I’m a big fan of peaceful protest. I think it’s great. To achieve your aims by uniting your tribe and showing that you have the strength and the will to oppose your enemies or oppressors as a united front is the ultimate victory. In the context of civilized society, enforcing desirable change by utilizing the democratic process of the street without having to spill any blood is a pretty good deal. But peaceful protest without the implication of violence is useless. I’ll repeat that, because I think it sums up this essay nicely. Peaceful protest, without the implied consequence of violent assertion attached to it, is useless and ineffective.
Over the course of the last few years we have seen increasing levels of civil unrest and outright revolution occurring in the wake of revelations of political corruption and corporate hooliganism. From the deserts of Arabia to the polis of Greece, the birthplace of western civilization as we know it, crowds of angry citizens assert themselves against those who seek to bleed them dry and strip them of their power. Not all of these protests has been conducted with tact. Not every protestor is a revolutionary. Likewise, not every statesman and officer of law is an oppressor. But whether just or unjust, the foundation of the society we live in is the idea that the population of a state decide the future of the state. This means that power should belong to the people. But it doesn’t. You could argue that it hasn’t since the very early days of democracy in ancient Athens.
When the democratic process was first implemented in Athens, it was a revolutionary system. Until that point, states were largely either monarchic, oligarchic or aristocratic. The people were serfs, slaves to the will of the powerful and wealthy. But democracy made it so that any man (or rather, any freeborn male citizen) might be given some small measure of power over his future. Voting was a civic duty. If a man didn’t vote on Election Day, he would be dragged out of his home by force and brought to the polling area. He would be made to vote. Apathy and noncommittal to the machinery of state was not an option for a citizen of an early democracy. Once a year, citizens of Athens would vote on one politician to outlaw. This unfortunate statesman would be exiled from his polis, his city, for a period of ten years. This ensured that governing elites were held to account for their term of office, and also gave them motivation to work that little bit harder. Even beyond the sphere of officially sanctioned democratic exile, a failing politician might find himself lynched by angry mobs of disgruntled citizens who felt misrepresented. A man stepping into the arena of government had the eyes of the citizenry fixed upon him, scrutinizing his commitment to enacting the will of the majority. An ancient Athenian would surely have little trouble in organizing a number of his comrades to hold a politician to account on charges of corruption or bribery. They were determined not to return to the old abusive systems of monarchy and oligarchy, and as such, they held the issue of democracy to be deadly serious. But democracy has grown old and feeble, and we are not citizens of ancient Athens.
About this time last year, I told my younger brother with heavy heart that I thought that the people of my homeland had no fight left in them. I thought that they would take any amount of oppression and manipulation that was thrown at them with a typical Gaelic sense of humorous stoicism. But in the past few months I’ve been proven wrong. When I see my fellow countrymen, descendants of Celtic Tribesmen and Viking Conquerors, marching through the streets of our Cities in numbers of the many thousands, I must admit that it impresses me. I thought that the Irishmans appetite for suffering was insatiable. I thought that every instance of corruption and cronyism among our political aristocracy would have a blind eye turned to it. I was disillusioned and despondent with my people, and myself most of all. I was full of opinions and ideals but I was as much of a sheep as I thought the majority of Irishmen were. I displayed no initiative or leadership and I took no action. But as I said, in the past few months, much has changed.
The issues which finally woke the populace from subservient slumber are not the topic of this essay, rather I wish to deal with the effectiveness of the many protest methods which are being directed against the armed agents of the state. As I’ve stated in the my opening lines, peaceful protest is a lovely thing. But unfortunately, when I assess the attitude of many members of the resistance, I am always reminded of Oliver Twist.
Oliver Twist lives in a shithole workhouse where he is starved half to death and worked half to death by careless oppressors who make money from the sweat of his brow. One day it falls to him to face his oppressor, a huge and cruel man, and demand what he’s owed. He’s starving, and feels that he is at least deserving of a bit more gruel to satiate the pangs of hunger. He stands alone, in front of a crowd of terrified onlookers and says:
“Please, sir. I want some more.”
The mans reaction is as predictable as death. What Oliver should have done instead, is united those children under one banner, seized control of the work-house and slit that mans throat, or if he hadn’t got the stomach for a bit of blood, cast him out into the street as an exile. But the man was strong and Oliver came at him from a position of weakness and subservience, and he himself was exiled. Of course, Oliver Twist is a child and so we can’t run too far with that metaphor without becoming absurd, but I think it illustrates my point.
But I can already hear you cry out in indignation that:
“Violence has no place in civilized society!”
Except that violence is already an integral part of society, civilized or otherwise. In his essay “Violence Is Golden“, author Jack Donovan outlines how we have collectively handed over the authority to use aggressive force to the agents of the state. Every police officer is authorized to use violence against you if you don’t follow the law. This is the thread that holds the tapestry of society together. You can sleep at night secure in the knowledge that if some criminal tries to enter your house and do violent things to you, you can call an armed band of state sponsored strong-men to do violence to that criminal, in your name. If you pay taxes, you pay men and women to enforce Order through the use of violence, when it’s necessary. People are quite content with this deal, until they are on the receiving end of it. Until the state gets the impression that the control of Violence has passed over into the hands of the people. In which case, you find yourself on the receiving end of state-sanctioned violence. Your politicians want to maintain a monopoly on the use of force. Put it to the test. Steal a car. Or to make it even easier, don’t pay a tax. You’ll be commanded to pay up. Ignore that order. It might not happen immediately, but eventually the police will come to question you. Refuse to comply. They will grab you and handcuff you. Resist. They’ll give you the club, or the pepper spray, or the boot, or the fist, or the bullet. Even if the police don’t become violent themselves, you could find yourself in prison, stripped of your liberty, surrounded by potentially violent men. The threat of violence is what prevents the civilization from degenerating into chaos. If the laws weren’t backed by the threat of violent force, they would just be suggestions, and nobody would be obliged to obey them.
The problem arises when the heads of state are revealed to be corrupt. When the members of government reveal themselves to be at best, incompetent or at worst, traitorous,then the time for revolution is at hand. Non-violent protest is the place to start. Organizing, demonstrating, marching, protesting. These things have proven effective in the past. But their effectiveness is limited. The heads of state should be afraid when the will of the people turns against them. When your politicians live in fear of you, thats when you know that you hold some power over them. We do not answer to them, they govern in our name because we have granted them temporary authority to do so. When they reveal themselves as snakes, they should be treated like snakes. But if they merely sit in their palaces and laugh at you. What then? Do you just keep marching? Do you just repeat “Please can I have some more?” until you lose the momentum and the will to resist? When we realize that peaceful protest is being ignored, we are being asked how far we are willing to go. As Jack Donovan says: Violence is the answer to the question “Or else what?” If peaceful protest is not backed by the threat of disruption and potential revolution, it is nothing but a mob of beggars. If you are passionate enough to take to the street and demand something from the state, you must be willing to fight against the state if your demands are refused. Otherwise all you’ve done, like Oliver Twist, is asked for more.
I am not advocating members of the various protest movements to wash their hands in the blood of the nearest politician. There is a scale of violence which ranges from the mere implication of it, to the actual committing of it. The mere whisper of resistance is often enough to turn the tide. Violence should not be the first resort. The hammer should not be the only tool in your box. At any given protest, you will see members of the police force. Some of them are armed, wether it be pepper spray, batons, pistols or semi-automatic rifles. When a line of police faces a group of protestors, it is a show of force. They are there to convey the impression that violence will be used to enforce order and quell any disruption. They are showing you the axe, even if they never have to swing the axe. This is an unequal distribution of control over violence. We have witnessed innumerable cases of excessive force being used by members of police. They have a damn difficult job to do out there on the front lines, the thin blue line between order and the wilds, and we cannot expect them to behave as paradigms of virtue and justice at every instance. However, as is the case with any group of people, some of them just want to hurt somebody. If the crowd is so intimidated by this show of force that they become pliable and afraid of being attacked, they are coming from a position of weakness and will only be met with derision and contempt by the agents of the state.
And the question to which violence is the last answer is “Or else what?” When you protest you are making a demand. When they ignore you, they are asking “Or else what?” Violent revolution is what. Only ninety years ago, our ancestors fought a war on home soil to seize the right to govern our fate as a people. When their entreaties fell on deaf ears, they took matters into their own hands. Collins did not ask the agents of the mighty British Empire to grant us sovereign control of our homeland. He shot them.
This essay is not a call to arms. Not yet. But it is my hope that, should the call ever be made, the descendants of Collins and Pearse and Wolfe Tone would be prepared to make the sacrifice and resist with more than just their voices. We live in a troubled age, an age of corruption and betrayal where people across the planet are being sold into a mild form of slavery for the sake of the powerful elitist aristocrats. If you are content in your chains, then silence and the capacity for suffering is your ally. You are a camel, a beast of burden. Long may you carry the load so that others may live at ease. But the life of a camel is mean, short and brutish. The purpose of this post is not to advocate the use of violence as a means of civil disobedience. I only intend to highlight the fact that protest will lead to nothing when it presents itself only as a supplicant, as though the will of the population is a trifle to be ridiculed and ignored.
Whether you like it or not, the violence is out there. If you don’t establish a relationship with the violence which binds our society together, you may find yourself on the receiving end of violent action. I urge you to search your heart and decide with surety on where you stand. Decide what course of action do you support in the governing of your nation. If revolution is your desire, make a revolutionary of yourself. If you choose to defend the current status quo instead, then become a champion of the establishment. There is far too much apathy out there, and the fences groan beneath the weight of the noncommittal crowds which sit upon them. Commit yourself to achieving your ends and do not falter or cry out when you are faced with forceful resistance. Take action, stay the course, walk the path and be prepared to fight, if necessary, to achieve your goals.
Jan 5th. 2015. Dublin.