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What would Enlightenment Philosophers think of our Culture of Corruption and Greed?

The Case of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and 1960s Radical Herbert Marcuse


Man was born free and he is everywhere in chains - Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Discourse on Inequality

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), the Enlightenment philosopher of freedom and justice, would surely be appalled by the current political and economic ideology in Europe and North America. Most of Rousseau's works were banned and burned by the church, including Emile, one of his works on Education reform. In agreement one of his contemporaries, and one of the many of whom he alienated such as Denis Diderot and Voltaire, and with later anarchist philosophers such as Mikhail Bakunin, Peter Kropotkin and Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, power, force, excessive wealth accumulation and hierarchical institutions, Rousseau argued, are the four primary obstacles of freedom, democracy and civil society that must be always perpetually questioned - and eradicated. "It is manifestly against the law of nature that the few should be glutted with superfluities while the multitudes lack the bare necessities", he proclaimed. Just as Rousseau in the Discourse on Inequality condemns the insidious effects of the unequal distribution of property, so in the Social Contract he objects fiercely to the extremes of wealth and poverty, each equally "fatal to the common good", with liberty a mere commodity on auction to the highest bidder, its wealthy buyers accumulating the powers of tyrants and its sellers relinquishing their liberty to the tyrant.



                                                                                                                              The Swiss-born French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau


Rousseau promoted the idea of what he called the “general will”, not unlike what anarchists refer to as "direct democracy" and "democracy from below", the only genuine conception of democracy as generally understood and conveyed in dictionary definitions. Current forms of representative democracy whereby our "representatives" are simply agents for wealth, power and the long-standing status quo of conservative elite entitlement and big business, Rousseau would deem fraudulent and contemptible. One certainly cannot imagine any of our recent populist politicians on the far right such as Donald Trump or Marine Le-Pen* as having even heard of Rousseau or anarchist philosophers such as Mikhail Bakunin, Peter Kropotkin, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon or any contemporary anarchist thinker such as David Graeber.

*The famous19th century Russian intellectual and revolutionary Alexander Herzen referred to reactionaries such as Trump and other right wing ideologues of neo-liberalism and neo-conservatism as “uninvited guests at the feast of life” – authoritarian demagogues who provide walls and obstructions on the long moral arc to social and economic justice and real democracy, transmogrifying history with spasmodic blows of the sledge hammer. In 1865 Herzen prophetically wrote: "Social progress is possible only under complete republican freedom, under full democratic equality. A republic that would not lead to Socialism seems an absurdity to us - a transitional stage regarding itself as the goal. On the other hand, Socialism which might try to dispense with political freedom would rapidly degenerate into an autocratic Communism."

Background Considerations:

History never repeats itself in its entirety, but certain themes reappear. From time to time, consciously or not, some influential men who lust for power  attempt to force the rest of us into the a procrustean bed of their own making, generally a monstrous time warp of their imagination in an effort to reverse decades, and in the case of feudalism and theocracy, almost a millennium of social and moral progress. For example, one can read the US history of the era of Robber Barons, the late 19th and early 20th century that Mark Twain called the Gilded Age. What you will discover is how closely it resembles the deregulation, lack of oversight, greed, injustices, corruption, exploitation and massive economic inequalities of the neo-liberal corporate capitalism of the past three or four decades.

Throughout most of the 19th century in the United States and well into the 20th, millions of immigrants flooded into the country and existed as though members of an alien subhuman species, in unspeakable squalor and poverty eking out bare subsistence in the slum lord tenements of large American industrial cities. Assuming employment could be found, they usually worked 12-16 hour days, often seven days a week crammed into grinding sweatshop factories and workshops in equally austere filthy unsafe conditions as the tenement hovels in which they lived. The conditions of employment, however, went far beyond the inhumanity of the hours and days hours they toiled in noise and filth.

At the end of an 80 hour week in a dark and crowded squalid shop, a worker who was sewing sleeves into blouses at 5 cents a dozen might think she had earned four or five dollars that week. But then she would discover there were charges for the thread, needles and the sewing machine power she used, the chair on which she sat and the locker in which she stored her meagre belongings. Even when the large loft factories emerged at the end of the century the conditions of work were still deplorable and draconian as were the hours of work just as long. Moreover, a worker was fined if five minutes late for work, fired for complaining about the noise, lack of ventilation or bad lighting, crowding or filthy bathrooms. The worker was also charged for any bathroom breaks. It was slavery by another name.

Horrific jobs such as these continue to exist today, particularly in areas of the Third World such as Latin America and South East Asia. For the workers of our globalized world it appears to be a race to the bottom.

The 20th century brought the boom of the "roaring twenties" and the Great Depression followed by years of fascist psychosis in the form of Mussolini's tyrannical corporatism and Adolf Hitler’s “Thousand Year Reich” resulting in the deaths of 60 million people, many of them innocent civilians. More recently we have what can be similarly viewed as the United States of America’s version: the corporate driven imperialist manifesto called "The Project for a New American Century”, drafted in 1997 but still in full effect today under the current administration. The PNAC is a self-proclaimed agenda to “promote American global leadership” resolutely and by military force when deemed necessary. The War in Iraq and the demolition of the country, resulting in the needless deaths of over one million, an ongoing civil war and the displacement of at least an equal number, is a prime example of that agenda.

Montesquieu and his colleagues of the mid-18th century, such as Voltaire, Diderot, Baron d’Holbach, Thomas Paine and Rousseau, key thinkers during the Age of  Enlightenment, denounced feudalism as being an autocratic hierarchical system exclusively dominated by aristocrats who possessed all financial, political and social power. During that time, which incubated the French Revolution and built its ideological foundations, feudalism became synonymous with the French monarchy and the Catholic Church. To the Enlightenment writers, feudalism symbolized everything that was wrong with a system based on birth, privilege, inequality and brutal exploitation. Today, the conservative elite entitlements belong to multinational corporations, big banks and wealthy capitalist classes which are all enabled and safeguarded by the politicians and legal sanctions that these plutocrats have bought and paid for. Welcome to the kleptocracy fellow peasants.

