Uncommon Sense: The Coming Revolt of the Guards

All those histories of this country centered on the Founding Fathers and the Presidents weigh oppressively on the capacity of the ordinary citizen to act.

They suggest that in times of crisis we must look to someone to save us: in the Revolutionary crisis, the Founding Fathers; in the slavery crisis, Lincoln; in the Depression, Roosevelt; in the Vietnam-Watergate crisis, Carter. And that between occasional crises everything is all right, and it is sufficient for us to be restored to that normal state. They teach us that the supreme act of citizenship is to choose among saviors, by going into a voting booth every four years to choose between two white and well-off Anglo-Saxon males of inoffensive personality and orthodox opinions.

The idea of saviors has been built into the entire culture, beyond politics. We have learned to look to stars, leaders, experts in every field, this surrendering our own strength, demeaning our own ability, obliterating our own selves. But, from time to time, Americans reject that idea and rebel.

– Howard Zinn (A People’s History of the United States)

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In May 2017 [stderr] I did a post in which I pointed out that Robert Mueller is not “our friend” just because in this brief time he is somewhat opposed to Trump’s overt interests: “One of my personal agendas in blogging here is to help people defeat the assumption that someone whose interests appear to be aligned with theirs on one thing, is aligned with theirs on most things.” Mueller is not our savior. He is, in fact, a distraction – a hook The People can hang their hopes on while all of the other mechanisms stand idle that ought to have perp-walked a remarkably corrupt and dishonest president. To paraphrase Mark Twain, if Mueller’s investigation was going to seriously threaten Trump, it would have never been allowed in the first place. And the “blue wave” doesn’t appear to be a savior, either: one of the first things Nancy Pelosi said was that they weren’t going to start impeachment proceedings. All those people who backed the Democrats, because they were hoping the Democrats would save them – they just got fucked, their usefulness is over for now.

Meanwhile, we’re expected to stand back and watch the utterly corrupt, unconstitutional election in Georgia – after months of open discussion (including comments from Kemp) about vote suppression; now that hundreds of thousands of votes have been manipulated, let’s count down to the final few thousand. By all means. Let’s wait for the rigged system to complete its work, by all means. Why is nobody chanting “lock him up”? We’re waiting for a savior. There should be 400,000 people with torches and pitchforks surrounding government offices in Georgia. We’re waiting for a savior. The longer they can get us to wait, the less likely it is anything will happen; we become accustomed to the status quo. Instead of waiting for Blue Wave 2.0 I’m going to wait for the revolution.


  1. Pierce R. Butler says

    Well, yeah – but what has this to do with revolting guards?

    The Praetorians turned their knives on the Caesars, but as a strictly business-level transaction.

    And (some of) the Cossacks slacked-off-on-purpose while guarding the Winter Palace, but I suspect mostly because the Czar* wasn’t brutal (“strong”) enough for their tastes. Or maybe just that their checks came in late/short that week.

    Can’t think of many examples in between.

    * “Czar” – a Russianized name for “Caesar”. Some things just don’t change much, especially autocracies.

  2. says

    They suggest that in times of crisis we must look to someone to save us

    In 1930ies this sentiment ended up with totalitarian and authoritarian regimes springing up all over the Europe. People like Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini (or the Latvian equivalent Kārlis Ulmanis) certainly saved their countries and made the world a better place. /sarcasm tag

    The idea of saviors has been built into the entire culture, beyond politics.

    Yes, that’s the whole point of every mainstream religion out there. And even in the atheist countries this sentiment still lingers, for example, it’s pervasive in school history lessons.

  3. bmiller says

    Sorry. I guess I am not a worthy enough “anarchist”. “Revolution” to me means Mao, Pol Pot, or Robespierre. Or, given the realities of modern America, quarrelling fiefdoms controlled by the white people versions of MS13.

  4. bmiller says

    In other words, “revolution” also depends on “saviors”. A perfect example of depending on “the people” is seen right now in Pakistan, with salt of the earth mobs of average people chanting for the death of an apostate Christian for daring to insult the prophet.

    I love your overarching skepticism, Marcus. Then you throw out things like “waiting for the revolution”. The revolution will not bring your mythical anarchist state to America. It would bring Gilead.

  5. jazzlet says

    I don’t have heroes because the idea of a saviour hero implies a level of perfection no human can achieve. I do have people I admire for aspects of their lives, but not heroes. I also distrust the idea as, as you say, it all too often leads to people abdicating their responsibilitty to act even to the small extent they can act.

  6. sonofrojblake says

    I read the title and expected the post to be about the possibility of the Secret Service possibly taking it into their hands to effect what would amount to a coup d’etat simply to protect the Constitution from rape at the tiny hands of its current designated chief protector. How disappointing.

    I was reminded of a joke told by UK standup comedian Frankie Boyle. He reminded the audience that Margaret Thatcher famously used to sleep only four hours a night, boosted in part by regular injections of vitamins from a doctor. On this, he mused “Where was Harold Shipman when his country needed him?”.

  7. kurt1 says

    Well, yeah – but what has this to do with revolting guards?

    Zinns guards are the people who keep the system going:

    In a highly developed society, the Establishment cannot survive without the obedience and loyalty of millions of people who are given small rewards to keep the system going: the soldiers and police, teachers and ministers, administrators and social workers, technicians and production workers, doctors, lawyers, nurses, transport and communications workers, garbagemen and firemen. These people – the employed, the somewhat privileged- are drawn into alliance with the elite. They become the guards of the system, buffers between the upper and lower classes. If they stop obeying, the system falls.
    That will happen, I think, only when all of us who are slightly privileged and slightly uneasy begin to see that we are like the guards in the prison uprising at Attica – expendable; that the Establishment, whatever rewards it gives us, will also, if necessary to maintin its control, kill us.

    He also says the revolt of the guards is a hope and not a prediction.

  8. springa73 says

    I actually bought a copy of Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States recently and I’ve found the parts that I’ve read to be pretty good. I don’t get the impression that Zinn wants a revolution on the model of the French or Russian revolutions – he seems to be talking more about a mass refusal to take orders, like the quote in the previous post says. I don’t know if that’s at all probable or not – organized groups of people have gotten their demands met by refusing to work in the case of strikes but to change the organization of the whole government and society you would need even larger-scale disobedience. There’s also the question of whether a sudden change in government and society might not lead to something worse instead of better.

    I do agree with the point that traditional history is much too inclined to emphasise great individuals who are presented as saviors. Zinn largely ignores the traditional great figures of US history for that reason. I wouldn’t recommend regarding his book as the absolute truth about US history (and I don’t think he would either), but it is very valuable in giving a different perspective from traditional histories.

  9. jrkrideau says

    @1 Pierce R. Butler
    You did not mention that the Russian Imperial Guards (Preobrazhensky Lifeguard Regiment I think? ) deposed of Czar Paul and one or two others czars, placed Catherine the Great on the throne (they may or may not have been involved in her husband’s sudden demise) and so on.

    They were amazingly loyal to Russia and even the Romanov dynasty but not to any single Tzar. Annoy them enough and there was another Romanov (or even this nice little girl from Germany)

    The Praetorians were (well originally) republicans, I think.