Philosophy of Revolution

A revolution is a dramatic, fundamental change. Religion was accused of repressing popular political revolution by Enlightenment thinkers such as Francois-Marie Voltaire (1694–1778) and more recently Communists following in the tradition of Karl Marx (1818--1883). In fact, Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225--1274) advocated the right to resist tyrannical rule in his Summa Theologica.

Those advocating revolt have often accused the status quo of seeking to maintain power by opposing social change. Nevertheless, early examples of the right to revolt include official royal edicts such as that of King Andrew II of Hungary in 1222 which entitled Hungary's noblemen to disobey the King if he acted contrary to law. The right of rebellion existed amongst the Polish nobility in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (1569–1795). Many historians attribute Poland's inability to defend itself against her neighbors who annexed and divided the country in 1795 to the weakness of the Polish government and monarchy. Some revolutionary movements have been anarchic, rejecting the rule of law altogether.

The English Enlightenment philosopher John Locke (1632–1704) rejected the divine right of monarchs in his seminal work Two Treatises of Government (1690). Locke argued that every citizen has a right to life, liberty and estate under natural law. In his opinion, a government acting against these interests could be deposed by a revolution against government tyranny. Thomas Paine (1737--1809) argued in favor of American independence from the British monarchy in his pamphlets Common Sense (1776) and The American Crisis (1776–1783). Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826 ) incorporated many of these ideas into the American Declaration of Independence (1776).

The French Revolution of 1789–1799 was based on the Enlightenment philosophies of Europe such as those of René Descartes (1596–1650), Voltaire and Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778), adopted by the Jacobins and later the French National Constituent Assembly. These were essentially rationalist thinkers who considered reason the foundation of political authority. These views were popularized by Paine's Rights of Man (1792). The revolutionary enlightened ideology was incorporated in the National Constituent Assembly's Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen in August 1789 and the subsequent French constitution of 1791, which created the first French constitutional monarchy.

Since the Zhou Dynasty's (c. 1122–256 BCE) revolt against the Shang Dynasty (c. 1600–1029 BCE) that preceded it, China has exhibited a tradition of political revolutions. Mencius (372–289 BCE) opined that people are entitled to overthrow a ruler who does not provide for their needs. The Xinhai Revolution in 1911 ended several thousand years and 22 separate dynasties of imperial rule, with the abdication of Emperor Puyi (1906--1967). The Chinese Revolutionary Alliance created a weak central government which gave way to a republican government. The country descended into civil war between 1946 and 1949 and the victors, Mao Zedong's People's Liberation Army, proclaimed the establishment of the People's Republic of China. Mao Zedong was behind the Chinese Cultural Revolution (1966--1976) in which he persecuted political opposition.

Revolutions are not limited to political change. The civil rights revolution including Catholic emancipation in 19th-century England ending restrictions imposed by the Act of Uniformity (from 1554) and Test Acts (from 1673); women's suffrage, championed by suffragettes such as Emmeline Pankhurst (1858–1928) ; and the end of racial segregation associated with charismatic leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. (1929–1968), are considered part of an irreversible, fundamental change toward greater equality and respect for diversity.

Nicolaus Copernicus' (1473–1543) observation that the earth's planetary system is heliocentric, not centered on the Earth, is considered to have been a revolution both in cosmology and in scientific method. It represented the shift from scholasticism, reconciling traditional thought and literature, to empiricism, reconciling traditional knowledge with observation in the real world. Copernicus' ideas were collected in his De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium (1543). Copernicus inspired Sir Isaac Newton (1642–1727) whose Principia (1687) included his nascent theory of gravity and laws of motion. These set the stage for the Industrial Revolution. Newton's philosophy of science as grounded in reason was highly influential on later Enlightenment philosophers.

The 18th- and 19th-century Industrial Revolution was a period of radical, rapid technological development in agriculture, manufacturing and transportation. It transformed agrarian rural society, creating factories, urban communities and railway as well as road networks.

The information revolution is considered a 20th- and 21st-century development in technology, economics and society. Electricity and the integrated circuit and computer chip facilitated much faster and more powerful appliances and the creation and evolution of computers and technology for storing, processing and communicating massive quantities information in real time.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

The Philosophy of the American Revolution
Morton White.
Oxford University Press, 1978
Intellectual Origins of the English Revolution Revisited
Christopher Hill.
Clarendon Press, 1997 (Revised edition)
FREE! The Revolutionary Spirit Preceding the French Revolution
Félix Rocquain; J. D. Hunting.
S. Sonnenschein, 1894
Egypt's Liberation: The Philosophy of the Revolution
Gamal Abdel Nasser.
Public Affairs Press, 1955
The Rights of Man
Thomas Paine.
E. P. Dutton, 1951
Burke, Paine, and the Rights of Man: A Difference of Political Opinion
R. R. Fennessy.
Martinus Nijhoff, 1963
The Growth of Philosophic Radicalism
Elie Halévy; Mary Morris.
Beacon Press, 1955
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