So feudalism and corporate serfdom is making a comeback in the latest reincarnation and under the impulse of neo-conservatism and its offspring unfettered predatory global capitalism we now call neo-liberalism. A feudal system may be defined as a society with inherited social rank with the privileges and entitlements underwritten by the full force of the prevailing government, its laws, police and military. The feudal system of the Dark Ages was the social and economic exploitation of peasants, lords and powerful land barons who were protected by the monarchy which in turn was sanctioned by the "divine right of kings" and the Christian Church and hierarchy. This led to an economy always marked by excessive poverty, often widespread famine, extreme exploitation and huge gulfs between rich and poor. The feudal era relationship between of a serf to his lord was quantitatively identical to the present relationship between a WalMart "associate" (i.e., wage slave) to the heirs of the Walton family. If one looks objectively at the power stratum in the US in 2017, and the one of, for example, feudal France in the mid 18th century, it is not difficult to see the startling similarities. For example, attendance at Ivy-League schools in the US is principally an inherited privilege with the dimwit sons of wealthy powerful families such as "D" student draft-dodging “fortunate son” George W Bush entitled to automatic acceptance at Yale and Harvard. The same can be said for elected positions in Congress and the Senate. Merit and hard work is a consideration only for those aspirants and applicants from the lower classes.

“Market forces” are not natural physical phenomena like the laws of physics; they are the pre-meditated amoral actions of voracious hyenas and vultures from Wall Street who dismantle and then feed on the carcasses of a city or country. They also get to write the laws of the country and craft them to suit their interests. Economic and social decline does not just happen like the sun rising; it is engineered by the corporate entities of global capitalism to maximize profit without regard for human or environmental costs. It is ultimately up to us, for the common good of humankind, to put obstacles in the path of the well-oiled wheels of this global corporate death machine and its malicious propaganda that is putting corporate profit before all else, including the life of the world’s ecosystems, grinding down and crushing the accomplishments of more than 250 years, regressing to the servitude of a neo-feudalism run by criminal banks, plutocrats and multi-national corporations.

Influence of Jean Jacques Rousseau:

The Social Contract began with the proclamation, "Man is born free but is everywhere in chains". He continues on by saying that "you are lost if you forget that the fruits of the Earth belong to no one and the Earth itself belongs to everyone". This notion that the world belongs to no one is not unlike those expressed by any one of the great North American native chiefs such as Black Elk or Luther Standing Bear. Rousseau's attacks on the state differed little from his views on orthodox religion which he believed existed only to protect the status quo of injustices and inequalities of entitlement, power and privilege. Foreshadowing the writings of both Marx and Nietzsche he wrote, "Christianity preaches only servitude and submission".

Few thinkers have left their mark on the modern age as profoundly as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, a philosopher whose ideas helped shape the destiny of the modern nation state. Although an often paranoid hypocritical asshole and delinquent parent who antagonized many of his good friends and colleagues, he was also a political visionary of striking originality, a powerful influence on the French Revolution and a source of inspiration for the Romantics. Those who prefer their fiction saturated with lofty moral sentiment can also claim him as a great novelist. Every leader of the French Revolution read and likely reread Rousseau, in the way the leaders of the Russian Revolution drew on Karl Marx. Maximilian Robespierre apparently carried copies of one or more of Rousseau's books with him at all times. Robespierre was a successful lawyer and future judge whose radicalism began when he befriended several peasants in his region and wrote three pamphlets recording his horror and at their dreadful conditions of dire misery and poverty. Following the establishment of the French Republic, Robespierre said, "Royalty has been destroyed; now the reign of equality is beginning." Attacking the wealthiest businessmen, he said they saw "those goods which are necessary to keep people alive as nothing more than ordinary items of trade.," a statement not far from Marx's assertion that businessmen see objects not for their survival value or use value, but rather as commodities.

Much of what one might call the modern outlook was the brain child of Rousseau. It is in Rousseau's writing that history begins to turn from aristocratic or upper-class veneration to middle-class humanitarianism and humanism. Understanding, sympathy and compassion lie at the nucleus of his moral vision. Values associated with the feminine begin to infiltrate social existence as a whole, rather than being confined to the domestic sphere. Gentlemen begin to weep in public, while children are viewed as human beings in their own right rather than chattel and malfunctioning adults.

Above all, it was Rousseau, not Freud who was the first to explore that dark region of the modern psyche. It is no surprise that he wrote one of the most introspective autobiographies of all time, his Confessions. Although some of this work was petty gossip and unjustified vitriolic attacks on his former friends, fellow radicals and Enlightenment cohorts such as the great anti-religious heretic Denis Diderot, personal experience starts to take on a significance it never had for Plato or Descartes. What matters now is less objective truth than truth-to-self, a passionate conviction that one's identity is uniquely precious, and that expressing it as freely and richly as possible is an important obligation to oneself. In this belief, Rousseau is a forerunner not only of the Romantics, but of freethinkers, liberals, socialists, anarchists, existentialists and spiritual libertarians of the modern era.

It is true that he seems to have held the conceited view that no identity was more uniquely precious than his own. For all his cult of tenderness and affection, Rousseau, unlike a David Hume or Bertrand Russell, was not the kind of man with whom one would like to invite to dinner over a few glasses of wine. He was a hopeless hypochondriac - someone who really was always ill, real or imagined - and suffered from an acute form of paranoia, but a progressive radical who was relentlessly persecuted in his day. Even so, at the heart of an 18th-century Enlightenment devoted to reason and civilisation, this maverick intellectual spoke up for sentiment and nature. He was not, to be sure, as obsessed by the notion of the “noble savage” as some have claimed. But he was certainly a strong critic of the emerging power of the bourgeois class which he considered as tyrannical, exploitative and corrupt as the monarchies and theocracies it was slowly replacing.

Yes, Rousseau was clearly a notable precursor of the early anarchists, socialists and Karl Marx. Acquisitiveness and private property, he wrote, bring war, poverty and class conflict in their wake. It converts "clever usurpation into inalienable right". Most social order is a fraud perpetrated by the rich on the poor to protect their privileges. The law, he considered, generally backs the strong over the weak; justice is largely a weapon of violence and domination, while culture, science, the arts and religion are harnessed to the task of preserving the status quo. The institution of the state has "bound new fetters on the poor and given new powers to the rich". For the benefit of a few ambitious men, he comments, "the human race has been subjected to labour, servitude and misery".

He was not, as it happens, opposed to private property as such. His outlook was that of the petty-bourgeois peasant, clinging to his hard-won independence in the face of power and privilege. He sometimes writes as though any form of dependence on others is despicable. Yet he was a radical egalitarian in an age when such thinkers were hard to find. Almost uniquely for his age, he also believed in the absolute sovereignty of the people. To bow to a law one did not have a hand in creating was a recipe for tyranny. Sound familiar? Self-determination lay at the root of all ethics and politics. Human beings might misuse their freedom, but they were not truly human without it.

