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Friday, October 12, 2012

The Revolution You Planned Is Not the Revolution You'll Get

In 462 BCE, Ephialtes directed a peaceful revolution in Athenian governance, implementing a radical democracy in which the entire body of citizens would theoretically hold power, voting on legislation and policy directly in the Assembly. No more elites!

What actually happened? Let us ask Thucydides: "So, in what was nominally a democracy, power was really in the hands of the first citizen (Pericles)."

Instead of "power to the people," the revolution produced one-man rule!

I am not aware of a single revolution in history, violent or peaceful, that did not produce a result significantly different than that the early leaders intended. Why will yours be any different?

"But I'm not power hungry!"

Exactly. That is why, when the revolution is over, you won't have power. Someone who is hungry for it, and will do whatever it takes to get it, will have power instead.

"But my revolution will only occur once people are convinced that grabbing that power is immoral." (Ah, the new anarchist man!)

What that guarantees is that no moral person will seize power. You have ensured that it will be seized by someone even more vicious than usual.

5 comments:

  1. "You have ensured that it will be seized by someone even more vicious than usual."

    Not necessarily. If the ruler is bad enough, then even a somewhat brutish replacement may be an improvement.

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  2. Professor Callahan, would you be bold enough to say that George Washington was a good example of this tendency?

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    1. Prateek, I'm not sure what you are asking.

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  3. "I am not aware of a single revolution in history, violent or peaceful, that did not produce a result significantly different than that the early leaders intended."

    Not a single one? The Roman revolution of Caesar Augustus certainly seems to qualify.

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    1. Hmm, but I don't think Augustus really had a plan, other than get more power. I think he made it up as he went along.

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