William The Coroner’s Forensic Files

Thursday, 9, July, 2009

Musings on the Second Amendment and Civil Disobedience

Filed under: Boomstick,Politics — williamthecoroner @ 21:59

2nd amendment Hat tip, Katzmeow.
Having had the Fourth of July recently, I’ve been thinking about government, and the response to a government that doesn’t listen to its citizens. There is an old African saying, “No village, no chief.” There are analogues in the modern world.

As civil libertarian, I am an enthusiastic supporter of individual rights, including the second amendment. It irritates me, as a fiscal conservative, that both the social conservatives and liberals/progressives want to meddle with other people’s lives. Of particular importance is sex, for both groups, but in different ways. I think the Pink Pistols and other folks who are interested in personal freedoms have a point. One made graphically by Oleg Volk.

When this comes up in conversation, amusingly enough, the people around me have an tendency to bring up Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Thoreau. “I’ve got two words for you, Civil Disobedience,” I’ve heard often. “Civil Disobedience will shame people into acting properly, you don’t have to resort to violence.”

And as Dr. Phil says “How’s that working for you? I’ve got more two-word comebacks, such as Pol-Pot.225px-Pol_Pot2 Warsaw ghetto. 300px-Stroop_Report_-_Warsaw_Ghetto_Uprising_06 Ethnic Cleansing. Tiananmen Square.tianemman. Civil disobedience works when your adversary can feel shame. Gandhi’s adversary was Winston Churchill. Thoreau was protesting the Mexican-American War, the actions of President Polk. Martin King was opposed by powerful interests in the southern United States, but they needed the approval of public opinion of the US as a whole.

I agree with the eleventh commandment, as promulgated by Robert B. Parker*, and I believe people should keep it wholly. I wish to be left in peace, to go about my business. The world is a wicked enough place, and violence is rightly a last resort. Freud said the inventor of civilization was the first person who used words instead of a weapon, and I agree with him. As a last resort, though, I wish to have the ability to resist coercion, coercion by the local bully or one further away.

*”Leave everyone else the fuck alone.” Double Deuce 1988



  1. I would highly recommend the little (free) booklet “From Dictatorship to Democracy” published here:

    It is a primer on non-violent revolution.

    Looking at Beijing 1989 as a counter-example, it was a spontaneous action, not a carefully planned one. Had the social groundwork been laid, perhaps for a couple of years, the outcome might have been different. Even so, it came closer than many people realize to becoming a general, nation-wide (or at least in all of the major cities) event which would have toppled the status-quo. Unfortunately that event tipped off the authorities to the possibility of what would have happened if the social groundwork HAD been laid, so a lot of their efforts today are to stifle that connectivity.

    Moving to another corner of the world, I would imagine that one of the greatest fears of the Israeli government would be that the Palestinians figure this out and shift their efforts to totally non-violent protest, both within “the territories” and within the Arab population in Israel proper. There would be no force the Israelis could exert which would counter this move. In this case, however, it would require the Palestinians to let go of the hatred/revenge cycle and actually focus on getting what they want. That is, IMO, the only thing that is stopping them.

    Comment by mark — Friday, 10, July, 2009 @ 17:28 | Reply

    • Mark–the Palestinians HAVE focused on getting what they want. They want the total destruction of Israel. Their Arabic writings are very clear on the subject, and I point you to the articles on Strategypage. and the writings of James Dunnigan, which explore them in further depth. When you are dealing with an enemy that just doesn’t care about public opinion, a commitment to non-violence and pacifism just makes their job easier. The Nazis LIKED the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Pacifistic, non-violent, non confrontative, they were very useful in the camps. But they still died there.

      Comment by williamthecoroner — Friday, 10, July, 2009 @ 17:56

  2. William –
    Just to be clear on positions – I am probably best described as a Jeffersonian libertarian, I am an avid follower of your blog, I believe in “inherent rights,” not “granted rights” and hold the position that no government has any *legitimate* authority unless it is specifically (and hopefully conditionally) granted that authority by the people. Many (all) governments usurp powers that are not explicitly granted. When they do, and the people tolerate it, then there is incremental move toward more and more concentration of power. Holding that power, however, does not legitimize it.

