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Altherion

Political power and arms

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I'm making this a separate thread per request of the mods and also since it's not really specific to American politics. In the past few centuries, successful revolutionaries and the theorists whose ideas they adopted argued in favor of a universal militia (in the sense that able-bodied individuals be armed). In the 18th century, we have Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and a variety of other American Founders who felt so strongly about this that they enshrined it in the Constitution they created where it has remained to this very day. In the 19th century, Karl Marx argued in favor of arming the workers and peasants and in the 20th, Vladimir Lenin and Mao Zedong reiterated those arguments and put the idea into practice (although they didn't stick to it once they gained power...). Mao probably phrased it most succinctly: political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.

When I brought this up in the US politics thread, several people opined that this idea is obsolete: modern nations states have standing armies which are so powerful that an armed populace wouldn't make any impact. I disagree with this for a few reasons. First, in many revolutions, it is not necessary to overwhelm the army: it may refuse to interfere, it may take the side of the revolutionaries or things may move too quickly for it to react. Second, powerful as modern armies are, they're simply not very good at singling out armed insurgents in populated areas. Consider what is going on in the Middle East and imagine how much more difficult it would be in an area where one is loath to call down a drone strike that does damage to the surrounding infrastructure. Finally, as power and wealth grow more and more concentrated, the people who have them both stand to lose more and more and are bigger targets. They will go to considerable lengths to avoid widespread chaos so the mere presence of a credible threat is useful even if there is no followup.

So, what do people think? Is this idea still important?

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 I don't think the idea is 100% obsolete, but if you're wanting to use the U.S. as an example an armed insurgency could only hope to be successful in relatively remote geographical area. Say Mountain regions or perhaps heavily forested ones. I don't think this tact would fly for long in your typical city or suburban areas. The Govt could just cut off access to utilities and food and such revolutions would be short-lived and ill-advised at best. 

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Posted (edited)

58 minutes ago, Manhole Eunuchsbane said:

 I don't think the idea is 100% obsolete, but if you're wanting to use the U.S. as an example an armed insurgency could only hope to be successful in relatively remote geographical area. Say Mountain regions or perhaps heavily forested ones. I don't think this tact would fly for long in your typical city or suburban areas. The Govt could just cut off access to utilities and food and such revolutions would be short-lived and ill-advised at best. 

They could, the question is, would they.

I do not think that cutting off an entire city and starving it's residents would fly here, given that it would likely be a small percentage of the population of the city that was actually participating in the resistance.

i don't know why this is even a  discussion.  We have plenty of examples of this being effective.  it's not guaranteed to be successful, obviously there are a ton of variables.  But the notion that that kind of action CAN'T be successful is patently absurd and demonstrably false.

 

Edited by Swordfish

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Posted (edited)

29 minutes ago, Swordfish said:

They could, the question is, would they.

I do not think that cutting off an entire city and starving it's residents would fly here, given that it would likely be a small percentage of the population of the city that was actually participating in the resistance.

i don't know why this is even a  discussion.  We have plenty of examples of this being effective.  it's not guaranteed to be successful, obviously there are a ton of variables.  But the notion that that kind of action CAN'T be successful is patently absurd and demonstrably false.

 

Selectively effective, sure. But mostly in places like Vietnam (tons of uncleared jungle) or Afghanistan (hilly, mountainous, lots of out of reach places, etc). I don't see it working well in a city, particularly a modern, U.S. city. Way too reliant on infrastructure that the government could easily shutdown. 

Edited by Manhole Eunuchsbane

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Of course it would work in a city, there's cover everywhere and IED's are a proven tool.  

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15 minutes ago, S John said:

Of course it would work in a city, there's cover everywhere and IED's are a proven tool.  

For a limited time, sure, but I have to imagine that the vast majority of the populace is going to turn on an insurgency that gets their interwebs/cable/power/food supply/etc cut.

