Justifying the Justifiable: An Argument for Legitimate Revolt

By Mike McGlothlin mmcgloth@yahoo.com

Violence in the name of freedom has both plagued and liberated mankind throughout history and continues to do so.  The correct dividing line between legitimate violence for freedom and the false use of violence—for whatever other purpose—has never been recognized universally.  And yet it is incorrect to think that such a bright line cannot be established.  Many of the most profound thinkers of political philosophy have explored this issue, and formulated general concepts about when and if violence as legitimate revolt is justified against a political regime.  What is needed is a dialogue to explore the question and to arrive at what might be accepted as a general proposition for legitimate revolt that could form a theoretical basis for such a bright dividing line. This proposition could then be tested through the experience of history.  Political philosophy, backed by historical example, can provide the baseline for such a general proposition.  Correct historical facts are the meat on the bones of such a proposition.


The general question of violence as an ethical norm is not the question at hand.  It assumed as a humanistic ethical standard that violence, purely as an ethical quality, cannot stand on its own feet.  Violence can only be justified—not valued—as essential in a world where universal humanistic ethical norms are neither agreed to nor obeyed.  If it were the case that universal humanistic ethical norms were both agreed to and obeyed, then violence itself could be eliminated.  Sadly, this is not the case and not likely to become the case anytime soon, for many reasons.  Some of those reasons are buried in other humanistic ethical norms, such as free speech, and freedom of conscience, but more critically, the inability of those who Will-To-Power to compromise their egos and desires.  Consequently, this essay excludes discussing either individual violence or the violence between international states and entities.  The narrow question focused on is delineating a bright line that separates legitimate violent revolt from rebellion and mere criminal violence against the ruling political order.


Philosophy continues the long argument over the valued ends of politics.  The proper boundaries ebb and flow; yet in spite of all the vagaries and contrary assertions, politics does aim at some ends.  Without entering that maelstrom, certain general ends of politics can be described.  The classical philosophical notion of “the Good” can be claimed as a political end.  The Good can be said to partly consist of truth, justice, freedom, and peace.  The U.S. Constitution states that the political ends at which it aims are a more perfect union, justice, peace, defense, the general welfare, and freedom.  In these words, and others, are apparent the general political ends that most people can and do identify with.


The opposite of the Good would be political ends that are evil.  Truth becomes lies, justice becomes injustice, freedom becomes slavery, and peace becomes war.  Theologian and liberal intellectual Reinhold Niebuhr described evil itself, in The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness as being the belief that there is “no law beyond the self.”[1]  This is in fact, the most basic quality of evil.  What is not often realized is that almost everyone claims the Good as their political ends, even when they are up to their eyeballs in the blood of innocents.  The difficulty comes in separating the facts from the claims. 


Measures of the soundness of the argument for legitimate violence are the means and the ends for which violence is adopted.  These ends are frequently confused through the efforts of those who adopt evil means, the mentality of expediency, commonly expressed as a sort of Machiavellian “ends justifies the means” narrow minded sagacity.[2]  Ethically advanced civilizations have with good reason rejected this so-called “necessity” argument in the context of revolution since it is so often a false one.  A minority cannot rule a violently opposed majority; it seems virtually impossible.  So despite the nominal acknowledgment of good ends, usually nebulously and euphemistically expressed, the proponents of expediency in nominally liberal societies overlook the extreme danger of corrupting the means by which free people act to gain or maintain the Good ends of politics.  That means is the social contract through the rule of law.  “Freedom” gained at the top of a pyramid of skulls resulting from the expedient actions of illegitimate means sets the stage for the next iteration of mindless and transparently unjust violence.  This entrenched cult of expediency loses sight of the massive, real, and demonstrated power of collective action.  It was not the “realistic” top-down totalitarians of the twentieth century who won over messy democracy. Those anti-idealist cutthroats succumbed to their own faulty understanding of human nature, their ill-organized Will-To-Power, and their specious self-sanction.  Indeed, a strong argument can be made that these absolutist and intolerant worldviews are really the expression of the weak against strong and resilient civilizations based on just and mutually reinforcing political ends.  It is often the envy of the weak that demands that the tactics of the intolerant be adopted.  They may pay lip service to the ends of the Good, but they do not really believe in the manifest power of those ends.  And since this disturbed idea about the reality of human nature and its implications for political life are roiled about in the minds of even the most learned and experienced of people, a slight examination of ideology, also known as worldviews, can perhaps shed some light on the debate.