What would this giant of Geneva have thought of Europe 300 years on from his birth? He would no doubt have been appalled by the drastic shrinking of the public sphere. His greatest work, The Social Contract, speaks up for the rights of the citizenry in the teeth of private interests. He would also be struck by the way the democracy he cherished so dearly is under siege from corporate power, our fraudulent Western democracies and a manipulative mass media that merely serves as an indoctrination tool of wealth and power. Society, he taught, was a matter of common bonds, not just a commercial transaction. In true republican fashion, it was a place where men and women could flourish as ends in themselves, not as a set of devices for promoting their selfish interests. Social contract theory promotes the idea that rational individuals will voluntarily consent to relinquish the myth of absolute freedom in a state of nature and accept the limits to liberty required for civil society and human decency. Theorists such as Rousseau argue that people as individuals will make this compromise in order to ensure, or at least greatly enhance, their ability to survive and flourish. But, in my view, Rousseau and most modern social contract theorists define “survival” too narrowly, as limited to threats to life and property. I contend that the terms of any social contract must be enlarged to include provisions for shelter, food, clothing, a guaranteed annual income and other necessities. Moreover, I submit that any state failing to provide such maintenance and fails in its obligation to provide them, forfeits its legitimacy and moral authority to pass judgment on the means citizens employ to survive. In light of the past several decades of neo-liberal corporate capitalism whereby an entire underclass of citizens have been “thrown off the bus” as masses of them are literally living on the streets, the social contract has been grossly violated.

The same social contract should also be true of public education which ought to be financially underwritten by the state right through university and even graduate school. Access to an education should not depend on one’s class or personal bank account. Rousseau ranks among the great educational theorists of the modern era, even if he was the last man who should be put in charge of a classroom. Young people, he argued, should be allowed to develop their capabilities in their distinctive way and take delight in doing so as a desired end for themselves. In the higher education systems of today's world, this once enlightened idea of a liberal education is almost dead in the water, thanks to the corporatization of our universities, turning them into training institutions for short term mind destroying occupations. The purpose of education is to now utilitarian, to serve as intellectual cannon fodder for capitalism, to train compliant workers and a supporting cast for the imperialist empire. Universities are no longer educational in any sense of the word that Rousseau would have recognised. Instead, they have become unabashed instruments of capital.

The Sham of Parliamentary Democracy and Elections

What elections do not, and cannot, do, Rousseau notwithstanding, is to discover what, as a matter of fact, is best, regardless of what people think.  The commonsense view is that elections cannot do that, even in theory, because there is no fact of the matter to discover. Not all preferences are created equal; some truly are autonomous, rationally and freely formed by consumers and other economic agents, based on adequate knowledge and reflection. Others are in one way or another induced by the endless propaganda of our corporatized mass media. In markets for consumer goods, most preferences are induced; advertisers, marketing schemes and other hidden persuaders see to that.

The notions of consumer and voter sovereignty and based on rational deliberation are farcical.  Consumers and voters do determine outcomes by voting, buying and selling, but the preferences they act on are not really autonomous. The ideal is a theoretical possibility, but the practical reality is something else; choices are generally determined by third parties.  

As Karl Marx had noted, votes ostensibly grant people the right to rule, but not the power to do so. This has been the experience of progressive and social democratic parties such as the CCF/NDP in Canada when they have been elected at the provincial level in Canada. They have not even come close to winning any election at the federal level. During the period from 1944 to 1964 Tommy Douglas was able to bring in limited social programs such as government health care in Saskatchewan but he was shackled by a pre-existing systemically corrupt liberal and conservative hegemony of monopoly corporate capitalism. By 1956 the CCF (which became the NDP in 1961) had rescinded the 1933 Regina Manifesto, removing all references to socialism and what was left of its anti-war pacifist heritage, commitment to public ownership and antipathy to imperialism. The NDP became, as the Mussolini loving liberal Prime Minister Mackenzie King once remarked, "liberals in a hurry". Since the rejection of the "Waffle" movement in the late 1960s (championed by old line CCF icons such as James Laxer, Dave Barrett and Ed Broadbent) and the death of Tommy Douglas in 1986, the NDP has moved even farther to the right wing. Sadly, both the trade unions and the reformist NDP that many support are more interested in hierarchical and bureaucratic power from the top down rather than genuinely democratic horizontally worker controlled cooperatives from the bottom-up.

The late 19th and early 20th century anarchist Emma Goldman once proclaimed that "if elections really changed anything, they would be declared illegal." But banning elections has never been considered even remotely necessary by the liberal conservative hegemonic socio-economic duopoly. During the past 150 years persecution, harassment and violence against leftist groups, demonstrations, strikes and labour organizations by police and military usually sufficed. But if deemed necessary, as was done on numerous occasions the police state would resort to banning left wing parties (as they did the Communist Party of Canada) and incarcerating their leaders. Tim Buck, the leader was thrown into the infamous Kingston prison for a five year term as prison guards tried to murder him. But the major strategy against the left by both liberal and conservative political regimes since the 1920s has primarily been indoctrination, propaganda*, pre-emption and cooption.  That's not to say that they would not resort to violence if they deemed it necessary, as they have done on countless occasions during strikes and demonstrations when they imported hired scabs, goons and thugs, even the KKK to break strikes.

*It is generally an accepted theory among political and social scientists that conservative ruling elites of every political and social order will use everything at their disposal, including deceit and outright lies, to instil in the masses a set of values consistent with the preservation of the status quo, namely the rigid hierarchical structures and values that promote their interests. The inculcation of these values, not unlike religious indoctrination, begins with the pliable young in the churches, schools and all aspects of the cultural milieu. The media is invariably complicit in this process. In Canada, as it is generally, power is concentrated in the hands of a few wealthy families and without exception they support the existing socio-economic ideology of neo-liberal corporate capitalism. The idea that we could live in any other way is rejected carte blanche; organized labour, to cite one example, is depicted by our reactionary media as the anti-Christ, or at best, a necessary evil. In short, our stable capitalist oligarchy depends on widespread apathy with the masses marching in lock step with the status quo with the sense that we live in the best of all possible worlds and that there are no alternatives. Organized religions have historically aligned themselves with the existing political order regardless of its character. They did so in Hitler's Third Reich, Mussolini's fascist police state and Franco's fascist dictatorship in Spain.  

