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The Right to Rebel

Modern society is plagued by tyranny and evil at the hands of the state. At what point should a people rebel against their government?

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By Benjamin Olsen | United States

The right to revolution is a concept that seems to have its roots at the beginning of time. The first widespread idea of the right to rebel and the overthrow of rulers was started in ancient China. The philosophy was known as the “Mandate of Heaven.” The Mandate can be summed up as: “If a monarch is behaving poorly, then bad things will happen. If bad things happen, then heaven has withdrawn its support and the people may rise up to overthrow the ruler.” This sentiment is mirrored in a more secular way with the idea of the social contract, the idea that we continue to allow ourselves to be ruled as long as the ruler protects our rights. This idea has been promulgated by John Calvin, John Locke and the Founding Fathers of America. The idea of the right to rebellion has been seen all throughout history, but the most successful execution was seen in 1776.

The philosophy of the American Revolution was rooted in the ideals of the age of enlightenment. Thomas Jefferson and other revolutionaries saw the power these ideas had to change not only their country, but the world. Most of the founders were hesitant at the fact of starting their own country and rather sought to reconcile their grievances with the magistrates of Great Britain. It was John Adams, a founder with an ideology leaning towards monarchism, that lead the charge towards a full separation from the island of Great Britain. This idea was deemed radical and the Congress debated the idea for over a year before finally ratifying the Declaration of Independence. Even after ratification, the general populace was against the idea of revolution. Only 25% of the population was active in the fight against Great Britain. The idea of splitting from a government that the majority of people had familial and other ties to was beyond belief. Revolutions can start small but can grow to be an unstoppable juggernaut. The American Revolution was truly started by a small organization known as the Sons of Liberty. This small fraternity was responsible for the Boston Tea party and the opening shots at Lexington and Concord. What the American Revolution exemplifies the best is how successful a small revolution can be. Starting with a small fraternity and ending with an independent nation and a modern day powerhouse.

Another example of revolution is the Easter Rising in 1916 that took place in Ireland. This revolution is different from the American one as it takes place in what is considered the modern day and it is a failed revolution that sparked something bigger than itself. The Easter Rising is rooted in an ancient rivalry between England and Ireland. Dating back to 1169, England tried to exert its dominance over the British Isles, and in particular Ireland. Irish history, as a result of such occupation and colonization, has a history rife with tragedy and turmoil. Irish rebellions stretch back to the first occupation and extend all the way to the 1990s. The true turning point in the same story of a failed rebellion came in 1916.

In the midst of the great war, a small organization of Irish patriots, ranging in ideologies from socialism and monarchists to classical liberals and fascists, planned to rebel against the English crown while it was occupied in the trenches of northern France. The rebellion gathered its strength in secret and trained with what arms it could manage to procure. On Easter Monday, 1916 the small band of revolutionaries struck. They first seized the General Post Office and rose the Irish Tricolor, that continues to be the flag of Ireland to this day. By the end of the week, the rebellion was defeated. All of the signers of the proclamation of the provisional government were executed. The Easter Rising had failed to free Ireland from the British. However, within the next two decades the Irish people would rise up, their eyes opened to the British atrocities. Ireland would become independent in 1937. Throughout the rest of the century beginning in the early 50s and continuing until the late 90s, Irish freedom fighters fought for the freedom of the North and the ability for it to join the Republic of Ireland. The Easter Rising shows how even a failed revolution can lead to an independent nation.

All people that are governed have a right to overthrow their governor if their rights are not protected. In today’s world, we are taxed at a rate unimaginable by the Founding Fathers. We have atrocity after atrocity perpetrated against us. Rebellion does not always have to be with fire and bullets like the Easter Rising and American Revolution, but we cannot continue to allow our rights to be curbed in the name of security and safety. As Thomas Jefferson put it “I prefer dangerous freedom over peaceful slavery.” We should all seek such freedom and the ability to decide our own destiny free from intrusion by a government, that may as well be foreign. Revolution can come through the ballot box such as the Civil Rights Movement. Revolution can be peaceful such as Gandhi’s liberation of India. Only if necessary must a revolution be violent. Let us not suffer to be ruled, but to be rulers of our own lives. A revolution is needed to be freed from the bureaucratic quagmire and corrupt governance that plagues this nation.


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