The Price of Revolutionary Illusions

Exclusive: A number of Americans on the Right and Left embrace fantasies about fighting some glorious revolution in the future, requiring them to maintain arsenals of weapons today, even if the cost of their violent illusions is the brutal murder of children at school, at play or in the home, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

The 20 school kids slaughtered in their classrooms in Connecticut and many other children who die of gun violence every day are a sacrifice that some Americans feel is “worth it” for their personal dreams of waging some violent revolution sometime in the future, whether from the Right or the Left.

Some of these revolutionary dreamers may have watched movies like “Red Dawn” too many times and are obsessed with absurd plots about North Korea, Cuba or maybe the United Nations invading and conquering the United States. Others look forward to the collapse of the world economy, followed by some armed uprising of the dispossessed.

Jack Pinto, 6, one of the victims of the Newtown, Connecticut, shooting rampage.

So, to stay armed in anticipation of such eventualities, elements of the Right and the Left are saying, in effect, that the ongoing butchery of American children and thousands of other innocents each year is just part of the price for “liberty” or “justice” or whatever.

Thus, whenever anyone suggests that perhaps some commonsense gun control might at least begin ratcheting down the numbers of victims, there is an angry reaction from believers in this romanticized idea of armed revolution. You’re accused of wanting to disarm the American people and put them under the boot of totalitarianism.

Especially on the Right, there also has been a cottage industry of concocting a false or misleading history about the Second Amendment, with quotes from Framers cherry-picked or simply fabricated to suggest that the men who wrote the Constitution and the Bill of Rights wanted an armed population to do battle with the U.S. government. [See, for instance, Steven Krulik’s compilation of such apocryphal references.] 

The actual history indicates nearly the opposite, that the Framers were deeply concerned about the violent disorder that surfaced in Shays’ Rebellion when poor veterans and farmers rose up in western Massachusetts. The revolt was subdued by an ad hoc army assembled by wealthy Bostonians in early 1787, just weeks before the Constitutional Convention convened in Philadelphia.

George Washington, who followed Shays’ Rebellion closely, was alarmed by the spreading unrest, thinking it might validate the predictions of the European powers that the new United States would collapse amid internal strife, pitting the rich against the poor and regions against one another.

Any review of Washington’s writings in the years after the Revolution show him fretting about civil and economic chaos and the dangers they posed to the country’s hard-won independence. [See’s “The Right’s Second Amendment Lies” and Robert Parry’s America’s Stolen Narrative.]

Avoiding Disorder

It is within the context of these concerns that the writing of the U.S. Constitution must be understood. The new governing document marked a thorough rejection of the states’-rights-oriented Articles of Confederation in favor a strong central government that could hold the nation together and address its economic needs.

With Washington presiding at the convention, his fellow Virginian James Madison provided the architecture for the new system, which so radically altered the relationship between the central government and the states that a powerful opposition arose, called the Anti-Federalists, to block ratification of the Constitution.

To save his masterwork, Madison joined a sales campaign known as the Federalist Papers in which he not only extolled the economic advantages of the new system but sought to finesse the ardent opposition by downplaying how much power he had bestowed on the central government.

Though Madison did not believe a Bill of Rights was necessary, he agreed to add one to win over other skeptics. In effect, the first ten amendments represented concessions to both individual citizens and the states.

Some additions were mostly cosmetic like the Tenth Amendment which simply stated that powers not granted to the central government in the Constitution remained with the people and the states, a rather meaningless point since the Constitution included very expansive powers for federal authorities.

The Second Amendment could be viewed as mostly a concession to the states, ensuring the right of a “free State” to arm its citizens for the purpose of maintaining “security” through “a well-regulated Militia.” Until 2008, U.S. Supreme Courts interpreted the Second Amendment’s “right to bear arms” as a collective, not an individual, right.

After all, if the Framers had intended the Second Amendment to be what some Americans now wish it to be an invitation for citizens to take up arms against the U.S. government you would think that the preamble would be written quite differently.

Instead of “A well-regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State,” the authors would have written something like, “An armed population necessary to wage war against an oppressive federal government or an unjust social order, the right to the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

But logic and the historical record make clear that the Framers were not encouraging domestic disorder. Indeed, one of the key goals of the Constitution was to create a governing structure that would permit peaceful change by balancing the popular will as expressed through the House of Representatives, elected every two years against avoidance of hasty changes assured by the Senate with six-year terms and (originally) selected by state legislatures.

