Discourse in Political Philosophy & Ethics: The Wisdom and Folly of Revolution

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posted on Feb, 14 2011 @ 03:12 PM
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By M.F. Alexander

Novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne said “Eager souls, mystics and revolutionaries, may propose to refashion the world in accordance with their dreams; but evil remains, and so long as it lurks in the secret places of the heart, utopia is only the shadow of a dream.” It is no secret that there is a certain spirit of unrest, dissent, and daresay -revolution- in the air, which raises some interesting ethical questions, and challenges.

In America, as children in the public education system, we are imbued with a certain fond regard for the brave people who fought bloody wars to secure for the present generation the chance at liberty, prosperity, and security. The lives of these men and women have been offered up as a sacrifice, which we have been taught to respect reverently. However is it unproductive to recall that not all of the blood which has been spilt to water the seed of the principles of patriotism has been by free consent or that it was not necessarily lawful?

Consider the fate of the Native American peoples who made their home here before us, and stood in the way of manifest destiny. Their lives have been sacrificed too, albeit unwillingly, in the name of American Independence; in the name of life, liberty, happiness, and property. It is short sighted to smile with warm feelings of regard for this nations origins, or to fail to realize this hypocrisy. This historical genocide is the harsh reality which illuminates a stark difference between the principles which we purport to hold dear, as fundamental, and the manifest actuality of our collective action. Murder as utility has been a part of this nation’s history from the beginning, and it continues in this day, as America ‘spreads the light of Democracy,’ to the whole world, whether by force, cunning, or coercion. Suffice to say that many innocent people have been sacrificed in its inception, and false evangelization.

This is not to say that ‘life, liberty, property, and security’ are somehow intrinsically evil principles, but quite the opposite really, that these are indeed noble and lofty ideals, but that we have forgotten what they mean. In this context recall the consensus of the framers:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

What does it mean to have these inalienable rights which are endowed upon us by our Creator? It means that in the natural state which precedes civility and governance, where people are under only the natural law, and the authority of our Maker, it is the case that we are alive, intended to be free from impedance upon our rights by our peers, to pursue individual happiness free from the stifling hand of corrupt, dangerous and oppressive deviants and tyrants. The idea that people have a right to personal property which are things that we have toiled for was recognized by John Locke in his Two Treatise, which is the spiritual progenitor of our Articles of Freedom, and of the Western Democratic world. However, these principles are far older than John Locke, and in fact can be found in the ancient scriptures that form the basis of Judeo, Christian, and Islamic faiths and are enshrined in the Ten Holy Commandments. It is God’s will that we be free, so that we may choose love, and to prefer that which is good over that which isn’t. Our freedom merely refers to our capacity; it is not intended to be absolute. Freedom without constraint is anarchy and chaotic, and is an obstacle to property and happiness alike. We are thrust together in society so that there might be order, utility, harmony, and a hedge against injustice, tyrants and despots. By standing together for that which is good it is possible to achieve what we could not alone for the benefit of all who participate, and to ward off the evils of perilous men.

With this in mind recall the case of the American Revolution and the Native Americans. Is it readily apparent to anyone who might focus their attention on this disparity that yes these ends seem worthwhile, but to bring about a Nation with these principles as a foundation these very same values were violated, at the expense of any and all who opposed this imperialism and expansion; is this not the very embodiment of hypocrisy? It is alleged that America values and respects the principles of individual and personal sovereignty, of Human Rights and Human Dignity, but from an objective historical perspective, and in light of more current events, it is clear that this could not be further from the truth. Were the Native Americans somehow excluded from these fundamental rights, which are Universal in nature, or were they disqualified from deserving their protections?