    I certainly do not believe in allowing illegitimate governments to simply do as they please. The question is only in what is the most effective strategy to carry out change.

    I am not advocating pacifism or non-resistance. And “violence” is a relative term.

    Non-violent revolution is not the same as pacifism, and does not equate to non-confrontation. Quite the opposite. It requires massive confrontation to be effective. It is a highly organized strategy of escalating active resistance, forcing the governmental authority to choose between increasingly engage in acts which drive larger and larger numbers of people into believing the government must be changed, or the other choice of backing down and conceding control. It is a dilemma, because both of those options increase the legitimacy of the revolutionary movement.

    The strategy is one of refusing to participate in the workings of the society and demonstrating that the government actually has no power without the support of the people. Governments who rule by fear rely totally on keeping this a secret.

    It does not rely on shame within the government, but rather, relies on generating fear that control cannot be maintained. And in illegitimate governments, fear is something in plentiful supply.

    Resistance and revolution are political processes.

    The political problem with armed resistance is that, invariably, innocents get caught up in the violence, and it is all too easy for a government to brand the fighters as criminals, terrorists, and the cause of all of the problems. This is especially true when the government has control of the media and does not care what the outside world thinks.

    Where violent resistance is carried out, it is usually a minority tactic because the groups doing it do *not* have political support from the people at large.

    This isn’t to say it has no place. But until huge numbers of the population are ready and willing to challenge the government’s legitimacy by refusing to participate in the structure of the society, true revolution is unlikely to happen, and guerrilla warfare, while very effective at making a foreign occupation untenable, is unlikely to produce dramatic change from within.

    And, pragmatically, no matter how well armed a population is – even if they have significant numbers of infantry caliber small arms, they are unlikely to be able to engage in decisive battle with any modern military, or paramilitary, organization. The disparity, especially in technology and intelligence, is even greater today. It just isn’t possible to organize, arm, equip and train a credible military force from inside a modern state. The threat of internal civil armed resistance alone is insufficient to give a modern government pause.

    As for the Palestinians, I think they have it within their power to destroy the State of Israel as the political entity that it is today, or at the very least, force massive changes. To your point, Israel *is* subject to world public opinion, and if they were put in the political position where they alone were continuing the violence, that opinion would turn on the quickly. Even today, the disparity of violence which is *perceived* (whether true or not) is working against Israel’s public interest, and they know it. Israel relies on the fact that it is the Palestinians and their supporters who let anger over-ride their objectives and cannot resist initiating violence.

    As for the Nazis, they for the most part, had at least tacit support of the people. It was only small groups that ever challenged their legitimacy to rule, and they were easily isolated and dealt with. The average German, even in Spring 1945, viewed the allies as invaders, not liberators. They were happy that the war was over, to be sure, but not that they had lost. They had were still at the point where they were “disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable.”

    Bottom line:
    It isn’t about whether the people have a right to be armed. They do. No government that holds legitimate power would fear an armed population, because it draws its authority from those people and acts in their interest. And it is immoral, at all levels, to deny individuals the right to defend themselves from violent attack. (Even more immoral to say they have a right to self defense, and then deny them the means to exercise it.)

    But to the question: “Is an armed population necessary, or even sufficient, to cause change in a government, once the people decide that government is no longer legitimate?” To this, my position is “No” on both counts. Violent governments can be, and have been, changed through carefully organized campaigns of non-violent total resistance and confrontation, even when those governments cared little for the moral opinion.

    Thanks for the blog, by the way.
    The combination of your perspective, and your occupation, makes for some really interesting reading.

    Comment by mark — Friday, 10, July, 2009 @ 21:50 | Reply

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: