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The Insurgency, Part II

Via-The Right Network

(Part 1)
The Road Ahead

by Michael J. Lotus

Before we go forward, it's worth taking a look at how we got here.

3. Lessons from History for the Insurgency

Mass political movements have come along several times in American history. Some have transformed the country, and others have fizzled out.

The movement that elected Andrew Jackson, against the vicious opposition of the existing establishment, swept through all levels of American government, rewriting state constitutions and extending the franchise to all adult White males. Jacksonian democracy caused a permanent and irreversible change in American life.

The Populist movement looked like it would have a similar impact. Led by the charismatic outsider William Jennings Bryan, this movement held gigantic rallies and seemed like a revolution in the making. It provoked fear and a hostile response from the establishment of its day, in both political parties. Yet the Populists ultimately failed to make a significant impact on national policy, and were absorbed into the Democratic Party.

Today’s Insurgency could go either way. Success is not inevitable.

A more recent example, which provides some guidance for the Insurgency, is the Anti-War movement from the Vietnam era. Whether you believe the Anti-War movement was a good thing or a bad thing, it undeniably had a massive impact on American life and politics. The original Anti-War movement arose from growing outrage over tens of thousands of young Americans, mostly draftees, being killed and wounded in the Vietnam War. In its early stages, the opposition led to a Constitutional amendment that lowered the voting age nationwide to 18—draft age. The Anti-War movement was also part of the reason the U.S. ultimately withdrew its military forces from Vietnam. But the biggest impact of the Anti-War movement was ending the military draft. This was a major, permanent, and probably irreversible success for the Movement.

Many of the Anti-War protesters were “far out”—part of a subculture that was initially dismissed as longhaired and freakish by mainstream voters. It took a while for the movement to have a real political impact. As conditions worsened, more people listened. The basic message, over time, came to command a majority of voters. The public turned against the war, and the public supported ending the draft. Notably, while the main political home for the Anti-War movement was on the Democrat side, it was Republican President Nixon who seized the political opportunity to end the unpopular draft.

The Anti-War movement helped to elect a generation of Democrat politicians who permanently changed the course of their party. The Anti-War movement was not a top-down organization, but a loose confederation of like-minded people and groups. The connections and experience from the Anti-War movement created a permanent community of activists who could be mobilized for other causes, such as opposition to the Iraq War, four decades later. People who were intellectually and politically formed in the Anti-War movement went on to have a large impact on American culture and politics for decades after its initial goals were accomplished.

There are important lessons for the Insurgency from the Vietnam-era Anti-War movement:

1) Take advantage of troubled times to push major reforms through; these reforms will take some issues off the table forever.

2) Select concrete goals that will be acceptable to a large number of people. Advocate those goals, and stay focused on them.

3) Turn enthusiasm into political power by picking one political party as the primary vehicle--then take that party over, and change it from within.

4) Do not become completely incorporated into either party. Rather, try to influence both of them by changing the terms of the political debate: Move the center permanently.

5) Keep the movement decentralized and adaptive, and responsive to opportunities.

6) Don’t worry when the first round of self-selected, enthusiastic amateurs do not always put the best face on the movement; their energy and commitment are priceless. Competent leaders and electable candidates will emerge over time.

7) Build experience and connections and solidarity. Then, when the initial round of reform is accomplished, the movement can focus on further goals.

The United States has had experience with mass political movements in the past. We can learn lessons from all of them--including the Abolitionist movement, the Progressive movement, and the Civil Rights movement.

Mass political movements, when they are effective, generally signal the end of politics as usual. They mobilize citizens who would not ordinarily get involved in politics. Mass political movements are a self-corrective mechanism in our democracy. History shows that mass movements such as the Insurgency are the natural way for Americans to impose reform on themselves. They are the legitimate response to major failures in how we govern ourselves.

When the American political and economic system suffers a serious failure, we can no longer avoid taking a hard look at ourselves. We have to make fundamental decisions about what kind of country we want America to be. At such moments, people perceive that their basic values are being contested, and those who have a stake in the current system are, reasonably enough, afraid of change. People who see the urgent need for change resent the obstruction. Political rhetoric becomes heated, because a lot is at stake. This is also normal, as history shows.

The United States is now in the midst of a political and economic crisis. Our basic institutions are failing before our eyes; we are on the cusp of major changes. The leviathan state is in its final years of life. It will either be eliminated in an equitable and coherent fashion and replaced by institutions that work, or its defenders will prop it up with one “emergency” measure after another, until it falls catastrophically. Either way, the end of the political and economic world we have long known is unavoidable. It is not a question of “if,” but rather one of “when” and “how.”

My prediction is that we are in for a rough ride, but a happy outcome. The country is making a course correction, reinventing itself. No one else can do this like Americans can, once they decide it has to be done. We are carrying out a once-in-a-century creative destruction of our whole politico-economic structure, and we are going to leave the rest of the world gasping in amazement. These are exciting times, and we are lucky to be here for them.

The appearance of the Insurgency is right on schedule.

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