More recent examples of such double-measures in policy and action unfortunately abound: Vietnam, Iraq, Cuba, and other shadowy operations of the international arm of American intelligence and espionage, eminent domain, abortion, American internment, extraordinary rendition & torture, among many other examples. Winston Churchill observed what seems to be a categorical truth, that in wars and revolutions it is the victor who writes the rules and the stories. For this reason it is no surprise that this dark underbelly of American Independence is never brought to the light of scrutiny in public affairs. It may also prove to be an imperative that violent revolutions never end with peaceful governance. While many in the world are suddenly becoming acutely aware of the duplicity, corruption, and injustice which prevails in the systems of governance globally, and in their conviction resisting this evil in thoughts, words, and actions, it may prove to be a critical moment to give pause and reflect: are systems of governance desirable, or are they to be avoided? Is paradigm shift and civil disobedience preferable to violence as a means to revolution? Given that revolution and war is bloody and costly, when is the time for civil disobedience, and when is violent resistance justified? Are criticisms of the State a dangerous threat, or "if what your country is doing seems to you practically and morally wrong, is dissent the highest form of patriotism?" (The Use of Force in International Affairs (Philadelphia: Friends Peace Committee, 1961), 6.) Have political dissenters become the heretics of today? (Chris Cassel)

These are all difficult questions to attempt to answer, and to fully appreciate the breadth of each would almost certainly require a lengthy treatise. Policies can only be judged relative to both the desired and effectual ends, and the means by which these ends are achieved. Their justice and veracity can only be measured in relationship to the means and ends of other policies. Make no mistake about it though, as Christ Jesus taught us-“a thing can be judged by its fruits.” How can we then determine which fruits are rotten and which are edible and good? It is quite clear that fruits can only be judged in accordance to some principles esteemed as fundamental and self-evident. What are the self evident fundamental truths by which we can judge the auspices of western ideals? Life, liberty, happiness, and property.

Human Beings are endowed with an inherent dignity which is(should be) respected as a sphere of non-interference, from others unwelcome, and including the "Government." This is because all of us are equal in this respect, and because we are all equal in this respect that we can not encroach upon anothers sphere of non interference, so if the "Government" is comprised of 'We the People,' and if legitimate authority comes from the just consent of the Governed, then how can 'We the People' grant this government rights which we do not possess?

For example take the right to life. We all have the right to life, which follows from the fact that we are alive, and that all of sound mind would prefer to stay alive, so long as it is possible. If we don't want other people killing or imprisoning us by force or coercion then we had better agree to do the same. That is called a social agreement. Using the imperative that we shouldn't do anything that we wouldn't want anyone, or everyone, to do, it follows that if we want life, liberty, happiness, and property and don't want others to interfere or impede upon these, then we must be expected to do the same. This is in essence the Golden Rule, which is what Christ also taught us, and is a principle enshrined in every major world religion in some form or another.

In light of this, it is peculiar to find that practices such as torture and extraordinary rendition are not only legal, but also commonly practiced, in this cold new world. While China is hands down the foremost oppressor of human rights, it has been the actions of the United States of America in its 'War on Terror' which have been center stage in this particular ethical debate, at least since the 9/11 Terror Attacks and the ensuing invasion of Iraq, as well as the Patriot Act legislation. Daring to be provacative; even if torture was extremely efficient in gathering intelligence, which it may or may not be, in averting catastrophy, as only in hindsight will you know; will it ever be morally justifiable, or acceptable, to torture?

The sort of situation where torture may present itself as an appealing answer, or as a most obvious and justifiable solution, is in the event of an imminently impending terror plot. Such a sitiation presupposed that there is indeed an unfolding plot which threatens catastrophe, and government authorities have recieved credible intelligence, but not necessarily limited therein due to the slippery slope one teeters upon when contemplating comprimising adherence to certain principles, that time is of the essence and so there is an intrinsic urgency which would neccesitate bypassing rules of engagement and possibly even Constitutionally guaranteed rights in some possible cases, and that alleged suspect in question is guilty of possessing knowledge of supposed situation, which would make them an accesory of the crime, for by withholding this information which is able, and necessary, to averting the catastrophe , is equally devious, culpable, and criminal as the perpetraitors themselves.

1.) Credible and detailed intelligence (How credible?)

2.) Time is of the essence (as ascertained from said credible and detailed intelligence).

3.) Alleged suspect is guilty of obstructing justice, possible conspiracy, and possessing and witholding information which could avert a catastrophe.

