Civil disobedience – nonviolent direct action – is, in my view, a justified alternative to violent revolution, to be used when the democratic process is unavailable, as was the case during the Second Reconstruction era. Blacks denied the right to vote in the South, and their white supporters, took direct action – facing both arrest and illegal violence by law enforcement officials and others – against an intolerable and undemocratic system.
But when the ballot box is available, direct action to coerce the majority and its elected representatives into yielding to your policy demands is not justifiable. I thought that in the context of the Vietnam War, when the “shut it down” folks managed to enrage the very voters they need to so persuade and thereby helped re-elect Richard Nixon and keep the war going, and nothing that has come along since has changed my mind.
On the other hand, it’s fair to say that I have utterly failed to persuade anyone of my viewpoint on this. “Civil disobedience” as a tactic is hallowed by its use in the Civil Rights era, and the invocation of that slogan serves as an effective argument-ender. (Nor have I persuaded anyone, so far as I can tell, to read the original Thoreau essay, which is about withdrawal of obedience as a revolutionary strategy against a government engaged in imperialism and slavery, not a mere pressure-group tactic.)
But history, it is said, is philosophy teaching by example. Whether or not a group of lunatic truckers following the lead of a failed C&W singer actually succeed in nonviolently paralyzing the Capital next week (more, that is, than the Republicans in Congress have already paralyzed it) by their (fully nonviolent) tactic of making their trucks a “moving roadblock” on the Beltway, the fact that the tactic is being used in support of a group of incoherent but obviously right-wing demands ought to help clarify the moral issues involved for some progressives.
So, some questions for RBC readers:
1. Do you hope that the FBI has infiltrated the group and is able to identify those coming to DC for the purpose of shutting down the city?
2. Would you support the pre-emptive arrest of those who have entered into the conspiracy when they are found to be moving toward DC with their eighteen-wheelers? Or should the police stand by helplessly until the city is blockaded? If the truckers carry through on their threat to lock their brakes and walk away, the process of clearing the roads could take days.
My guess is that this will fizzle. But the extremist political rhetoric and actions of the right-wing media and political elite both heightens the risk of this sort of behavior and raises the stakes enormously. I’d like to hear Rand Paul and Ted Cruz discourage their followers from participating, but I’m not holding my breath. The scariest thing about the U.S. News article is that every single right-leaning commenter supports this lunacy.