Though recognizing the need to respond to popular sentiments and thus to avert crises like Shays’ Rebellion, the key Framers were mostly well-to-do white men, many possessing African slaves and/or land on the frontier inhabited by Native Americans. These American aristocrats opposed radical challenges to the post-Revolution social order.

So, the Constitution defined armed rebellion against the United States as “treason” and promised federal assistance to quell domestic violence in the states. The Constitution also tacitly endorsed the abhorrent practice of slavery and even mandated the return of runaway slaves.

The concept of the Second Amendment’s “well-regulated Militia” was primarily intended to maintain “security” in the states, not undermine it. There were fears of more uprisings by poor whites or, even more frightening to many Framers, slave revolts or frontier attacks by Native Americans.

Thus, with the Second Amendment in place in 1791, President George Washington and the Second Congress turned to strengthening the state militias through the Militia Acts of 1792. Their urgency related to a new anti-tax revolt in western Pennsylvania, known as the Whiskey Rebellion.

Once the militias were strong enough and with negotiations with the rebels failing President Washington personally led a combined force of state militias to put down the Whiskey Rebellion. The rebels were scattered and order was finally restored.

In other words, today’s reinvention of the Second Amendment as some ultra-radical idea of the Framers to empower the population to violently challenge the established order and overthrow the government amounts to revisionist history, not the actual intent of the Framers.

Revolutionary Illusions

Though this revisionist history is more vocally promoted by today’s Right, it has a significant following on the Left, too.

With the Right, the idea of armed insurrection is mostly embraced by whites angry about federal action in defense of minorities, such as outlawing racial segregation and addressing the legacy of white supremacy. The Right’s dream of revolution usually involves fighting government bureaucrats who arrive backed by black helicopters and intent on trampling the “liberties” of “real Americans.”

But the romantic notion of armed revolution perhaps has been more insidious on the Left, because it has caused some progressives to essentially remove themselves from practical politics altogether, to wait for some inevitable collapse of the System, followed by a popular insurrection that somehow brings Utopia to the world.

Though the Right has similar true-believers although with a very different desired outcome the Right has continued to engage in regular politics. It has built a vast media infrastructure that conveys right-wing messaging to Americans in all corners of the country; it has well-funded “think tanks” to develop cutting-edge propaganda; and it has organized itself within the Republican Party, now having a substantial say over who the GOP nominates for state and federal office.

So, the Right has combined its armed militancy with political activism on the national, state and local levels. By contrast, the American Left mostly shut down its media outreach operations in the 1970s; it largely switched to “organizing” around local issues, rather than national ones; and it rejected opportunities to compete for a larger say within the Democratic Party, in favor of investing time and money in minor third parties.

As the Left opted for these approaches and its political relevance declined some leftists drifted away from any practical thinking. Instead of getting serious about achieving meaningful reforms, some got lost in fantastic conspiracy theories or were absorbed by dreams of some glorious revolution in the future.

For these reasons, whenever anyone suggests that the daily carnage from gun violence demands some commonsense gun laws like banning assault rifles and magazines with more than 10 rounds the proposals are met with such fury that most politicians, journalists or academics retreat.

Yet, while those who embrace these revolutionary fantasies may consider the price of the 20 dead kids in Newtown or the thousands of others who die each year “worth it,” the question now is whether most Americans will continue to acquiesce to that judgment.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and

15 comments for “The Price of Revolutionary Illusions

  1. Calzone
    December 29, 2012 at 16:04

    Mr. Parry, your bitterness over some tactical decisions the left (no need to capitalize) made in the 1970s is a recurring theme of your writing, and I think it’s a bit misplaced. So there were some people who emphasized local organizing, get over it already. And while there may have been some mistakes made regarding media infrastucture, there is obviously a lot of effort these days to rectify that. This article is just one straw man after another.

  2. gregorylkruse
    December 28, 2012 at 21:08

    Lessons learned during the French Revolution have faded so much that they have to be learned over again. When bad comes to worst, armed factions will vie for the power to impose their beliefs upon everyone else. It is fine to speculate upon what might happen in the future, but if revolution begins, it will only stop when everyone is exhausted.

