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The Price of Revolutionary Illusions

By       Message Robert Parry       (Page 2 of 2 pages) Become a premium member to see this article and all articles as one long page.     Permalink

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But logic and the historical record make clear that the Framers were not encouraging domestic disorder. Indeed, one of the key goals of the Constitution was to create a governing structure that would permit peaceful change by balancing the popular will -- as expressed through the House of Representatives, elected every two years -- against avoidance of hasty changes -- assured by the Senate with six-year terms and (originally) selected by state legislatures.

Though recognizing the need to respond to popular sentiments and thus to avert crises like Shays' Rebellion, the key Framers were mostly well-to-do white men, many possessing African slaves and/or land on the frontier inhabited by Native Americans. These American aristocrats opposed radical challenges to the post-Revolution social order.

So, the Constitution defined armed rebellion against the United States as "treason" and promised federal assistance to quell domestic violence in the states. The Constitution also tacitly endorsed the abhorrent practice of slavery and even mandated the return of runaway slaves.

The concept of the Second Amendment's "well-regulated Militia" was primarily intended to maintain "security" in the states, not undermine it. There were fears of more uprisings by poor whites or, even more frightening to many Framers, slave revolts or frontier attacks by Native Americans.

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Thus, with the Second Amendment in place in 1791, President George Washington and the Second Congress turned to strengthening the state militias through the Militia Acts of 1792. Their urgency related to a new anti-tax revolt in western Pennsylvania, known as the Whiskey Rebellion.

Once the militias were strong enough -- and with negotiations with the rebels failing -- President Washington personally led a combined force of state militias to put down the Whiskey Rebellion. The rebels were scattered and order was finally restored.

In other words, today's reinvention of the Second Amendment as some ultra-radical idea of the Framers to empower the population to violently challenge the established order and overthrow the government amounts to revisionist history, not the actual intent of the Framers.

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Revolutionary Illusions

Though this revisionist history is more vocally promoted by today's Right, it has a significant following on the Left, too.

With the Right, the idea of armed insurrection is mostly embraced by whites angry about federal action in defense of minorities, such as outlawing racial segregation and addressing the legacy of white supremacy. The Right's dream of revolution usually involves fighting government bureaucrats who arrive backed by black helicopters and intent on trampling the "liberties" of "real Americans."

But the romantic notion of armed revolution perhaps has been more insidious on the Left, because it has caused some progressives to essentially remove themselves from practical politics altogether, to wait for some inevitable collapse of the System, followed by a popular insurrection that somehow brings Utopia to the world.

Though the Right has similar true-believers -- although with a very different desired outcome -- the Right has continued to engage in regular politics. It has built a vast media infrastructure that conveys right-wing messaging to Americans in all corners of the country; it has well-funded "think tanks" to develop cutting-edge propaganda; and it has organized itself within the Republican Party, now having a substantial say over who the GOP nominates for state and federal office.

So, the Right has combined its armed militancy with political activism on the national, state and local levels. By contrast, the American Left mostly shut down its media outreach operations in the 1970s; it largely switched to "organizing" around local issues, rather than national ones; and it rejected opportunities to compete for a larger say within the Democratic Party, in favor of investing time and money in minor third parties.

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As the Left opted for these approaches -- and its political relevance declined -- some leftists drifted away from any practical thinking. Instead of getting serious about achieving meaningful reforms, some got lost in fantastic conspiracy theories or were absorbed by dreams of some glorious revolution in the future.

For these reasons, whenever anyone suggests that the daily carnage from gun violence demands some common-sense gun laws -- like banning assault rifles and magazines with more than 10 rounds -- the proposals are met with such fury that most politicians, journalists or academics retreat.

Yet, while those who embrace these revolutionary fantasies may consider the price of the 20 dead kids in Newtown or the thousands of others who die each year "worth it," the question now is whether most Americans will continue to acquiesce to that judgment.

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Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at

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