After reading the texts by Kumar and Arendt, think about what you find compelling, and what you remain unconvinced by, in their discussions of how “revolution” should be understood. Then, drawing on the readings, propose in your own words a definition of what “revolution” should mean. Drawing on specific examples from the texts, explain how your proposed definition is related to their arguments; explain why your definition is better than other ways we might use the term; and give some specific historical examples of events or processes that count as revolutions, according to your definition, and others that don’t.
The Complex Nature of Revolution
Revolution is a complex and multifaceted phenomenon that involves political, social, and economic changes (Lerner, 1958). It often arises from long-standing grievances and inequalities that the ruling powers have ignored or suppressed (Arendt, 1963; Higonnet, 1989). Revolutionary ideas and ideology are essential in inspiring and motivating people to take action and fight for change (Koselleck, 1988; Popkin, 1980). However, revolutions’ causes, dynamics, and outcomes depend highly on specific historical contexts and conditions (Palmer, 1959; Skocpol, 1979). While some argue that revolution is an inevitable or necessary stage in historical development (Marx & Engels, 1848), others question this view and emphasize the importance of non-violent means of social change (King, 1963). Moreover, revolutions cannot lead to more just and democratic societies. They can have positive and negative consequences depending on how they are conducted and what kind of society they aim to create (Tocqueville, 2003; Zaretsky, 2011).
Based on the discussions in Arendt and Kumar’s texts, revolution is a nuanced and context-specific approach necessary to understand the complex and varied phenomenon of revolution. While certain generalizations and theories may help provide a framework for analysis, it is essential to consider the historical, social, and political conditions that give rise to revolutionary movements and their outcomes. Therefore, an alternative definition of revolution might be that it is a fundamental and far-reaching change in the structure or organization of society, which involves a shift in power relations and a reconfiguration of social, economic, and political institutions. This definition emphasizes the transformative and radical nature of revolution, which implies a break from the past and a new direction for the future. It also suggests that revolution involves a redistribution of power and resources, which can lead to conflict and upheaval, as well as the possibility of creating a more just and equitable society.
This definition aligns with the discussions in the provided texts, which highlight the multi-dimensional and context-specific nature of revolution and its potential to bring about significant social change. For example, in “Revolution – Inventing Revolution: American and French Revolutions,” Palmer (1959) argues that the American Revolution was a transformative event that created a new political order based on democratic principles of popular sovereignty and individual rights, which was unprecedented in the history of the world.
Similarly, the French Revolution aimed to overthrow the old order of the Ancient Régime and establish a new society based on liberty, equality, and fraternity (Arendt, 1963; Higonnet, 1989). Both revolutions involved a profound reconfiguration of social and political institutions, including creating new constitutions and legal systems, abolishing feudal privileges and hierarchies, and establishing new representation and government.
Examples of events or processes that count as revolutions according to the alternative definition are the industrial revolution and the Civil Rights movement. The Industrial Revolution of the late 18th and early 19th centuries involved a profound transformation of the economy and society, as new technologies and forms of production led to the growth of factories, urbanization, and the rise of the capitalist system. This revolution involved a fundamental change in the structure and organization of society and a redistribution of power and resources. The Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s in the United States involved a profound shift in power relations and a reconfiguration of social, economic, and political institutions as African Americans and their allies challenged the system of racial segregation and discrimination in American society. This movement involved a fundamental change in the structure and organization of society and a redistribution of power and resources from the white majority to the black minority.
On the other hand, the Protestant reformation and the American War of Independence would not count as revolution. Although the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century involved a significant change in religious beliefs and practices, it did not involve a fundamental change in the structure or organization of society, nor did it result in a redistribution of power and resources. Although the American War of Independence of 1775-1783 involved the creation of a new political order based on democratic principles of popular sovereignty and individual rights, it did not involve a fundamental reconfiguration of social, economic, and political institutions, nor did it result in a significant redistribution of power and resources.
