You are viewing an old blog post! That means that links will be broken, and images may be missing.

August 13, 2008

Why We’re NOT Revolutionaries

Be careful what you wish for, you might get it, and regret it.

Right now, environmentalists are discovering something that all pro-liberty activists — Constitutionalists, DC Downsizers, etc. (hereafter referred to as, “The Movement”) should know as well — stressful situations do not, generally, cause people to respond in a good way.

We all know of cases where someone under severe stress achieved new clarity as a result — a light for their path — that caused them to wake up, reform, and improve their behavior. Stressful situations can sometimes lead to good results, but I believe such outcomes are the exception rather than the rule.

There are many in The Movement who think financial collapse, political havoc, or some other cataclysm would focus the minds of the people and move them in a better direction. In the common vernacular… the public would “wake up.”

That’s possible, but it’s also possible, even probable, that the public mind would respond by shutting down, or becoming hysterical. This would make things worse, not better.

Too many people in The Movement hope for a revolution that they expect to result from bad times brought about by bad government policies. But look at history. Most revolutions turn out badly. Our own American Revolution may be the only one that turned out well.

You say you want a revolution? You want a shock to the system to shock the public into making big changes? Well, think again. The big changes would probably be negative changes.

The latest example of trauma backfiring comes from the environmentalist movement. For years environmentalists believed that we Americans were paying too little for fossil fuels. They wanted major price increases to pave the way for cleaner forms of energy. Their economic logic was seemingly sound, but then . . .

They got what they wanted, and look what the result has been. The rising tide of public concern about global warming has morphed into a nearly universal desire for more drilling to stabilize the supply of fossil fuels!

Don’t get me wrong, I think the public desire for more drilling is the right response in this case. More drilling would be good for the economy, and what’s good for the economy in the short run is good for the environment in the long run. The wealthier we become the more we will be able to innovate, learning how to do more with less, and the more we will be able to afford energy alternatives. That’s why . . .

I think George W. Bush did something right when he reversed an Executive Order prohibiting off-shore drilling. The result, which stunned the likes of Nancy Pelosi and that legendary Austrian economist, Arnold Schwarzenegger, was that the price of oil and gas fell, immediately.

And, should Congress follow Bush’s lead, oil and gas prices would fall even more.

But for those poor environmentalists, the backlash against higher oil prices included more drilling. Could the environmentalists have seen that coming? They thought bad news — high energy prices — would lead to the policy they wanted, but it didn’t.

Before you suggest they should’ve seen it coming, ask yourself, “What might the unexpected outcomes be if The Movement got the catastrophes so many of its members desire?” Might the public run to the arms of a tyrant who promised to solve their woes?

Walter Kaufmann, in his 1959 book, “The Faith of a Heretic,” quotes classical scholar E.R. Dodds, who wrote, “It has been observed that ‘in times of danger to the community the whole tendency to conformity is greatly strengthened: the herd huddles together and become smore intolerant than ever of cranky opinions’… To offend the gods by doubting their existence, or by calling the sun a stone, was risky enough in peacetime; but in war it was practically treason — it amounted to helping the enemy.”

We have recent history to confirm Dodds’ analysis. Since September 11, 2001, we’ve seen how government can grab more power in a time of perceived crisis — and how the people grow cranky towards those who aren’t patriotic enough to support this power grab.

Further, an entire series of books by Robert Higgs documents how crisis is the very ratchet by which government grows.

And we (the team at Downsize DC) have our own experience with “revolutionary stress.” Perry Willis and I have worked together, with a brief interruption, for nearly a decade now. Before that, we both toiled within a pro-liberty organization that was experiencing unprecedented growth. It was a time of paper prosperity and peace. Then came the dot com bust and 9/11. We saw our work broken and busted. Financial support slowed to a trickle. Supporters became critics.

Both the bursting of the stock market bubble and the terrorist attack were predictable. Some of our supporters back then were well aware that people such as our former boss, Harry Browne, had predicted such things. They even parroted Harry’s lines. But when the bad stuff actually happened many of them turned their backs, and clamored for government protection.

In times of stress people look for saviors and scapegoats. But in times of peace and prosperity people embrace freedom, risk, and innovation. That’s why . . .

We vote for prosperity. We do not seek doomsday, crisis, or revolution to achieve our goals. Peace and prosperity is the best environment in which to achieve still more peace and prosperity. And that is what we want. That is the aim of our work.

We don’t want a stress-induced revolution. We don’t advocate it. We prefer evolution over revolution. And we hope, and in my case, pray, that a revolutionary spark never comes — that we can continue to fix things through a process we call, “relentless incrementalism.”

If your comment is off-topic for this post, please email us at


Post a Comment

Notice: Undefined variable: user_ID in /var/www/ on line 89

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *

© 2008–2019