At the Anima School we’ve turned a large percentage of conventional definitions and understandings on their heads. By our reckoning, the power of the federal authorities derives from the states’, the state’s from the counties’, and the communities’ from the individual. And most importantly, we insist that all authority derives from within – from our wild, awakened and unconquered selves – and with this self-authority comes a great responsibility to act.
The Wild Eyed Zealot:
Revolution as a ReWilding of Rigid Systems
by Jesse Wolf Hardin
“Is life so dear, or peace so sweet,” the wild-eyed zealot asked the gathered crowd at the very top of his voice, “as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?” His audience appeared excited by his words, a few recoiling at the implications, the others surging forward in passionate agreement. His long locks tossed one way and then the next, as he alternately pounded on a nearby table and punched the air with his fist. Sweat poured down the man’s face as he called not just for support for his cause and the breaking of laws, but for the forceful intervention of his God on the side of his fellow lawbreakers. His speeches were so vitriolic, his demands so uncompromising, and his references to violence so unveiled as to have gotten him quickly arrested post-Oklahoma City courthouse bombing and the terrorists’ toppling of New York City’s Twin Towers. But even then, he managed to earn himself a place high up on the authorities’ “watch list”, thanks to his inflammatory rhetoric and especially his public statements about being ready to both kill and die for his beliefs. According to witnesses, he showed less concern for his welfare or that of others than to the pursuit of his singular goal, leading even some of his allies to question his sanity… though both his friends and foes held him largely responsible for the deadly conflagration that followed.
It wasn’t a rancorous Moslem cleric, however, stirring up the surging throngs. Nor was it a bomb planting ecoterrorist or green anarchist who stood up to denounce the vested government and preach resistance to centralized authority on that fateful day, daring to encourage an insurrection while knowing full well how many on both sides would be hurt. It was Patrick Henry, fomenting revolution against the English crown in 1775, helping usher in a new nation originally dedicated to the preservation of individual freedoms, ending his presentation with just the kind of remark that could be used against him in a court of law: “Give me liberty or give me death!”
Nor was Henry the only unreasonable advocate of freedom during this country’s formative years. “What signify a few lives lost in a century or two?,” asked President Thomas Jefferson, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” What he was calling for was not just a single case of a country remaking itself, but of a full on revolution once every 20 years or less!
“Government is not reason. It is not eloquence,” George Washington wrote, “It is force. And force, like fire, is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.”
These famous founders knew then what we would do well to remember today: that the biggest threat against human liberty comes not from foreign governments but from our own. The Bill of Rights was written to guard the rights to assemble, speak and worship freely, bear arms and so forth, against the potential of a future American government unmindful of and unconcerned with the freedoms and prerogatives of the average citizen… and worse yet, where the citizens forget their history and fail to understand its implications.
“The Constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people,” Patrick Henry is also quoted as saying, “it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government.”
Their idea of of a governments purpose was limited to calling an army in times of war, spending little of the people’s money and resources, and regulating even less. As Jefferson explained, “A wise and frugal government, which shall leave men free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement – and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned – this is the sum of good government.” If still alive, he would no doubt be one of the first to decry both the U.S. national debt, and the accumulation of federal powers at the expense of the states, counties and citizens. The country should be managed by and for the individual and the individual community. “Every government degenerates when trusted to the rulers of the people alone,“ he made clear, “The people themselves are its only safe depositories.”
I am against most if not all war, for cultural diversity and conservation of wild places, but I am not a Liberal. Liberal thinking has us turning over our power and sovereignty to an ever more omnipotent government in exchange for specific and usually temporary social benefits. The Democrats have been as bad as the Republicans in this regard, with one administration after another using fear as a tool to solidify their position and pervert the Constitution. President Lincoln used fear of a divided nation and tales of a portending race war, George Bush the younger fanned fears of terrorists on every corner in order to win support for draconian new laws. “Fear is the foundation of most governments,” as John Adams wrote way back in 1776. He was being overly hopeful, however, when he said fear was “so sordid and brutal a passion, and renders men in whose breasts it predominates so stupid and miserable, that Americans will not be likely to approve of any political institution which is founded on it.”
Over 200 years ago, Jefferson had already identified many of the factors and institutions that would prove to be the undoing of this country for centuries after. “I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies,” he opined. “Already they have raised up a moneyed aristocracy that has set the government at defiance. The issuing power should be taken from the banks and restored to the people, to whom it properly belongs.”
Interestingly, in the period that Jefferson was alive a “conservative” was actually a proponent of a single State-backed church and punishing taxes, the monarchy and its feudal order of peons and kings. To the contrary, at the time a “liberal” was a person aiming to dismantle all of these things and substitute republican government, free trade and limited representative taxation, as well as the separation of church and state!