In politics specifically, and in life more generally, claims are often made that internal perspectives of the world are divided in half.  This dichotomy goes by many descriptions:  left vs. right, liberal vs. conservative, optimistic vs. pessimistic[3], secular vs. religious, idealistic vs. realistic, and so forth.  And while it is true that the above descriptions can and do overlap, it is assumed that most people hold fast to the two world view concept, generally because it can be predicted into which camp people are more likely to flock.  One half will most likely describe itself as predominantly rightist, conservative, pessimistic, religious, and realistic.  The other half will describe itself as predominantly leftist, liberal, optimistic, secular, and idealistic.


Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche described this dichotomy as two “moralities”[4], the submissive “slave morality”, which he identified closely with Christianity[5], and the domineering Will-to-Power “master morality”[6] which he identified with some assertive classical virtues[7], not the least of which was the unhesitant use of violence[8].  Nietzsche’s division fits the general parameters of the prevailing dichotomy and would name the side that is associated with “liberalism” the slave morality, and the side associated with “conservatism” the master morality.  Liberal philosopher Isaiah Berlin is attributed as describing the relationship to freedom of this dichotomous concept of the world in that: “freedom for the wolves means death to the sheep.”


And yet this prevalent concept of binomial division of worldviews is erroneous.  Despite the acknowledgement that worldview’s overlap, it is still assumed that on the spectrum there is some underlying principle that attracts one more than the other, maintaining the cohesive integrity of one side or the other of the either/or perspective.  This unexplained assumption fails to account for the inexplicable contradictions that exist, such as how Nietzsche’s master morality includes the religious (or more accurately, those claiming to be religious), both of yesteryear and today in the conservative category, and how the slave morality should be so willing to use violence to achieve its ends, such as under communism.  Perhaps such contradictions can be explained by the inexplicable nature of human nature, that there is no cohesive way to neatly categorize.  If that is correct, then overbroad formulations such as “slave” and “master” seem nearly useless, not to mention the bifurcated worldviews that prevails today.  The difficulty is that the prevalent either/or worldview dichotomy does not explain the world.


Freedom for the wolves does not mean death to the sheep, if a vigilant shepherd is overwatching them.  Rather than a bifurcated worldview, the world can better be explained by at least three worldviews.  Using Nietzsche’s existing lexicon of master and slave, (not because his philosophy is correct, but only because it provides an existing framework from which to depart), is added the term and worldview category of “freeman.”  So now rather than merely having the flogger and the flogged, there is another in a different relationship, that of equality.  The master can assert no power or authority over the freeman.  The freeman has qualities in common with both the slave and the master, but one critical difference sets him apart and it sets him apart from the master.  That quality is equality.  The freeman has become free only through rational cooperation with others. This cooperation necessitates the rational understanding that if he expects personal freedom, then others expect personal freedom.  Whatever he would have respected for himself, he must respect in others.  Philosopher John Locke, the great Enlightenment empiricist philosopher explained that:


To understand political power right, and derive it from its original, we must consider what state all men are naturally in, and that is, a state of perfect freedom to order their actions, and dispose of their possessions, and persons as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of nature, without asking leave, or depending upon the will of any other man.

