CBS News, seizing upon the zeitgeist, one supposes, had a new poll out Tuesday night which I’ve just seen now. In it they ask respondents whether they think there is a right to violent action against the government. The question is phrased thus:
“Do you think it is ever justified for citizens to take violent action against the government, or is it never justified?”
Then, of course, the responses are broken down by party affiliation. Surprise: while just eleven percent of Democrats and eleven percent of independents believe it is ever justified to take violent action against the government, fully 28 percent of Republicans do. It doesn’t surprise me that there would be a poll trying to put the smell of blood in the water given the climate of the last week. But what does surprise me is that 76 percent of respondents, including 64 percent of Republicans, think it is never right to take up arms against the government. Ever.
What about if the government canceled the next election and started seizing first-born; or arbitrarily disappearing whole classes of citizenry; or summarily abolished private property and confiscated all our belongings at the tip of a bayonet? Not even then? Gosh, even Hobbes thought you had a right to violently resist a state that was trying to kill you. What could these 76 percent be thinking? (Even worse, eight percent of respondents were unsure! You’d better know what you believe by the time you hear the jackboots round the corner.)
I’m a Union man to the marrow — Liberty and Union, Now and Forever, One and Inseparable — and I think as much as the next Union man that the question of whether there is a right to violent insurrection, for political purposes, against the duly-elected government was settled for all time at the courthouse at Appomattox. But when in the course of human events — hell, you know the rest.
So I guess I’d be among that 28 percent. But then, so would Hobbes, and Edmund Burke for that matter. Even Louis XVI would probably put himself down as an “unsure.”