Starting with Kumar’s text, I found it compelling that he labeled revolution as a European invention. This was a new concept for me, but I do agree with Kumar that Europeans created the idea of revolution and through trade, missionaries, and imperialistic conquest this concept was spread throughout the world. (Kumar, 2113). I also resonated with the fact that revolutions are typically related to the political left as opposed to the political right; which of course makes sense since the left is more of a future based ideology whereas the right is more nostalgic. I was not fully convinced of his point that the French Revolution is the revolution. Kumar writes “The French Revolution is the model revolution, the archetype of all revolutions. It defines what revolution is.” (Kumar, 2117). If another, better, revolution happens would that one become the new ‘definition of revolution’? What if it looked nothing like the French Revolution, would the definition change to follow the new model? Is as successful revolution less of a revolution if it doesn’t follow the French model?
In Arendt’s text “On Revolution”, I was compelled by the idea that having rights is in itself a right as she explains on page 41. Arendt writes that “equality as a birthright was utterly unknown before the modern age.” (Arendt, 40). I grappled with the ironic idea that before the modern age there are no examples of revolution yet also little laws of equality. Since the birthright of equality that Arendt speaks about has become common – in the modern era – there are plenty of examples of revolution. As with Kumar’s text, Arendt spent lots of time praising the French Revolution yet the questions I posed earlier still apply.
If I had to define revolution, I would make it much broader than either of their definitions or explanations. I do not believe that only one model of revolution should be followed to be labeled as a revolution. Revolution should include a change in government (whether that be leader, party, regime, etc)., that is the result of a conflict that has been approached by either a violent and/or diplomatic solution from the people who are advocating on behalf of perceived oppression against a group of people.
My definition is very different from both of the readings because it accepts many more things into the term revolution than either Kumar or Arendt allowed. My argument is related to Kumar’s because it follows a ‘leftist’ perception that the revolution is in response to oppression of a group of people which is a leftist ideology. My definition is related to Arendts because it includes the possibility that revolution can occur diplomatically not just violently which relates to her points that war and violence are changing and have the possibility to disappear. (Arendt, 13). My definition could include the 2020 President Election as an example of revolution; a dramatic change in government that included both violence (storming the capital) and diplomacy (democratic voting process) to resolve the perceived threat against a group of people (in this case the group of people is all Americans who felt threatened by Trump as president).
Revolution is freedom and in light of Kumar’s reading, I resonate with the astronomical conception of political change. Furthermore, the article gives a deeper meaning and purpose of revolution. Specifically, noting that revolution justifies freedom and is based on revelation and the cosmic revolution of Christ’s coming. I believe like Kumar that the term and meaning of revolution is beyond this physical realm called earth. It derives from a deeper meaning, an intrinsic concept that is living and breathing and cycles out the present physical or secular dominant of our human existence. Revolution as it evolves is a heavenly city of freedom and the return of identity to creation.
Moreover, I do not believe that my understanding is better but proves factual. As we can see that there is an astrological universe that holds mankind and all that dwells within and therefore can see that there are earthly realms and heavens which are moving consistently and obviously preordained to move in cycles and revolutionary seasons. In other words, seasons are not limited by time but all add up to a predestined result. Similarly, Hannah Arendt writes season are geared to the “affairs of men on earth, it could only signify that the few known forms of government revolve among the mortals in eternal recurrence and with the same irresistible force which makes the stars follow their pre-ordained paths in the skies” (Arendt 1990).
Nonetheless, this heavenly gift of revolution continues to send the spirit of freedom to create and birth history. For example, the greatest account of revolution is the French Revolution (1879-1881) which reverted to the initial freedoms of mankind and overthrew laws that countered them. Another example would be the English Civil War which was thought to be the very first revolutionary war that resulted in the removal and death of the monarch king. Another revolutionary war was the bloody protest in Russia, where the Russian people gathered in hundreds to demand freedom and human dignity in their labor conditions. Apart from the text, in my opinion some of the greatest movements of revolution are Nat Turner, Abraham Lincoln and our very own Civil War, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. were accounts of evolution and the revert of unity between humanity on earth.
Generally speaking, the commonality in these historic events which resulted in war was the path to restoration and the return to the human laws of nature based on the spirit of freedom for both humanity and the creation that God intended. Overall, both readings brought justification of revolution and its response which is war. Revolution is the response from humanity when enslaved and as Arendt notes it was and always has been a form of freedom and as St. Augustine of Hippo put it, “a great migration of souls”. Lastly, very well put in the text that both war and revolution is an interrelationship, a mutual dependence and the end of war is revolution. A revolution is caused the desire attain freedom and seek what is just.
