American Political Stability is Derived from the Right to Revolution.
By Brad Patty, September 23, 2019
During the Viking Age, there was a man called Þorgnýr the Lawspeaker. The Lawspeaker’s office made him spokesmen for Swedes who owned their own farms—while not ‘citizens’ in our sense, they were a class of ordinary free people whose interests sometimes differed from those of their kings and lords. One such king, for reasons of pride, tried to draw Þorgnýr’s people into an unwanted war. This resulted in an outcry, and the king held a public meeting to persuade the people to go along. Þorgnýr spoke at this meeting, and reminded the King that seven previous kings had been drowned in a nearby well when they proved resistant to the advice of the people, and should reconsider his war.
And so he did.
Þorgnýr would have understood the American notion of the right of revolution. According to the Declaration of Independence, it is “the Right of the People to alter or to abolish” a government that becomes destructive of their rights.
Tellingly, our Constitution also guarantees that “the Right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” This right can frustrate those who hold a social position similar to Þorgnýr’s kings and lords. Although some of our elites incessantly invoke “revolutions”—Bernie Sanders, for example—a revolution to thwart the will of politicians at the behest of an armed citizenry is not what they have in mind.
Paradoxically, the right to revolution, rather than engendering turmoil, actually fosters internal stability. Of course, in the face of insistent kings, violent revolution is not out of the question. But by asserting a right to revolt, Þorgnýr stopped a king from launching a ruinous war.The right of revolution offers a counterbalance against those who wield the power of the state. It allows ordinary people to resist criminal cartels and similar groups. Revolutions sometimes come, but by far the greater effect is peace.
Politicians do not like to feel threatened, but the power of the people to overthrow them is philosophically legitimate and has historically been an important mechanism for both advancing liberty and ensuring stability.