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December 11, 2017

Stepping back from Occupation

“In times of such commotion as the present, while the passions of men are worked up to an uncommon pitch, there is a great danger of fatal extremes,” said Alexander Hamilton in a letter to John Jay in November 1775, on the eve of the American Revolution. He continued, “The same state of the passions which fits the multitude … very naturally leads them to a contempt and disregard of all authority.”

Who could possibly conceive that the venerable words of the two Founding Fathers, seemingly consigned to the realm of textbooks, could be so prescient as to be readily applicable today? Regardless of chronology, who would have guessed that they could be readily applied so locally?

Last Wednesday, a crowd of no insignificant number gathered in front of the W.E.B. Du Bois Library and marched to the Town Common – a crowd that, according to an Oct. 6 article in this esteemed paper – was marching in solidarity with the “Occupy Wall Street” protests occurring contemporaneously in New York’s financial district. Like the protesters in New York, those present at this gathering were motivated by eclectic reasons, from contempt for alleged “corporate greed” and “American imperialism” to revulsion regarding the recent execution of Troy Davis. There were even inchoate and passionate cries for outright revolution.

Though those present at the protest were numerous, and certainly vocal, their actions on that day thankfully did not represent a revolutionary deluge poised to tear asunder venerable American traditions and institutions, nor did it represent the start of an estranged, left-wing cousin of the “Tea Party” movement.

Despite the furor surrounding the “Occupy Wall Street” protests – to which innumerable meta-protests, including those in Amherst, have sworn fealty –  and despite the unbridled passion that many of its supporters impart unto the movement, it is prudent for the judicious student of politics to briefly recuse himself from the arms of this fervor and inquire as to whether the stated aims of the “Occupy Location X” movement are even desirable, nevermind tenable. According to the self-ordained website of the protests, OccupyWallSt.org, the remonstrations are a “…leaderless resistance movement … [who] are the 99 percent that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1 percent.”

To the verdant observer, this seems fair enough; it is common knowledge that income inequality has markedly increased over the course of the past three decades. However, when one unmasks the idealistic facade of the organization, they uncover a face that is organizationally fractious and politically intemperate. According to a recent column in the New York Times by Columbia professor Todd Gitlin, “… it remains true that the core of the movement … consists of … anarchists.” Furthermore, he asserts, they are motivated by the abstract sentiment that “… [one does] not need institutions because the people, properly assembled, properly deliberating … can regulate themselves.”

Though difficult to earnestly ascertain, if a critical mass of the demonstrators, both in Amherst and nationwide, are possessed by such a worldview, it is a cause for great and immediate concern. If the repudiation of all forms of hierarchy, be they governmental or economic, is an enumerated objective of this organization, then the protesters logically reject the very ordered liberty that affords them the right to demonstrate and petition government in the first place. There would be no ability to protest if not for an active, vibrant judiciary dedicated to the defense of that “right.” Most damningly, there would be no conception of this “right” without a society and government that recognizes the inextricable bond between civil liberties and the moral order that enshrines them.

However, government does not exist merely for guaranteeing the liberties so generously bestowed by the Creator. It also exists to maintain law and order, to judiciously repress the passions of the mob, and to serve as the unbreakable fiber of nationhood, so fastidiously interwoven throughout history. Governments are established with the charge of the maintenance of law and order, the diffusion of power, and the subjugation of disparate interests to harmonious equilibrium. This philosophical cold shower necessarily rebukes the fanciful, utopian visage of the chaos euphemistically termed “direct democracy” –  chaos so dutifully promulgated by our activist brethren in Amherst and elsewhere.

Sure, the extirpation of hierarchy in its myriad forms would root out the alleged “corruption” associated with it, but it would also debase society in the most destructive possible manner. If all hierarchy is swept away like the sordid rubbish the protestors are seemingly equating it with, so too would be law and order, patent protections, infrastructure maintenance, and national defense. Disaster relief agencies, whose services would be so desperately needed in the absence of government and the reign of chaos, would be unceremoniously tossed atop the conflagration.

This is not to say that our systems of government and economics are perfect. As of now, iniquitous knavery is reigning in lieu of informed leadership. Similarly, the protesters are more than entitled to their right to peacefully demonstrate, and it is indeed heart-warming to see so many members of our generation – a generation considered by its predecessors to be more predisposed to apathy than to activism – to be engaging in politics on such a mass scale. However, this grass-roots movement of the Left, much like its Tea Party counterparts, must understand that the road to renewal is not through myopic revolution, but through wise revision. Hamilton, though so far removed from our own time, said as much in the same aforementioned letter to John Jay, “In such tempestuous times, it requires the greatest skill in the political pilots to keep men steady and within proper bounds.”

Dan Stratford is a Collegian Columnist and can be reached at dstratfo@student.umass.edu.

Comments
One Response to “Stepping back from Occupation”
  1. therevolutionwillnotbetelevised says:

    In other words…resistance is futile
    just because some of the protesters are anarchists doesn’t mean it’s an anarchist movement. This label “anarchist” is one step away from being called a terrorist or a treasonous individual. Each person is protesting different things, but labeling makes it easy to discredit the movement and make people think that the protest is only for extremists. Even the cartoon in the Collegian hints that this is a communist movement.

    The story that’s missing here is the police brutality and mass arrests going on at these peaceful protests.

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