In Case of Revolution, Climb Into a Hole
By Bryan Caplan
In 1968, Abbie Hoffman published Revolution for the Hell of It. Five years later, this silly title inspired David Friedman to include a chapter called “Revolution Is the Hell of It” in his Machinery of Freedom. I remember Friedman’s words every time another revolution strikes. Lead-in:
Civil disorder leads to more government, not less. It may topple one government, but it creates a situation in which people desire another and stronger. Hitler’s regime followed the chaos of the Weimar years. Russian communism is a second example, a lesson for which the anarchists of Kronstadt paid dear. Napoleon is a third. Yet many radicals, and some anarchists, talk and act as though civil disruption were the road to freedom.
For those radicals whose vision of freedom is a new government run by themselves, revolution is not a totally unreasonable strategy, although they may be overly optimistic in thinking that they are the ones who will end up on top. For those of us whose enemy is not the government but government itself, it is a strategy of suicide.
Friedman’s wake-up call:
Successful revolutionaries do occasionally end up in positions of power, but they seem more likely, on the historical record, to end up dead, courtesy of their comrades. In any case, revolution has its own logic, and it is, like that of politics, a logic of power. So revolution, like politics, selects out for success those with the desire and ability to wield power. A libertarian is defeated before the game starts. And by the time the revolution is successful, the population will want nothing so much as order and security. If those who began the revolution have scruples about providing what they want, someone else will be found to end it.
The case seems better, on purely opportunistic grounds, for supporting counterrevolution. There are more old falangists in Spain than old bolsheviks in Russia. But the best policy of all, if there must be a revolution, is, on moral as well as opportunistic grounds, neutrality. Climb into a hole, pull the hole in after you, and come out when people stop shooting each other.
I’d dub Friedman “prescient” if he weren’t just summarizing basic historical facts. If you find yourself in Egypt, Syria, or other country in the midst of revolution, do yourself a favor and heed the wisdom of David Friedman.