Bryan Caplan  

In Case of Revolution, Climb Into a Hole

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In 1968, Abbie Hoffman published Revolution for the Hell of It.  Five years later, this silly title inspired David Friedman to include a chapter called "Revolution Is the Hell of It" in his Machinery of Freedom.  I remember Friedman's words every time another revolution strikes.  Lead-in:
Civil disorder leads to more government, not less. It may topple one government, but it creates a situation in which people desire another and stronger. Hitler's regime followed the chaos of the Weimar years. Russian communism is a second example, a lesson for which the anarchists of Kronstadt paid dear. Napoleon is a third. Yet many radicals, and some anarchists, talk and act as though civil disruption were the road to freedom.

For those radicals whose vision of freedom is a new government run by themselves, revolution is not a totally unreasonable strategy, although they may be overly optimistic in thinking that they are the ones who will end up on top. For those of us whose enemy is not the government but government itself, it is a strategy of suicide.
Friedman's wake-up call:
Successful revolutionaries do occasionally end up in positions of power, but they seem more likely, on the historical record, to end up dead, courtesy of their comrades. In any case, revolution has its own logic, and it is, like that of politics, a logic of power. So revolution, like politics, selects out for success those with the desire and ability to wield power. A libertarian is defeated before the game starts. And by the time the revolution is successful, the population will want nothing so much as order and security. If those who began the revolution have scruples about providing what they want, someone else will be found to end it.

The case seems better, on purely opportunistic grounds, for supporting counterrevolution. There are more old falangists in Spain than old bolsheviks in Russia. But the best policy of all, if there must be a revolution, is, on moral as well as opportunistic grounds, neutrality. Climb into a hole, pull the hole in after you, and come out when people stop shooting each other.
I'd dub Friedman "prescient" if he weren't just summarizing basic historical facts.  If you find yourself in Egypt, Syria, or other country in the midst of revolution, do yourself a favor and heed the wisdom of David Friedman.


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COMMENTS (5 to date)
Greg Jaxon writes:

Concerning the "opportunism" of "com[ing] out when people stop shooting each other.":

1) How would you shop for a secure hole?
2) In addition to your own hide and your loved ones', what sort of capital would you try to preserve with you, assuming the hole itself loses utility after the shooting stops?

REN writes:

Virtually all modern wars, and their revolutions are about debt, or economic acts. Force is only a side effect.

The revolutionary war... the bank of england and their captured government wanted to spread debt to the colonies. Benjamin Franklin made clear that this was the mechanism.

War of 1812 was Jefferson not renewing the First U.S. bank's charter. Most of the principle owners were British Rothschild agents. Buying the Louisiana purchase with non debt money was a way of NOT becoming indebted to the bank, and hence allowing its charter to lapse.

Civil War, the south had an economy tied to England, and they were pretty much debt free. Debt peonage system of the industrial North East was the new model to be spread.

French Revolution was killing off of the oligarchy and eliminating debt, so new debt spreading could occur. The oligarchy just changed hands.

Killing off of Napoleon was debt spreading western bankers in league with Kings and Queens to attack Napoleon's republic at every turn.

Bolshevieks and communism were funded by Wall Street, especially Kunh and Loeb. It wasn't until Stalin killed off the "western" private central bank, that communism became a dirty word.

Word war 1 had America make Europeans pay gold for lent war material, with few provisions for excusing the debt.

Weimar hyperinflation is a direct result of the triangular flow of payments as Germany borrowed debt money from wall street, to pay dollars to England/France, who paid U.S. treasury for WW1 debts. Germany was not allowed to export in order to acquire dollars to pay debts. This mechanism then directly led to exchange rate problems then bear raid attacks, then to inflation then to Hitler and facism.

So, please! All revolutions are an output of Capitalism's defects. Communism is just super capitalism where all of the modes of production are owned by a super oligarchy.

Sometimes, the revolutionaries may actually be paid agents of money powers. Money powers have long history - all the way back to Babylon, who have showed a facility for starting wars, where they come out on top owning real assets and controlling populations.

The Babylonian Woe describes in detail how silver money volume controlled intangible clay tablet ledger money. So, unless economists and historians get a handle on these money mechanisms, most of our economists and historians are just spouting bunk.

Essentially, crawling into a hole until the shooting was over, was what most Cubans did in the 1950s. That turned out badly for almost all of them.

Higby writes:

Or as Franz Kafka wrote: Every revolution evaporates and leaves behind only the slime of a new bureaucracy.

SaveyourSelf writes:

"Civil disorder leads to more government, not less."

Mr. Friedman's quote is a truism only when considered in the short term. Any armed conflict leads to larger government as defense expenditures skyrocket. The long term is a different story. After cessation of hostilities, most societies divert resources away from the military towards more productive applications--shrinking the government. The final size and scope of the government after the post-conflict retraction might be larger than the previous government or it might be smaller, depending largely on how much the society is able and willing to pay.

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