  3. ORAXX
    December 28, 2012 at 09:43

    At the time the Second Amendment was adopted, and expert musketeer could get off about two rounds a minute with questionable accuracy. Twenty-first century, military style, weapons were beyond the comprehension of the founding fathers and I cannot believe they would have ever signed off on unrestricted access to them, had they known.

  4. Mark
    December 27, 2012 at 18:53


    You said there are two factors: “Amount of crime & amount of guns”.

    Those two things themselves are in fact proportionate. In cities where the law abiding citizen can procure a firearm for self-protection, crime is lower.

    In cities where the populace is held captive by a police state, and not allowed to protect themselves, crime is higher.

    The only notable exception is New York City . . . and the only exception there is Manhattan, where post-911 there is a surveillance camera and a patrol officer on every corner.

    I trust by now you’ve seen the map of the NYC suburbs where the permit holders were all mapped? Ask yourself why there is so much less crime in say Westchester than there is in BedSty. It has nothing to do with race, and everything to do with targets of opportunity.

    Criminals aren’t stupid. They do their work in areas where they have a reasonable assurance that the victims are helpless, defenseless and dependent on a uniformed officer being 20 minutes away.

    The myth of the “wild west” is just that, a myth. Read some actual history instead of just soaking in what Hollywood and their corporate owners want you to believe; you’ll feel better about trusting your fellow citizens with defending themselves instead of relying on more government employees in uniforms to do it.

    • db
      December 28, 2012 at 10:53


      First on your prior post: Your firearms are a danger to anyone in the vicinity. I need not quote you the statistics that guns are rarely used in home defense. They are much more likely to be used for domestic violence or suicide. know you are a mellow fellow, but even Jesus Christ could be pushed to anger; so I can’t exempt you or any member of your family.

      Next loaded guns are an extreme danger with small children around the house.

      Then they can be stolen.

      Hollywood very rarely talks about the limiting of guns in the Old West. They usually focus on the gun-fight (in slow motion) with blood spraying everywhere. The Earps & gun seizures are history.


      It was three aimed rounds per minute & an expert might approach four. Doesn’t change your argument though.

  5. Mark
    December 27, 2012 at 18:47

    Can someone show me where these self-deluded revolutionaries are?

    I keep firearms myself, and I know dozens of people who do. I’ve never heard someone talk about armed revolt. Not once.

    This article isn’t just a straw man . . . . there’s a Freudian catharsis happening here. The author *fears* armed revolution against a totalitarian state, probably because he longs for a totalitarian state, and he’s displacing that fear onto others.

    My firearms aren’t a threat to anyone who doesn’t kick in my door at 3am. You needn’t lose any more sleep about the delusions of others, gentle author.

  6. Vivek Jain
    December 27, 2012 at 15:53

    In column after column you’ve protected Obama, his allegiance to corporations and Global Capital, and his murderous tyranny. It’s puzzling to me why you would do this especially after your admirable record of investigative journalism on Carter, Israel, Reagan, and Bush. Do you not understand that our government and policymakers from both parties have eroded our freedoms, have no commitment to democracy or equality or justice, and have only contempt for the rule of law? The warmongering, the disaster capitalism, the dithering as ecology collapses–it’s all bipartisan. The policymakers don’t care about the murders of kids in Connecticut or Iraq or Detroit. They’ll use the deaths to further their agenda. They consider the deaths of civilians (and soldiers) collateral damage, something to be exploited. Do you really expect Americans to believe that the elites who manufacture hysteria about a “fiscal cliff”–even as they increase the number of imperialist wars, who condemn tens of millions to poverty through neoliberal policies–give a damn about the suffering and health of ordinary people? Wake up, man.

  7. Hillary
    December 27, 2012 at 10:22

    Thanks Peter Loeb

    lots to research there but all the “borderline” differences between – right – left – republican – democratic – socialist – communist – liberal etc.etc. “points of view” are too much for “even me” to comprehend.
    Much better to open peoples eyes to universally present but ignored catrostropic dangers such as over population and religion.

