Essays in Rebellion eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 343 pages of information about Essays in Rebellion.

It may be said that if the State cannot accord the right of revolt, the door is left open to all the violences, cruelty, and injustice with which Rebellion is at present suppressed.  But that does not follow.  The Liberal leaders of the last generation endeavoured to draw a distinction whereby political offenders should be treated better than ordinary criminals rather than worse, and, though their successors went back from that position, we may perhaps discern a certain uneasiness behind their appearance of cruelty, at all events in the case of titled and distinguished offenders.  In war we have lately introduced definite rules for the exclusion of cruelty and injustice, and in some cases the rules are observed.  The same thing could be done in rebellion.  I have often urged that the rights of war, now guaranteed to belligerents, should be extended to rebels.  The chances are that a rebellion or civil war has more justice on its side than international war, and there is no more reason why men should be tortured and refused quarter, or why women should be violated and have their children killed before their eyes by the agents of their own government than by strangers.  Yet these things are habitually done, and my simple proposal appears ludicrously impossible.  Just in the same way, sixty years ago, it was thought ludicrously impossible to deprive a man of his right to whip his slave.

But in any case, whether or not the rebel is to remain for all time an object of special vengeance to the State and Society, he has compensations.  If he wins, the more barbarous his suppression has been, so much the finer is his triumph, so much the sweeter the wild justice of his revenge.  It is a high reward when the slow world comes swinging round to your despised and persecuted cause, while the defeated persecutor whines at your feet that at heart he was with you all the time.  If the rebel fails—­well, it is a terrible thing to fail in rebellion.  Bodily or social execution is almost inevitably the result.  But, if his cause has been high, whether he wins or loses, he will have enjoyed a comradeship such as is nowhere else to be found—­a comradeship in a common service that transfigures daily life and takes suffering and disgrace for honour.  His spirit will have been illumined by a hope and an indignation that make the usual aims and satisfactions of the world appear trivial and fond.  To him it has been granted to hand on the torch of that impassioned movement and change by which the soul of man appears slowly to be working out its transfiguration.  And if he dies in the race, he may still hope that some glimmer of freedom will shine where he is buried.


[Footnote 1:  The following extract from Drakard’s Paper for Feb. 23, 1813, shows the attempt at reform just a century ago, and the opposition to reform characteristic of officials:  “House of Commons, Wed., Feb. 17.  Sir Samuel Romilly rose, in pursuance of his notice, to move for leave to bring in a bill to repeal an Act of King William, making it capital to steal property above the value of 5s. in a dwelling house, &c.....

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Essays in Rebellion from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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