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David Arthur Walters

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Malicious Dissent

2/25/2006 10:26:00 AM

by David Arthur Walters


Opinion: The revolution within the revolution will re-emerge


Thomas Hobbes rendered his opinion on malicious dissent shortly after the English civil wars of the 1640's, considering it to be a high crime: "It belongeth to the Office of the Soveraign, to make a right application of Punishments and Rewards. And seeing the end of punishment is not revenge, and discharging of choler; but correction, either of the offender, or of others by his example; the severest Punishments are to be inflicted for those Crimes, that are of the most Danger to the Publique; such as those which proceed from malice to the Government established; those that spring from contempt of Justice; those that provoke Indignation in the Multitude..."

Hobbes believed rebellion was frequently caused by the reading of political and liberal books. According to him, young men are misled by the classic accounts of popular uprisings and wars successfully waged by ancient democracies, wrongly attributing the more successful exploits to the form of government rather than to the imitation of particular strong men.

"From the reading, I say, of such books, men have undertaken to kill their Kings, because the Greek and Latine writers, in their books, make it lawfull, and laudable, for any man so to do; provided before he do it, he call him Tyrant."  

No doubt Hobbes would have approved of William Pitt's crackdown on dissidence in the 1790s, and he might have recommended even severer measures, for, after all, as he wrote elsewhere, in Leviathan:

"For the Lawes of Nature (as Justice, Equity, Modesty, Mercy, and in summe) doing to other, as wee would be done to,) of themselves, without the terrour of some Power, to cause them to be observed, are contrary to our naturall Passions, that carry us to Partiality, Pride, Revenge, and the like. And Covenants, without the Sword, are but Words, and of no strength to secure a man at all."

The American colonists begged to disagree, not so much with the form of the tyranny but with its exercise from afar. The American Revolution is viewed by some British scholars not as a revolution but rather as changing of the guard that resulted in local autonomy under an elected king, aristocratic senate, and house of commons. However that may be, the liberty of United States citizens so valiantly wrested from the clutches of British tyranny inspired European radicals to follow suit; their movement was driven underground to emerge forcefully again in 1830, in France, mother of a genuinely democratic revolution and one reactionary "terrour" after another to enharness liberty unleashed.

The English radicals so much admired in the new United States of America were put down by Pitt's government as England embarked on its long war against Revolutionary France. The war against France so vehemently denounced by Francophilic English radicals seems just in retrospect: not only had France moved on Holland, but she had also declared war on England. As for the sordid gain of scoundrels who take refuge in patriotism; there was plenty of hard-won booty to be had, but only after the nobler principles of patriotism were laid down by loyal lords to secure their share of the loot. In the United States of America, the "revolution within the revolution" is likely to re-emerge from the disasters of neoconservative policy.     

 

 


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