Arendt’s understanding of a revolution is one where there is a new experience an experiencing of being free. Beginning something new. Kumar’s understanding of revolution is, radical transformation. A new world. In my opinion the most compelling Arendt had was, “in order to rule, one had to be born a ruler, a free-born man in antiquity, a member of the nobility in feudal Europe, and although there were enough words in premodern political language to describe the uprising of subjects against a ruler, there was none which would describe a change so radical that the subjects became rulers themselves.” (pg. 41) this to me is a product of revolution where there is a change in the political structure of not just nobility but every man having the chance at political involvement. Arendt least compelling to me is, “the modern concept of revolution, inextricably bound up with the notion that the course of history suddenly begins anew, that an entirely new story never known or told before.” (pg. 28) The fact that it is has to be new and never seen before for it to be revolutionary.
With Kumar, what I found most compelling is “it was individual rights, a free civil society and a liberal constitution that were the centerpieces of the programs of 1989.” (pg. 10) These are typically the cornerstone for a revolution in my opinion. Kumar’s least convincing argument, “fairly or not, it is the French, not the American Revolution that has come to be seen as the inventor of the modern concept of revolution.” (pg. 6) The American revolution has as much power in the invention of the modern concept of revolution. The American revolution was a war of liberation. Liberation as Arendt stated, “revolution as we know it in modern age has always been concerned with both liberation and freedom.” (pg. 32)
My definition of a Revolution is a movement that is able to command a change in the current political and social structure. It is a change from unjust to just whether violent or non-violent. My definition is related to both Kumar and Arendt texts. Arendt stated, “is it too much to read into current rather than hopeless confusion of issues and arguments a hopeful indication that a profound change in international relations may be about to occur, namely, the disappearance of war from the scene of politics even without radical transformation of international relations and without an inner change of men’s hearts and minds.” (pg. 14) From Kumar’s article, “it was the action of human will and human reason upon an imperfect and unjust world to bring into being the good society.” (pg. 7) My answer is better in the fact that it is not restricted to violence and war and newness. Some examples of events are the East German Revoltuion October 9,1989, a non-violent protest that led to the take down of a communist regime. I think the Haitian Revolution which was the most successful slave rebellion in the Western region.
I believe a revolution is when a country’s social environment shifts and the political structure does not handle it well. Current conditions will cause to be discouraged, which impacts their core values and beliefs. In the book, New Dictionary of the History of Ideas, Krishan Kumar defines revolution as a shift in political ways. In explaining, he reviews the theory and reality of European revolutions, while Arendt sees revolutions as attempts to reshape the society meaning a new beginning along with an idea of freedom. My proposed definition relates to their argument but I don’t believe that my definition is better since Kumar and Arendt’s interpretation of revolution is similar to my definition of what revolution is but I wouldn’t say how I described it is better. I see it as a shift and individuals not accepting the change while they both see it as not just a shift in history but also freedom. According to Arendt, the true aim of a revolution consists of the appearance of a free public realm, where freedom would be guaranteed for all. The modern conception of revolution is to create a completely new system of government that resolves social issues. There are different types of revolutions such as the American revolution, the French revolution, the Haitian revolution, and the Spanish-American war of independence.
What I found compelling was Arendt opposing the theory that Christian is what started revolutions. On page 25 of on revolution, it states “A few words need still to be said about the not infrequent claim that all modern revolutions are essentially Christian in origin, and this even when their professed faith is atheism. The argument supporting this claim usually points to the clear”. Arendt mentions the claim that all modern revolutions are primarily Christian in the beginning and on page 26 she goes on to say, “the separation of religion from politics and the rise of a secular realm with a dignity of its own, is certainly a crucial factor in the phenomenon of revolution. Indeed, it may ultimately turn out that what we call revolution is precisely that transitory phase that brings about the birth of a new, secular realm. But if this is true, then it is secularization itself, and not the contents of Christian teachings, which constitutes the origin of revolution.” This shows that she thinks It’s possible that revolution is a temporary thing that brings in a new, larger society, and that transformation itself rather than being told Christian teachings is what caused the rise of revolution. The current definition of revolution is to create a completely new system of government that, traditionally, aims to solve the public issue. Arendt claims that the modern understanding of revolution involves the idea that history is reinvented and that this era aligns with the idea of freedom.
