Justin Stapley: The unpatriotic selfishness of insurrection

Those who call for violent revolution don’t meet the standards of the Declaration of Independence.

In this Monday, June 17, 2019 photo, shown is Holly Metcalf Kinyon's 1776 broadside printing of the Declaration of Independence at the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia. Metcalf Kinyon, a descendent of Declaration signer John Witherspoon, has lent her document to the museum to be displayed from June 18 to the end of the year. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

A little over a year ago, on Jan. 6, we saw a violent mob descend on the U.S. Capitol, push back the barriers, push through lines of police and chase away members of Congress who had convened to engage in the constitutional process of counting and affirming the results of the Electoral College.

In both the live footage observed on that day and in the many videos that have been released in the year since, we have witnessed members of this mob pounding their chests and claiming the mantle of 1776, declaring that they were patriots as they attacked police officers in the melee, calling these brave men and women who rushed to defend our seat of government traitors and beating them with flagpoles carrying American symbols these “patriots” claimed to cherish. They even went as far as to erect some gallows as the chant “hang Mike Pence” echoed across the crowd.

As I have decried what ensued on that day of national shame and as I have engaged with those who either openly condone what happened or offer excuses and equivocations, one of the common responses has been that we are a nation founded on violent revolution and that it is among our most cherished rights and duties to revolt against tyranny.

My response has been that, yes, the Declaration of Independence, drawing upon Locke and other enlightenment sources, establishes a principle of legitimate rebellion against tyranny. But in admitting this principle, we must be careful to make sure we complete the principle with its full context.

The Declaration says:

“Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly, all experience hath shewn, that mankind is more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But 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, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

So, if we’re going to cite the founders, let’s make sure we cite them fully. “Prudence” demands that certain forms of tyranny are sufferable compared to the death and despair of conflict, and that responsible citizens should seek peaceable action rather than risk descending a society into bloodshed. And, before a people should ever consider armed conflict, it must be legitimated and justified by “a long train of abuses and usurpations.” A people must be suffering under the threat of “absolute despotism” before they have a right and duty to revolt against their government.

Such is not the state of American society. While many unfortunate things have befallen us, we yet maintain a system of government with the working processes for peaceable redress of our grievances. We have more freedom of speech, more right to assembly, more ability to engage in the political process, more ability to hold our government accountable, more freedom of movement, right to property, right to bear arms, freedom to worship, and plain liberty than most anyone else in the world.

In this context, the mere mention of armed conflict is subversive, treasonous and accomplishes nothing but a delegitimizing of concerns.

The founding fathers were able to stand righteously in rebellion because they at “every stage of [their] Oppressions...Petitioned for Redress in the humblest terms” and were forced to “acquiesce in ... necessity” to the unavoidable ugliness of war, which was thrust upon them.

There is indeed a time when armed rebellion is a right and duty. But that time lies at the other end of a long journey that involves the exhaustion of all peaceable avenues. And before such exhaustion of peaceful options, anyone who suggests descending a society into violence that, overall, remains among the freest in human history is the farthest thing from a patriot.

Such a subversive demonstrates a selfish appetite for violence and bloodlust, and a willingness to rob his countrymen of the peace and liberty they still have, which cannot exist in the anarchy, chaos and bloodshed of civil war.

Justin Stapley

Justin Stapley, Bluffdale, is a political science student at Utah Valley University with focuses in political theory and constitutional studies. Before returning to school to finish his degree, he served four years as a deputy sheriff in Salt Lake County.

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