Dissolution Theory: Locke, Hobbes, and the “Great Freedom War”

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One of the great frustrations about slowly seeing political freedom spread across the globe, besides the well-documented pattern of all the bad guys cooperating no matter what their supposed ideology, is that the freedoms we take for granted are all predicated upon an acceptance of Locke:

  1. People have god-given rights.
  2. Government is a willing contract entered into by people.

This is in stark contrast to the Hobbesian model:

  1. Individual people look out for their own interests; this creates an anarchic and violent environment.
  2. Individuals with great power create a sphere of authority based upon that power (thus, in the process, guaranteeing stability and a certain degree of safety to those without power).

Take a look at the Russians, for example.  Classic Hobbesian model.  Social stability is openly predicated upon the strong exerting their power.  Anybody standing up for the Lockean model simply gets assassinated.  Why?  Because the siloviki have the power, and they don’t want to relinquish that power (rightly assuming that other factions will then seize power, and use it to crush them).

We can see this at work in the world today.  The strongmen of Myanmar are beating monks to death in their cells and leaving them floating face-down in rivers… because they know that as soon as they give up power, they’re dog meat.  (And the Chinese who control big chunks of the economy aren’t about to bail them out.)  Similarly, the Tianenmen Squre massacre was inevitable as soon as the PLA generals assumed that house-arrest was the best result for which they could hope in the case of a true democratic revolution.


If the wave of “colored revolutions” is to have any meaningful value in parts of the world in which there are immense gradations of power, some mechanism must be put into play that would convince those who have power that it is in their interests to look after the benefit of their citizens/subjects, and to allow the power of those individuals to grow relative to their own.  Otherwise, common sense dictates that they will act in what they see as rational self-defense… and we’ll see more assassinated Russian journalists and face-down monks in rivers.  And they can’t simply be bromides, either:  individuals who wield power and who don’t particularly care about the people they govern (fn1) are not going to allow themselves to be diminished unless they actually see real profit and benefit to themselves from the exchange.  The trick is, of course, to find an offer that works in any given scenario(fn2).

Fn1 Sound like your typical congress-critter?

Fn2 This could be anything from a “get out of jail free” card to a “we’ll buy you and your faction out for USD $2b and a riviera chateau.”

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17 Comments

  1. Alex

     /  October 10, 2007

    fn1 sounds like not just congress, but the executive branch as well.

    But what makes you think that the Hobbesian isn’t be used here in the US? While the current government does not use force to hold its populace down, it instead uses economics, the courts, “state secrets”, DMCA notices, and all other sorts of tactics to achieve the same thing. You can say whatever you want to, you can scream bloody murder and even insult those in power without being hurt, but you don’t really have any influence on the current state of affairs or on what those in power actually do in your name.

    Reply
  2. Give that man a cigar — lack of retirement plan is THE problem, IMHO, for abating tyranny. In what you edjamacated folks are calling a Hobbsian model, the new tyrants are free to take any manner of revenge on the old apparatus — not good. As much as I loathe the things, this’s the genius of the way that South Africa handled their revolution the T&R committee may have been flawed, but no-one had to go up against the wall.

    The only problem I see w/ the retirement buy-out you mention is it doesn’t do much to establish the habits of civil society upon which a democracy rests.

    Reply
  3. You mean “abetting?”

    On the one hand, some cynicism is justified. On the other, power and money *do not* simply equate to raw political power. Remember the Forbes presidency? Those two terms of Perot? Or how Soros was able to use his billions to alter who was elected President?

    Nope: they tried, but they failed… which is not to say that economic means don’t often scream “control the little people” once you read into the fine details.

    Reply
  4. Alex

     /  October 10, 2007

    “lack of retirement plan is THE problem, IMHO, for abating tyranny.”

    I guess some of us forgot the Virginia State Motto. So in regards to fn2 – Tyrants DO NOT deserve a buyout. They instead deserve to be dead at our feet. Of course, those willing to step up and try to bring down the tyrant had best be willing to die for the cause and have many hundreds to back them up when they fail.

    Reply
  5. That’s all well and good when you’ve got guns, Alex. Now, what do you do when you physically don’t have enough power to overthrow said tyrant? No amount of individual unarmed bravery defeats a helicopter gunship.

    Reply
  6. Passive resistance?

    Reply
  7. Only good if they’re not willing to shoot you. It’s a contest of wills. Milosevic couldn’t get his men to shoot the Serbs. So they started the “colored” revolutions. Solidarity yanked the teeth out of the Soviet Bear by demonstrating to the world that the Russians weren’t willing to gun down Polish longshoremen en masse.

    Gandhi wouldn’t have lasted ten fucking minutes up in front of the Nazis.

    And now the game’s advanced, and they’ve realized they don’t have to: they just assassinate the journalists, exile anybody who shows signs of disloyalty, and jail anybody who might be a rival for power.

