in the face of Nazi savagery, and Gandhi gets captured and executed by Field Marshal Walther Model. A state apparatus facing an existential risk at the hands of the citizenry it has long oppressed is far more likely to act like the Nazis than the British toward the resistance.
Finally, let us consider the work of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who wrote in Gulag Archipelago (1973):
And how we burned in the camps later, thinking: What would things have been like if every Security operative, when he went out at night to make an arrest, had been uncertain whether he would return alive and had to say good-bye to his family? Or if, during periods of mass arrests, as for example in Leningrad, when they arrested a quarter of the entire city, people had not simply sat there in their lairs, paling with terror at every bang of the downstairs door and at every step on the staircase, but had understood they had nothing left to lose and had boldly set up in the downstairs hall an ambush of half a dozen people with axes, hammers, pokers, or whatever else was at hand?… The Organs would very quickly have suffered a shortage of officers and transport and, notwithstanding all of Stalin’s thirst, the cursed machine would have ground to a halt! If…if…We didn’t love freedom enough. And even more – we had no awareness of the real situation…