Rat's Nest
Bloggage, rants, and occasional notes of despair

Power to the Black Bloc

Brendan Miniter asks, "Why Doesn't Johnny Vote?". Although he gets the proximate cause correct -- social studies classes suck, and have for decades -- I believe that he's not altogether right on the causes behind the causes -- the meta-causes, so to speak.

Direct action -- which leftist political theorists have taught, and leftist political theorists have put into practice, for decades -- is profoundly anti-democratic and anti-liberal. Democracy and liberalism are often confused in the popular mind, but it is not necessary that a democratic regime be liberal, or a liberal regime be democratic.

Democracy is best defined as governance by the popular will, whether that will be expressed directly through referenda, plebiscites, or an Athenian-cum-town meeting type of constitutional arrangement, or indirectly, through delegates that (presumably, hopefully) make decisions according to that will. Note that there is nothing said about rights here; the "Jim Crow" laws of Dixie in the early 19th century were democratic; they reflected the will of the majority -- Southern whites. That they oppressed, to an intolerable extent, a minority -- Southern blacks -- is not at variance with democratic theory. Libertarians like to say that democracy is three wolves and a sheep voting on the dinner menu, and they are quite right about that. Although classical Athens was not "democratic" as we would understand the term (Greek demokrateia was conceived of as "one man, one vote", it was "one sword, one vote"; the quarrel with oligarchs was over who should be allowed to wield swords), it nonetheless carried this democratic practice to an extreme. Athenian citizens were quite willing to condemn any one of their number, at any time, for any case, including not liking the cut of his khiton. The condemned had no recourse, even in theory.

Liberalism (and of course I speak of real liberalism, not of FDR's personality-cult-driven pragmatic fascism) is almost the opposite of this: the recognition of the pre-existing rights of the individual and, in consequence, areas into which the state may not intrude. A liberal regime need not, in theory, be democratic (although the minority seems quite as willing to dispense with the rights of the majority as vice versa), and, in 19th century Europe, there were some notable liberal-oligarchic regimes.

Direct action, on the other hand, is theocratic in nature. The activist, assured that he alone possesses The Truthâ„¢ (and that others share in his gnosis only to the extent that they agree with him), is invited to dispense with the democratic process as merely representing institutional ignorance. To the left, no theory of rights that precludes his concern from being enforced by the government can be tolerated; all rights must be swept aside in his efforts to save the children, or the whales, or whatever his cause might be.

Democracy and liberalism are both modern ideas -- "modern" in the Spenglerian sense. Direct action is a post-modern notion. Democracy, however imperfectly implemented, is the Athenian ekklesia, the Roman comitia, the U.S. Congress. Liberalism is the Bill of Rights. Direct action is the circus mob.

Of course, we should remember that Justinian had the Nika Riots --the last outcry of the circus mob -- suppressed by the deaths of 30,000 rioters. This is unlikely to be the intent of the direct action theorists. One thing that they cannot comprehend, however, is that there other people, who have other intentions, and that those people and their intentions might prevail. Direct action can sweep away everything in its path -- or itself be swept away. Only democrats can compromise, and only liberals can agree that some areas are off-limits to political discourse.

John "Akatsukami" Braue Tuesday, September 30, 2003