Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Peter Calvert on Revolution

My previous post gave a very brief description of Peter Calvert's book on the history of the concept of revolution.  This book is a useful introduction to the evolution of the term, somehow redolent of an entry in Raymond William's Keywords. The book is also filled with notable definitions and descriptions of the idea. Below are some of them.

"Revolution is one of the few political concepts of which we can speak before the era of the ancient Greeks."

"...the concept of the state cannot be made fully real until the concept of social dissolution or revolution has first been encountered."

"Rebellion [under the Pharaohs] was not only politically unjustifiable, it was also sacrilege."

"Forsooth, [men's] hearts are violent...Forsooth the wealthy are in mourning.  The poor man is full of joy. Every town says:  Let us suppress the powerful among us."  Leiden Papyrus 344, probably from the First Intermediate Period of Egyptian history.

"Revolution [for the ancient Egyptians] represented a reversion to the primitive practice of sacrificing a weak ruler when he had outlived his usefulness."

'The concept of legitimation received strengths and reinforcements from the existence of revolt and revolution."

"[Under the Greeks] For the first time, revolutionary events were subject to detailed scrutiny."

"What used to be described as a thoughtless act of aggression was now regarded as the courage one would expect to find in a party member;  to think of the future and wait was merely another way of saving one was a coward;  any idea of moderation was just an attempt to disguise one's unmanly character;  ability to understand a question from all sides meant that one was totally unfitted for action.  Fanatical enthusiasm was the mark of a real man, and to plot against an enemy behind his back was perfectly legitimate self-defence.  Anyone who held violent opinions could always be trusted, and anyone who objected to them became a suspect...As for the citizens who held moderate views, they were destroyed by both the extreme parties, either for not taking part in the struggle or in envy at the possibility that they might survive."  Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War.

"For [Aristotle], therefore, revolution is not an exceptional phenomenon, but a necessary fact of political change."

"In revolutions, the occasions may be triffling, but great interests are at stake."  Aristotle.

"Revolutions are effected in two ways, by force and by fraud.  Force may be applied either at the time of making the revolution or afterwards."  Aristotle.

"Revolutions break out when opposite parties, e.g. the rich and the poor, are equally balanced, and there is little or nothing between them; for if either party were manifestly superior, the other would not risk an attack on them."  Aristotle.

"Perception of the balance of advantage in a revolutionary situation may be incorrect.  Furthermore, superiorty is not only a matter of strength, but also of timing."

"Tyranny, however, is strengthened in two contradictory ways:  by the extreme use of force, and the moderate exercise of every other form of power."  Calvert is paraphrasing Aristotle here.

"In terms that seem almost modern he criticized Plato's tendency to subsume all causes of revolution under that of poverty."

"Aristotle, then, is the true founder of the study of revolution."

"The Calvinist state was one in which revolution simply could not exist."

"The French Revolution's most permanent contribution to the concept of revolution, however, lay in the glory and dignity that it gave to it."

"Many individual national identities take as their point of reference some shared 'revolutionary' experience;  a combination of efforts to shake off some form of outside influence."

"If there is one thing that distinguishes revolution in the political sense from disturbances in general it is the fact of success."

"There is not less government during a revolution, there is more government." Calvert cites Lyford Edards' The Natural History of Revolution.

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