What Drives a Revolution?
Revolutions can acquire strong moral basis—ideological and preternatural—but at the heart of their act is one of rejecting what they would deem a foreign object. While the French and American Revolutions were driven by the religions of “liberty and fraternity” at the heart of their struggle was the rejection of the present order as one of aberration.
THE IDEA AND THE DEED
Understanding the motivations
Of a Revolutionary
A Revolutionist, by his nature, would seem an Aberration. A citizen will not naturally go against the norms and traditions of his society to commit the violent acts necessary for a Revolution. He, expressly or by implicit consent, founded these same rules and by-laws. Faced with a grievance, he will seek redress through them, and not simply choose to overthrow because of great “oppression”. Throughout his life he is taught by different institutions—from family to State—the significance of being a productive part of the community, whether intrinsically valuable or functional. The Revolutionist’s act goes against all this “common sense”—and in that one sense the revolutionist is a madman.
What transforms him from a Man of Reason—aware of the power of his State and the recklessness of armed uprising—to a beast of passion, driven by a need to tear down the “façade” of repressive government? The key factor, emotion, would seem to suggest that the act of revolution has no rational origin. But if we pause, even for a brief period, we would understand that the process leading to revolution not only falls within the bounds of reason, it becomes almost an involuntary act.
First, we must find what emotion drives the revolutionist. We turn to two conditions: despair and anger.
Despair is a paranoid’s good friend. There is a general feeling of loss of control, and entrapment. One who is filled with despair believes that he is surrounded on all sides by powerful socio-political forces that he cannot overcome. The act of suicide can be an expression of escape from this psychological entrapment, or it could be a final act to regain control (in this case, control of the self). Depending on the level of despair and the feeling of loss of control, the act can be interpreted in either of the two ways. It is also a natural depressant, dampening enthusiasm for action.
A Revolution is driven by strong emotion, one to force action. Despair actually works in the opposite direction. Like the pull of gravity, factors suddenly emerge from a would-be revolutionist’s mind, discouraging him from any act. There is a general feeling of helplessness—plans are to complex, too broad-based to withstand the gravitic pull of despair. There are too few options to a desperate man, and consequently, there is no best choice; only what is left.
Wars have been fought from the vantage point of despair: when all diplomatic options have run out, and the struggle is for national survival. But it stimulates few revolutions. And if any erupt, they would largely be unsuccessful.
Anger seems the natural choice. It could be enough to drive a man to be a “political sociopath”. Just add ideology into the mix, and you have an anarchist. Indeed, I initially concluded that an act of Revolutions is the act of an angry man. And not just any anger; it has to be an overpowering rage. Only rage can pierce through the barrier of Reason, and to the point of no return. A revolutionist has anger in large reserves.
However, it is this very rage that betrays the revolutionist. Anger, by its nature, is an expression of power. Man can only be driven by anger if he believes that he has sufficient power over his enemy (weak governments, are prey to these revolutionists; for here “political gravity” pays little to no part as revolutionists become comfortable in the knowledge that they have power over the system). And all anger, even incalculable rage, has short duration. Simple anger will take him only to the point of protest, sometimes to token acts of defiance. Rage will take him to civil disobedience and revolt, but a strong show of force, and a simple act of “overpowering” will quell it. The angry man will be convinced, “sobered” of the callousness of his actions. If despair is gravity, anger is a drug. It gives the user a sense of power, but not the actual power in itself.
Anger can drive the final spark in a Revolution; it is the final push into oblivion. But anger will not take the citizen to that point just before oblivion. Something must drive him to continuous anger; a constant feeling that reinforces his anger.
This leads to the third, and implicit feeling in both despair and anger: the more primal, more basic feeling of pain. Anger is triggered by pain. Despair is the state of resigning oneself to a state that was first triggered by pain. And what is the basic nature of pain? It is triggered by intrusion by an external force into a natural order. Pain is the natural sense that something is wrong, the first act of rejecting an external body.
The process leading to Revolution is actually pain in several stages. The first, is to identify the target of the Revolution as an external thing that does not fit in the natural order. When a citizen airs a grievance, through the force of law or through protest, he is identifying a foreign object or state that disrupted the natural order. Revolt occurs when the pain is strong enough that the first impulse is to hastily act to remove the source of the pain. It becomes an act of anger. Governments, generally, are on the side of legitimacy—so any act of violent suppression is technically an act of righteous indignation, or anger with a moral backing. However, if enough portion of the Nation identifies the organ of the State as itself a foreign object, it loses legitimacy and power. This is the last act of rejection. Revolution, then, is literally a pain-filled process.
The problem with this is that pain can be used by both sides. A very repressive—and successful—government will simply put down the initial protests and reactions against its rule. Like an arm or leg bent out of shape, eventually the system will no longer invite adverse reaction and be seen as its “natural state”. Ironically, any move to reform or correct this defect will invite the pain-stimulus and its consequent protests and revolution.
Revolutions can acquire strong moral basis—ideological and preternatural—but at the heart of their act is one of rejecting what they would deem a foreign object. While the French and American Revolutions were driven by the religions of “liberty and fraternity” at the heart of their struggle was the rejection of the present order as one of aberration. Both cases involved the political equivalent of “teething”: the emergence of new factors involved a great deal of “political pain”. The Bolshevik Revolution was successful because the “pain” from complete systemic failure was never corrected, i.e. reforms, serfdom. And the Chinese Revolution began with the systemic failure; the Manchu government was so widely accepted as a foreign object that it invited many rebellions beforehand. It ended with the pain of a complete fracture and thus the Maoist Revolution.
To effectively oppose a Revolution, one needs to use firm force, military or otherwise. It also needs to continually reaffirm its legitimacy by winning the acceptance of the different organs of the Nation. One need not win the whole apparatus; like a man can live with pain killers all his life, he only needs to placate enough institutions to be accepted, and suppress the rest.
In summary, a Revolutionist is not an aberration of his political environment. Pain is the key to his actions. He will not fight for “liberty” or “justice”, unless he feels his natural order is disrupted. He will live in a state of inertia—he will work and functions as a productive member of his Society and a subject of the State. Otherwise, two things could happen: the system will disrupt his natural order to the point where he is driven to the conclusion that the present State is a foreign object, or new ideas put the system to a state of “pained transition” where something must give way or released. Then, the Revolutionary becomes the tool of that pain.
The Revolutionist is therefore also the creation of his environment. He is formed from the influences of change permeating his society, and the erosion of authority of his institutions. So, if a country has a strong State, and a strong ideology, a Revolution cannot exist. Unfortunately, a country cannot maintain a strong State and a strong ideology. We shall analyze this further in the next segment.
First Written in Walking the Earth, Jan. 31, 2012