Are Formless Protest Groups More Dangerous?

by Charles C. W. Cooke

When covering it last year and this, I often remarked that Occupy Wall Street’s inchoate nature was soothing to me. With its chaotic and shallow thinking, the group was, I thought, unlikely to take over much. And it didn’t.

At the weekend, I was reading a collection of WFB’s speeches and came across the “The Republic’s Duty to Repress,” which he gave in 1970 to the Conference of New York State Trial Judges. WFB puts a good case to the contrary, arguing that those whose ideas are vague are dangerous precisely because they lack form:

It is a commonplace to observe that those of a rebellious spirit in our midst do not know what they want. And even that they do not know by what means to achieve the conditions they cannot specify. I consider these data rather less reassuring than otherwise. If the revolutionists were committed to an identifiable program, they might be bombarded with demonstrations that their program, or an approximation of it, is not producing the goods (in Cuba, say, or in the Soviet Union). But precisely the de-ideologization of their movement—the loose-jointedness of their approach—leaves them in a frame of mind at once romantic and diffuse, and the rest of us without the great weapon available to King Canute when he was able to contrive what would nowadays be called A Confrontation between the ineluctable laws of nature and the superstitious indulgences of his subjects . . .

It is all very well to take the revolutionists by the scruff of the neck and show them that revolutions, as Professor Toynbee preaches, historically have not brought about the ends explicitly desired, but something very like their opposite; but the success of such demonstrations presupposes a clinical curiosity on the part of the observer, and such is not the temper of those in America who are talking about revolution.

I don’t think this applies to Occupy Wall Street, but the question is interesting nonetheless.