A state also of equality, wherein all the power and jurisdiction is reciprocal, no one having more than another (emphasis added)….[9]


By “right,” Locke means three things, understanding political power correctly, understanding political power justly, and understanding that the combination of both results in political power as authority.  Locke describes the state of nature as being ruled by:


…a law of nature to govern it, which obliges everyone: and reason,

which is that law, teaches all mankind, who will but consult it, that being equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions (emphasis added).[10]


It is here that sets out the distinct differentiation that separates worldviews: the use of reason rather than emotion or will.  And while it may be quite true that Locke’s philosophical descendent, Scottish empiricist philosopher David Hume noted that “reason is and ought to be, the slave of the emotions,”[11]  Hume does not, however, discount that reason exists or that it can serve the ends of sentiment.  The freeman observes and correctly understands the political ends of both the slave and master worldviews.  Through the use of reason, the freeman acknowledges that to adopt the master worldview is to turn his back on his own reason and indulge his most base lusts and indeed, blood lusts.  He would—like the master—become the perfect wolf in human form.  To adopt the slave worldview is also to reject his reason and to wish for a world that does not exist. At the same time, feeling the oppression of the slave, would lead the freeman to a hunger for power to revenge themselves on the masters, the wolves in human form.  The freeman, following reason, understands that both the slave and master deserve what the freeman enjoys, their own freedom, based upon reciprocal and mutual respect for political equality.


Nonetheless the implications for the two worldviews are very different.  If the slaves are given their freedom, they become liberated from their previous condition and can aspire to the superior regions where reason mediates.  The liberation of slaves necessarily discards the now superfluous master class, converting them merely into a free and equal relationship with both freemen and their former slaves.  Indeed, being a master would have no meaning without those to lord over. And since in virtually every case the majority has the capacity to subdue the minority, this makes reduction of the master class a necessity.  When all people are truly politically free, all people become in fact, politically equal.


The contrary and fearful view of the masters comes from the comprehension that the freedom of their slaves is an attempt to subjugate them, an attack on their status and Will-To-Power.  This is rightly interpreted as a restriction but is wrongly perceived as an intolerable condition.  No appeal can be made to reason, and none need be made, violence is their resort, their Will-To-Power is all the sanction the master’s worldview requires.  Attempts to reason with wolves will necessarily fail because the master’s worldview rejects reason; they fail to “consult it.”  If they consulted their reason, they would see the world, as the freemen and newly liberated slaves do, since it is not reasonable that many people many should suffer to exalt the few.  Locke explains it this way:


The state of war is a state of enmity and destruction; and therefore declaring by word or action, not a passionate and hasty, but a sedate settled design, upon another mans life, puts him in a state of war with him…it being reasonable and just I should have a right to destroy that which threatens me with destruction.  For this fundamental law of nature, man being to be preserved, as much as possible, when all cannot be preserved, the safety of the innocent is to be preferred: and one may destroy a man who makes war upon him, or has discovered an enmity to his being, for the same reason that he may kill a wolf or a lion; because such men are not under the common law of reason, have no other rule, but that of force and violence…it being understood as a declaration of a design upon his life.  For I have reason to conclude, that he who would get me into his power without my consent, would use me as he pleased, when he had got me there, and destroy me too when he had a fancy to it: for no body can desire to have me in his absolute power, unless it be to compel me by force to that, which is against the right of my freedom; i.e. make me a slave (emphasis added).[12]


In reality, there is no “slave morality” or worldview.  Slavery exists only as a necessary consequence of the actual realization of the master’s Will-To-Power worldview.  That master worldview suffices as an end-in-itself, individual will and emotional desire are unmediated by anything but naked and often clever power.  The master’s worldview makes no allowance for the ends of the political Good, ridicules the mediation that reason brings, and therefore rejects the understanding the equality and reciprocity can and do form the basis of mutually beneficial human relations and civilization itself.  Freedom is the worldview of the possible: the master and slave dichotomy is that of constant conflict and injustice. 


