Revolution is the Hell of It: Algerian Edition

In 1968, Abbie Hoffman famously wrote a book called Revolution for the Hell of It.

In 1973, this negatively inspired David Friedman to write a chapter called “Revolution is the Hell of It.”

Last month, I watched The Battle of Algiers, probably the most famous pro-terrorist (or at least anti-anti-terrorist) movie in history.  If you don’t know the sordid history of the “liberation” of Algeria, you should.  The whole movie is gripping, but this little speech by terrorist Ben M’Hidi stayed with me.  Though the writers probably intended the speech to be an inspiration rather than a warning, it’s a vivid vindication of Friedman over Hoffman.

BEN M’HIDI: Do you know something Ali? Starting a revolution is hard, and it’s even harder to continue it. Winning is hardest of all. But only afterward, when we have won, will the real hardships begin.

Which raises the obvious pacifist question: “Then why start?”  Committing evil deeds when the benefits are large and reliable might be justified.  Committing evil deeds when the benefits are deeply speculative is absurd.

Am I really going to defend colonialism?  No.  As I’ve said before, both colonialism and anti-colonialism are blameworthy expressions of violent nationalism:

But don’t you either have to be pro-colonial or anti-colonial?  No.  You can take the cynical view that foreign and native rule are about equally bad.  You can take the pacifist view that the difference between foreign and native rule isn’t worth a war.  Or, like me, you can merge these positions into cynical pacifism.  On this view, fighting wars to start colonial rule was one monstrous crime – and fighting wars to end colonial rule was another.

In the case of Algeria, however, I should add that native rule turned out to be vastly worse.

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Bryan Caplan is Professor of Economics at George Mason University and Senior Scholar at the Mercatus Center. He is the author of The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies, named “the best political book of the year” by the New York Times, and Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids: Why Being a Great Parent Is Less Work and More Fun Than You Think. He has published in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the American Economic Review, the Economic Journal, the Journal of Law and Economics, and Intelligence, and has appeared on 20/20, FoxNews, and C-SPAN.