Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Radical Protests and Liberal Sensibilities.. . . .

I was reading the Liberal Blogs yesterday and was not surprised to find one who was quite beside himself over the actions of Greenpeace at the House of Commons yesterday. It was pretty standard stuff about law-breaking antic being counter productive etc. However when I left a comment about the historical importance of such protests this blogger quickly turned it into some kind of moral argument about condoning violence as though anyone who engages in serious protest efforts is a member of the Red Brigade. 

But as I said this is not surprising because it came  from a Liberal Blogger and Liberals have delicate sensibilities when it comes to anyone actually stepping out on a limb, so to speak, concerning the process of social protest. This comes in large part from people being unable to put the struggles of their own time in historical context. It is easy to sympathize with the Peasant Revolt of 1381 or those who stormed the Bastille but when it comes to our own time radical protesters are just seen as a bunch of crazy, or at best misguided, left-wing maniacs. This lack of historical thought always amazes me but it shouldn't, because it has almost always been the case that people cannot see the wood for the trees in this regard. 

Those who are rational enough to mount a defense of the position of condemning radical protestors these days usually applies to some misguided idea that radical actions were fine in the past but today we live in a great liberal democracy and therefore any illegal action are absurd because people have to abide by the will of the whole, through their democratically elected representatives. This is typical 'end of history' thinking and itself has a long history. Edmund Burke argued basically the same thing over two hundred years ago and much of Hegel's philosophy was based on the same premise. More recently Francis Fukiyama has made the case once again. 

This argument is absurd for a number of reasons but primarily because it fails to understand the 'democracy' in which we presently live. The fact that the present government only represents less than forty percent of the eligible voters (and a much smaller percentage of the general population) is only the beginning of the trouble. The fact is that we have a system in which the political discourse and possibilities have been systematically narrowed and structured by a select group of corporate interests. This is done through the very simple influence that wealth can obtain in any context. 

The fact is that we now have a system that is nothing like a real democracy despite our rights (rights that largely exist because of radical protesters that refused to obey the law) and radical protests are essential to influence debate in a context in which debates are largely predetermined by monied interests. Martin Luther King one observed that one is not only obliged to obey the laws that are morally desirable, but we are obliged to disobey those that are morally wrong. Given this astute observation we should treat Liberal sensibilities of 'correct' behavior with the derision and disrespect they deserve and continue to praise those who are will to put their lives and freedoms at risk for the principles of right. History will vindicate the Protestors who scaled the House of Commons yesterday just as history vindicated Martin Luther King or those who stormed the Bastille. 

Long live radical Protest! 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I thought that it was an excellent protest, big for TV cameras and passers by, in no way dangerous to the general public, caused no (or extremely little) property damage, and was totally embarrassing for the Institutions.

I wondered if the other blogger was just getting a little long-in-the-tooth and could benefit from some fibre?