Political authority derives from two sources: power, or consent.  Locke convincingly argues that the only legitimate political authority people can be governed by is that which they consent to.  An attempt to subjugate a free people can be through violence or some other force, usually deception, which is the equivalent, and both attempts require resistance if free people are to remain free.  Under Locke’s philosophy, a government is formed by what Jean Jacques Rousseau would later call the social contract, and what Locke himself usually called a “compact.”[13]  Simply stated, “popular sovereignty” is the idea that the only legitimate political authority comes from those who consent to be governed.  They give up some individual freedoms to each other in order to establish a government in corporate form to obtain those ends they can only secure collectively.  The first of these ends is security of “lives, liberty, and estates,” which Locke folded into a single all inclusive term “property.”[14]  The overarching end of government was the “publick good.”[15]  As individuals, people are vulnerable. As a group, they are much stronger, and able to provide protection for each other.  The theoretical social contract is put into actual form by constitutions and laws as an acceptably just political structure.


Given an acceptably just political and legal structure—government—the desire to upend such a structure, would be, in Locke’s view, deadly:

…whoever, either ruler or subject, by force goes about to invade the rights of either prince or people, and lays the foundation for overturning the constitution and frame of any just government, is guilty of the greatest crime, I think, a man is capable of, to answer for all those mischiefs of blood, rapine, and desolation, which the breaking to pieces of governments bring on a country.[16]


An acceptably just government is compelled to fight against those who would destroy the concrete form of the social contract, the government.  Additionally, Locke notes the:


…power that every individual gave the society, when he entered into it, can never revert to the individuals as long as the society lasts, but will always remain in the community; because without this, there can be no community, no common-wealth, which is contrary to the original agreement: so also when the society hath placed the legislative in any assembly of men, to continue in them and their successors, with direction and authority for providing such successors, the legislative can never revert to the people whilst the government lasts:  because having provided a legislative with power to continue for ever, they have given up their political power to the legislative, and cannot resume it.[17]


In short, as long as an acceptably just and legitimate government exists, there can be no appeal to force to overturn it from within the society.


Cruel history shows that it is not clear under what specific conditions a legitimate revolution can be justified.  Fortunately, Locke outlines the philosophical skeleton of just what political circumstances justify a revolution.  He delineates two forms of unjust government, usurpation and tyranny.  He defines usurpation as:


…a kind of domestick conquest [conquest being a legitimate result of a just foreign conflict]…an usurper can never have right on his side, it being no usurpation but where one is got into the possession of what another has a right to.  This, so far as it is usurpation, is a change only of persons, but not of the forms and rules of the government: for if the usurper extend his power beyond, what of right belonged to the lawful princes, or governors of the commonwealth, ‘tis tyranny added to usurpation.[18]


Usurpation may be thought of as the ascendancy of someone as the result of a coup d’tat, such as Augusto Pinochet in Chile, and as long as the usurper maintains the organs and functions of government, it is not tyranny.  However, Pinochet, by dissolving the organs of democracy, “the forms and rules of the government,” and ruling by martial law, became a tyrant.  Locke tells us that a usurper:


…hath no right to be obeyed, though the form of the commonwealth be still preserved; since he is not the person the laws have appointed, and consequently not the person the people have consented to.  Nor can such an usurper, or any deriving from him, ever have a title, till the people are both at liberty to consent, and have actually consented to allow, and confirms in him, the power he hath till then usurped.[19]


If “President” George Bush II  wins the 2004 presidential race, then perhaps he can be said to no longer be a usurper.  Until then, there is a very strong argument, specifically and pungently put forth by Vincent Bugliosi,[20] that he fits the category Locke articulated as a usurper.  However, tyranny becomes clearly the concrete case for legitimate revolution.


