“Freedom is the ability to act upon our beliefs. It expands, therefore, with the scope of the action we are prepared to contemplate. If we know that we will never act, we have no freedom: we will, for the rest of our lives, do as we are told. Almost everyone has some sense that other people should be treated as she would wish to be. Almost everyone, in other words, has a notion of justice, and for most people this notion, however formulated, sits somewhere close to the heart of their system of beliefs. If we do not act upon this sense of justice, we do not act upon one of our primary beliefs, and our freedom is restricted accordingly. To be truly free, in other words, we must be prepared to contemplate revolution.
Another reason why we do not act is that, from the days of our birth, we are immersed in the political situation into which we are born, and as a result we cannot imagine our way through it; we cannot envisage that it will ever come to an end. This is why imagination is the first qualification of the revolutionary. A revolutionary is someone who recognizes the contingency of power. What sustains coercive power is not force of arms, or even capital, but belief. When people cease to believe – to believe in it as they would believe in a god, in its omnipotence, its unassailability and its validity – and when they act upon that belief, an empire can collapse, almost overnight.
Those who possess power will surrender it only when they see that the costs – physical or psychological – of retaining it are higher than the costs of losing it. There have been many occasions on which rulers possessed the means of suppressing revolt – the necessary tanks and planes or cannons and cavalry divisions – but chose not to deploy them, because they perceived that the personal effort of retaining power outweighed the effort of relinquishing it. One of the surprises of history is the tendency of some of the most inflexible rulers suddenly to give up, for no evident material reason. They give up because they are tired, so tired that they can no longer sustain the burning purpose required to retain power. They are tired because they have had to struggle against the unbelief of their people, to reassert, through a supreme psychological effort, the validity of their power.”
George Monbiot, Manifesto for a New World Order