Saturday, July 6, 2013
Reflections on the Fourth of July 2013
In between, I thought hard about this celebration of America. In particular I thought very hard about the meaning of Gettysburg, the enormous Civil War battle that occurred 150 years ago in Pennsylvania (1 July 1863 to 3 July 1863).
Here are my conclusions, for better or worse:
1) The United States is Revolution Proof
Basically, a strong majority will at least appear to prevail in the political arena and will thus find accommodation within our Constitutional system. A determined and organized minority may revolt--as the Confederacy did in 1861--but they will lose as they will be out-manned and out-gunned given the position of the President as Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces.
2) The South Never Stood a Chance
Gettysburg marks the high tide of the Confederacy. By all accounts, General Lee desperately needed a complete victory so he could march on Washington and seek a negotiated peace. Despite a long string of victories Lee understood that the South was out of troops and munitions and the North was nearly inexhaustible. This meant he needed to gamble and seize the offensive. Gettysburg was the logical conclusion of that gamble. The Union held dug-in positions on the high ground. Lee's attack resulted in the loss of over 1/3 of his Army which rendered victory in the ensuing war of attrition impossible. It is hard to imagine a stronger rebellion than the Confederacy--yet, it failed.
3) Revolution by Other Means is Similarly Impossible
In some nations, protests, coups and other mechanisms have resulted in regime change. But, not in the USA. In the US superior leaders are generally co-opted into the system. Because the US has long been the land of opportunity (albeit less so in recent years) the most talented in the system soon become invested in the system. People with IRA accounts and 30 year mortgages are not likely to revolt.
4) Those Seeking Change Must Work Within the US Constitution and Under Law
All of this precludes radical change in the US. Only change within the existing legal framework is possible and desirable. Overall, the historical outcomes of revolutions are mixed at best. It is hard to find a successful rebellion in a functioning republic or democracy.
The upshot of this is that any talk of violent armed revolt is nonsense. The US military is so advanced today that no amount of small arms can match it.
Those interested in change should look to history to learn how legal and regulatory reforms took root in the past. Similarly, one can analyze law and determine mechanisms available for durable reform. Reformers can also study political contexts that support reform efforts and try to propose reforms that fit with a given political context. This is the only path for reform in the US right now and those offering more radical paths are destined to fail and even further entrench the status quo.