In this theoretical situation where torture is allegedly justified it is important to note that because of premise two, that time is of the essence, as ascertained from credible and (necessarily detailed) intelligence, it is the case that the usual means of justice is inadaquate in rendering a verdict in a sufficiently expediant manner. Instead of expediting the usual means of justice citing the extraordinarily urgent constraints, to determine a verdict by of guilt or innocence, by fair trial and due process which is guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, it has become acceptable to issue shady back-room warrants, which are protected from the light of scrutiny in the name of national security. It may prove an appropriate time to recall Benjamin Franklins warning that those who are willing to sacrifice liberty for a perceived notion of security deserve neither.

Suppose then that there is an unfolding plot, as ascertained from credible and detailed intelligence, whose measure has yet to be established, and that time is of the essence, and that by some strange misfortune, it is you who is the alleged suspect guilty of possessing information which could be used to avert a catastrophe. Being that you are not in any way affiliated with terrorists, but unknowingly interact with one of the conspirators everyday. On top of working with the guy everyday as a construction worker on the Hope Towers as a coincidence you both attend the same Church, or Mosque, or Synagogue, and that being that both of you are afficianados of chess you get together once a week to philosophize and challenge each others wits. From the perspective of intelligence all the evidence seems to suggest that you are somehow connected to this plot, which you are innocently ignorant of. This sort of situation does not seem too far fetched, and clearly raises the question of what measure of intelligence can be used to justify bypassing an American Citizens constitutionally guaranteed right to a fair trial by a jury of their peers, and to due process? It is clear that any American of sound mind would not only desire, but demand, that they are granted the constitutionally protected right, not to prove their innocence, but to defend themselves against allegations of being guilty of a theoretical crime, and to clear their name. If we want this sort of respect in regard to the treatment of our liberty by the mob, then we must be expected to do the same.

Unfortunetly this is not the case, and since 9/11 a certain shift has been made, from innocent until prove guilty, in the case of sovereign persons, and just-war doctrine in the case of sovereign nations, to a philosophical principle of pre-emption, of acting now and asking questions later, if ever at all. Whether or not torture is efficient or effective in obtaining credible intelligence is brought into question here because if an innocent person were tortured they would claim to be ignorant, but so would a guilty person; under further duress any reasonable person may understandably confess whatever they believe their torturer wants to hear, or anything for that matter, to ameliorate their undeserved torments. This certainly casts doubt on the capacity of torture to glean credible intelligence efficiently, as confirming information may take an equally tedious methodology. And if it is imperative to err on the side of caution to preserve justice, and avoid wrongful imprisonment, then the possibility of torturing an innocent person unjustly is reason enough not to simply disregard protections like a right to a fair trial by a jury of your peers, or due process. The solution to the problem of urgency is not disregarding our protections, but rather in expediting the constitutionally protected right to a fair trial due to the extraordinary nature of the situation. Determining what measure can be used to judge whether intelligence is credible or not to a very high, if not impeccable, degree of accuracy is the real challenge to the justification of torture, as it is unacceptable to run the risk of wrongfully imprisoning or torturing even just one! However, establishing such a measure lies far outside the realm of this discussion, but only to bring light to the fact that our Nation should take care not to be hasty or whimsical in the principles which will serve as the basis of its actions.

Another concern which is similar in kind, pertains to the possibility that these laws which are allegedly to protect the American people from devious conspirators, may one day be used against the people they were established to protect. One possible scenerio where this may prove to be especially challenging is in the event of the American people excercizing their right to recourse against cout de ta, velvet revolution, despots, and tyranical regimes. This right to revolution against unjust and unconstitutional forms of governance is, to paraphrase the framers, not only a right, but also a responsibility and duty of the gravest kind! So what if a nefarious plot amongst high ranking officials of Governance against the interests of the American people were unfolding, and the People decided that they were going to take back their government:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government."

Is it a stretch of the imagination that such a cout de ta or velvet revolution would ever find its way to American shores? It would be inexcusably naive to deny the possibility. In such a situation is it clear how such 'Anti-Terrorist' type laws could be used against the brave patriots who might take decisive actions against this enemy of the State, who has waged war in the actions of their unfolding nefarious plot, against the interests of the People of the United States?

To be continued...

© 2011 Matthew F. Alexander

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