Based on the texts by Kumar and Arendt, I truly believe that Kumar test of Revolution is compelling, due to how Kumar has elevated the thought of Revolution within different aspects of point of view, such as how its related within classical conceptions, and how Kumar emphasized the dealing of the French Revolution was indeed part of a revolution. ‘’The French Revolution is the model revolution, the archetype of all revolutions. It defines what revolution is.’’ (Kumar 2117) I find it very interesting that Hannah Arendt looks at how the French Revolution is not characterized as a successful revolution, in where she characterized it as ‘’of defense and aggression.’’ (Arendt 17) Based on readings, I strongly propose that the definition of ‘’revolution’’ should be the act of relation towards human rights, in which a collective number of individuals fight against aggression within an idea in pursuing a better life for society. As mentioned by Kumar, the French Revolution tended to be ‘’established the classic pattern of revolution.’’ (Kumar 2217) The revolution by the French demonstrated that they all tended to fight towards what’s right, in order for themselves to be equal, and live their lives freely. It demonstrates that the voice of society, when together, can put aside any fight towards the benefit of human basic rights. The effort committed by the people of France demonstrated that as a society we must come together to undergo a revolution in the right context. ‘’It showed, by its own example as well as its attempt to export its revolution, by its ideas as well as its armies, what it is a society must do to undergo revolution. In this sense the French Revolution was not simply the first great revolution.’’ (Kumar 2117) Revolution demonstrates the will of others to come together to benefit the general outcome of life and expectancy of society. With such characterization led by the French people, it has shown the world the defining moment of revolution which has led to many more. It tended to open the eyes of others, to put up a fight against what’s against the will of society. The world has become stronger from the anger by the French people that characterized the French Revolution. ‘’All revolutions subsequently were indebted to it. It was from the French that they borrowed their concept. It was the French Revolution whose practice they attempted to imitate-even when they hoped to go beyond.’’ (Kumar 2117) Such concept of revolution truly demonstrates the concept of human rights, in which it correlates heavily within how revolutions have taken place such as The French Revolution, in which it gives a broad example to the world of the idea.
Both Kumar and Arendt offer insightful perspectives on the concept of revolution, exploring different facets of this intricate and multifaceted phenomenon. Kumar emphasizes the transformative character of the revolution, noting that it involves a rupture with existing order and the construction of an entirely new society based on different principles. He suggests that the revolution is altering rulers or policies and altering the structures and norms that underlie social relations. Arendt emphasizes the political dimension of revolution, seeing it as a time of democratic renewal when people challenge oppressive regimes and claim their right to self-rule. She stresses the significance of public action and participation in this process of change, contending that collective action allows individuals to regain political agency and create new forms of government. Both perspectives are compelling in their own right, yet to truly define revolution one must incorporate elements from both Kumar’s and Arendt’s perspectives. From Kumar, I focused on its transformative and systemic nature; that it involves changing leaders or policies while fundamentally reorganizing society. With Arendt as my guide, however, I have observed the political dimension as people challenge oppressive structures and assert their right to participate in government.
Therefore, I propose that revolution be defined as a radical and transformative social and political process in which individuals come together to challenge oppressive structures, norms, and institutions and create new forms of government and social relations based on principles such as justice, equality, and freedom. This definition emphasizes both its systemic nature while emphasizing its political dimension as well as stressing the importance of collective action and democratic participation. This definition of revolution is superior to other ways we use the term. It avoids reductionism, seeing revolution as a simple shift of leadership or policy; instead, it emphasizes its profound and systemic transformation of society. Furthermore, it stresses its political dimension – emphasizing democratic participation and collective action – as well as upholding principles like justice, equality, and liberty which are at the core of most revolutionary movements.
Examples of revolutions considered revolutionary under this definition include the American Revolution, Haitian Revolution, Russian Revolution and Latin America Revolution. In these instances, people mobilized to challenge oppressive structures and create new governance and social relations based on justice, equality and freedom. Conversely, events such as coups or regime changes that do not involve a fundamental transformation of social or political structures may not qualify as true revolutions.
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