A Revolutionary Struggle

A Revolutionary Struggle

Tibor R. Machan

Be it welcome or not, there are a revolutionary struggle afoot in the
world. It started when certain thinkers began to dispute the claims made
by defenders of various rulers–monarchs, dictators, tsars and the
like–that some people have a divine or natural right to run the lives of
other people. In modern philosophy it was John Locke who mounted the most
sustained and influential challenge to this statist idea. His insights and
arguments made a big impression on the likes of America’s founders–the
Declaration of Independence is filled with points most fully developed to
that date by Locke.

Just think–for centuries on end it was the common notion that certain
folks are superior to others, not because of their achievements or skills
but by blood or even just their names. Just as we accept that parents have
authority over children–at least parents who carry out their role
properly–in much of human history it was widely advocated and believed
that government or the state had full or at least a great deal of
authority to manage the lives of people within the realm they supposedly
cared for. Nearly everything that happened in society had to be a project
of the state–commerce, science, religion, the arts, education and so

There are a great many people, even in countries like the USA, who still
embrace and even vigorously defend this position. For them the government
owns the country, practically, and distributes and redistributes some of
the wealth to citizens for limited private use. Fierce taxation is
defended by prominent legal scholars at America’s most prestigious
educational institutions, on the grounds that government actually owns the
wealth and taxes are merely a way of recapturing it from the people who
produce but do not own it. Whenever something goes amiss in society, such
people and those who give elaborate intellectual support to them insist on
turning to government for help, accepting it as the ruler of the realm.
These people always ask for government regulation, which assumes that
governments are, as kings had been thought to be, superior in wisdom and
virtue to the citizens. The very idea of a citizen is
revolutionary–elsewhere "subject" is used more regularly to identify the
people who live within the realm that’s being governed by a select few of

This whole notion that governments–people who worked at centers of
power–are superior to us all is what the American Revolution was
challenging–it had begun to be challenged before but America’s input was
immense and made the biggest difference. It was not, however, to last very
long and the revolution is in retreat now, not so much intellectually but
as a choice of the bulk of the citizenry. After all, the thrust of the
revolution is that citizens need to govern themselves, need to take on the
responsibility that others pretended to possess over them. That’s a scary
idea to millions!

Both ideas, statism and individualism, are still very much topics of
discussion and argument but judging by which of them has more support at
famous academic institutions such as Harvard, Oxford, Cambridge,
Princeton, and other prominent universities, statism is reasserting itself.

Of course there is also the counter movement which shows itself in world
wide commerce and more or less liberal democratic developments, which are
clearly signs of advances in human freedom. The revolutionary vision of
the American Founders is, in fact, more eagerly embraced abroad these days
than in the USA, with some exceptions, such as gay and women’s rights, the
expansion of first amendment ideas, etc. (As someone who does a lot of
lecturing around the world I can testify from my own experiences that a
great many people in, say, former Soviet colonies are enthusiastic about
human liberty and not so much about the power of the state.)

Revolutions have some pivotal periods but they move slower than their
supporters would want. This is also true with the American revolution and
its central ideas. Nonetheless, the revolution is under way. How it will
fare is quite indeterminate.

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