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You Say you Want a Revolution!

David Cowles

Sep 22, 2022

“A successful revolution is not something you cook up one summer evening over burgers and beer…”

At least since 1700, the science of revolution (not evolution, revolution!) has been a valid topic in western intellectual history. Socialism, anarchism, liberalism can all trace their origins, or at least their modern revivals, to the cauldron of political philosophy that was the 18th century.

That revolutionary impulse morphed into a variety of 19th and 20th century ideologies. Marx and Hegel, for example, ‘discovered’ that political and economic revolution was tightly woven into the dialectical fabric of history. They shared the belief that history was an inexorable process fated to end in Utopia. The function of revolutionary praxis was just to give history a nudge.

Prudhomme, Bakunin, et al. believed, on the other hand, that history required a lot more than a nudge. To bastardize a phrase from the later Nietzsche, they practiced politics with a hammer.

During this same time, Christianity was largely perceived as a conservative, even reactionary, force in society. Sadly, the charge is not without merit. Like all great revolutionary movements, the radical essence of Christianity was compromised by the personal interests of (some of) its leaders. This should not surprise us. Today’s revolutionary agenda often becomes tomorrow’s conservative manifesto.

The process is two-fold. First, times change: what was once (1848) revolutionary (universal suffrage, the right of workers to organize, a graduated income tax) becomes mundane. Second, ideas change: the withering away of the State (Marx) becomes the emergence of the Mega-state (Stalin).

Christianity is no exception. A little band of ‘merry men…and women’ (Galilee) becomes a global hierarchy. The commandment, “Love one another”, morphs into a pastiche of personal do’s and don’ts.

Clearly then, a successful revolution is not something you cook up one summer evening over burgers and beer on a friend’s back porch (although that didn’t stop me from trying…multiple times). History’s greatest revolutionaries understood that real revolution could not be an event but had to be a process, a perpetual, universal process: Moses, Jesus, Marx, Mao, even Pol Pot.

The execution of the Tsar in 1918 was never expected to create a new Russia overnight. Communists, like early Christians, understood that lasting revolution depended on the creation of a ‘new man’ (sic).

Hence, the concept of Permanent Revolution: the idea that revolution is not primarily an event, but rather the ongoing condition of a healthy society. Revolution must replace status quo as society’s ‘steady state’. This underscores the critical role of human beings, any and all conscious, intelligent, intentional beings, in the cosmic dance.

Whether viewed from the perspective of creation or evolution, it is clear, our function is not to be a resting place of process. We are the incline, not a plateau. We are not the product of process; we are its catalyst.

All revolutions are betrayed by their revolutionaries, and Christianity is no exception. The best, however, retain their revolutionary seeds which can be replanted and nourished in other soil or at other times. Like the phoenix, justice emerges, not dialectically, but soaring out of the ashes of history! Old Faithful.

Over the long course of western history, there have been many revolutionary cookbooks, some of them quite interesting, but one such book, a sort of Larouse Gastronomique, is the mother of all revolutionary literature. It’s called The Holy Bible. Take a quick look:

  • Exodus: Liberation – the precursor of all revolution.

  • Leviticus, et al. (Torah): Living justly – the fabric of permanent revolution.

  • Job: Justice justified – Even God is subject to the demands of justice.

  • Joshua: Espionage, class warfare, subversion, 5th column activities, and the fall of Jericho.

  • Judges: 200+ years of ‘Constitutional Anarchism’.

  • Psalms (David): ‘Benevolent Monarchism’ and the celebration of God’s actions in history.

  • Wisdom, et al. (Solomon): A utopian blueprint for a revolutionary society.

  • Isaiah, et al. (Prophets): A practical guide to revolution a la Lenin’s “What is to be done?”

  • Synoptic Gospels: Living the revolution! One man’s life as a pattern for all.

  • Epistles & Acts of the Apostles: Building revolutionary communities, the foundation of a revolutionary society.

  • Apocalypse: A glimpse of what’s ‘passing away’ (Inferno), a foretaste of what’s to coming to be (Paradiso).

“You say you want a revolution…We’d all love to see the plan!” – The Beatles (1968). No problem! I’ll have Amazon send you a copy.


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