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While it is debatable how well an insurgency that would like to capture and hold territory while leaving the rest of the regime mostly untouched would do, this is hardly the only form of armed resistance. Consider, for example, the methods of 19th century Russian revolutionaries which sought to strike at the tyrants rather than capture territory. This is arguably quite relevant today as many nominally democratic societies have developed structures with features that are remarkable similar to certain feudalistic counterparts.

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1 hour ago, Altherion said:

When I brought this up in the US politics thread, several people opined that this idea is obsolete: modern nations states have standing armies which are so powerful that an armed populace wouldn't make any impact.[...]

So, what do people think? Is this idea still important?

You're mixing up two different things:
i) The possibility that an armed population could successfully overthrow a government.
ii) The idea that this possibility would in itself have some impact on the behavior of people working in government and/or politicians.
i) does not imply ii). While an armed population may be a guarantee against some forms of government abuses, it doesn't prevent corruption or demagoguery.
And then, there's the irony of your suggesting that the fact that Trump could incite an armed uprising in the US if anyone tried to remove him... Which instead of showing why an armed population is good for democracy shows how it is a terrible threat.

The whole idea of guns as a kind of protection against an undemocratic government was interesting in the 18th century when tyranny could be obvious to anyone. In the 19th century however, Marx and others showed that tyranny could also be economic. Then the 20th century showed everyone that a terrible threat to demoracy (or at least, the rule of law) was ideology.
And this is where the irony becomes truly deep. You're actually quoting Lenin and Mao Zedong on this, neither of which was a democrat. After suggesting that Trump supporters could take arms if Trump was impeached... In essence you're showing why having an armed population is a terrible idea because it can be manipulated by autocrats and/or lead to civil wars.

 

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Posted (edited)

1 hour ago, Swordfish said:

They could, the question is, would they.

I do not think that cutting off an entire city and starving it's residents would fly here, given that it would likely be a small percentage of the population of the city that was actually participating in the resistance.

i don't know why this is even a  discussion.  We have plenty of examples of this being effective.  it's not guaranteed to be successful, obviously there are a ton of variables.  But the notion that that kind of action CAN'T be successful is patently absurd and demonstrably false.

 

Yeah, and it will depend a lot on what kind of internal conflict we are talking about here, and how "tyrannical" the government in question actually is. If you look at a recent example like Ukraine then Yanukovych there was certainly ready to send in police to break up protests with quite brutal means. First with batons and tear gas, then by actually selectively shooting and killing some of the protestors. However, once it became clear that the protesters weren't going away and that the situation threatened to escalate to actual civil war if it continued, he gave up and fled rather than double down. Had the populace been heavily armed, you might guess that it would have been even easier to make him tuck tail and run for it. 

On the other hand, if you are talking about a totally ruthless and (perhaps more importantly) very powerful and totalitarian government akin to how Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union was, that actually was ready to resort to full scale war against any uprising if necessary, then an armed populace might not make too much of a difference. 

As mentioned upthread, guerilla style urban warfare probably won't work too well if the government decides to cut off the food and water supply. On the other hand, most governments probably neither have the will nor the necessary support among the military and the populace to do that. 

Edited by Khaleesi did nothing wrong

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13 minutes ago, Rippounet said:

You're mixing up two different things:
i) The possibility that an armed population could successfully overthrow a government.
ii) The idea that this possibility would in itself have some impact on the behavior of people working in government and/or politicians.
i) does not imply ii). While an armed population may be a guarantee against some forms of government abuses, it doesn't prevent corruption or demagoguery.

To some degree, i) does imply ii) -- it just doesn't do it for all behaviors or for low-level modes of most of them. If corruption becomes widespread enough and goes unpunished long enough, I think people will eventually take matters into their own (well-armed) hands. It's a mini-doomsday type of option: bad for almost everyone and thus not something be invoked lightly, but still worth having on the table and still something that the elites have to consider.

23 minutes ago, Rippounet said:

The whole idea of guns as a kind of protection against an undemocratic government was interesting in the 18th century when tyranny could be obvious to anyone. In the 19th century however, Marx and others showed that tyranny could also be economic. Then the 20th century showed everyone that a terrible threat to demoracy (or at least, the rule of law) was ideology.
And this is where the irony becomes truly deep. You're actually quoting Lenin and Mao Zedong on this, neither of which was a democrat. After suggesting that Trump supporters could take arms if Trump was impeached... In essence you're showing why having an armed population is a terrible idea because it can be manipulated by autocrats and/or lead to civil wars.

