Column on Revolutionaries & Reality

Revolutionaries and Reality

Tibor R. Machan

Those who are loyal to the political values of the American Founders are
revolutionaries, far more so than any other type (like the Marxists or
radical Muslims). This is because the American Founders identified
something brand new and radical when they declared that individuals have
unalienable rights to their lives, liberty and pursuit of happiness.

This idea overturned thousands of years of official doctrine according to
which people belong to the government—the idea that they are subjects, not
citizens. Such a notion is fundamentally alien to what the Founders
proclaimed and believed is in fact the case, namely, that each intact
adult human being is sovereign, a self-governor, and not someone’s slave,
serf, or subject.

Sadly although the gist of the Founders’ idea has gained a good deal of
influence in many cultures—legal systems and public policies certain give
some lip service to it—there is still a great deal of habitual statism in
vogue. Many politicians, intellectuals, educators, pundits, and such
cling to the notion that you and I and the rest of us belong to some
group—the race, nation, tribe, what have you—and so can be conscripted to
do service to these never mind whether we consent. Both conservatives and
liberals—and indeed nearly all the rest of the political factions—insist
that your life isn’t really yours but you owe it to something or somebody

This was, of course, the essential teaching of socialists of all stripes,
including Karl Marx. It is also the teaching of some of today’s leading
political and social thinkers, such as Cass Sunstein, Charles Taylor,
Martha Nussbaum, Thomas Nagel, Amitai Etzioni, and many others. They all
deride individualism, the idea that you and the rest of us are sovereign
and to gain our cooperation for any project we need to give our consent,
we must be asked and only if we agree may such cooperation be obtained
form us.

In the current election year this collectivist idea is especially
prominent. It is taken for granted, not even argued for, by most liberal
democrats and even by American conservatives, those in the country who
claim to be conserving the ideas and ideals of the American Founders but
have, in fact, become totally disloyal to them.

So what are the bona fide loyalists to do? What are those to do who
insist that the original American position is sound and ought to be the
governing set of ideas in this country and, indeed, in any civilized
society? There is no one to vote for who embraces these notions except Ron
Paul whose numbers aren’t very impressive, even if those who support him
have made news with their enthusiasm and willingness to put their money
behind their man. Even Dr. Paul isn’t quite the champion of the Founders’
ideas this country needs—someone who stands four squares by the
Declaration of Independence rather than, as Paul does, by the much more
ambiguous and constantly changing U. S. Constitution.

What the revolutionaries among us need to grasp is just how radical their
position really is and how long it takes to make such radical ideas gain
currency. Human beings can live by good judgment, their rational thought,
but they also live, mostly, by habit. And many of the habits of the human
race are flawed and tend to misguide people toward neglecting their
sovereignty. Just as some women who have every right to insist on their
independence in fact acquiesce to being subjugated by some men, so a great
many people, even in America, are embracing the old, reactionary notion
that people belong to the government, the king or whoever, not themselves.
They do not protest at all when politicians make arbitrary, unjustified
claims on their lives and labors, as if these didn’t belong to them at all
but could be used and disposed of by the government.

John Locke made clear that “absolute monarchs are but men,” meaning,
essentially, that government is simply other people and since no human
being has rightful dominion over another—slavery is a vile institution, as
is serfdom—the continued belief in government’s authority to expropriate
what belongs to us, to conscript our labor against our will, is unjust.
But, sadly, it is understandable because old habits are hard to overcome.
(Just think of a habit you have which you have learned is destructive to,
say, your health. It is often very hard for us to change it.)

So in this election year when our leaders want to continue to govern
according to the tenets of the reactionary doctrine that government is our
ruler, not our hired professional duty-bound to protect our rights, those
who are loyal to the American revolution must continue vigilantly to
promote their ideas however hopeless it seems to do so. That is a matter
of integrity and in the long run it will also bear fruit.

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