And I do not mean to make our “Founding Fathers” appear perfect, only insightful or in retrospect prophetic. Thomas Jefferson, lover of flowers and gardens, concealed his affairs with a black slave that he kept in spite of his avowed dislike for slavery. The same Patrick Henry who risked the noose to speak out for liberty, is alleged to have kept his own wife imprisoned in their basement for the last fours years of her life.
If there is anything promising, it the growing number of citizens of all kinds and persuasions who are organizing to resist not just a certain platform, policy or law, but in opposition to the overreaching of government in general. Certainly, whether you are a liberal or conservative, conservationist or developer, businessman or backwoodsman like me, nothing could be more dangerous to you and what you love and hold dear than an ever more entrenched, unaffected, unshakable, impervious, insular and powerful political and commercial hierarchy. Jefferson was insightful, in recognizing that the more stable, and staid an institution or government gets, the less hospitable it becomes to basic human rights, liberty and happiness. “And what country can preserve its liberties,” he adds, “if its rulers are not warned from time to time, that this people preserve the spirit of resistance?” And as to such revolutions, he was sure of their assignment: “Leave no authority existing, not responsible to the people.”
The periodic revolution that Jefferson and some of his contemporaries called for, was never meant to be a panacea or end all solution, nor bloodless or even entirely just, but rather a necessary jarring of the mold before the pudding completely sets, a stirring up of the stew that keeps the scum from rising and forming a layer on the top. It is agitation and disruption of the status quo, with the knowledge that established power corrupts, that established institutions become increasingly unresponsive to their constituents and protective of their position, and that a ruling commercial elite would make all their business decisions based on profit alone rather than an overriding vision or non monetary priorities. Revolution is the wholesale deconstruction of official edifices and managerial cliques to make room for evolving ideas and common needs, the ritualistic scraping away of the canvas in order to create something potentially better, the knocking over of the house of cards without which no other hands could be dealt.
This is certainly not to glorify revolution, a messy affair at best, usually installing another system little better than the previous. The advantage is that it slows or halts the pernicious rigidification that happens when existing structures go unabolished and unchallenged. With each revolution, subsequent incarnations are a little newer, on shakier ground, still beholding to the forces and constituencies that swept it in. Revolution is what intercedes to prevent the suspension or slow gutting of a Constitution, or that at least seeks to remedy such appropriation after the fact. Forget all the ways the word has been debased, from a revolutionary new swimsuit and a green revolution to a revolution in furniture design. Revolution is the alarming dissolution of order and a temporary end to imagining we’re ever really safe and secure. It is a period of self preservation, affinity and tribal alliance, of every person needing the basic skills once allotted to tradesmen and specialists, of the chaotic social interactions that follow the collapse of social hierarchy, the devaluing of the privileged and the revaluing of folks with core character qualities and essential skills. It’s the suspension of the forces of domestication, the precious moment of what I term “rewilding”, when the senses are awakened and every moment appears decisive, when the needs of local communities take precedence over the desires of the nation, when the land gets a break from our organized expansion, and when each person is an authority unto themselves with nobody lording over them. It is a time when death can be seen close by on the sidelines, but when life is roused and stimulated to the utmost degree!
“Freedom had been hunted round the globe,” Thomas Paine wrote in his Rights of Man in 1791. “Reason was considered as rebellion; and the slavery of fear had made men afraid to think. But such is the irresistible nature of truth, that all it asks, and all it wants, is the liberty of appearing.” A liberty, I must point out, that comes not without risk and cost. Nor is it a price paid only once by our forebears, it has to be paid by each following generation, and by each individual in turn.
Like Ned Ludd rising against the automation of the industrial age, I side with the craftsmen and craftswomen revolting against the factory owners in a bid to preserve not only their jobs but the craftsmanship that can only come with something hand tended and hand made, and I too gladly toss my wooden soled shoes into the gears of the machine. That said, I neither seek nor laud conflict, and there are moral limits to my means of opposition to all but the most personalized injustices and attacks. Nevertheless, I will not allow myself to become an accomplice to an increasingly oppressive and invasive government and cultural paradigm through either my silent participation or disempowering resignation. We know that if the likes of a Ned Ludd, Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson were writing opinion blogs right now, they and their readers would find their selves under investigation… but that I’d be reading and spreading their messages regardless.
And revolution, for all its ominous tone, great importance and even urgency, is also a beautiful and amazing thing, a rewilding of institutions that makes possible the wild blooming of our selves. It is potentially an event of apparent magic and much needed miracles. As Paine was so good to point out in his Common Sense in 1776, “We have it in our power to begin the world over again.”
(Please forward and post this piece widely)