A Tale Of Two Revolutions
It struck me recently when thinking about the “Occupy Wall Street” protest movement, and the tea party movement, that the modern political landscape has been shaped in a lot of ways by two revolutions against monarchy.
The first, obviously, was the American Revolution which had colonists up to and including landed and monied gentry pitting, as Jefferson put it in the Declaration of Independence, “our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor” against the British Empire, the most powerful military force in the world at the time. The colonists wanted freedom from excessive taxation, excessive regulation and generally overbearing government. They also wanted a say in how they were governed.
When denied, they revolted and formed the United States of America, a federalist republic based on the principle of distributed government. It featured a weak central government in which representatives of the state governments, and representatives elected by the people, made the laws and policies all of which had to be in keeping with a bill of rights which protected the rights of individuals and limited the role of government.
The founding principle of America was opportunity. The Declaration of Independence holds that “all men are created equal,” and from that stems the idea that we are all to be afforded the same opportunities for “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” We may not all achieve those things, but we are to be free to try.
The tea party movement embraces these founding principles. They believe that government has grown to the point of excess, and is interfering in the ability of individuals to pursue prosperity. They want smaller government, which takes less from individuals and allows for more individual liberty.
The other was the Russian Revolution, actually series of revolutions which in some ways was very similar in motivations (if not goals) to the American revolution. The Russians, too, were revolting against a monarchy. They, too, wanted protections from the excesses of their rulers. But where the Russian revolutionaries diverged from the Americans was on the concept of the individual. They didn’t just want equal opportunity for all citizens, but rather for all citizens to be equal.
To them that meant toppling the bourgeois and redistributing their wealth. The system of their government reflected their belief in the collective over the individual. The “soviet” in Soviet Union wasn’t the name of a people, but rather the name of their governing units. “Originally, the soviets were a grassroots effort to practice direct democracy,” reads Wikipedia. They were regional governing enclaves where the people gathered govern. Vladimir Lenin, who was instrumental in constructing the Bolshevik notion of the soviet system said they were “nothing else than the organized form of the dictatorship of the proletariat.”
If you’re thinking this sounds awfully familiar to the “general assemblies” put together by the “Occupy Wall Street” movement, you’re right. The “occupiers” have the Bolshevik notion of governance down, from the assemblies to the call-and-response form of speaking which takes place at the events so that all of the people are speaking with one voice and no speaker is above another.
They speak collectively, not as individuals.
The stated goals of the “occupiers” are the same too. They also want the toppling of the bourgeois and the redistribution of wealth. The “bourgeois” are now the 1%, and the “proletariat” is now the 99%, but it’s all the same game.
What’s most interesting to me is – just as both the American and Russian revolutions were both motivated by tyranny – both the tea party movement and the “occupy” movement are motivated by valid criticisms. People are upset about bailouts. Cronyism. An inability to find gainful employment.
But in the same way the American and Russian revolutions diverged, the tea party and “occupy” movements differ on outcomes. Where the tea party wants a return to individual rights, and equal access to opportunity, the “occupiers” want equal outcomes. Where the tea partiers see the rich and aspire to be rich themselves, the “occupiers” yearn to see the rich brought low and their wealth spread about so that society achieves a sort of lowest common denominator.
Many of my friends on the right say they see some validity on the “occupy” movement. They’re right, the “occupy” movement shares many of its motivations with conservatives. But what conservatives cannot share is the goal of the “occupiers.” Because if history teaches us anything, it’s that equality of opportunity leads to historically extraordinary levels of prosperity whereas equality of outcome results in poverty, suffering and tyranny.Tags: occupy wall street, tea party