“As usurpation is the exercise of power, which another hath a right to; so tyranny is the exercise of power beyond right, which no body can have a right to” Locke defines.[21]  It is the arbitrariness and lack of recourse of the objects of his will that typifies the tyrant.  To Locke the essence of tyranny is:


And this is making use of the power any one has in his hands; not for the good of those, who are under it, but for his own private separate advantage.  When the governour, however intituled, makes not the Law, but his will, the rule; and his commands and

actions are not directed to the preservation of the properties of his people, but the satisfaction of his own ambition, revenge, covetousness, or any other irregular passion.[22]


It is Niebuhr’s principle that evil is “no law beyond the self” that forms the glue of the master worldview, that there is nothing but the satisfaction of their personal will.  In such a worldview, hierarchy may exist and be acknowledged, since power is reality, but the only value is power itself.  The first and last argument is the primacy of (usually) physical power.  The use of such power is tyranny.


Locke stipulates four criteria that define the presence of a tyrant and these four criteria establish the justification for legitimate violent revolt.  Locke formulates these criteria in response to the criticism that regicide could never be tolerated, that to kill a king is always against the moral law.  Since Locke rejects the religious, power-worshipping theory of divine right, assassination of an unjust king cannot be opposed on those grounds.  Locke’s overriding condition and principle is “that force is to be opposed to nothing but to unjust and unlawful force.”[23]  And yet this, by itself, is not a sufficient condition to generate a legitimate revolt.  So in Locke’s first criterion, “unless he [the tyrant] by actually putting himself into a state of war with his people, dissolve the government, and leave them to that defence, which belongs to every one in the state of nature,”[24] the only legitimate resistant can be to the officers of the tyrant, not to the tyrant himself.  The main reason for this is that the tyrant is liable to enjoy some popular support and to assassinate the head of government would be to create more disruption and barbarity in general than the tyrant is generating personally.


Secondly, the silhouette rules of the law, despite the lack of right and authority will be used by the officers of the tyrant to oppress his enemies.  These “warrants”[25] will not have the legitimate force of law, because the tyrant is not the legitimate ruler.  Locke notes that “’tis not the commission, but the authority that gives the right of acting; and against the laws there can be no authority.”[26]  Since the objects of these depredations may only extend to a few, it is certainly unjust, but not a sufficient condition to revolt.


Thirdly, there will be no recourse for the oppressed through the law or peaceful politics.  Locke indicates again that “’tis such force alone, that puts him that uses it into a state of war, and make it lawful to resist him.”[27]  If there exists the reality for “his damages [to be] repaired by appeal to the law, there can be no pretence for force, which is only to be used, where a man is intercepted from appealing to the law.”[28]  Locke relates a hypothetical example:  If an armed robber demands Locke’s money or his life, he can legitimately resist, because the armed robbers’ use of force immediately threatens his life.  If on the other hand, Locke gives his money to someone to hold in trust, who then steals it, he is not justified in using force to recover his money, because he can appeal to the law to justly recover it for him.[29]  Locke explains:


The reason thereof is plain: because the one using force which threatened my life, I could not have time to appeal to the law to secure it:  and when it was gone, ‘twas too late to appeal.  The law could not restore life to my dead carcass:  the loss was irreparable; which to prevent, the law of nature gave me the right to destroy him, who had put himself into a state of war with me and threatened my destruction.  But in the other case, my life not being in danger, I may have the benefit of appealing to the law (emphasis added).[30]


This principle writ large to politics is by itself an insufficient condition to legitimate revolt.  It may be correct that the tyrant will victimize the objects of his will in this way, but that does not necessarily jeopardize the entire society.


The fourth and most important of Locke’s criterion is that the above-indicated conditions be extended not to various individuals and specific opponents of the tyrant, but to the majority of society.  Locke notes that a government that only seems to attack a few can easily be misinterpreted by a “raving mad man, or heady male-content” as a tyranny,[31] and the violence generated would be both useless and unnecessary.  Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth may have been an example of the former, and Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh definitely fits the latter.  However, when:


…the precedent and consequences seem to threaten all, and they [the majority] are perswaded in their consciences, that their laws, and with them their estates, liberties, and lives are in danger, and perhaps their religion too, how they will be hindered from resisting illegal forces, used against them, I cannot tell.[32]


Here Locke implies an almost necessary consequence, that if the tyranny is seen to become widespread, and oppression inevitable, people will be forced to choose between annihilation or slavery and collective violence as a self-preservative.  In this sense revolution becomes not merely legitimate and justifiable, but virtually inevitable.  It takes this realization to permeate the minds of the majority before violence can become legitimate.  The existence of tyranny is insufficient in and of itself to necessitate the overthrow of the government.  What is required is that the majority becomes the object of the tyrants will. This is potentially very bad news for oppressed minorities, as the dead victims of the Holocaust cannot attest to.


