May 3, 2007

the General Will justifies violent revolution

Affirmatives must justify violent revolution in the case of political oppression. To their aid comes William T. Vollman's masterful and idiosyncratic Rising Up and Rising Down, which analyzes the history and causes of violence, and attempts to provide consistent and coherent moral criteria for the uses of violence.

In Volume III, Justifications, in the section titled "Defense of Revolution," Vollman considers the French Revolution as a rebellion that originally could have been justified, but lost sight of its aims. The author establishes positive and negative criteria for a morally justified revolution, listed below.
Defense of the Revolution is Justified:
1. When the ends of the revolution are explicit and legitimate. Whenever those ends change, the legitimacy of defense of the revolution must be reevaluated.

2. When it is a defense of the General Will. [Vollman follows Rousseau; more below.]

Defense of the Revolution is Unjustified:
1. When the acts defined by the revolutionaries as treason are the same as the acts committed by them before they came to power.
2. When the revolution's immediate ends change but legitimacy fails to be reevaluated.
3. To the extent that it fails to explicitly and consensually define the grievances which it seeks to address.
Vollman, quoting Rousseau, declares that the General Will is not merely the sum of individual wills, but the "common interest." The revolution must "...balance liberty against equality... [with its] equals sign the Golden Rule." In other words, even violent revolutions must stay within moral limits, not using violence gratuitously.

The structure of an Aff using Roussau and Vollman as inspiration might have a value of governmental legitimacy with Vollman's dual criteria. (A value of liberty might work as well.)

For the Neg, Vollman's work offers cautions. Are self-styled revolutionaries likely to fall prey to the absolute corruption predicted by Lord Acton? In the majority of cases, do violent revolutions follow the General Will? Perhaps for every George Washington there are three Robespierres.

19 comments:

TheTachyix said...

I think the neg would do well to look to Hobbes.

Jim Anderson said...

Hobbes is good for the neg, except for the fact that his view of sovereignty is a wee bit unpopular in these heady days of democracy.

TheTachyix said...

You don't have to focus on the Sovereignty aspect of Hobbes. I'm thinking more about Legitimacy. How exactly does violence confer it? In Hobbes' world, the Sovereign's violence is justified because the population already gave it that legitimacy.

The gauntlet is thrown.

Jim Anderson said...

But what you're leaving out of Hobbes's argument is the claim that, since the population confers legitimacy, its loyalty to the sovereign must be absolute.

Now you have a dilemma. If you argue that Hobbes is wrong, and loyalty mustn't be absolute, you've opened the door to revolution. If you argue that Hobbes is right, then you're back under the heavy burden of absolutism described earlier.

TheTachyix said...

The absolutism of Hobbes is a weakness yes, but I've always viewed Hobbes' legitimacy as conditional. I'll start finding page numbers after finals, but Hobbes lists the duties of the sovereign, all of which advance "Civilisation". A sovereign who can't/won't do this isn't really fulfilling the duties of the sovereign and shouldn't be treated as such. Violent revolution can make no such guarantee and is easily viewable as taking a step back to the natural state.

Hobbes also demands that everyone engage in the social contract simultaneously because that's the only way to ensure legitimacy. Revolutions tend to be only supported by elements of political society. This is usually why more people die in the period of therimdor than in the revolution itself: the newly created body has to eliminate any other bodies with possible legitimacy.

All of this is to say that the burden of the Aff has to be both moral and utilitarian. Hobbes is the only of the social contract theorists (I think) who tries to weigh both equally.

Jim Anderson said...

That makes more sense. A crucial question, then: what does Hobbes offer to the people under a sovereign who isn't advancing "civilisation?" Prayer and fasting? Sackcloth and ashes? Protests and demonstrations? Flowers and cards?

Paradoxically, the kind of sovereign Hobbes espouses as necessary to stave off the state of nature won't be easily deposed without risking the state of nature. (I wanted to stay away from historical examples, largely because they can be traded like baseball cards.)

TheTachyix said...

You're right about the historical examples, but I wanted to make a point that wasn't inherent in Hobbes.

When it comes to change, Hobbes says the multitude can only do when all has gone to hell. Because the foreigners have invaded and killed all the nobility, basically. This is not ideal at all. Which is why I would focus on teh "Legitimacy".

