"The United States may not be having a revolution right now, but we are surely living in revolutionary times." As my pinned tweet indicates, I have been thinking this for several years but the past months have made it much more clear. 1/x https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/04/revolution-only-getting-started/609463/
2/x If our times are not FELT as revolutionary, it is in large part because news coverage & routine conversations all turn on viruses, markets, climate change. It seems there are no human actors left in history any more. That leaves most humans feeling pessimistic, fatalistic.
3/x We have lost track of the French Revolution’s most timeless lesson: people make history. We do not make it “from scratch,” we make it with materials + tools available at any given time and place. There are non-human historical agents, as well. But people CAN do things.
4/x What's the difference between what history calls "a revolution" and what it knows as a "failed state" or "collapsing empire"? Chiefly that in the first, some people had the emotional energy to imagine a better future and put lots of creative work into trying to make it so.
5/x The men and women of the French Revolution did not start life as radicals. Many members of the National Assembly were titled noblemen, army officers, clergymen, royal administrators. Revolutionaries were not born to disrupt, so much as pushed by circumstances to innovate.
6/x Revolutions are times of hope and creativity. They are also periods of extended anxiety, in which the uncertainty of the future makes the fantasy of past certainty all the more appealing. Revolutionaries tend, therefore, to dress up in the costumes and gestures of the past.
7/x That revolutions play "dress up" with history is of course not originally my insight, Karl Marx made this point about 1848 in "The 18th Brumaire..." and Tocqueville recording "feeling" that he was in a play about the past during the events of 1848.
8/x My own personal sense is that it's time to "draw our poetry from the future" (yeah, Marx again). For 200 years, how did you know "it" was a revolution? People in the streets, slogans, flags, a new constitution, quite probably some bloodshed. Not enough now. Let's be creative
9/x One lesson I do think we can take from the past is that revolutions/major changes happen when unlikely coalitions are formed. On July 14-15, 1789, the National Assembly's deputies were terrified to hear a Paris crowd had stormed the Bastille Fortress, murdered its governor.
10/x Just a few days later, the moderate-right (in today's parlance) deputy Mounier hailed the "courage and energy" shown by Parisians in attacking "that horrible prison." (Sure, they stormed the Bastille looking for ammunition and there were almost no prisoners there, but...)
11/x For 230 years, revolution has been defined by that unlikely coming together: a newly self-appointed (barely recognized) National Assembly of constitution-writing elites, and a crowd that sometimes became violent. How can we rethink those components, design new ones for now?
12/12 (for now) I didn't design the art for this piece; suspect dots meant to=viruses? But I read them as labels, as reminders that REAL PEOPLE swore an oath in a Tennis Court, made a revolution (Bailly on the table, abbé Grégoire in black in front of him) https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/04/revolution-only-getting-started/609463/
P.S. Seated, looking calm, apparently staring at Bailly's left foot is abbé Sieyes, whose "What is the Third Estate?" focused attention on disjunct between those who did essential work and those whose voices were heard in government. A message we are finally hearing again.
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