- Any government, no matter how free and democratic, could turn tyrannical any day. The constant threat of political violence is the basis of freedom because it is the only thing that keeps governments honest.
- Only government can threaten liberty. People who offer armed resistance to government are necessarily pure of heart.
- Finally, though never openly stated, there seems to be an assumption that political violence is something benign or ever therapeutic, simply liberty at its most exuberant.
Any look at actual evidence, or even mere common sense consideration, shows these assumptions to be false.
Free and democratic government rests, not on the threat of political violence, but on the uniform renunciation of political violence, as others have eloquently set forth. Indeed, one might say that in the U.S. at least, violence is the ultimate measure of legitimacy. We are prepared to tolerate civil disobedience, mass demonstrations, rage, vituperation, and much else. But whoever resorts to violence for a political end is beyond the pale of all acceptable practice. I welcome input from anyone out there, but off the top of my head, I cannot think of any free and democratic government that has failed so long as all actors maintained their renunciation of violence.
Governments threatened by violence are much more likely to be oppressive and trample on liberty than ones that are secure. In our own history, even a small threat has often provoked gross over-reaction. In other countries, the overreactions have been considerably worse. (See Freikorps for how nasty even a free and democratic government can get when it feels threatened).
Whatever we may think of people who take up arms against tyrants (and their record is mixed at best), under a democracy, people who take up arms are terrorists, plain, pure and simple. Black Shirts or Brown Shirts, Red Brigades or Red Army Faction, Ku Klux Klan or Weather Underground, people who take up arms against a democratic government are far more likely to be threats to freedom than its protectors.
And, finally, political violence is not simply liberty at its most exuberant. Political violence in a democracy is not a sign of a healthy body politic; it is a sign that the body politic is unhealthy. Small-scale political violence can be defeated; on a great scale it is invariably a sign that democracy is in grave danger.
It is possible that some insurrectionist, presented with overwhelming evidence against their viewpoint, would dismiss it as irrelevant. The threat of political violence may not in fact be vital to the survival of free government, they may say, but the Founding Fathers thought it was and wrote that right into our Constitution, and the will of the Founders must be obeyed regardless of the facts, unless modified by constitutional amendment. In fact, there is ample evidence that the Founders were well aware of the dangers of political violence and feared anarchy as much as they feared tyranny. (I may address that on some other occasion). But even if some insurrectionist were to present me with irrefutable evidence that the Founding Fathers favored political violence (or at least the threat of such violence) as vital to liberty, then I would simply say that the Founding Fathers were dead wrong, and that when theory comes into conflict with reality, reality must prevail every time. To believe otherwise was the error of the Jacobins and the Bolsheviks.