In the early years of republican and parliamentary electoral systems, voting rights were strictly controlled by property rights and other criteria that left out women, indigenous peoples, people without property and certain racial groups. The game was rigged from the outset as elitist crafted documents such as the American Constitution and BNA Act in Canada have so clearly revealed. The parliamentary system is by its very nature profoundly non-egalitarian and undemocratic as John Porter and C Wright Mills compellingly argued in their books The Vertical Mosaic and The Power Elite respectively in the 1960s. Both writers pointed out the preponderance of lawyers in politics* and the roles they also played not only as politicians, but as intermediaries between the conservative elites and the politicians who served their interests. No leftist or radical was unaware of the role of the extreme bias of the judiciary and courts in crushing left wing political parties and labour movements in both Canada and the United States. Not only is there inequality in the distribution of wealth and justice, but gross inequalities permeate our systems of education from elementary school to university. The corporate elite impose its values of self-interest, greed, individualism and self-aggrandizement at all levels of society. The ends and aims of education are not to serve some lofty abstract human end such as critical thinking and citizenship as liberal rhetoric implies, but rather to the specific purpose of a market based consumer society.

* In Canada about a third of MP's in the federal government are lawyers, yet they make up only a small fraction of one percent of the general population. Businessmen and corporate executives were also highly overrepresented.

The unsavoury reality of representative forms of democracy and party politics is that they are analogous to entrepreneurs or stock promoters of start-up companies in a profit based economic system. Politicians do not consider themselves as "public servants" but rather self-aggrandizing careerists who when elected, focus their energies on power and re-election. This is no coincidence because the Canadian parliamentary system, as does the republican system in the United States, exists to serve the demands of the plutocrats and economic elite of the corporate capitalist system. The lame attempts by some to attribute the shocking behaviour of our political parties by blaming it on human nature or general unalterable human traits and failures of homo sapiens is an idiotic idea which confuses human nature with unethical human behaviour, the latter being profoundly influenced, if not determined, by the dominant world view and institutions of a given society. Nor can the lack of moral principles in our business relationships and political parties be explained by such facile and fallacious arguments. In the acquisitive consumer rat race in pursuit of the almighty dollar, as Lily Tomlin once said, even the winners end up as rats.

Elections have little or nothing to do with vaguely articulated policy or party platforms, but rather raising the funds needed to run a campaign. It's become all about money, not only in funding election campaigns, but the system of bribery inherent in the lobbyists who slither about parliament like predatory reptiles. Both major political parties in Canada and the United States serve the interests of wealthy elites, big business, finance capital and the bandit banks. When elected every four years they are indistinguishable but for minor insignificant policy and managerial differences that have no impact on the lives of  95% of the electorate who merely ratify one or the other set of professional autocrats. Moreover, the real political games are played outside parliament in the IMF, World Bank, G-8 meetings, Bank of Canada, Federal Reserve and boardrooms of multi-national corporations and financial institutions. The servile system of wage labour in the workplace inevitably reflects itself in the servility of politicians to the corporate capitalism. The entire rotten system cannot be fixed and needs to be taken down so we can start anew.

Over the past century involving decades of social and political protest and unrest eventually opened up the vote for all, regardless of economic or social status. That's when privileged elites were compelled to devise more subtle methods of controlling what people think, persecuting, outlawing or co-opting radical political parties by manipulating the electoral process and the choice of candidates. The preferences votes register are generally not preferences voters autonomously form. They are preferences marketed by a devious process that Noam Chomsky called "manufacturing consent" and framing of political debate that marginalizes issues of real important and crucial concern to 95-99% of the electorate. In just the way that they are sold on preferences for consumer goods and other objects by the campaigns of corporate marketers, snake oil salesmen and hucksters. When elections are periodically held every few years, what they mainly do is sell their brand; but the alternatives, despite what politicians claim, are superficial choices as those between Coke and Pepsi. Regardless of which party is elected, the outcome of the election will determine who will serve the interests of a country's social and economic elites. Is this really any different than the pre-Enlightenment monarchies and theocracies of the past?

A Vision for Real Existing Democracy

Once you make sustenance, subsistence and mutual aid for all and not simply acquisitiveness, greed and profit as the primary human motivation and social ethos, there it everything to he said in favour of direct democracy by local control, individual freedom, initiative and striving for economic equality. Otherwise we may be sure that some capitalist deus ex machina and its theology will be controlling things for its own benefit. Just as an individual by a proper balance of these positive dispositions and practises can maintain oneself in health, so a community can live naturally and freely, without the disease of crime. Crime is a symptom of social illness - of poverty, inequality, injustice and state capitalist coercion. Purge the social body politic of these ailments and you will eliminate crime. Unless you can believe this, not as an ideal or fancy, but as a biological truth, you believe that society can exist without rulers and the state and its coercive mechanisms such as police and prisons. This is the essence of the anarchist world view. But if you do believe it, you must logically conclude that anarchism is democracy taken seriously*. Your only alternative is to be a cynic and authoritarian, a person who has so little trust the natural order that he will attempt to make the world conform to some artificial system of his own making. Human nature may have its evolutionary dark side, but being a decent human being means to overcome those proclivities and contribute to a society of sharing and caring. What we need is not so much revolution as insurrection against a toxic immoral world order that is not only turning humans into sociopaths but is destroying the very ecosystems upon which our survival depends. The state needs to be abolished because as history has demonstrated, every revolution that has replaced the existing order such as the feudalistic monarchies during the French and Russian Revolutions merely substituted one set of tyrants with another.


* Anarchism (anarchos) means literally a society without an arkhos, that is to say, without a ruler. It does not mean a society without law and therefore it does not mean a society without order. The anarchist accepts the social contract, but he interprets that contract in a particular way, which he believes to be the way most justified by reason. The relationship between anarchy and democracy has always been tenuous. Both concepts have had many different conceptualizations and interpretations, positive and negative. Anarchy has been wrongly characterized, especially by liberals and conservatives, as synonymous with chaos and disorder, a “war of all against all,” and yes, even terrorism. Democracy has been construed as a “mobocracy,” one step away from tyranny, or simply as a sham or utopian de ream. But when conceived in a more positive light, anarchy and democracy share some similar qualities, particularly when democracy is conceived as a form of social organization that gives people the power to participate directly in the making of bottom up decisions regarding their own lives, in the workplaces and communities, instead of that decision-making power being handed over to “representatives” who then make those decisions, allegedly on the people’s behalf. Anarchy and direct, as opposed to representative, democracy, both seek to realize a social form of freedom in equality and equality in freedom. Both therefore are subversive of the existing social order which is decidedly undemocratic. Laws are not designed by “the people”, even given consent by them, but rather by corporate lawyers and wealthy power elites designed to carve up the world to serve their own interests, guaranteeing the exploitation and domination of the bewildered herd.


