19A046 Seven Stages of Protest by Jim Davies, 11/12/2019    


Patrick Buchanan shares several Conservative faults, but I have a huge respect for his perceptions of history and most of his current-affairs commentaries. His insights are remarkable - see for example Buchanan's War. And last month, he came up with another brilliant one, about the effect of protests.

His LRC article is here, in which he considers recent protest movements in Chile, Hong Kong, Paris, Lebanon and Spain. They all have these in common:

  • Some aspect of freedom is threatened, or already withdrawn, and crowds turn out to march peacefully in protest
  • The protesters attract widespread popular support
  • Government does nothing, except to harass the crowds with its police, using for example water cannon and tear gas
  • Frustrated after many weeks of inaction, the protesters get violent, destroying private property
  • The popular support evaporates
  • Government cracks down more harshly
  • The protest fizzles and the freedoms are canceled, as planned

Such is the arrogance of the governing class; it does nothing in response, except to wait for the protest to collapse. It knows best, and does what it wants. Brewing currently in Britain is the possibility of violence about the repeated refusal of Parliament to enact the clearly expressed popular will to leave the EU; that governing body has delayed it again and again so as to deny it, and another deadline (of October 31st, promised emphatically by Prime Minister Johnson, who did his utmost) has passed with yet another contrived delay. If violence does erupt, Parliament will wait it out, for years if necessary.

Now, sometimes in history the final, 7th stage above takes a different course; the protest doesn't fizzle out but becomes a full-fledged violent revolution that does overthrow the current régime - and replaces it with a new one; rinse and repeat. But not, or not yet, in these five cases Buchanan considers; and even if one does, in the long term nothing will change, because the nature of government will not change. Government is about ruling, period.

In his article, Buchanan deplores this stubborn refusal to listen to protest and change policy, but only because he sees in it a danger to democracy; and he may well be right. But here on ZGB, democracy is not the ideal: freedom is, and the two are very different. Our wish is not that government change its policy or improve the degree of liberty it allows; rather, we want it to disappear altogether and stuff those lists of allowances where they belong.

There is a couple of other things to be drawn from his observations, though.

First, protests are often not made after the specific freedom has been ended, as is the case in China. The Hong Kong fear is that its legal system based on English common law and in some cases with jury participation, will be taken over by the PRC system of decrees, which is harsher; hence, they do not want an extradition treaty with China. The mainland Chinese, however, have never known anything better, and are not protesting. This is ominous; once Stage 7 has been passed, the goose is more or less cooked.

Second, it's a strong signal to us that protests don't work, whether peaceful or violent. The power of government is such that they are a waste of time, money and sometimes blood. A government will fall only when (a) defeated by force wielded by some other, stronger government or (b) when its employees walk off the job.

Buchanan doesn't acknowledge this second lesson. Too bad; he should. The only ways to slay this dragon are to use force (which we reject) or to deprive it of support. De la Boëtie said that nearly five centuries ago. It's high time to listen.

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