Terrorism redux: the term “terrorism” has really come to replace “treason” in our democracies—“treason” is not really a crime in the current West because the whole system is based on betrayal. To use economist jargon, the Western democracies are based on “defection”—so, for example, no-fault divorce rewards defection rather than cooperation, since the husband is obliged to support his wife and children after they leave him with no benefit for himself (to put it in the economic language of “resource”).
The other day, a man was convicted of treason in Britain—the first in 43 years, which proves my point. He was convicted of attempting to murder Queen Elizabeth II—so it seems treason has been limited in Britain to refer only to direct attempts to kill the sovereign. What people are generally convicted of is “terrorism”.
Hence I recall a few years ago young men associated with National Action were convicted of terrorism for a poster that condemned Harry and Megs as “race traitors”. They were not convicted of treason, nor of the more accurate crime of lèse-majesté “an offence or defamation against the dignity of a ruling head of state (traditionally a monarch).” Similarly, various Islamist and Irish militants over the years have been convicted of “terrorism”, not “treason”.
Why does the democracy see a crime against itself as “terrorism”, not “treason”? Well, as noted, the democracy itself is built on treason—democrats have spoken over the centuries about “treason against the people”, but this never really works. This is because “the people” is entirely notional—you might has well say “the rabble”, this foaming mass of confusion and contradiction. How can you be “loyal” to what is utterly changeable and mutable?
Loyalty is personal—you go to Buckingham Palace and you swear to King Charles III, on bended knee, that you will “lead his armies in battle to the best of my abilities” (or perhaps you swear to go on a quest for him). I don’t know how it works today, but what you probably get if you lead His Majesty’s armies is a letter that says, “We have the pleasure to inform you that you are appointed…”. It’s not personal—you can betray a person, you can’t betray “the people” (nor can you betray a bureaucracy).
Terrorism is a thought crime—today it means “the illegitimate use of violence by non-state actors to effect political change”; in ordinary discussion and rhetoric, the accent is put on the outcome—“burnt babies”, “civilians killed”, “homes destroyed”—and yet states do all such things and it is not called “terror”. The crux is whether you are a recognised authority, with the implication being that your authority derives from the people (who legitimise the state) and the ideas with which the people are mobilised to legitimise the state.
Indeed, the first recorded use of “terrorism” comes from the left—it comes from Tom Paine in an address to the French Convention in 1795 wherein he describes being imprisoned for 8 months during “the terrorism” of Robespierre. This experience did not dampen Paine’s enthusiasm for revolution—but the term he used was borrowed from the French <<terrorisme>>, which basically meant “the Revolution”.
Bentham, then resident in France, chipped in with the observation that “…‘terrorist language’ was contained in Article 2 of the Declaration of Right of 1789 that states: ‘The aim of every political association is the preservation of the natural and imprescriptible rights of Man. These rights are Liberty, Property, Safety and Resistance to Oppression.’ For Bentham, the Declaration is a collection of anarchic sophisms.”
So “terrorism” comes in with the French Revolution—with the left. “Red terror” is an oxymoron—to be Red is to be for terror; and it is often observed that terror is the preferred means of action by the left. Neither Paine nor Bentham were monarchists—they were leftists who critiqued the left’s failed project from the left.
What makes political violence “terror” is that it is carried out by “illegitimate authority”—so that if I set fire to a bus stop for my own gratification I might get a probationary sentence, but if I did the same and told the media that I did it for the “Ferret Liberation Front” then I could be eligible for 20 years or more as a terrorist (the difference being that one uses symbols, the symbol of the front and its ideas, whereas the other makes no symbolic claims—doesn’t impinge on the state’s legitimacy). Hence terrorism is essentially a thought crime.
How is the modern state legitimised? By ideas. Hence to burn down a bus stop in the name of the FLF under a true monarchy would be treason against the king, whereas in the democracy it is an attack on “our values” (the rhetoric used when Muslim militants are imprisoned). What are “our values”?—“diversity, equality, and inclusion” (so arranged in the “magic three” enchantment—“look, listen, learn”). There is nothing personal about it—it is not a personal betrayal against “your true liege lord” but rather an offence against “the idea”.
This is because we live in a leftist regime, with a monarchical appendage that can be “betrayed” in extraordinary circumstances, and so, in fact, “terror” is normal—the state itself is “terrorist” in the Robespierrean sense, and has been for some time; it is assailed by “other terrorists” from the left. It’s obvious it is so when you consider that Extinction Rebellion, clearly terrorists under the definition, are never treated as such—because they are de facto activists for the regime (hence their violent coercion, blocking a road, is legitimate).
Here I step out of the original frame of what “terrorism” is—because the common definition understands that “political change” may be effected by “legitimate means” (the ballot box); but that contains a democratic assumption (change is normal), whereas the alternative would be to assume a fixed authority, whether monarchical or aristocratic, to which you are loyal and could, potentially, betray.