Hobbes argues for the status quo. The Aff needs to prove that one type of violence (theirs) is better than another type. This becomes a lot harder to do when the Neg has shown that the status quo has to have something going for it. Legitimacy, in my mind, makes an excellent value-criterion because it gives the Aff neither the moral nor the utilitarian upper hand.

Jim Anderson said...

It's also equally applicable to both sides--to the Aff, which could couple it with a value of liberty or something like it, and the Neg, which would use security or something like it.

Did you ever judge Hobbes Guy, the one with the mildly Scottish brogue? He loved Hobbes, but argued him badly. He could have used your tutelage.

TheTachyix said...

I didn't, but I would have liked to. I really have to write this paper, so I'll respond later.

TheTachyix said...

Legitimacy can be used by both, but it favors the Neg. Regardless of whatever your value is on the Neg, at some point in time and at some level the political body has given the government approval. That approval isn't a given for violent revolution, so the Aff takes on extra burdens where the Neg doesn't.

As Vollman notes, ideology and values-driven revolutions can be derailed quite easily. Stable government interests remain transparent, even if the means are brutal. What I'm interested in is what counts as an "oppressive government". Police forces restrict freedoms. Does that make them oppressive?

TheTachyix said...

Oh, I did see a young Scottish man give an expos speech about natural selection. It had one of the funniest visual aids I've ever seen. Maybe that was him.

Jim Anderson said...

Legitimacy in no way favors the Neg. The primary complaint of revolutionaries is that the government no longer represents the will of the people, or, in other words, is illegitimate. They obviously define legitimacy as popular approval.

Why is approval by the body politic a given for any government? It is easy to imagine a junta seizing power illegitimately, and wielding its military power to crush dissent. That would only constitute approval in the most cynical terms.

We have to be careful about talking about oppression; the resolution describes "political oppression," which is not all-encompassing, and helps give a bit more ground to the Neg.

TheTachyix said...

Hobbes' point about not being able to resend one's consent to be governed at whim was included for this reason: if legitimacy can be given here and there by any party at any time, then the people really aren't out of the state of nature. The ability to represent the will of the people is contingent on being able to not compete with other "wills". That's why legitimacy favors the neg: at some level it is deemed legitimate. There might be a need to change it, but if it weren't important there would be no desire to change a politically oppressive government.

I think that Locke and Rousseau side step the problems of legitimacy. Locke replaces legitimacy with property rights and weak states. Rousseau seems to imply that it's inherent in the general will. Basically, this is my way of saying that I don't see how the other social contractors could help the negative.

"Why is approval of the body politic necessary for any government?" I don't know. But I am trying to get a degree that gives me an idea. There does seem to be a strong correlation though.

Jim Anderson said...

1. The resolution doesn't imply that violent revolution is "on a whim." The argument is whether it's justified in the event of political oppression.

2. The assumption of legitimacy is incorrect, as my junta example shows. Simply because a government is in power doesn't make it legitimate. That would conflate sovereignty and legitimacy, and strikes me as a form of victim blaming.

3. As you note, different theorists define legitimacy differently. Every time you claim that legitimacy favors the Neg, I notice that you're essentially talking about Hobbesean legitimacy. I'm not saying Affs and Negs will use the same definition of legitimacy, but that the concept is useful to both sides, which have to determine what is "just" regarding a politically oppressive government.

4. Rousseau and Locke don't necessarily float Aff. We'd have to find specific advocacy for violence justified by political oppression--which might not include crimes against property.

It all comes down, as it always does, to definitions.

You should put all your Hobbes thoughts into one coherent post. They're quite useful.

TheTachyix said...

I'll see what I can do. Finals week! Plus, I'm not that invested in some kid reading me instead of Hobbes.

TheTachyix said...

It is done

Engima said...

I agree that the neg would do well to look to Hobbes. I seriously doubt an affirmative could be successful with Hobbes.

One, and let me warn you VERY abstract argument derived from Hobbes: Hobbes says that within the state of nature, there is no justice or injustice. Actions are neither just nor unjust. Since when a state oppresses its citizens, essentially there is no "social contract" or legitimate state (by his standards off course) - and thus any revolution occurs in the state of nature - where, while it may not be unjust, it is absolutely not "just", and qualifies as negation with the average judge I think.

Anonymous said...

How does Vollmann warrant his criteria for a just revolution? I don't currently have access to his tome and I am curious as to why he thinks he is correct.

Jenna said...

What about AFF? what source would be good for AFF?