A popular fantasy among the more edgy conservatives is that one day, the Left will get the civil war they claim they want and then they’ll get it good and hard. In this fantasy, those gun-toting, constitution-loving conservatives will show Lefty why the right to bear arms was enshrined in the Constitution. It is a popular fantasy on-line, because revenge fantasies are fun and they provide relief for well-founded frustration. In reality, the great conflagration will never look like the fantasy.
Civil wars are when two sides in the ruling class cannot find a middle ground and refuse to give into the other side. The English Civil War, for example, was a fight between those elites who supported the King and those who supported Parliament. Sure, commoners were in the mix and rose in status, but it was largely a war between two factions within the elite. The same was true of the American Civil War. Slavery was the pretext, but it was largely an extension of the English Civil War.
Revolutions, on the other hand, are when a new elite overthrows the old elite, because the old system offers no way for the new elite to join the elite. The French Revolution is often framed as a peasant rebellion, but the Jacobins who led the revolt were educated and capable men, a new elite for a new age. The Bolshevik Revolution was similar, except there was competition for who would be the new elite. The communists won, so they got to name the revolution after themselves.
In modern America the ruling class is as unified as it has ever been. Look around at the high ground of Imperial life and it is hard to find any dissenters. The revolt within Washington against Trump is a good example. Factions that have claimed to be opponents work naturally together to thwart the people’s choice. In fact, genuine dissidents are presented with a shield wall guarding the high ground of the empire, a sign of elite unity that is deliberately intimidating.
That said, no ruling elite is as unified as what is being presented. In fact, these histrionic demands for unity are a sign they fear a lack of will and unity. The tech oligarchs censuring a mainstream media site is one of those signs that maybe all is not well on the other side of the walls. The elite media may be focused on defeating the evil orange man right now, but they see the danger in what is happening. There are frictions on the other side that could one day be fissures.
No matter how unified a ruling elite may be, they have certain duties they must perform in order to remain in power. The reason people allow themselves to be pushed around is the order provided by even the worst rulers ensures they have shelter, food and a predictable amount of safety. Freedom ain’t worth a damn if you cannot attain the essentials to sustain your life. The big talk about preferring liberty to safety is just that, as people always choose safety over freedom, if those are the choices.
When people begin to sense that the invisible bargain between the people and the ruler is breaking down, that the ruler is not holding up his end of the bargain, that is the beginning of an insurrection. After all, if the ruler cannot provide the basics, like food and safety, what’s the point of having a ruler? Those rooftop Koreans during the Rodney King riots were the stirrings of insurrection. The militias guarding property in Kenosha were the flicker of insurrection among the middle-class.
Every ruling elite relies on legitimacy. The people over whom they rule must accept them as the sovereign. Otherwise, the ruling elite must rely on force and that is the most expensive form of rule, draining both the elite and the subjects from whom they extract that which sustains them. Rule by force is unsustainable. It is why the ruling class must maintain its legitimacy. The crisis we see today is a crisis of legitimacy, where a growing portion of the public questions the legitimacy of the system.
If we are ever to get to anything close to that fantasy of those gun-toting, constitution-loving conservatives, it will first start as an insurrection. Here and there, people will look around and realize the state cannot or will not perform its basic functions. If the cops, for example, refuse to do their job, then people take up arms. If the state cannot run the schools properly, people pull their kids from them. Individually these acts are trivial, but collectively they change the public consciousness.
It is not just among the Dirt People that we are seeing signs of insurrection. We see states refusing to abide by federal law. We see cities in open revolt against the national and state government over policing. Federal judges are refusing to abide by the rules of the court, over ruling legitimate actions by the President. This revolt of the elites is more like an insurrection within the elite. They no longer accept the legitimacy of the system that allows them to be an elite.
This is the soil of revolution. On the one hand, you have the people seeing a breakdown of that invisible bargain between themselves and their rulers. Basic things like road maintenance, policing and public order are not being done. On the other hand, you have members of the elite who no longer accept the authority of the system in which they function, causing that system to further breakdown. American is a machine that is breaking down and no one wants to repair it.
There is a small caveat to that. There is a core of heritage Americans who do want to fix the machine, but they are now treated as an enemy by the elites. The civic nationalists calling for reform are treated as subversives, enemies of the state, by the people controlling the apparatus of the state. Increasingly, the people are viewing them as fools for thinking there is any way back to the old normal. The civic nationalist is quickly becoming the royalist of this age.
Not all insurrections result in revolution. Insurrections are quelled either by the firm smack of authority from a unified and confident ruling class or through the careful reform of that ruling elite in response to the insurrection. This is the crossroads in which America now stands. Will the elite unify and crack down on the people or will they begin the process of imposing long overdue reforms on themselves? Or, has that ship already sailed and we headed for insurrection then a revolution?
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