The Capitol rioters are giving insurrection a bad name

Serious People, we are taught in schools and reminded in the news, know that decisions about our collective future are made by people debating within the government—in the halls of Congress, in the White House, in the courts—and inside corporate board rooms. A web of Sunday-morning talk shows, designed for consumption by Serious People, reminds us that our role is to closely follow these discussions, to have opinions on these matters, to discuss them with our friends, and to vote based on what we believe. The subtle implication remains: There’s little else we can do.

People don’t take insurrectionism seriously because it feels juvenile. People are so accustomed to relative powerlessness within contemporary representative democracy that notions of substantive change can feel silly or frivolous. People also tend to equate insurrectionism with revolution, the violent overthrow of an existing system, as we saw in the horrendous attack on January 6. While many Americans cheered revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, and throughout the Arab world, we must remember that most of these revolutions led to the violent suppression of dissent or the onset of civil war. Revolutions seem both dangerous to hope for and unlikely to end well, even when they are the best we can imagine for societies that neglect or actively transgress citizens’ rights or humanity.