It is true that there is any guarantee that the change wrought by armed resistance will make the society a better place and it is quite likely that, in the short-term, it will actually make things worse. However, it only shows up in places where, at least for a substantial fraction of the population, life is bad and is either getting worse or at least not getting any better and there is no way this will change any time soon. It is a means of bringing about change that will (hopefully) eventually result in a better world when alternatives means of doing so have failed.

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Worked for that Bundy motherfucker and co, however we've seen that carrying a toy gun or knife or candy bar or wallet can get you shot by gov't employees of you're black.

I do sometimes wonder how the water protectors at the DAPL site would have been treated if they'd shown up armed to the gills like a 2nd amendment obsessed militia.  I'd err on the side of government actors killing a bunch of them.

Rather than preventing a civil war, I'd guess that in the US at least, the massive number of privately owned firearms would result in an extra bloody and violent civil war eventually.

 

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1 hour ago, Manhole Eunuchsbane said:

clearing quote function.

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9 minutes ago, larrytheimp said:

Worked for that Bundy motherfucker and co, however we've seen that carrying a toy gun or knife or candy bar or wallet can get you shot by gov't employees of you're black.

I do sometimes wonder how the water protectors at the DAPL site would have been treated if they'd shown up armed to the gills like a 2nd amendment obsessed militia.  I'd err on the side of government actors killing a bunch of them.

 

Randy Weaver and the folks at Waco would tend to agree with you.

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10 minutes ago, Swordfish said:

Randy Weaver and the folks at Waco would tend to agree with you.

Oh yeah those are both other good examples.

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29 minutes ago, Altherion said:

To some degree, i) does imply ii) -- it just doesn't do it for all behaviors or for low-level modes of most of them. If corruption becomes widespread enough and goes unpunished long enough, I think people will eventually take matters into their own (well-armed) hands. It's a mini-doomsday type of option: bad for almost everyone and thus not something be invoked lightly, but still worth having on the table and still something that the elites have to consider.

But this is the crux of our disagreement. Can you show that it curently affects politics in the US? Or to phrase it differently: how are politics in the US different from, say, Australia or Europe because the population is armed?

29 minutes ago, Altherion said:

It is true that there is any guarantee that the change wrought by armed resistance will make the society a better place and it is quite likely that, in the short-term, it will actually make things worse. However, it only shows up in places where, at least for a substantial fraction of the population, life is bad and is either getting worse or at least not getting any better and there is no way this will change any time soon. It is a means of bringing about change that will (hopefully) eventually result in a better world when alternatives means of doing so have failed.

But I don't think this addresses my points about armed populations (or armed forces generally speaking) being manipulated by autocrats.

What you're saying by using Trump is that a politican could use armed masses to increase his personal power. And given the controversial nature of this politician, you'd end up with a civil war.
Don't you see? Your entire line of argumentation is self-defeating. Instead of showing how an armed population can fight abuses of power, you're only showing how an armed population can divide into factions and thus turn on itself.
Armed insurrections are last resorts, when all alternatives have failed as you said. But when everyone has guns, how can you be certain that they're using them as last resorts, and not to advance their own cause?
Arguably, history has many examples of armed forces within a country overthrowing a government... Not because it is oppressive, but because they despise its ideology. And such violent uprisings are followed by dictatorships far more often than with a renewed democracy. Especially if the armed forces are fighting for a beloved leader...
 

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7 minutes ago, Rippounet said:

But I don't think this addresses my points about armed populations (or armed forces generally speaking) being manipulated by autocrats.