The idea of a social contract proposed by Rousseau required that each individual in society would relinquish aspects of his freedom for the common good, with the tacit assumption that both freedom and tolerance cannot be absolute.  In this manner liberty of the individual can be assured, underwritten by the rule of law or, to use Rousseau’s expression, the “general will”.

We are on familiar turf, not only with Rousseau, but with the whole democratic tradition which has been constructed on the theoretical foundation laid by Rousseau. Where the anarchist differs from Rousseau, and from that aspect of the democratic tradition which has found expression in representative social democracies such as in mid-twentieth century Europe, is in his interpretation of the manner in which the “general will” should be articulated, implemented and enforced.

Rousseau was not consistent on this issue, assuming that some form of state power must exist as a guarantor of the general will and that the power invested in the state by general consent must be unconditional. He was equally convinced that the individual must retain his liberty and that upon the individual’s enjoyment of liberty depended all progress and civilization. He realized as an historical fact that the state and the individual had invariably been in a condition of conflict. His partial solution for this dilemma was his philosophy of education. If every citizen could be brought up to appreciate the beauty and harmony of the laws inherent in nature and be inculcated with the necessary values, he would be as incapable of establishing a tyranny as of tolerating one. The society in which he lived would automatically be a natural society, a society of free consenting individuals in which law and liberty are but two aspects of the same reality. But such a system of education implies a pre-existing authority to establish such a society and that authority must be absolute. But authoritarianism in any form, the anarchist cannot accept.

The system of government recommended by Rousseau in The Social Contract is an elective aristocracy rather than a true democracy, not unlike the neo-liberal corporate oligarchy of 21st century capitalist “democracies”. To control this aristocracy Rousseau imagines a state so small that every individual within it would be able to have sufficient time and opportunity to monitor, criticize and challenge the government. He probably had something like the Greek city-state in mind as the ideal. He certainly had no prevision of the vast complexes of millions of individuals which constitute most modern capitalist bureaucratic nation states, and we can be quite sure that he would have been the first to admit that his system of checks on authority could not function under such conditions.

But his theory of the state, which has had such a profound influence on the development of modern social democracies, has been co-opted and applied to these massive nation states that have merely become justification for the most tyrannical and insidious brand of authoritarianism. This inevitability was predicted as long ago as 1815 by Benjamin Constant, who described The Social Contract as “le plus terrible auxiliaire de tous les genres de despotisme”.

If what Rousseau calls an aristocratic form of government is more or less identical with modern capitalist democracy, what he calls real existing democracy is more or less identical with modern theories of anarchism as expressed by Bakunin and Kropotkin so it’s not surprising why he rejects genuine democracy. He does so for two reasons. First, he regards it as a practical and executive impossibility. People cannot be continuously assembled to govern; it must delegate authority as a mere matter of convenience, and once you have delegated even representative authority, you no longer have a democracy. His second reason is a typical instance of cognitive dissonance and logical inconsistency. If there could be a society of perfect beings (i.e., gods), they could perhaps govern themselves democratically, but this requires faith in the perfectibility of man.

But the fundamental question in this tortured discussion is ignored by Rousseau. It is the fantasy of his notion of the general will. There is probably only one issue on which people expresses unanimous consensus or general will: the defence of their physical liberty. Otherwise they divide and differ according to their temperaments and though these are perhaps numerically limited, they are sufficiently diverse and mutually opposed that in any given geographical area they will give rise to incompatible fractures into dissenting groups. On that very account, say Rousseau and many other cynical philosophers, democracy is impossible. They are forced into this conclusion because they adhere obstinately to the arbitrary parameters of the modern state such as boundaries established by rivers, seas, mountains, military treaties, not necessarily fallacious reasoning. Mikhail Bakunin once said that anyone who talks about politics involving the state, talks about “domination” and therein exists the fundamental problem of democracy and the lack thereof. The state must go.


In 1969, ending a decade of widespread student unrest, protest and civil disobedience, the philosopher Herbert Marcuse wrote a short tract called An Essay on Liberation, harshly critical of the liberal/conservative system of parliamentary and republican representative democracy. He considered the existing socio-economic structure a fraudulent immoral democracy, venal and contaminated at all levels, including the judiciary. His thoughts are as relevant today as they were then. He writes:

To the degree to which the rebellion is directed against a functioning, prosperous, “democratic” society, it is a moral rebellion, against the hypocritical, aggressive values and goals, against the blasphemous religion of this society, against everything it takes seriously, everything it professes while violating what it professes.

The “unorthodox” character of this opposition, which does not have the traditional class basis, and which is at the same time a political, instinctual, and moral rebellion, shapes the strategy and scope of the rebellion. It extends to the entire organization of the existing liberal-parliamentary democracy. Among the New Left, a strong revulsion against traditional politics prevails: against that whole network of parties, committees, and pressure groups on all levels; against working within this network and with its methods. This entire sphere and atmosphere, with all its power, is invalidated; nothing that any of these politicians, representatives, or candidates declares is of any relevance to the rebels; they cannot take it seriously although they know very well that it may mean to them getting beaten, going to jail, losing a job. They are not professional martyrs: they prefer not to be beaten, not to go to jail, not to lose their job. But for them, this is not a question of choice; the protest and refusal are parts of their metabolism, and they extend to the power structure as a whole. The democratic process organized by this structure is discredited to such an extent that no part of it can be extracted which is not contaminated. Moreover, using this process would divert energy to snail-paced movements. For example, electioneering with the aim of significantly changing the composition of the U.S. Congress might take a hundred years, judging by the present rate of progress, and assuming that the effort of political radicalization continues unchecked. And the performance of the courts, from the lowest to the highest, does not mitigate the distrust in the given democratic-constitutional setup. Under these circumstances, to work for the improvement of the existing democracy easily appears as indefinitely delaying attainment of the goal of creating a free society.

Thus, in some sectors of the opposition, the radical protest tends to become antinomian, anarchistic, and even non-political. Here is another reason why the rebellion often takes on the weird and clownish forms which get on the nerves of the Establishment. In the face of the gruesomely serious totality of institutionalized politics, satire, irony, and laughing provocation become a necessary dimension of the new politics. The contempt for the deadly esprit de serieux which permeates the dialogue and doings of the professional and semi-                     professional politicians appears as contempt for the values which they profess while destroying them. The rebels revive the desperate laughter and the cynical defiance of the fool as means for de-masking the deeds of the serious ones who govern the whole.