    So, once you’ve got a bunch of folks who’ve got that far over, and who have international backers (as the junta in Myanmar do amongst the Chinese), what are your options, if you’re not willing to engage in an Iraq-style invasion? I’ve got a soft spot for Kipling, but I think the average American’s response to “White Man’s Burden” lately is “fuck those people.”

    We need more options. I’m all for bringing a bunch of black-hearted scum to justice… unless it’s at the price of mercy for the people they’re tyrannizing. With a lack of other options, to free a million, I”ll buy out a hundred. *Everybody* has their blonde in a ferrari… seems to me the trick is figuring out what the levers are and how to apply them.

    Reply
  8. To me, it’s simply a matter of will. To take the Ghandi and the Nazi’s example – if a majority of people are willing to die for their freedom then it will work. The more they kill – the more likely that somebody’s Mother is going to die. The more likely that they will starve. When the majority stops working, producing, and caring – then the rebellion begins to win.

    Leaders must be willing to do a Via Dolorosa, time after time. Not many people are that willing, agreed.

    Reply
  9. Alex

     /  October 11, 2007

    History has shown again and again that one very dedicated and motivated individual can, and will, take out a tyrant if the opportunity presents itself and the person has the right stuff to pull it off. So you don’t need to resist a gunship, you need to cut off the head of the snake that is strangling you.
    Of course to counter my own argument, it is very easy for one person who removes the tyrant to in effect become the new tyrant, so I’ll admit that justice through forced removal of tyrants will not always lead to true freedom. But if you really want a lever to make life difficult for a tyrant such that they abdicate it can be done without buying them out and giving them a cushy life as reward for their crimes.

    Reply
  10. Alex, I’d like a historical example where an individual (not somebody with his or her own power base) takes out a tyrant. It ain’t impossible, but I think your assessment paints it as much too easy…

    Reply
  11. Mike

     /  October 11, 2007

    THere are no examples I know of for that case. In each case that might come close, they had an organization supporting them or were a front man with a great PR section.

    It makes for great novels, but that is an historic non-starter.

    As for a group that is willing to keep shooting until things didn’t get done. I hate to say it, but there are several examples. The Nazis in Poland were one, they honestly didn’t care how many they killed, once they were all dead then in a couple of generations the Germans could move in and if things sat idle until then oh well. Zimbawe today is a great example. THe nutcase incharge ran off everyone who could farm and in less than 5 years made a country that was a major food exporter into one of the top 5 food importers in Africa. But he is still in power and no revolution in sight.

    One other thing about Burma, it is an all volunteer military. Everyone in it joined and there is a huge waiting list for enlisting. So any invasion (which is what is going to have to happen to get them out) won’t be facing rabble like the Iraqi Army or the Taliban militia. These guys are pretty good according to the Thais.

    Reply
  12. Alex

     /  October 11, 2007

    Looks like my post examples got lost in the internet somewhere.
    I’ll concede that in the cases of well-defined tyrants that the assassination attempts achieved were planned and were group actions (both failed and successful): Caesar and Hitler are good examples of this.
    For examples of people being taken out by one very motivated individual, they do exist:
    Lincoln
    Henry IV (France, 15th century)
    Franz Ferdinand
    Yitzhak Rabin
    And many others. Now I’m not saying that these people are true tyrants, but they were in the mind of the person who really wanted to take them out, and they succeeded. I’ll further concede that those who were successful in these regards may have been a bit insane, but they still pulled it off.
    I still say that no tyrant deserves a golden parachute as a way to relieve the suffering of his people though, and I further admit that when you remove one tyrant by force it becomes very easy to become the tyrant you killed.

    Reply
  13. HC: “Gandhi wouldn’t have lasted ten fucking minutes up in front of the Nazis.”

    There is an interesting historical anecdote on this. In the mid-30s, Hitler had a meeting with the British foreign secretary Lord Halifax. When the subject of India came up, Hitler recommended to Halifax that Gandhi be shot. Halifax’s reticence to do so was one of the key moments which made Hitler think that the British had no backbone.

    Reply
  14. Mike

     /  October 12, 2007

    While I’ll agree on Lincoln and Henry IV, the guys who nailed both Rabin and Ferdinand were part of an organization that provided equipment, money and intel to the triggermen. Yeah one guy did the deed, but to get that deed done they had plenty of help.

    Reply
  15. Alex

     /  October 12, 2007

    Mike – thanks for the clarification on Rabin and Ferdinand. I had always thought those were independent, especially the Rabin one.

    Reply
  16. In addition, the assassination of Lincoln was a political failure. It did *not* restore slavery — if anything, it convinced the Republicans in office to become even more punitive towards the south.

    Reply
  17. Mike

     /  October 12, 2007

    True. And if you want to be technical, Booth didn’t act alone. He had co-conspriators who did stage other attempts on government officals. People rarely never act in a vacuum. Even suicide bombers overseas have support (bombbuilders, financers, scouts, etc.).

    Behind every hero or villain who tries to change the world, there is always support from one form or another.

    Reply

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