Groping toward a 21st century right of revolution/2nd amendment, OR: Machiavelli was right, as usual.

A lightly edited transcript of a text message conversation between my friend Amanda and I. Wisdom from IR-types who actually know the extent to which soldiers refusing to fire on unarmed civilians has been decisive in recent revolutions eagerly solicited.

With no further ado:

A: Here’s a puzzle for you. Guns are no longer sufficient to defend citizens against the state. Should we be stripped of our guns? Or granted rocket launchers et. al.?

Serious question. My first thought is that the latter is more in keeping with the meaning of the second amendment. Whether that’s a good idea or not…

P: What we should do is conceive of the critical importance of a citizen military in preventing tyranny. Unless I’m wrong (and I may be, I didn’t follow it closely enough), the success of the Egyptian stuff was critically driven by the military refusing to fire on (unarmed [?]) protestors [and Poland too, back in the collapse of the Warsaw Pact days, right?]. This is the 21st century model of the right of rebellion.

And that’s also very consistent with the 2nd amendment language about militias.

A: What is a citizen military?

P: A military made up primarily of non-career soldiers, from the ordinary citizen body (as opposed to, e.g., foreigners, a different class of citizen, etc.), who are socialized from childhood onward the same way other citizens are, etc. With lots of social and familial ties to civilians. [See also Avner Greif's work on administrative power as a constraint on rulers...]

A: In that case I agree with you though I doubt that would be consistently sufficient. Though who knows?

P: Nothing is consistently sufficient, rebellions are chancy things. But if troops are more loyal to fellow citizens and the public values of the society than to leaders it’s the best shot.

A: Less chancy with arms.


2 Responses to “Groping toward a 21st century right of revolution/2nd amendment, OR: Machiavelli was right, as usual.”

  1. Paul Gowder Says:

    (Follow-up: might actually be MORE chancy if protestors are armed, because then soldiers would be in danger and fear and more likely to be willing to fire on those rebelling…)

  2. Paul Gowder Says:

    2nd thought. If regime stability is in part abt common knowledge of military obedience, then widespread soldiers refusing to fire = instant regime collapse non? (Depends on whether punishments work? Some game theory would be nice for this. Maybe a signaling thing?)

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