What you're saying by using Trump is that a politican could use armed masses to increase his personal power. And given the controversial nature of this politician, you'd end up with a civil war.
Don't you see? Your entire line of argumentation is self-defeating. Instead of showing how an armed population can fight abuses of power, you're only showing how an armed population can divide into factions and thus turn on itself.
Armed insurrections are last resorts, when all alternatives have failed as you said. But when everyone has guns, how can you be certain that they're using them as last resorts, and not to advance their own cause?
Arguably, history has many examples of armed forces within a country overthrowing a government... Not because it is oppressive, but because they despise its ideology. And such violent uprisings are followed by dictatorships far more often than with a renewed democracy. Especially if the armed forces are fighting for a beloved leader...
 

 I'm not sure that's what he's saying, but that's patently ridiculous in Trump's case. He's the CIC. He commands the most powerful military in the world. Why would he lean on an armed militia? Granted, if he went off the reservation perhaps some percentage of the military might resist him, but whatever percentage he did have would be much more powerful and effective than an armed populace.

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Posted (edited)

11 minutes ago, Manhole Eunuchsbane said:

 I'm not sure that's what he's saying, but that's patently ridiculous in Trump's case. He's the CIC. He commands the most powerful military in the world. Why would he lean on an armed militia?

The conversation started by suggesting that Trump could use his armed supporters to prevent impeachment. In such a case he wouldn't be able to rely on the US military.

But if anything, this is a pretty good example of an armed population being a threat to the rule of law... Plus, if a president did prevent impeachment through such means... Wouldn't he be a tyrant?
This is why I think this entire line of argumentation is self-defeating. In this scenario we're talking about how an armed population can essentially choose their own dictator.

Edited by Rippounet

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1 minute ago, Rippounet said:

The conversation started by suggesting that Trump could use his armed supporters to prevent impeachment. In such a case he wouldn't be able to rely on the US military.

But if anything, this is a pretty good example of an armed population being a threat to the rule of law... Plus, if a president did prevent impeachment through such means... Wouldn't he be a tyrant?
This is why I think this entire line of argumentation is self-defeating. In this scenario we're talking about how an armed population can essentially choose their own dictator.

He could certainly try to use the military to prevent impeachment. What makes you think he wouldn't attempt to do that? 

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12 minutes ago, Manhole Eunuchsbane said:

He could certainly try to use the military to prevent impeachment. What makes you think he wouldn't attempt to do that? 

It just wasn't a possibility we considered.

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Posted (edited)

20 hours ago, Rippounet said:

You're mixing up two different things:
i) The possibility that an armed population could successfully overthrow a government.
ii) The idea that this possibility would in itself have some impact on the behavior of people working in government and/or politicians.
i) does not imply ii). While an armed population may be a guarantee against some forms of government abuses, it doesn't prevent corruption or demagoguery.
And then, there's the irony of your suggesting that the fact that Trump could incite an armed uprising in the US if anyone tried to remove him... Which instead of showing why an armed population is good for democracy shows how it is a terrible threat.

The whole idea of guns as a kind of protection against an undemocratic government was interesting in the 18th century when tyranny could be obvious to anyone. In the 19th century however, Marx and others showed that tyranny could also be economic. Then the 20th century showed everyone that a terrible threat to demoracy (or at least, the rule of law) was ideology.
And this is where the irony becomes truly deep. You're actually quoting Lenin and Mao Zedong on this, neither of which was a democrat. After suggesting that Trump supporters could take arms if Trump was impeached... In essence you're showing why having an armed population is a terrible idea because it can be manipulated by autocrats and/or lead to civil wars.

 

Ripp,

The first two points are linked. You are correct that 1 doesn't imply 2 but that doesn't mean that 1 has no impact upon 2.  Firearms are tools they can be used in a positive revolutionary way to fight against tyranny or in a negative way to support tyranny.  

People forget that that the American Revolution (especially in North and South Carolina) was a civil war between American Patriots and American Loyalists for control of the North American colonies.  Most of the militias on both sides of that conflict provided their own arms and ammunition.  

Being armed is not a guarantee of liberty because if everyone is armed some will, inevitable, oppose liberty.  It simply gives more people tools in the event of a Tyranny from above... or below.

Edited by Ser Scot A Ellison

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