Right to revolution

Notes for March 13

Main points

I was sick and cancelled this class on March 13. We picked the topic up again on March 25.

While saying that I saw the point of a right to revolution, I expressed some reservations about what it would look like in practice.

A right to revolution in practice

I began with an assumption that for a right to revolution to be meaningful, it would have to be the case that some body within society would have to be powerful enough to potentially force to government out.

Suppose the government tolerates a heavily armed population. I surmised that those arms would be used. Daily life would be a lot more dangerous, largely for the reasons Hobbes spelled out in chapter 13 of Leviathan. If the state acts to suppress the criminal behavior that you can expect among heavily armed people, that will reduce individual liberty. And if it does not suppress criminal behavior, life will be more like the state of nature.

Neither outcome is a good one. In particular, it seems to me, neither would be good for individual liberty.

Is my assumption true?

When I made that assumption, I had in mind an argument that our contemporaries sometimes make about gun control, namely, that the population needs to be heavily armed in order to prevent the state from behaving tyrannically. I was thinking about that argument more than I was thinking about Locke. It seemed to me that the argument about gun control makes a mistake. It looks only at the possibility of preventing possible tyranny in the future and pays no attention to what society would be like in the meantime. Really, I think, widespread gun ownership would reduce individual liberty rather than preserve it.

However, both Sean and Adam disputed my assumption. They pointed out that there are non-violent ways of changing the government: think of civil disobedience, such as Ghandi directed against British imperial rule, or the big protest movements that have displaced governments in North Africa and Eastern Europe recently.

They are certainly right to say that it is possible to have non-violent revolutions. Since that is so, my objection does not show that a right to revolution has to have these bad consequences for individual liberty.

This page was written by Michael Green for Social and Political Philosophy, Philosophy 33, Spring 2014. ΒΆ It was posted March 26, 2014.
Social and Political Philosophy