    BTW … Wikipedia tells us that Gabriel Kolko’s Jewish heritage has not prevented his being harshly critical of Zionism and Israel.
    Like many left-wing Jews, Kolko regards the result of the creation of Israel as “abysmal”.
    Zionism produced “a Sparta that traumatized an already artificially divided region”
    “a small state with a military ethos that pervades all aspects of its culture, its politics and, above all, its response to the existence of Arabs in its midst and at its borders”.
    Overall, his conclusion is that there is “simply no rational reason” that justifies Israel’s creation.
    Surely time to end the “tribal loyalty bond” of silence of such VIPs in the Public debate Forum of “Revolutionary Illusions” ?

  8. Peter Loeb
    December 27, 2012 at 06:41

    1. See the article in today’s by Professor Lawrence Davidson.
    4. See: Richard Drinnon, FACING WEST…
    Unfortunately modern commentators habitually (perhaps purposefully?) overlook
    vital work which has already been done. Some of the above may make contemporary
    progressives/liberals squirm. They do not always rubber stamp today’s progressive values.
    5. For an understanding of lobbying outside of AIPAC, John Tirman’s THE SPOILS
    OF WAR…. is a “must read”.

  9. Colin Brace
    December 27, 2012 at 01:37

    Armed conflict won’t solve America’s problems, but neither does voting for turncoats like Obama. Let’s not fool ourselves that the current system is democratic in any meaningful way.

  10. Kiatrina
    December 26, 2012 at 23:02

    Your are a foamin!

    You screech by half an octave to much to that old shrill tune of ‘those that oppose me on the Right and Left – embrace fantasies’. While I embrace 90 per-cent of the positions taken by the liberal websites. ( Hell I even donate to them.) In doing so I do not embrace these liberal websites’ lockstep position on gasp…guns. And further be sure I do not embrace personal dreams of waging some violent revolution sometime in the future.

    I live in a city where over three hundred people have been murdered…(most by guns) and where home invasions among a host of other felonies are common.

    Sometimes in my crime wrought city I fantasize, ‘can’t we all be friends’. With this fantasy I look at my family and think maybe I should put a sign on my home that says, ‘This is a weapons free home which desires peace but that I will call the police if any professional or opportunistic criminal dare enters my abode.’

    Always I end the fantasy abruptly.

    I have discussed my gun disarmament approach with a neighbor a (sociologist by profession) to see what she thinks of my good (fantasized) example promoting national peace. My neighbor points out that we live in a country (USA) that systematically kills children abroad, kills their parents, contaminates their lands, and destroys their societies to an extent that would require at least a couple of million ‘Newtowns’ for balancing some macabre equation of outrage. (The big liberal web sites to not bellow with Newtown gusto the children, the children, the children regarding this reality. “Ergo “, (ergo?) she says “If my country can kill with self-righteous abandon abroad they then the this country is just as potentially self-righteously a step away to kill with equal enthusiasm the children, the children, the children, domestically. I listen to my neighbor. She may be right or he may be wrong and so I do not accuse her of having “violent illusions.” So I say good day to your ‘ad hominums’ Mr. Parry. I think when you keep screaming about the children, the children, the children many of us in this world that have children read you just a little suspect.

    • db
      December 27, 2012 at 07:58

      Ms. Kiatrina,

      I don’t know what you & your Sociologist friend are talking about unless you are descending into “rehmat-esque” anti-Israel fantasies. You surely are not equating President Obama’s counter-terrorism actions to the wanton murder of children.

      I sympathize with the loss of 300 lives in your city this year.

      Why you? Why there? So I ask, what makes your city so different than others.

      Is your city significantly more over-crowded than say Tokyo?
      Does your city have significantly more mentally-deranged people than say Ottawa?
      Does your city play more video games than say Seoul?
      Do you think it a matter of race? Is your city significantly “blacker” than say Johannesburg?

      The answer to each of the questions is no.

      Your Sociologist friend ought to have told you that there are two statistics in which the US stands out: Amount of crime & amount of guns. It is the mix of those two factors that allow for such tragedies.

