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The legality of violent revolution?

  1. Sep 9, 2004 #1
    Obviously, the first and second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence clearly state that when a government fails to serve the people properly and abuses their power etc. that it is the right of the people, and their duty, to overthrow such a form of government.

    Let's say someone feels that the govt. has gone too far, has reach the point by which elections can not properly reforms it, and thinks that the only way to restore legitimacy to the govt. is to abolish it and start anew. So he goes, kills a bunch of government officials, and is of course arrested.

    Now, it seems, regardless of his reasoning, this guy would be sent to jail his whole life, or executed, depending on the state. However, by his reasoning, he was doing what is best for America, trying to bring down a corrupt system the only way he saw fit. It seems like it's pretty much up to the judge/jury whether or not the officials he killed were evil/corrupt/abusive enough to justify being killed by a vigilante/revolutionary, right?
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 9, 2004 #2
    Revolution requires a majority of people to be successful. If you are the only one moving then you are a traitor.

    There's nothing magical about this. The will of the people should/will be done. If people supported you, the judge/jury would find you not guilty.

    P.S. I like how this is a hypothetical in any country, until your last paragraph when you say America.
  4. Sep 9, 2004 #3
    That makes sense, kind of, as far as the will of the people being done on a grand scale. However, if the government were so corrupt that they needed to be revolted against, would you really think the judge/jury selection would be impartial? Revolutions don't pop up over night, they generally start with a minority, the few violent revolutionaries would be traitors to the current govt., but not necessarily to the concept of America. "In the beginning of a change, the patriot is a scarce and brave man, hated and scorned. When his cause succeeds however, the timid join him, for then it costs nothing to be a patriot."
    - 'Mark Twain'

    It wasn't a hypothetical without nationality, I talked about the Declaration of Independence in the first paragraph, it was meant to be in regards to America.
    Last edited: Sep 9, 2004
  5. Sep 9, 2004 #4
    Being executed is the price one pays for attacking the government and being unsuccessful. And for that the "rebel" has no qualms. Remember what Patrick Henry said, "Give me liberty or give me death." Along the same lines, a tax protester must be willing to accept a jail term as part of his social contract for breaking the law. A lot of people misunderstand civil disobedience and think that such acts should carry no consequence as long as the person thinks he is in the right.

    Now, what is this all about?
  6. Sep 9, 2004 #5
    Gotcha, unjust govt. can't be expected to even follow their own rules, you gotta take what you get for challenging them.

    Bah, I need to sit back and think about stuff on my own before asking random people on the internet, I should have been able to reach that conclusion on my own.
  7. Sep 9, 2004 #6
    I guess. What's this all about?
  8. Sep 9, 2004 #7
    Don't worry, I'm not gonna go kill Bush and his cabinet :tongue2:

    I just started school on Tuesday, got my American studies textbook today, was going through it and read the Declaration of Independence, and it just got me thinking.
  9. Sep 9, 2004 #8
    If you win a revolution, you make new laws, install a new system. If you win, revolution is not illegal. If you lose, it is.
  10. Sep 10, 2004 #9
    My gosh, I agree with Adam yet again. I think I'm going to down a glass of brandy and blow my brains out. :)
  11. Sep 10, 2004 #10

    the american revolution was actively supported by about 10% of the people
    far less fought or gave real materal support [cash or goods]

    most people just wanted to live their lives in peace
    and don't care or belive it will help them

    winners write the history and make the laws
    the other side moves. dies, or hides, or claims to have been on the winning side
  12. Sep 10, 2004 #11


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    The Declaration of Independence is not a law. It's a statement about why Americans felt it necessary to break the law - in fact, a statement explaining why they're going far beyond just breaking the law, to the point of abolishing the entire existing government and replacing it with their own.

    Motivation may play a part in deciding how severe the sentence should be (if the revolution is unsuccessful), but it's pretty cut and dried about whether it is against the law or not, regardless of the judge/jury's opinion of the law.

    Of course, if the revolution is successful, you form a new government with new laws - probably some laws restricting violent revolutions (elections are pretty much a constant peaceful revolution - you don't like the guy in office, throw him out and put in someone who might do a better job listening to the people's needs and desires).
  13. Sep 10, 2004 #12


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    It is a bit of a catch-22, but what we tried to do with the US government is build-in the concept of revolution via separation of powers and amendments. I think it is unlikely that the government will ever be able to overpower the citizenry, but in any case, trying to change the government outside of the boundaries set up by the Constitution is, by definition, illegal even if its in the spirit of the Declaration.
    Naa, discussion is the whole point of a forum like this - now you have us thinking about the issue as well.
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