Battlepanda: Revolution or evolution?


Always trying to figure things out with the minimum of bullshit and the maximum of belligerence.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Revolution or evolution?

When the system is broken, do you fix it up or tear it down? In the comments, Lawrence makes a great observation that the left has moved from one paradigm for change to another within his lifetime:
I agree that culture is a perfectly good reason for law, save those customs that we come to realize violate important rights, but it is interesting how many people of left-of-center views have come to agree with the can't-beat-em-join-em philosophy. While there has been a lot of talk about how America has drifted to the right, and how the right has drifted to the right, there hasn't been much talk lately about how much the Left has drifted to the Right.

The reformist philosophy can be summarized as "Let's join existing institutions and make them better." Maybe this is the best program for progressive social change. Maybe it isn't. I don't know. As a historical observation, those decades we think of as the most radical (1640s, 1770s, 1960s) are noteworthy for their rejection of the reformist ideal. The biggest difference in the revolts in England in 1649 and 1688 was the acceptance of incremental reform in 1688. In 1649 the revolutionaries kill the King, end the monarchy, and declare England a republic. In 1688 the revolutionaires accept the monarchy and only desire to limit its power through the passage of the Bill Of Rights.

You know it's going to be an era of quiet reform when even the Left takes revolutionary change off the table as an option. Even in my own lifetime I've seen the change - I can recalled when I was a teenager in the 1980s there were still those who felt the only way to improve our society was a root-and-branch turning over, so we could start again with a clean slate. Nowadays, everyone I know who is involved with progressive politics is mostly interested in incremental reform (a small exception is the anarchist-punk rock scene).
I think I am a pragmatist by nature, so this current disposition towards gradualism suits me well personally. People go starry-eyed when they talk of the revolutionary atmosphere of the 60's and lament the current retrenchment of th progressive left. But in my view, constant revolution is both impossible and undesirable. Who was it that said "all revolutions are impossible until they happen; then they are inevitable."? It is the goal of reformists to change society for the better before the revolution becomes inevitable, and there is much to be said for this approach, despite being lacking in romance. Perhaps a post will follow following up on this train of thought.