      How to break the cycle? I would point out that to the “Wild West” of the 19th Century. When the Earp Brothers went in to clean up a town; the first thing they did was seize the guns. The Earps, at least, thought that you can control crime better if the criminals don’t have ready access to guns. I agree

  11. Big Em
    December 26, 2012 at 21:31

    Excellent point Mr Parry. There are so many things wrong with the romantic notions of armed rebellion that they bear enumeration. Here’s just three main ones that quickly come to mind:
    1.) Disruption of society. While it’s macho & inspirational to spout
    rhetoric about fighting/killing from the comfort of your living
    room recliner, corner barstool, right-wing think tank, or talk-
    radio rant, living in a war-disrupted society
    can be the definition of hell-on-earth. I’m not talking about the
    US privations of WWII, where there was some rationing, but no
    destruction of US buildings & infrastructure. Take a look at
    places in war-torn Africa or Iraq to get a better idea of how it
    would be… day after day after day after day of little or no food,
    water, medical facilities, and constant worry about being killed
    by enemy or friendly fire… no dreams of getting a good job or
    raising a family or simple pleasures like golfing/softball/football/
    etc – – – just grinding deprivation and gnawing fear of death, hoping
    peace will come tomorrow.
    2.) Lack of success in promoting/achieving stated rebellion objectives.
    The NON-rebels in the US society are NOT going to be open to
    embracing any of the stated higher goals
    (peace, freedom, capitalistic free-markets, sexual/religious/racial
    equality, etc) while they’re in a state of near or total anarchy.
    They’re going to be interested in where their next meal is coming
    from. If you don’t believe that, just look around at the lack of
    idealism there is when we have relatively mild threats to our standard
    of living – – – like a recession here. People are willing to sell
    their neighbor down the river (ie; close down whole industries and
    ship them overseas) just in the mere hope of saving a buck or two
    and/or reducing their neighbor’s wages. IF they were threatened
    with the very real possibility of starvation or other similar death
    outcomes from society’s disolution, they sure as hell aren’t going
    to be discussing the nuances of civil rights or other ethical issues.
    How many pleasant/functional democracies have arisen out of those
    types of conditions?
    3.) Lack of military firepower. The US military-industrial complex has
    NOT just been sitting around buying $100 dollar hammers and losing
    billions of dollars in boondogles and corruption the past 65 years
    – – – they HAVE (for good or bad) by any objective measure and by
    common agreement – – – created the most fearsome firepower in the
    world. So even IF some
    band of 100 or 200 rebels were armed with assault weapons (firearms),
    they would quickly be dispatched by US military personnel with
    the tanks/missiles/bombs/grenades/etc that are NOT possessed by the
    rebels. A classic, tragic US example is the incident at Waco, TX
    with the Branch Davidians, and that was even when the US military
    was supposedly showing some restraint… if it were a more widespread
    rebellion, it would’ve been a more simple bombing. If somebody
    rolls into your house with a tank, you can have all the firearms
    you want and you’re still going to be dead. Also witness what happened
    in Fallujah, Iraq a few years ago to get an idea of how ‘successful’
    you could expect to be in the face of a sustained US military
    onslaught. The US military would have the supply chain, communication,
    experience, the propensity for violence at least equivalent (if not
    greater-than) the rebels, and probable support of most of the
    populace that would doom any armed rebellion.

    The true revolutions in our modern society have come from legislation. It’s a painfully & unnecessarily SLOW, tedious process, and needs to be improved, but armed violence will NOT improve it.

    • jack sprat
      December 26, 2012 at 22:03

      That’s a formidable straw man which you’re both assembling. In point of fact, the delusions of the paranoid aside, the widespread existence of arms is a firebreak that is only effective against the gendarmerie. Soldiers can be won over with appeals to their commonality with a citizenry, whereas cops the world wide are accustomed to killing those among whom they live. (The Red Chinese learned this lesson from the Russian Revolution, in which several armies were seduced in the streets to turn sides or disband. That’s why the soldiers in Tienanmen Square were all rural conscripts, who were raised on class hatred for the prosperous urbanite students whom they slaughtered enthusiastically.)

      • Eddie
        December 27, 2012 at 23:25

        That’s a novel argument ‘js’, but doesn’t jibe with much history that I recall. For instance, do you remember the inner-city riots from the 1960s, or the few college-campus instances of unrest from that time? The national guard (as opposed to the police) were typically called in and had little problem turning their weapons on their fellow citizens and shooting-to-kill, so you can go ahead and try to win them over with their appeals to their commonality with the citizenry, but you’d better have your will in order. Soldiers are trained/brow-beaten/brainwashed into becoming order-taking machines. Those that can’t get the brig and/or a dishonorable discharge. Military discipline requires that you take orders and don’t question it — they don’t want people arguing with them when they tell them to ‘go over the top’…

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