The final note that Locke makes in the formulation of a basis for legitimate revolt, is that:


…all the world shall observe pretences of one kind, and actions of another; arts used to elude the law, and the trust of prerogative…employed contrary to the end for which it was given…if they see several experiments made of arbitrary power…if a long train of actings shew the councils all tending that way, how can a man any more hinder himself from being perswaded in his own mind which way things are going, or from casting about how to save himself….[33]


In this final formulation, we see exactly the method taken by the British colonists who became revolutionaries in America.  Thomas Jefferson, in his Declaration of Independence, almost word for word, replicates the theory and justifications of the Lockean philosophy of legitimate revolt.  This was, no doubt also a very nimble peace of propaganda that worked very well as it focused on a British audience proud of Locke’s theory since they had generally adopted Locke’s ideas themselves. 


Jefferson cites “the laws of nature” and a “decent respect to the opinions of mankind” that revolutionaries should  “declare the causes which impel them” to revolt.[34]  He “holds” that through (Locke’s) “law of nature”, i.e.—reason—“these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and happiness.”[35]  Here is reason, equality, unalienable (natural) rights, life, liberty, and only the Utilitarian “pursuit of happiness” exchanged for “estates” in the classic Lockean philosophy.  Jefferson explains to his countrymen and the world “that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed” and “that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and institute new government…in such form as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.”[36]  And almost word for Lockean word, Jefferson writes “when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government.”[37]  Jefferson then claims the only justification for legitimate violence to overthrow a tyranny, “such is now the necessity which constrains them [the people] to alter their former systems of government.”[38]  To seal the claim, Jefferson outlines twenty-nine specific charges that fulfill Locke’s four criteria, “to prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.”[39]


There is no need to recite all twenty-nine charges, only representative ones that follow Locke’s criteria.  The “unjust and unlawful use of force” is recited as King George III’s having “abdicated government here, by declaring us out of his protection and waging war against us” and “transporting large armies of foreign mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny.”[40]  Locke’s first criterion and description of a tyrant’s “actually putting himself into a state of war with his people, [and] dissolve[ing] the government” is described by Jefferson as King George III’s having “plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people” and “combined with others to subject us to jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws…”.[41]  Locke’s second criterion is cited in that “he has made judges dependent on his will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries,” and “for quartering large bodies of armed troops among us: for protecting them by mock trial, from punishment for any murders which they should commit on the inhabitants of these states.”[42]  Locke’s third criterion of tyranny, the inability of the oppressed to seek remedy through law or peaceful politics forms the vast bulk of the twenty-nine charges, exemplified by “refused his assent to laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good,” and “he has dissolved representative houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.”[43]  Jefferson claims Locke’s fourth criterion, that the evil must afflict the majority when he states:


We…the representatives of the United States of America, in general congress, assembled, appealing to the supreme judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the name and authority of the good people of these colonies…declare that these united colonies are and of right, ought to be free and independent states, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved….[44]


Jefferson succinctly encapsulated Locke’s political philosophy and the enumerated charges follow the Lockean formula almost perfectly.  If Jefferson’s charges are correct, then the colonists were legitimately justified in revolting against the tyrannous government of King George III.


