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The Right to Revolution

March 30, 2011

To speak against revolution, as both Burke and More have done, is only half of the story. While it is not legitimate to violently overthrow a government, revolutionary speech and actions up to the violent overthrow are not only allowed, but are a moral responsibility.

When a person or group is systematically excluded from the conventions of society, as American Blacks were when Malcolm X gave his Ballot or the Bullet speech, the institutions of society hold no benefit for said group. With no benefit from the institutions, and actual harm coming from them, the legitimacy of their preservation evaporates. When oppressed by the institutions, no person can reasonably be expected to respect these institutions. Malcolm X said that no longer could the rights he was fighting for be considered civil rights, they were to be called human rights. He saw blacks as excluded from the society that is the foundation of these civil rights, but as a person he could not be excluded from possessing human rights.

When a person’s rights are being denied, they have every right to demand those rights in any way necessary to secure them, and if the institutions and traditions of society are what are in the way, one has every right to dismantle those institutions via revolution. Obviously a better way to achieve these ends is to be admitted to the protections of the societal institutions and granted civil rights, but when excluded one has no avenue to attain this.

Enter the moral responsibility of those included in the institutions of society. Those on the ‘inside’ must advocate for those on the outside; it is those under the protection of societal institutions who have the power to change them via non-revolutionary means. Society is by nature universal, and breaks down as groups and people are excluded. In order to protect society the participants must use their power to demand that universality is achieved. Without universality those on the inside are no longer living in a society, but are the privileged elite living at the expense of those who are oppressed. Through their indifference they become the oppressors and the enemy of the oppressed. Because of their exclusion, if a persecuted group decided to revolt, it would not be a revolution against a society but against this elite class who is in control of the traditional institutions that have systematically oppressed them. It would be more like a slave revolt than a revolution of the citizenry.

The only way that Malcolm X and the American Blacks at that time found themselves in their situation was for those not affected by the oppression to ignore their plight. Those in the media and the government responsible for the misrepresenting, obfuscating, and outright ignoring of the situation also exist outside of the society by undermining its institutions and not allowing them to function properly. The bullet used against society is not ever justifiable, but those excluded from society certainly have the right to revolt against those who stand in the way of their participation in it; those who are denying them their civil rights. People inherently have a right to their freedom, and with that comes the right to dispose of those who stand in their way. This could not be considered a revolution, but a war between those who are being oppressed and those actively oppressing them. People always have the right to demand their rights, as Malcolm X said: By any means necessary.


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