To Support the Ancien Regime?

So, Seth and I were having a conversation earlier today, as we sometimes do, and he said something that got me thinking about revolutions. Thing is, every revolution has something or someone it wishes to overthrow.

So, question. Who should you back?

Consider, if you will, the following. The year is 1919. The Russian Civil War is raging, and you are a Russian professor. You find yourself in a situation where you must choose which side to support. Do you support the Whites, an ideologically incoherent movement led by callous aristocrats, psychopathic soldiers, and the occasional decent man, who seek to either restore the Tsar, whose actions brought Russia to its knees, or Kerensky, whose actions laid Russia prostrate? Do you support the Reds, an ideologically coherent movement led by a man imported by the Kaiser to foment revolution and drive Russia out of the war, whose program will require the slaughter of many? Or the Greens, Ukrainian peasants who attack both? Or the Blacks, who are anarchists?

Or, if one wished to view it from another perspective, consider the following. Do you support the Whites, who back the legitimate government of Russia? Do you support the Reds, who want to make everyone equal? Do you support the Greens, Ukrainian peasants who want to be free of Russian rule? Or the Blacks, who want to live free from corruption and tyranny?

The problem between deciding between the status quo–that is, the ancien regime–and change is that the vices and virtues of the status quo are known, or can at least be reasonably extrapolated. The vices and virtues of proposed change, however, are not known, and can at best be reasonably extrapolated. Further, no one knows what jokers are hidden in change’s deck, while everyone knows where the status quo’s jokers are. Even more so, the status quo’s motives are generally known–you know how they will act in various situations. Change’s motives are more uncertain–are you for us, or for yourselves?

In other words, you have no idea what the people who want change will do once they are the ones with the power until they become the ones holding the power–and by then, it’s usually too late to do anything, because no one wants another revolution. The only clues you have to what they will do when they become the powerful are what they do  with the power they already have, and even then, oftentimes the idealistic ones who acted as restraint on the powermongers and the rabid idealists are thrown aside or slain once the work is done.

I’m really beginning to understand the Loyalists better as I write this. (Note: They’re still wrong.)

So what do you do? Watch carefully, think carefully, and put no faith in a man’s motives for doing or saying anything. Judge him by his actions and their effects, and the whether or not you back most of the people who back him.

Apply this rule to quite literally all sides, even the tiny ones. Better to tilt at windmills than gather food for giants.

‘Til next time,

Lowell Van Ness


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