The Politics of Revolution
Conventional wisdom tends to see revolution as radical social upheaval. Revolutionaries, driven by some world-historical ideology, forcefully take the reigns of the state through armed struggle. In this process, they fundamentally alter political institutions, legitimating mythology, and social institutions more broadly. While this definition may give us some descriptive leverage over revolutionary struggle in the early 20th century, the revolutions of the late 20th, early 21st century (the Third Wave of Democracy, the Color Revolutions, and the Arab Spring) took a decidedly different form. Many of these revolutions were characterized by a resurgence of democratic principles and institutions (if only short-lived). The purpose of this class is to explore the origins of the idea of revolution. How have political philosophers understood revolution throughout history? This longue durée approach to revolution will take us through several eras of revolutionary thought: the Classical Greeks, the Scholastics and Early Moderns, the three British revolutions (1641, 1688, & 1776), the French Revolution, Marx and the Russian Revolution, Anarchist struggle, and up to revolution in the 21st century. The goal of this class is to discover the legacy of revolutionary thinking today.