Just as the founding of the American republic provides a case of justified revolt, American history also provides an exemplary demonstration of a vast and violent criminal rebellion: the American Civil War.  A substantial minority of the society, the South, after the legitimate election of Abraham Lincoln as president in 1860—an election they participated in—decided that they had suffered the final blow to their “rights.”  They rejected the underlying argument regarding their alienation from the majority in the United States, that slavery was an ancient evil that needed to be contained and eventually eliminated.  Southerners’ master worldview necessarily rejected Locke’s philosophy,[45] consequently they were compelled to erect a fanciful and elaborate justification for their divergence from his liberal philosophy, since so much of U.S history, the U.S. Constitution, and the laws, was an embodiment of Locke’s theories.[46]  Southern intellectuals had to justify in their own minds their ready resort to violence to void the inviolable social contract, and in doing so, during the antebellum period; they began to believe their own sophistical rhetoric.  They became “sincere” slave masters.  They were faced with a dubious intellectual task:  how to reconcile the irreconcilable.  Instead, as Orwell would later put it, they merely “justified the unjustifiable.”[47]



The Southern rebellion was unjustified and therefore illegitimate.  Southerners lost an election to a president through a constitutional and lawful election. Lincoln did not plan to exterminate slavery, but to limit its spread in the hope it would die, which was the intention of the majority in the nation.  Southerners had not been attacked.  They had not been arrested, either as individuals or as a group.  They had not had violence visited upon them in anyway.  It is no mere happenstance of history that it was Southern forces that opened fire on Ft. Sumter, on the command of the rebel leader Jefferson Davis.  The first blow of overt violence, the appeal to force, was taken by the rebels.  All the bloodshed and misery that followed was a result of the attempt to overturn a peaceful majority and the rule of law.  As such, the southern rebellion was a crime—treason—and rebellion, not a revolution.  As Lincoln so aptly put it in his first call for troops, the rebellion was by “combinations too powerful to be suppressed” by civil law, [48] and therefore required troops on the order of “seventy-five thousand, in order to suppress said combinations, and to cause the laws to be duly executed.”[49]  Locke had foreseen this situation and noted, “wherever the law ends, tyranny begins.”[50] 


There exists one additional criterion that helps to differentiate the existence of governmental tyranny from tolerable injustice, and that is the overt first use of violence.  In the American Revolution, it was the British Army’s movement-to-contact out of their garrison in Boston towards Concord and Lexington that brought about the face-to-face armed confrontation that ignited the American Revolution.  In the Civil War, it was the rebel bombardment of Ft. Sumter that announced the end of law and the beginning of war.  When Timothy McVeigh murdered 168 fellow Americans, or when Jefferson Davis (“American”)[51] ordered Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard to bombard Ft. Sumter, they made war on the social contract and engaged in the very thing they claimed to want to overthrown: tyrannous violence.  Timothy McVeigh initially threatened to appeal his death sentence in order to ensure, in the sickening words of one of his former lawyers, that the Constitution was “upheld.”[52]  This obviously false form of sophistry misleads and confuses the debate.  This rhetorical sanctimony always forms a major and necessary part of the self-sanction of the violent.  In their false and misleading words, they pay homage to the ends for which those who would be free struggle.


The valued ends of the philosophic notion of the Good: truth, justice, freedom, peace, and the mutual public interest that bring it about form the ultimate reasons for politics.  The erroneous worldviews of the master/slave dichotomy consistently fail to satisfy those reasons as they are based on incorrect understandings of human nature and existence.  In an imperfect world, the liberal philosophy of John Locke, described as the worldview of the freeman, best suffices to attain those valued ends.  As a part of this philosophy, Locke articulates a powerful and reasoned argument for the legitimacy of revolution, under certain necessary and sufficient conditions.  The first necessary condition arises when the government puts itself “into a state of war” with the people and “dissolve[s] the government.”  The second necessary condition is when the silhouette forms of law, rather than the substance of the law, are capriciously used against the people.  The third necessary condition is that there be no recourse through law or peaceful politics to obtain justice and to overthrow oppression.  The fourth and sufficient condition is that the majority of society understands that they are the targets of the tyrant’s will.  These four criteria will be accompanied by deceptive and deliberate disinformation campaigns by the government’s propaganda ministry that is at odds with the obvious facts on the ground, i.e.—the truth.  And finally, the blatant tip-off that tyranny and not law reign will be the first use of violence to obtain the tyrant’s Will-To-Power ends.  If Locke’s political philosophy and its implications were fully implemented, in a world capable of valuing them, then his argument for revolution might become moot.  Unfortunately, most individual human natures consist of a mixture of the master, slave, and freeman worldviews.  Therefore there will always be at least some whose master worldview will overmatch what Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature.”[53] Everyone else’s better angels will have to be prepared to struggle to gain and maintain the Good.