This alienation of the radical opposition from the existing democratic process and institutions suggests a thorough re-examination of democracy (“bourgeois” democracy, representative government) and of their role in the transition from capitalism to socialism or, generally, from an un-free to a free society. By and large, Marxian theory has a positive evaluation of the role of bourgeois democracy in this transition – up to the stage of the revolution itself. By virtue of its commitment (however limited in practice) to civil rights and liberties, bourgeois democracy provides the most favourable ground for the development and organization of dissent. This is still true, but the forces which vitiate the “protective” features within the democratic framework itself are gaining momentum. The mass democracy developed by monopoly capitalism has shaped the rights and liberties which it grants in its own image and interest; the majority of the people is the majority of their masters; deviations are easily “contained”; and concentrated power can afford to tolerate (perhaps even defend) radical dissent as long as the latter complies with the established rules and manners (and even a little beyond it). The opposition is thus sucked into the very world which it opposes – and by the very mechanisms which allow its development and organization; the opposition without a mass basis is frustrated in its efforts to obtain such a mass basis. Under these circumstances, working according to the rules and methods of democratic legality appears as surrender to the prevailing power structure. And yet, it would be fatal to abandon the defence of civil rights and liberties within the established framework. But as monopoly capitalism is compelled to extend and fortify its dominion at home and abroad, the democratic struggle will come into increasing conflict with the existing democratic institutions: with its built-in barriers and conservative dynamic.

The semi-democratic process works of necessity against radical change because it produces and sustains a popular majority whose opinion is generated by the dominant interests in the status quo. As long as this condition prevails, it makes sense to say that the general will is always wrong – wrong inasmuch as it objectively counteracts the possible transformation of society into more humane ways of life. To be sure, the method of persuasion is still open to the minority, but it is fatally reduced by the fact that the leftist minority does not possess the large funds required for equal access to the mass media which speak day and night for the dominant interests – with those wholesome interludes in favour of the opposition that buttress the illusory faith in prevailing equality and fair play. And yet, without the continuous effort of persuasion, of reducing, one by one, the hostile majority, the prospects of the opposition would be still darker than they are.

Dialectics of democracy: if democracy means self-government of free people, with justice for all, then the realization of democracy would presuppose abolition of the existing pseudo-democracy. In the dynamic of corporate capitalism, the fight for democracy thus tends to assume anti-democratic forms, and to the extent to which the democratic decisions are made in “parliaments” on all levels, the opposition will tend to become extra-parliamentary. The movement to extend constitutionally professed rights and liberties to the daily life of the oppressed minorities, even the movement to preserve existing rights and liberties, will become “subversive” to the degree to which it will meet the stiffening resistance of the majority against an “exaggerated” interpretation and application of equality and justice.

An opposition which is directed, not against a particular form of government or against particular conditions within a society, but against a given social system as a whole, cannot remain legal and lawful because it is the established legality and the established law which it opposes. The fact that the democratic process provides for the redress of grievances and for legal and lawful changes does not alter the illegality inherent in an opposition to an institutionalized democracy which halts the process of change at the stage where it would destroy the existing system. By virtue of this built-in stabilizer or “governor,” capitalist mass-democracy is perhaps to a higher degree self-perpetuating than any other forms of government or society; and the more so the more it rests, not on terror and scarcity, but on efficiency and wealth, and on the majority will of the underlying and administered population. This new situation has direct bearing on the old question as to the right of resistance. Can we say that it is the established system rather than the resistance to it which is in need of justification? Such seems to be the implication of the social contract theories which consider civil society dissolved when, in its existing form, it no longer fulfills the functions for which it was set up, namely, as a system of socially necessary and productive repression, Theoretically, these functions were determined by the philosophers: the realistically minded defined the “end of government” as the protection of property, trade, and commerce; the idealists spoke of the realization of Reason, Justice, Freedom (without altogether neglecting or even minimizing the more material and economic aspects). In both schools, judgment as to whether a government actually fulfilled these “ends,” and the criteria for judging, were usually limited to the particular nation-state (or type of nation-state) which the respective philosopher had in mind: that the security, growth, and freedom of the one nation-state involved the insecurity, destruction, or oppression of another did not invalidate the definition, nor did an established government lose its claim for obedience when the protection of property and the realization of reason left large parts of the population in poverty and servitude.

In the contemporary period, the questions as to the “end of government” have subsided. It seems that the continued functioning of the society is sufficient justification for its legality and its claim for obedience, and “functioning” seems defined rather negatively as absence of civil war, massive disorder and economic collapse. Otherwise anything goes: military dictatorship, plutocracy, government by gangs and rackets. Genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity are not effective arguments against a government which protects property, trade, and commerce at home while it perpetrates its destructive policy abroad. And indeed, there is no enforceable law that could deprive such a constitutional government of its legitimacy and legality. But this means that there is no (enforceable) law other than that which serves the status quo, and that those who refuse such service are eo ipso outside the realm of law even before they come into actual conflict with the law.

The absurd situation: the established democracy still provides the only legitimate framework for change and must therefore be defended against all attempts on the Right and the Center to restrict this framework, but at the same time, preservation of the established democracy preserves the status quo and the containment of change. Another aspect of the same ambiguity: radical change depends on a mass basis, but every step in the struggle for radical change isolates the opposition from the masses and provokes intensified repression: mobilization of institutionalized violence against the opposition, thus further diminishing the prospects for radical change. After the electoral triumph of the reaction over the Left in the aftermath of the French student rebellion, Humanite wrote (according to The Los Angeles Times, June 25, 1968): “every barricade, every car burned gave tens of thousands of votes to the Gaullist party.” This is perfectly correct – as perfectly correct as the corollary proposition that without the barricades and car burnings the ruling powers would be safer and stronger, and the opposition, absorbed and restricted by the parliamentary game, would further emasculate and pacify the masses on which the change depends. What’s the conclusion? The radical opposition inevitably faces defeat of its direct, extra-parliamentary action, of uncivil disobedience, and there are situations in which it must take the risk of such defeat – if, in doing so, it can consolidate its strength and expose the destructive character of civil obedience to a reactionary regime.

For it is precisely the objective, historical function of the democratic system of corporate capitalism to use the Law and Order of bourgeois liberalism as a counterrevolutionary force, thus imposing upon the radical opposition the necessity of direct action and uncivil disobedience, while confronting the opposition with its vastly superior strength. Under these circumstances, direct action and uncivil disobedience become for the rebels integral parts of the transformation of the indirect democracy of corporate capitalism into a direct democracy* in which elections and representation no longer serve as institutions of domination. As against the latter, direct action becomes a means of democratization, of change even within the established system. All its power could not silence the student opposition (weakest and most diffused of all historical oppositions); and there is good reason to believe that it was, not the parliamentary and the Gallup poll opinion, but rather the students and the resistance which enforced the change in the attitude of the government toward the war in Vietnam. And it was the uncivil disobedience of the students of Paris which suddenly broke through the memory repression of organized labour and recalled, for a very short moment, the historical power of the general strike and the factory occupation, of the red flag and the International.

