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Every so often, someone will wonder why the American people seem so disinclined to engage in the kind of paralyzing street demonstrations that occur in other countries. I think that to a certain extent, it stems from a recognition that our political institutions are so moribund and non-responsive that the returns would be negligible. Let’s say that peaceful demonstrators shut down every major city for a month — at that point, we might reasonably suspect that one or two “centrist” senators would vote for cloture on a bill they’d otherwise have fillibustered. Armed revolution would only get us as far as the moderate, sensible reforms that everyone has known about for forty years but we never get around to implementing. And somehow even outright Stalinism would fail to get us all the way to single-payer health care.


August 1, 2009 - Posted by | politics


  1. I think it’s more that we’ve been conditioned to be a nation of chickenshits. When workers go on strike, the strikes are inevitably covered as merely a source of irritation for those consumers who demand the workers’ labor; protests are inevitably dismissed as freakshows or worse. We’ve been trained to believe that the only means of engaging with our ruling elite is through the electoral process – or, at best, the occasional letter-writing campaign. Anyone demanding change through actual action is inevitably seen as fucking things up for the vast majority who’d rather not be bothered, who’re satisfied with their mediocre middle-class existence.

    Comment by stras | August 1, 2009

  2. Stras’ situation being because the working class was the most successful working class in the world, and therefore had to be ruined, manufacturing jobs exported, service jobs taking over, and so on. Austerity, demoralization, credit consumption, complete with misinformation on how it was, historically, that gains ever took place. It wasn’t because of “progressive” politicians, as too many liberals seem to think (explaining why they put so much stock in the Democrats, I guess). They were fought for, tooth and nail, by people who understood what was really at stake.

    Comment by Richard | August 1, 2009

  3. Oh, I’m familiar with the lines about the working class. Talk to anyone in Flint, and they’ll tell you the unions destroyed the town — they were good in their time, but they overreached. Roger and Me was an attempt to tell the real story, but most people in Flint just took it as an attempt to show how pathetic and stupid they all were.

    Comment by Adam Kotsko | August 1, 2009

  4. How exactly can a peaceful demonstration shut down a city? You seem to imagine that an armed revolution would not result in a totally different government. This is highly irresponsible thinking, Adam. And it simply isn’t true that “everyone has known about” these reforms that you think are utterly obvious.

    Comment by Lloyd Mintern | August 4, 2009

  5. A demonstration of sufficient size could clog up the streets and make going about normal business impossible. You have also successfully identified the central joke of this post, namely the idea that our political structures are so immutable that even an armed revolution couldn’t destroy them.

    Comment by Adam Kotsko | August 4, 2009

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