You Say You Want a Revolution?
by Thomas L. Knapp
Exclusive to The Libertarian Enterprise
The libertarian movement is a frictious and fractious cauldron of
people and ideas. On the one hand, we have a small but increasingly
effective political party, seeking positive change through the
institutions that have served the United States well (and sometimes
not so well) for over two centuries. On the other hand, more and more
people are harkening back to the slogans of the sixties and simply
seeking to "drop out" -- out of a society that makes insupportable
demands on their resources and attempts to alienate them from the
rights they consider inalienable, and hopefully out of sight of a
government that attempts to enforce those demands and that
And then there are the revolutionists.
It may be too soon to mark this group as a separate class. We still
see them, well above ground, urging the Libertarian Party to greater
purity and helping the dropouts to implement their programs. But,
increasingly, talk turns to the possibility, then the probability,
then the inevitability, of armed struggle.
These are weird days. Claire Wolfe's appraisal may go down in history
as prophetic: "It's too late to work within the system, and too early
to shoot the bastards." The Party faithful are on the near side of
Wolfe's dictum. The dropouts take it as self-evident.
The revolutionists are watching their clocks. They're keeping their
powder dry. They're taking target practice, and they're more likely
studying Lenin's "What is to be Done?" than Browne's Why
Government Doesn't Work.
But revolutionists are, of necessity, gravy-trainers. The American
independence movement had no chance of success until George III's
troops started acting stupid. The abolitionists of the North had to
wait for the South to secede and hijack an unjustifiable war to
accomplish the one reform that history uses to justify it. The Kaiser
made the Russian Revolution, and Mao would have died a disappointed
peasant without Hirohito.
What will it take to give viability to a revolutionary libertarian
program in the United States circa 2000 A.D.? Any revolution stands
on three legs: a frustrated reform movement, an increasing tendency
to secede -- in action if not with full knowledge of the implications
-- from the institutions that support the current state, and an
entanglement that prevents the state from resisting to its full
capacity. The Libertarian Party and the dropouts (libertarians and
the apathetic alike) are doing a bang-up job of giving our crippled
monster, this revolution-in-embroyo, two legs to stand on. The
government of the United States of America is doing its damnedest to
complete the pyramidal structure.
The entanglement could be foreseeable. It may stem from our
increasing tendency toward military intervention. Could the current
political system survive another Vietnam, played out in the Balkans
or the Middle East? Would a return to conscription (ordered by a man
who seceded from that institution himself many years ago) bring out
the solidarity of the sixties, this time backed by a viable
alternative instead of the tired old socialist crap characterized by
the revolutionary movements of that time?
If the Y2K scare turns out to be all that even the most paranoid of
our paranoids could ever ask for, might the de facto mass secession
of the populace from institutions that aren't even maintaining a
facade of functionality become permanent when next the taxman comes
What if, what if...
It could be something unforeseeable. Perhaps someone will slip LSD
into the water glasses of the Honorable Justices of the Supreme Court
of the United States, and they'll suddenly precipitate crisis by
reading the Constitution before handing down an important ruling.
Perhaps the Cali Cartel will make a wise business decision and run a
Try It Free for a Year promotion.
Perhaps Janet Eichmann Reno will pull another Waco, and find her
storm troopers surrounded and massacred by a local populace that
didn't know they had it in them.
To paraphrase a friend, there is one motherfucker of an explosion
coming. Who, when, where, why and how are TBA, probably by some
journalist working up his five-point lead the morning after.
Which leads me to the question I've been aching to pop.
Are you ready?
I'm not talking about a musket, a cartridge box and forty rounds. I'm
not asking if you have your gas mask handy. I don't care if you've
been doing your calisthenics.
It's not about that.
It's about having the guts to appraise the situation, decide that not
only is enough enough but that its now or never, and start taking the
slack out of the trigger. Its about letting go of the forlorn hope
that Bubba or his successors or their cohorts will let real change
take place on their watch, that they'll give up the house edge and
play fair, and that the meek shall inherit the earth. Because when
the fecal matter intercepts the oscillating blades, it is not going
to be a pretty sight.
Can you kill a man? Not because he's in your house and threatening
your life, but because he's continually asserted his right to, and
because he's done it to others? Not because he's holding a gun to
your head and demanding your wallet, but because he's holding a gun
to your bank account and demanding a cut? Not because he's raping
your wife, but because you paid him to protect her from rapists and
he's using your money to track down dope-smokers instead? And because
the opportunity has finally presented itself to do it and make it
Think real hard.
Yes, I know you have that surplus SKS down in the basement and you
can hit a dime-sized group at a hundred meters. Yes, I know you never
miss a Tax Day protest or an LP committee meeting. Yes, I know you
hate these sons of bitches with a passion. That's not enough. If
you're not willing to aim in and squeeze, it never will be. If you're
not willing to watch for the target of opportunity, to seize day,
even against the possibility of failure, you're urinating into the
Revolution has a great reputation as a game. Its fun to be in the
vanguard. Its fun to toss around what-ifs and why-fors and to look
forward to Der Tag, safely tucked away in the future of Keynes long
run. The militia movement that was so active earlier in this decade
learned the hard way what happens when you talk the talk but refuse
to get out of your easy chair and go for a stroll.
Its time to shit or get off the pot. Those who envision change by
political means may be right and they may be wrong, but they are
working within a system where the rules allow them to feel confident
that their existence, if not their success, is assured. The dropouts
live a little closer to the edge, facing harassment and persecution
for acting on their beliefs -- but they're unlikely to perform their
last dance at the end of a rope if they fail in their attempt to.
The revolutionist plays a more dangerous game. If you think you want
a revolution, put down that Stephen King novel and pick up Nechayev.
If you think that being in the vanguard means discussing theory over
a couple of cold ones, track down one of the survivors of the Abraham
Lincoln Brigade or the Warsaw Gehtto or Tiananmen and take a good
Still think you have the cojones for it? Well see. Because the last
and best hope of avoiding it is developing a surplus of people who
Thomas L. Knapp thinks he can write, and spends a great deal of time
inflicting the product of this delusion on others.