*“Direct democracy”: in modern mass society, democracy, no matter in what form, is not conceivable without a system of representation. Direct democracy would assure, on all levels, genuinely free selection and election of candidates, revocability at the discretion of the constituencies, and uncensored education and information. Again, such democracy presupposes equal and universal education for autonomy.

The alternative is not democratic evolution versus radical action, but rationalization of the status quo versus change. As long as a social system reproduces, by indoctrination and integration, a self-perpetuating conservative majority, the majority reproduces the system itself – open to changes within, but not beyond, its institutional framework. Consequently, the struggle for changes beyond the system becomes, by virtue of its own dynamic, undemocratic in the terms of the system, and counter-violence is from the beginning inherent in this dynamic. Thus the radical is guilty – either of surrendering to the power of the status quo, or of violating the Law and Order of the status quo.

But who has the right to set himself up as judge of an established society, who other than the legally constituted agencies or agents, and the majority of the people? Other than these, it could only be a self-appointed elite, or leaders who would arrogate to themselves such judgment. Indeed, if the alternative were between democracy and dictatorship (no matter how “benevolent”), the answer would be non-controversial: democracy is preferable. However, this democracy does not exist, and the government is factually exercised by a network of pressure groups and “machines,” vested interests represented by and working on and through the democratic institutions. These are not derived from a sovereign people. The representation is representative of the will shaped by the ruling minorities. Consequently, if the alternative is rule by elites, it would only mean replacement of the present ruling elite by another; and if this other should be the dreaded intellectual elite, it may not the less qualified and less threatening than the prevailing one. True, such government, initially, would not have the endorsement of the majority “inherited” from the previous government – but once the chain of the past governments is broken, the majority would be in a state of flux, and, released from the past management, free to judge the new government in terms of the new common interest. To be sure, this has never been the course of a revolution, but it is equally true that never before has a revolution occurred which had at its disposal the present achievements of productivity and technical progress. Of course, they could be effectively used for imposing another set of repressive controls, but our entire discussion was based on the proposition that the revolution would be liberating only if it were carried by the non-repressive forces stirring in the existing society. The proposition is no more – and no less – than a hope. Prior to its realization, it is indeed only the individual, the individuals, who can judge, with no other legitimization than their consciousness and conscience. But these individuals are more and other than private persons with their particular contingent preferences and interests. Their judgment transcends their subjectivity to the degree to which it is based on independent thought and information, on a rational analysis and evaluation of their society. The existence of a majority of individuals capable of such rationality has been the assumption on which democratic theory has been based. If the established majority is not composed of such individuals, it does not think, will, and act as sovereign people.

The old story: right against right – the positive, codified, enforceable right of the existing society against the negative, unwritten, unenforceable right of transcendence which is part of the very existence of man in history: the right to insist on a less compromised, less guilty, less exploited humanity. The two rights must come into violent conflict as long as the established society depends, for its functioning, on exploitation and guilt. The opposition cannot change this state of affairs by the very means which protect and sustain the state of affairs. Beyond it, there are only the ideal and the offense, and those who claim, for their offending action, a right have to answer for their action before the tribunal of the existing society. For neither conscience nor commitment to an ideal can legalize the subversion of an established order which defines order, or even legalize disturbance of the peace which is the peace of the established order. To the latter alone belongs the lawful right to abrogate peace and to organize the killing and beating. In the established vocabulary, “violence” is a term which one does not apply to the action of the police, the National Guard, the Marshals, the Marines, the bombers. The “bad” words are a priori reserved for the Enemy, and their meaning is defined and validated by the actions of the Enemy regardless of their motivation and goal. No matter how “good” the end, it does not justify the illegal means.*

* A frightful example of the language of counter-sense – destruction not only of the meaning of words but also of the very idea of humanity – is provided by a report in The New York Times (September 5, 1967) which contains the following passages:

County Judge Christ Seraphim sat with his golden retriever, Holly, on the porch of his Spanish-style house on a pleasant East Side street [in Milwaukee] this afternoon and made some acerbic comments on 1,000 civil rights demonstrators who jived and strutted past his front lawn. . . .

“I think they are disturbing the peace, don’t you?” he asked, looking at the marchers today. “They are loud and boisterous, are they not? I can’t enjoy the peace and tranquillity of my home, a home paid a lot for.”

As for the Rev. James E. Croppi, the white Roman Catholic priest who commands the marchers, Judge Seraphim snapped: “He is a criminal, a convicted criminal, convicted twice by a jury for disorderly conduct.”

The demonstrators finally moved out of earshot, and Judge Seraphim resumed, with a grateful sigh, his reading of “A History of the Jews” by Abram Leon Sacher, president of Brandeis University, but soon the marchers returned.

“These people,” said Judge Seraphim, this time referring to his book, “were baked in ovens. But they maintained their dignity to the end. They didn’t do much marching. They are the most law-abiding people in the world.”

The epitome of Law and Order: men are law-abiding if they go to the ovens and get baked without “much marching,” while those who march in order to protest and to prevent a possible repetition of the concentration camps are “disturbing the peace” and “criminal” is the priest who leads the protest. And the counter-sense triumphs in the very name of the judge: Christ Seraphim.

The proposition “the end justifies the means” is indeed, as a general statement, intolerable – but so is, as a general statement, its negation. In radical political practice, the end belongs to a world different from and contrary to the established universe of discourse and behaviour. But the means belong to the latter and are judged by the latter on its own terms - the very terms which the end invalidates. For example, assuming an action aims at stopping crimes against humanity committed in the professed national interest; and the means to attain this goal are acts of organized civil disobedience. In accord with established law and order not the crimes but the attempt to stop them is condemned and punished as a crime; thus it is judged by the very standards which the action indicts. The existing society defines the transcending action on its, society’s, own terms – a self-validating procedure, entirely legitimate, even necessary for this society: one of the most effective rights of the Sovereign is the right to establish enforceable definitions of words.*

*“Nous contestons une culture qui donne la suprématie au langage parle. Ce langage élabore par la classe bourgeoise est un signe d'appartenance a cette classe. Mais ce langage qui est le fait d'une minorité d'individus s'impose a tous comme le seul mode de communication valable; . . Le langage n'est pas seulement un moyen de communication, c'est aussi et surtout un mode d'appréhension de la réalité, celui tout formel et tout intellectuel que peut se permettre une classe détache par ses privilèges économiques des conflits et des contradictions de la vie sociale”: (Extrait de Alajuscule, organe de liaison de la faculté de Lyon, 29 mai 1968. Quelle universite? Quelle société?, loc. cit., pp. 45-46.)