[1] Niebuhr, Reinhold,  “The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness,”  The American Intellectual Tradition, vol. 2 eds.  David A. Hollinger and Charles Capper.  (New York:  Oxford University Press, 1997)  256.


[2] Robert D. Kaplan, “The Return of Ancient Times,” The Atlantic Monthly Online, June 2000:  http://www.theatlantic.com/issues/2000/06/kaplan.htm


[3] Jonathon Wallace, “Nonviolence,”  The Ethical Spectacle, June 2001: http://www.spectacle.org/0601/nonviolence.htm


[4] Friedrich Nietzsche, “Beyond Good and Evil,” The European Philosophers From Descartes to Nietzsche, ed.  Monroe C. Beardsley.  (New York:  Modern Library, 1992)  844.


[5] Nietzsche, 831.


[6] Nietzsche, 844.


[7] Nietzsche, 845.


[8] Nietzsche, 843.


[9] John Locke, Two Treatises on Government, ed. Peter Laslett.  (New York:  Cambridge University Press, 2000)  269.


[10] Locke, 271.


[11] David Hume, “An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals,” Introducing Philosophy, (Orlando: Harcourt, 1997)  545.


[12] Locke, 278.


[13] Locke, 276.


[14] Locke, 350.


[15] Locke, 268.


[16] Locke, 418.


[17] Locke, 427.


[18] Locke, 397.


[19] Locke, 398.


[20] Bugliosi, Vincent, “None Dare Call It Treason,”  The Nation,  xxx 2001. http://www.thenation.com/doc.mhtml?I=20010205&c=1&s=bugliosi


[21] Locke, 398.


[22] Locke, 398.


[23] Locke, 402.


[24] Locke, 402.


[25] Locke, 400.


[26] Locke, 403.


[27] Locke, 403.


[28] Locke, 403.


[29] Locke, 403.


[30] Locke, 404.


[31] Locke, 404.


[32] Locke, 404.


[33] Locke, 405.


[34] Thomas Jefferson, “The Declaration of Independence,” http://www.nara.gov/exhall/charters/declaration/declaration.html


[35] Jefferson.


[36] Jefferson.


[37] Jefferson.


[38] Jefferson.


[39] Jefferson.


[40] Jefferson.


[41] Jefferson.


[42] Jefferson.


[43] Jefferson.


[44] Jefferson.


[45] George Fitzhugh, “Southern Thought,” The Ideology of Slavery, ed. Drew Gilpin Faust (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1981) 294.


[46] Faust, 6.


[47] George Orwell,  “Politics and the English Language,” http://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/orwell46.htm


[48] Carl Sandburg, Abraham Lincoln:  The Prairie Years and The War Years, (San Diego:  Harvest Books, 1982) 230.


[49] Sandburg, 230.


[50] Locke, 400.


[51] Peter S. Carmichael, book review of Jefferson Davis: American, by William S. Cooper, http://www.thehistorynet.com/reviews/bk_cwtifeb01lead.htm


[52] Christopher Tritico, “Execution Delayed,” The Newshour With Jim Lehrer, May 5, 2001, http://pbs.org.newshour/bb/law/jan-jun01/mcveigh_5-11.html


[53] Sandburg, 230.