Cantwell on Violent Revolution

by Will Porter

Chris Cantwell’s Blog – “Violently Overthrow the Government

Libertarian blogger Chris Cantwell has made a name for himself by saying things that many of us, if not most, are uncomfortable acknowledging. His above article is a good example of that.

Cantwell suggests that violent insurrection is indeed a viable, ethically-justified, practical path to genuine political liberty. He posits that the continual use of force against state agents could boost the costs associated with the job until it is no longer a desirable occupation.

On the moral side, I actually don’t have much of a problem with this. I, nor you, nor anybody owes the state any form of restraint. The use of armed resistance against state-enforcers is, in most cases, morally equivalent to its use against any other criminal invader. An institution boasts an implicit claim to your stuff, and sends men with guns to enforce its demands. This is not a civilized human interaction.

The problem with the use of force against the state, though, is practical, not moral.

The “increase the costs of state-employment by making it more dangerous” strategy is one which is itself dangerous, with its own prohibitively-high costs. I don’t know about you, but I seem to be under the impression that (especially) the American government wields the greatest repertoire of destructive force mankind has ever seen.

While Matthew Reece makes a good point—that a counter-revolutionary state would have interest in maintaining the domestic infrastructure, and therefore wouldn’t unleash its entire arsenal—I don’t think this quite levels the battlefield. The American people—or at least the small minority willing to resist—can hardly face down the police, let alone the military!

We’ve seen the potential of asymmetric warfare in examples such as Afghan and Vietnamese guerrillas, yet the Americans whom they opposed were fighting abroad, in an unfamiliar territory, and the American military was still able to inflict massive damage and death tolls, with decades-long repercussions for both societies. Are we willing to risk such an outcome? It would certainly seem that failure in this endeavor would mean an eternal discrediting of libertarianism in the eyes of the public (“Libertarians? Oh, those assholes who tried to start a war with the government, who got all those people killed, who disrupted all normalcy in the lives of regular, non-political people? Fuck those guys!”).

This brings me to another point, which for sake of brevity I won’t spend a lot of time on. While the abstract ideal of violent resistance is, I think, morally sound, the on-the-ground reality of insurrection is much messier. Revolution—even Cantwell’s atypical rendering of it—is a bloody, chaotic, often catosrophically-destructive endeavor. The prospect of government deception is readily apparent, citizens aren’t exactly guaranteed to pick the “right side.”

Look at the type of bloodlust frenzy Americans were whipped into during the Waco standoff. “Just go in there and end it,” many said. Such a confrontation was only a tiny example of what real revolution would look like, I fear that a larger-scale attempt would result in a standoff not with government, but with the American people. Call me squeamish, but I’m not sure if that’s really something I’d like to participate in.

On net, I don’t think this society is ready for insurrection, whatever its merits may be. While education and political activism have been inadequate, overly-gradual methods of social change, I believe a successful revolution would be impossible short of more education and activism. There’s probably no distinct line where, once crossed, we are “ready”  for armed resistance, but nonetheless, a real fight would require a much larger consensus than exists today. As libertarians become an ever-larger minority—perhaps some day a majority—a second American Revolution may possibly become a more attractive option.


NOTE: Cantwell has since changed his position regarding the use of force. I just thought it’d be fun to talk about his first article, most of which I agree with.

Also, mind you, I’m speaking very hypothetically here. I am not encouraging you to go shoot government officials. If life is something you find in any way desirable, don’t do that.

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