Political linguistics: armour of the Establishment. If the radical opposition develops its own language, it protests spontaneously, subconsciously, against one of the most effective “secret weapons” of domination and defamation. The language of the prevailing Law and Order, validated by the courts and by the police, is not only the voice but also the deed of suppression* This language not only defines and condemns the Enemy, it also creates him; and this creation is not the Enemy as he really is but rather as he must be in order to perform his function for the Establishment. The end now does justify the means: actions cease to be crimes if they serve to preserve and extend the “Free World.” Conversely, what the Enemy does, is evil; what he says – propaganda. This a priori linguistic defamation hits first the Enemy abroad: the defence of his own land, his own hut, his own naked life is a crime, the supreme crime which deserves the supreme punishment. Long before the special and not-so-special forces are physically trained to kill, burn, and interrogate, their minds and bodies are already desensitized to see and hear and smell in the Other not a human being but a beast – a beast however, which is subject to all-out punishment. The linguistic pattern constantly repeats itself: In Vietnam, “typical criminal communist violence” is perpetrated against American “strategic operations”; the Reds have the impertinence to “launch a sneak attack” (presumably they are supposed to announce it beforehand and to deploy in the open); they are “evading a death trap” (presumably they should have stayed in). The Viet Cong attack American barracks “in the dead of night” and kill American boys (presumably, Americans only attack in broad daylight, don’t disturb the sleep of the enemy, and don’t kill Vietnamese boys). The massacre of hundreds of thousands of communists (in Indonesia) is called “impressive” – a comparable “killing rate” suffered by the other side would hardly have been honoured with such an adjective. To the Chinese, the presence of American troops in East Asia is a threat to their “ideology,” while presumably the presence of Chinese troops in Central or South America would be a real, and not only an ideological, threat to the United States.

* Awareness of this fact and its implications is rarely found in the respectable press. An amazing exception is an article by David S. Broder in The Los Angeles Times of October 1, 1968. It contains the following passages:

The systematic stripping of meaning and substance from words is a form of subversion not covered by statute. Nor are politicians the only guilty parties. A nation that had grown accustomed to hearing reports of heavy fighting in the “demilitarized zone” or of persons being injured in a “non-violent demonstration” was already well on its way to losing a grip on its sanity.

Rhetorical excesses are accepted as part of any campaign, but this year the candidates have been exceptionally profligate in wasting the resources of the language. The words “law” and “order,” and “peace,” for example, are fundamental to the vocabulary of citizens of a free country. Yet the meaning has been drained from these words as higher charges of emotion have been added. . .

But the American experiment in self-government was launched in a society where certain abstract concepts were well-understood. If they had not been part of every man’s vocabulary, the system of self-government could never have been attempted.

Jefferson could expect to be understood when he wrote: “We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

The concepts in that statement cannot be visualized; they must be defined.

And when words lose their meaning, when the medium overwhelms the message, a system of government like ours may no longer be operable.

This linguistic universe, which incorporates the Enemy (as Untermensch) into the routine of everyday speech, can be transcended only in action. For violence is built into the very structure of this society: as the accumulated aggressiveness which drives the business of life in all branches of corporate capitalism, as the legal aggression on the highways, and as the national aggression abroad which seems to become more brutal the more it takes as its victims the wretched of the earth – those who have not yet been civilized by the capital of the Free World. In the mobilization of this aggressiveness, ancient psychical forces are activated to serve the economic-political needs of the system: the Enemy are those who are unclean, infested; they are animals rather than humans; they are contagious (the domino theory!) and threaten the clean, anaesthetized, healthy free world.They must be liquidated, smoked out, and burned out like venom; their infested jungles too must be burned out and cleared for freedom and democracy. The Enemy already has its “fifth column” inside the clean world: the Commies and the Hippies and their like with the long hair and the beards and the dirty pants – those who are promiscuous and take liberties which are denied to the clean and orderly who remain clean and orderly even when they kill and bomb and burn. Never perhaps since the Middle Ages has accumulated repression erupted on such global scale in organized aggression against those outside the repressive system – “outsiders” within and without.

* See “The Americans in Vietnam” (anonymous) in Alternatives, University of California, San Diego, Fall 1966; originally published in German in Das Argument, No. 36, Berlin, 1966; in French in Les Temps Modernes, January 1966.

In the face of the scope and intensity of this sanctioned aggression, the traditional distinction between legitimate and illegitimate violence becomes questionable. If legitimate violence includes, in the daily routine of “pacification” and “liberation,” wholesale burning, poisoning, bombing, the actions of the radical opposition, no matter how illegitimate, can hardly be called by the same name: violence. Can there be any meaningful comparison, in magnitude and criminality, between the unlawful acts committed by the rebels in the ghettos, on the campuses, on the city streets on the one side, and the deeds perpetrated by the forces of order in Vietnam, in Bolivia, in Indonesia, in Guatemala, on the other? Can one meaningfully call it an offense when demonstrators disrupt the business of the university, the draft board, the supermarket, the flow of traffic, to protest against the far more efficient disruption of the business of life of untold numbers of human beings by the armed forces of law and order? Here too, the brute reality requires a redefinition of terms: the established vocabulary discriminates a priori against the opposition it protects the Establishment.

“Law and Order”: these words have always had an ominous sound; the entire necessity and the entire horror of legitimate force are condensed, and sanctioned, in this phrase. There can be no human association without law and order, enforceable law and order, but there are degrees of good and evil in human associations – measured in terms of the legitimate, organized violence required to protect the established society against the poor, the oppressed, and the insane: the victims of its well-being. Over and above their legitimacy in constitutional terms, the extent to which established law and order can legitimately demand (and command) obedience and compliance largely depends (or ought to depend) on the extent to which this law and this order obey and comply with their own standards and values. These may first be ideological (like the ideas of liberty, equality, fraternity advanced by the revolutionary bourgeoisie), but the ideology can become a material political force in the armour of the opposition as these values are betrayed, compromised, denied in the social reality. Then the betrayed promises are, as it were, “taken over” by the opposition and with them the claim for legitimacy. In this situation, law and order become something to be established as against the established law and order: the existing society has become illegitimate, unlawful: it has invalidated its own law. Such has been the dynamic of the historical revolutions; it is hard to see how it can be arrested indefinitely. 


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