6. Transition and Modernity

 
 
Revolutions Per Second: The Rebirth of Democracy

  

Section 6.3.1




 
World History 
And The Eonic Effect

Civilization, Darwinism, And Theories of Evolution
4th Edition
The Book
By  John Landon

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 CHAPTERS:
 

 

 
 

 
6. Transition and Modernity 
     6.1 A New Age Begins  
        6.1.1 From Reformation to Revolution  
     6.2 An Age of Enlightenment  
        6.2.1 The Crisis of The Enlightenment  
        6.2.2 Theory and Ideology: Das Adam Smith Problem
        6.2.3 Toward a New Enlightenment 
     6.3 The Great Divide 
        6.3.1 Revolutions Per Second: The Rebirth of Democracy 
        6.3.2 Econostream != Eonic Sequence          
    6.4 System Shutdown: Between System Action and Free Action  
       6.4.1 The Curse of Mideonic Empire?      
NOTES  
     6.5 1848: End of Eonic Sequence?  
          6.5.1 Last and First Men
          6.5.2 Theory and Ideology: Out of Revolution
     6.6 New Ages
          6.6.1 The (Eonic) Evolution of Religion  
          6.6.2 The 'Axial' New Age
          6.6.3 The Great Freedom Sutra 
          6.6.4 Schopenhauer and The Caveman Buddhas
          6.6.5 Coda: Amlothi's Mill

Next: 
 7. Conclusion

 
  
  
        

    World History And The Eonic Effect: Fourth Edition

     6.3.1  Revolutions Per Second: The Rebirth of Democracy

 

The onset of the French Revolution deserves as much as any date in history, beside the more glorious flagship American onset from 1776, the importance that has risen around it, as the period that initiated a shockwave of modernizing change that was national, then continental, and then global in nature, and whose cornucopia of diffusing consequences is still with us. That it was directly influenced from the fringe by the American revolution in its virgin open spaces is itself significant, and it was therefore a subtle recursion, in the broadest sense, of the experience of the English Civil War, and its aftermath, the Glorious Revolution of 1688, against a backdrop of the rising liberalism and deeper underground radicalism generated from the philosophic, scientific, and revolutionary experiences of the English.

In the prismatic view of Dickens, it was the ‘best of times, the worst of times...’ When asked what he thought was the significance of the French revolution, the Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai is said to have answered, “It’s too soon to tell”.[i] The era invokes a field of potential, against which relative free action  passes between hypothetical eonic determination, and the realizations of new forms of society. Francois Furet, the historian of the French Revolution and its ideological history, has declared that the ‘Revolution is over’. It is also true that the Revolution has been repeatedly been declared over, from almost its first phases, and continually spills over into future incidents, 1830, 1848, and finally the Russian Revolution. Perhaps what is not ‘over’ is the lesson learned, after so much passivity, that man must make himself, and not endure the posture of civil or religious slavery. Between the American and the French Revolutions we see the spectrum of historical dynamic pass from Freedom to its reality, cost, and full-scale imposition against inertia, in the drama of Equality, the price of freedom, and a field of change pass from its radicals to its conservatives. The note comes due. Every aspect and stage here has already been prefigured, seminally, in the English Civil War.

The American Revolution seems like a kind of ‘butterfly effect’, a small-scale effect provoking larger and enduring consequences. Note that the endless debates over revolution are really about the intractable nature of simple changes, the French and especially the Russian being the obvious examples, compared to the American. It is all very well to denounce Rousseau and Robespierre but if such an immense convulsion echoing the American example failed to produce a republic these critics are really saying that freedom is impossible or utopian, and that we should, à la de Maistre, revert to primitive systems of barbarous ages past. Let us note at least that our system, upon full study, will be seen to adopt a shotgun approach and the total net effect of democratization springs as much from sources having nothing to do with the French Revolution. So therefore not everything, indeed not much at all, rides on the brief reign of Robespierre, whose failure seems to be grounds for every reactionary sermon delivered up to those who wouldn’t dream of surrendering their own benefits. The classic example here is abolition, about which Enlightenment thinkers were a bit ‘sluggish’, the job done by the epigones of our to-be-secularized Protestant Reformation.

 The myth of slow evolutionary change is not here concordant with the facts, and, Burke notwithstanding, our system explodes because change is thwarted even as the American system has set sail (albeit without dealing with abolition). It is a ‘now or never point’ relative to world history. Thus the conditions of the American version were obviously quite exceptional. And the American is the more remarkable for showing the ‘what might have been’ with respect to much modern confusion. If we consider the Decembrists in Russia, and the immense delay in the Russian case, we would do well to lay the violence of revolution as well at the feet of hopelessly muddled reactionaries.

In the final analysis these three revolutions, English, American, French (and what of the early German version in 1625?) are one and the same, and pass into 1848, the business too obviously still incomplete, as the tide climaxes and begins to recede, leaving the ghoulish Russian experiment stranded, with an historical expectation about ‘revolution’ that played them false. Just here we see the drama of ‘permanent revolution’ beginning, and a distinction is essential, between historical process claimed as revolution, and the free activity to create one based on memory, a fatal danger. Beside the late failure of the Russian Revolution, we see the issue of modernism computed against the incidents of its success or failure, and find that, relative to 1500-1800, history successfully reaches a new plateau, whatever the outcome of its particular incidents.

 Our three centuries since Luther cover immense ground, but we can see the clear unity, as the ‘real Revolution’, by nature’s method. Behind this unity we can as well see the deeper disunity, and catch the mechanism as what we suspect, small scale influences defeating the large, the sourcing of the American system at the fringes being a classic example. And the climax of our period of transition is spectacular, as the economic and democratic revolutions sweep the field in the last generation of the eighteenth century, and then cross a mysterious divide ca. 1800 into a period of relative stabilization. But these are, probably, already relatively contingent outcomes in a process that was complete at the time of the Thirty Years War.[ii]

 After the experience of the Russian revolution the rejection of revolution as a process has become the dominant viewpoint. But the issue of ‘revolution’ is fundamental, whatever we think, because the slow evolution of society would never, by incremental change, given human nature and its obsession to dominate and enslave, to say nothing of the clear evidence that long term history keeps getting stuck, have produced the forms of modern freedom, democracy, or even economic development. Only a small fringe area at the boundary of Eurasia seems to have been able to break out of the system of antiquity. But we can grant the point of skepticism to see that revolutions aren’t to be had for the asking, and don’t just come about from audacity.

The point is simply that man as man simply will not, because the record of history shows that he will not, grant freedom to his fellow man. And the great achievements of freedom show initial bursts of eonic determination. There is a mysterious ‘something else’ involved in the appearance of democracy.  

 

    Notes

   Web:  chap6_3_1 .htm

 

[i] Simon Schama, Citizens (New York: Knopf, 1989), p. xiii.

[ii] W. Doyle, The French Revolution: Bibliography of Works in English. (1988). R.R. Palmer, The Age of Democratic Revolutions (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1964) Geoffrey Best (ed.), Permanent Revolution (Chicago: Chicago, 1989), Norman Hampson, A Social History of the French Revolution (1963), Francois Furet, Interpreting the French Revolution (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), and Marx and the French Revolution (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988), “Practical Reason in the Revolution: Kant’s Dialogue with the Revolution”, in Ferenc Feher, The French Revolution and the Birth of Modernity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990).

 

 
 


 

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Last modified: 09/28/2010