Fairbanks- Revolution Reconsidered.pdf

The case against revolution there is a powerful case

This preview shows page 4 - 5 out of 17 pages.

The Case Against Revolution There is a powerful case against revolution, obscured in the last cen- tury because it was best articulated by older philosophic historians such as Thucydides, David Hume, Hippolyte Taine, and François Guizot. These thinkers perceived the concrete problems that arise from revolu- tion in a way which is more thoughtful and truer than the analyses offered by contemporary social science. To begin with, many of these writers argued that revolution disrupts the respect for institutions and the obedience to law that derive from habit. A wonderful statement of Thomas Babington Macaulay in his History of England serves as a text for understanding much about revolution, both its positive and nega- tive aspects: “In revolutions men live fast. The experience of years is crowded into hours; old habits of thought and action are violently bro- ken.” 2 He goes on to say that revolution’s “own principle is that rebel- lion may be justifiable. Its own existence proves that revolution may be successful.” 3 So revolution can easily issue in a process of endless inno- vation, both inconclusive and exhausting. As Hume put it in his own earlier History of England, “every successive revolution became a pre- cedent for that which followed it.” 4 Our contemporary Charles Tilly concludes that France “went through four somewhat separate revolu- tions between 1789 and 1799.” 5 One can wind up with a situation where, again according to Macaulay, “the whole political world was without form and void—an incessant whirl of hostile atoms which every moment forms some new combina- tion.” 6 That is, politicians cannot appeal to any stable parties, constitu- encies, or interests to gain power, nor can they have access to predictable and effective levers of power if they temporarily gain control of the state. This was the sad reality of Russian politics during the 1990s. We hardly ever mention the names of our former democratic heroes (Gavriil Popov, Sergei Stankevych, Anatoly Sobchak, Oleg Rumyantsev, and others). We were enchanted with these people, but then dropped them at a certain point without explaining why. What happened to them? Many simply disappeared from sight; others, sadly, turned into opportunists or thieves. A big part of the explanation of why they changed is that the political environment was so random, and the footing of these politi- cians so slippery, that they tended to give up politics or to go with every wind. Revolutions also tend to bring to power people who are not experienced in exploiting the political resources that are available (for example, Zviad Gamsakhurdia in Georgia and Abulfaz Elchibey in Azerbaijan). The modern state consists almost entirely of a structure of
Image of page 4

Subscribe to view the full document.

Charles H. Fairbanks, Jr. 45 habits and expectations that certain officials will obey other officials and that official acts will have certain results. These habits and expecta- tions are disrupted by revolution.
Image of page 5
You've reached the end of this preview.
  • Spring '14
  • AnitaC.Pritchard
  • Democracy

{[ snackBarMessage ]}

What students are saying

  • Left Quote Icon

    As a current student on this bumpy collegiate pathway, I stumbled upon Course Hero, where I can find study resources for nearly all my courses, get online help from tutors 24/7, and even share my old projects, papers, and lecture notes with other students.

    Student Picture

    Kiran Temple University Fox School of Business ‘17, Course Hero Intern

  • Left Quote Icon

    I cannot even describe how much Course Hero helped me this summer. It’s truly become something I can always rely on and help me. In the end, I was not only able to survive summer classes, but I was able to thrive thanks to Course Hero.

    Student Picture

    Dana University of Pennsylvania ‘17, Course Hero Intern

  • Left Quote Icon

    The ability to access any university’s resources through Course Hero proved invaluable in my case. I was behind on Tulane coursework and actually used UCLA’s materials to help me move forward and get everything together on time.

    Student Picture

    Jill Tulane University ‘16, Course Hero Intern