Fairbanks- Revolution Reconsidered.pdf

Revolutions do stir enthusiasm creating huge hopes

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Revolutions do stir enthusiasm, creating huge hopes and inevitable disappointment. Thus they are a fluctuating and fragile basis for gov- ernment. As Hume puts it, “it is the nature of passion gradually to de- cay, while the sense of interest maintains a permanent influence and authority.” 7 In other words, interest is a better basis for political institu- tions than enthusiasm. Enthusiasm can easily lead to more and more extreme political positions and to competing extremisms—the story of many revolutions. Once the enthusiasm cools, the disappointment can easily issue in political cynicism. In modern societies, politics is rarely the preoccupation of the whole society. After extremist politics emerges, even most of the revolutionaries themselves gradually withdraw from the political scene. One Jacobin legislator complained that after a few years, “Instead of seeing the friends of the Revolution increase as we have advanced on the revolutionary path . . . we see our ranks thinning out and the early supporters of liberty deserting our cause.” 8 Taine adds that rulers as a result can feel as if they are in a vacuum, with public spirit very weak and social solidarity lacking. This is the root of the paranoia seen in many revolutions: Leaders become desperate because they know that they really do not have any support. In the end, and often sooner, rulers discover their self-interest. The Directory (the small group that held power in France from 1795 to 1799) consisted of former Jacobins, who, after the revolution had worn itself out, were primarily interested in holding on to their money and positions. 9 This also helps to explain post-Soviet kleptocracy. Finally, it is tempting to reach for force to fill the void left by evaporating revolutionary enthusiasm. Coercion culminates in the emergence of a dictator, like Cromwell, Robespierre, Napoleon, or Lenin. It is a process that has recurred with discouraging frequency. Revolutions ultimately cannot be legal or constitutional because a revolution is a change of regime, and the laws derive from the regime. The Rose and Orange Revolutions involved the judicial invalidation of fraudulent elections, but these decisions would not have been made without the outpouring of citizens into the streets. In fact, the kinship of classical revolutions with violence has echoes even in the peaceful “color revolutions.” Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili was the hero of the nonviolent Rose Revolution, but during the 2005 celebra- tions of that revolution’s second anniversary he showed a film about what happened in Zugdidi, the only place where there was violence: Mysterious men in masks shot at demonstrators, wounding two people and killing another. At the celebration, Saakashvili, who has a keen sense of the power of revolutionary symbolism, produced a woman who had bravely pulled down the mask of one of the anonymous marksmen.
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Journal of Democracy 46 Saakashvili understands well the revolutionary need for heroes and vil- lains—a need that sits uneasily with his own principle of nonviolence.
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  • Spring '14
  • AnitaC.Pritchard
  • Democracy

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