Americans understand “the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” That concept comes from the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and is well loved in the United States. Some choose to peaceably assemble, though, and others choose to attack.
America may be experiencing a unique moment in its history, as two parallel power struggles play out on the streets and televisions everywhere. The Coronavirus lockdowns have caused peaceful protests from right-wing Americans who want to get back to work. By contrast, the left-wing has welcomed the lockdown.
The protests that started due to the death of George Floyd are a different story. In that case, the protesters have responded by encouraging violence and rioting. This group, composed mostly of a radical left-wing group known as Antifa, is using the heartless murder of George Floyd as an excuse to lash out at those whose power they want for themselves.
Contrast the left-wing rioters with those who protested the Coronavirus lockdowns. Two battles being fought alongside one another. Two blocs of resistance using two vastly different methods and striving to achieve two very different outcomes.
What are the distinctions? To answer that question, we should perhaps begin with the words of Thomas Jefferson:
“Some are whigs, liberals, democrats, call them what you please. Others are tories, serviles, aristocrats, &c. The latter fear the people, and wish to transfer all power to the higher classes of society; the former consider the people as the safest depository of power in the last resort; they cherish them therefore, and wish to leave in them all the powers to the exercise of which they are competent.”
It is worth noting that Jefferson was describing liberals in the classical sense – a label that in no way belongs to the modern American left. Still, the general concept is reflected in today’s parallel power struggles. While the mostly radical left-wing groups lash out at what they call the establishment, they don’t want to transfer power to the people but to themselves. In fact, they distrust and fear the people, wishing to replace our system of constitutional republicanism with a radically progressive, authoritarian state where individual liberty is considered a dangerous threat to the greater good.
By contrast, the mostly conservative protesters who have taken to the streets peacefully – even though heavily armed – have an entirely different agenda. Those protests are not anti-government, but a warning to the government not to violate individual rights and liberties.
In today’s upside-down world, then, one can draw a parallel between modern conservatives and Jefferson’s “whigs, liberals, democrats.” They take to the streets to remind the government who really holds power. Left-wing groups such as Antifa burn, loot, and commit acts of violence in a fit of rage against a ruling class they wish to supplant – but they have no intention of allowing the people to share power with them, if they attain it.
The radical left will fail because it has nothing more to offer than rage and because the riots it incites will achieve only a more forceful response from the authorities until they fizzle and fade. The right will succeed because, without violence, it has shown that its obedience to government has a limit. Jefferson was on the right track even though the political labels of his day are outdated: One side fears the people while the other understands that, ultimately, only the people can make the wisest decisions for themselves.