In response to a well-received Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies (IEET) article by Franco Cortese, I recently authored ananalysis at ClubOfINFO on the Second Amendment’s possibilities against tyranny in the United States. Due to deepening totalitarian tendencies in the US government, such as mass surveillance and extrajudicial killings, I believe this discussion is very relevant and deserves greater attention.
Franco’s article made the case that the right to bear arms no longer offers hope against the technological might of any future tyranny that may emerge in the United States. Is resistance futile, because the US government will always outgun the people and possess the deadlier weapons? Is the future really so bleak for Americans? Are regimes destined to become impervious to opposition, and the people destined to be disarmed and disenfranchised everywhere as the state reaches unprecedented levels of power? Brzezinksi believed as much, when he stated, “today, it is infinitely easier to kill a million people than to control a million people.”
I disputed Franco’s assessment that modern states are too strong to overthrow by popular armed resistance. The United States of America is a unique country solely in that it was the first to be founded on popular armed resistance by a nation. And, up until the government’s gravitation towards the control and confiscation of firearms, the US regime continued to acknowledge popular armed resistance as a means of establishing sovereignty.
In the modern world, popular armed resistance is not less effective than it was in the past, but has in fact become the most overwhelmingly effective form of warfare because conventional wars between states are becoming increasingly obsolete. States worry so much about the threat of “terrorism” and ubiquitous popular technologies and instruments of activism (such as personal computers), because they acknowledge the reality that armed resistance by their own subjects is the greatest threat to their authority.
Since the development of atomic weapons, the specter of armed resistance by US citizenry against their own regime has been a far bigger and more enduring challenge than any foreign power or terrorist group that could conceivably threaten the United States homeland. The regime knows this, hence its obsession with wiretapping its own population, suppressing their ability to disclose the truth about the crimes of the regime, and ultimately confiscating their means of self-defense.
Analysts of many different schools of International Relations theory agree that internal conflict is becoming more widespread and more threatening than conventional war between states. Part of the reason for this is that, as already mentioned, states now have the capability to annihilate one another completely with nuclear bombs. This has been part of the international order since 1945. Direct encroachment on one another’s territory with armies is now considered too risky by most states even if they have fairly powerful armies (like the United States), and so the only alternative is to encourage internal violence inside the state being targeted (as the US and its allies encourage in Syria).
It was probably the collapse of the East Bloc and the Soviet Union in 1989-1990 that established internecine struggle and “spontaneous” revolution as the most viable models for imposing a new order in another country, instead of military occupation. Since that time, the number of countries facing a serious internal crisis of statehood has risen dramatically, to such an extent that the future of the nation-state model all over the world can now be called into question.
The nature of war has fundamentally changed, so that it is no longer mainly the business of states. Instead, war is now mainly the business of armed individuals and militias all over the world. War is still the continuation of politics by other means, as defined by Carl von Clausewitz, but when and how it breaks out is no longer decided or declared by government figures as it once was. Now, it can break out anywhere and without authorization from anyone, as long as passions are flying high, state legitimacy has been mocked, and police-order is deteriorating. This is possible, because World War 2 and the creation of nukes made states less confident in declaring conventional wars as a means of pursuing their interests.
Primary examples of “wars” in the world now, if they can be called that, take place between regimes and the people they have failed to adequately govern or assimilate into the “nation”. These wars are taking place in Syria, Libya, Iraq, Mali, Nigeria, Ukraine and many other countries as I write. Such violence happens because old-fashioned states are forged by bloodshed, so they have to create new bloodshed to burn their authority back into hearts and minds whenever their legitimacy is called into question. Like religious traditions, nation-states have always been created and maintained by bloody purges of nonbelievers and cultural aliens in order to establish the necessary homogeneity to make people believe in the nation.
Today, any significant national birth or rebirth remains difficult to execute by any regime without involving deaths, because these deaths (of the nation’s enemies, but more importantly "martyrdom" of the nation’s citizens themselves) are a bitter part of the narrative needed to legitimize a nation-state. In the case of national rebirth by revolution against an old regime, neighboring powers find it impractical to get involved by sending their national armies, as happened in the French and Russian revolutions. This gives them reason to invest more in terrorism, whether it is by their own proxies or those of other states, whenever they want to influence the political transition inside another state. Such a focus on terrorism rather than occupation by world powers has made terrorism the most popular and viable means of regime change by governments and rebels everywhere. Terrorism is now used by everyone, and seems destined to entirely replace war as we know it.
One of the main characteristics of internal warfare and civil unrest is that the state avoids calling such a situation a “war”. More importantly, the state cannot use too heavy weapons against the population because it would damage its own infrastructure and legitimacy. The destruction caused by this would only strengthen the claims of insurgents seeking the ouster of the regime. This makes it likely that powerful states would fight their revolting populations with small arms equal to the weapons of the hypothetical insurgents. By giving up their right to possess firearms and form armed militias, Americans would lose their option to defy the regime and execute a popular revolution similar to the one that brought their country into existence.
The key to a successful armed revolution is not superior military technology or training, but overwhelming popular support and commitment by the insurgents to fulfill the will of the people. Illegitimate terrorism fails not because it is an asymmetrical form of warfare and is weak in the face of advanced technology, but due to its inability to connect with the grievances of the common people. In those cases where the people are represented effectively by the militias they have pledged to support, the militias are not terrorists but freedom fighters for a bright future.
If the United States government chooses to continue to defy the people and force a totalitarian apparatus on them, as exposed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, it will not maintain power by attacking its own people with its advanced technology. The value of the Second Amendment as a counter to tyranny would become evident to the citizenry at such a time. If a “Revolution 2.0” became necessary in the United States, following the tradition of the first revolution against an unjust regime, the right to be part of a citizen militia would be instrumental in bringing down the regime effectively and with minimal harm to the people.
If a modern armed struggle was equivalent to the American Revolution, the entire nation would be represented by such a movement, and it is a fact that no nation can be isolated and destroyed by the state ruling over it. Illegitimate terrorism by isolated groups and individuals can be defeated with advanced technology, but popular armed resistance by a whole nation will always prevail over the regime.
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