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Why we fight redux

DCblogger's picture

I am reposting lambert's brilliant post because it seems germane.

I’ve been listening to the revolutions podcast before bed, from which I’ve drawn a few lessons. One is that revolutions are not infrequent in human affairs; the podcast has gone through the English revolutions of the 1600s, the American Revolution, and is now at the French Revolution; we just decapitated Robespierre. To come are Haiti and Russia, and perhaps more. Second: Both revolutions themselves, and the build-up to them, are protracted affairs with unknown flashpoints. That the ancien regime was sclerotic was known by a lot of smart people in the 1750s, and they all tried to fix it; but the revolution itself did not begin until 1789. Third: It’s foolish to romanticize revolutions, because they tend to kill a lot of people. Be careful what you wish for, especially when it’s others who will be doing the dying! Fourth: Accident and happenstance matter a lot. If Louis XVI’s character had been stronger, perhaps he would have kept his head, and France would have ended up with a Constitutional monarchy (and not a cascade that looks like Napoleon -> French Empire -> German nationalism -> German unification -> World War I (millions) -> World War II (millions). Not that causality in history is linear; but I think you can see how the butterfly of Louis’s vacillation could have created a vast, chaotic outcome. Finally: Victory belongs to those with organizational capacity who, when they see power in the street, can pick it up (as the Roundheads, the Jacobins, and the Bolsheviks show). Morality and justice are, I would say, very necessary, but most certainly not sufficient.

It’s the last point on organizational capacity that I want to highlight, because win or lose — caveat: As long as we can avoid the ills of tribalism and bot-like behavior, and retain critical thinking skills — all the effort of the last few years, including the Capital occupations, Occupy proper, #BlackLivesMatter (to name a few), the anti-fracking movements, are about building organizational capacity, not in the institutions or vehicles, but in the people themselves, as they actively participate. (If you look at the caveat, you'll see why I don't list the Obama campaign of 2008 as building organizational capacity, and not just because Obama didn't want to ride the tiger, and shitcanned it once he was in office.)

So I am making a sort of Pascal’s wager here. People who choose to be hopeless (or, less judgmentally, quietist) are, of course, free to choose the course of inaction. But that strikes me as very much like lifting weights for a few days, not seeing much result, and then not only giving up, but buttonholing others in the gym, and urging them to give up. The sort of person who, on receiving an invitation to Estates General in 1789, would have said: “Non. It’s just another Lucy and the Football schtick. The whole thing is doing to be dominated by aristocrats and bishops anyhow. Pas si bete!” Wise fool. And too bad for them!

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