Saturday, July 7, 2001

A case for rebellion
Jasvinder Sharma

OUR schools, colleges and universities have become akin to robot factories. In schools, grades are given for the ability of a child to participate in group activities, for whether he is liked, or whether he enjoys the subjects taught. Todayís generation believes in conformity. It is prepared to renounce protest, forgo revolt and be passive.

Robert Linder, one of the most imaginative American psychoanalysts, raised his voice against the all-pervasive threat of conformity to the survival of free man in a free society. The pressure to adjust prevails, Linder argues, on all levels of education from nursery to university; in the latter, "Professors live in fear of saying or doing anything unorthodox."

Protest and discontent on the part of an individual do not necessarily indicate that something is wrong with him; something may be wrong with society. Yet the general trend of contemporary psychiatry is to adjust the individual to society rather than help restore the health of society.


Man is a rebel. He is the author of the changes of his physical and social environment. He is committed by his biology to not conform and herein lies the fundamental cause of the turmoil he faces in relation to society. Unlike other creatures, man cannot submit, cannot surrender his birthright of protest, for rebellion is one of his essential dimensions: "It is better to die an unsatisfied Socrates than to die a satisfied pig."

Before John Locke, respectable people had abhorred rebellion as a form of sporadic, untamed, mob violence, illegitimate in origin and incapable of achieving moral good, to impose upon power the necessity of justifying its existence, not by reference to divine will, tradition or force, but through the freely given consent of the people. Locke declared the autocrat an outcast and the ones who rebel against him the defenders of the law.

Harold Laski said, "The roots of valid law are and can only be within the individual conscience." Locke restricts the right of rebellion to the injured minority. Laski goes further, concluding that the individual will have to decide from himself whether he will bow to established law and order or feel compelled, by an inner impulse of irrepressible intensity, to rebel.

Rebellion against government is justified only when a majority of people are oppressed by despotic minority or by a single despot as in South Africa, India and Germany. Mussoliniís ouster in 1943 and his assassination also justify this concept. Under such conditions, rebellion is not only morally justified but it becomes a moral duty. If force is the only way to wrest freedom from a tyrannical minority, then force must be used.

"Leninís unbreakable will was central to the success of the Bolshevik Revolution. In his last letter to comrades Lenin roared, "History will not forgive revolutionaries for procrastinating when they can be victorious today, while they risk losing much, in fact everything, tomorrow."

Thomas Jefferson declared, "And what countries can preserve liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of freedom...The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure."

A state will become active in the fulfilment of its functions only if it knows that men will refuse to obey its commands if they feel that it is violating those functions. Pericles saw that truth when he told Athenians that the secret of liberty was courage.

Peopleís patient wait for reform before they turn to violence is a remarkable feature of the human race. In any society, violence is unlikely if the conviction is widespread that the state is seriously attempting to fulfil its obligations. Violence comes when the facts lead men to doubt the sincerity of their rulers.