Revolution is a cyclical phenomenon that groups of people collectively undergo which involves the eventual overthrow of an existing conceptual scheme in order to institute a dramatically new set of beliefs or systems; of which has never existed in that society prior and of which can’t be undone.
The first main attribute of revolution as a concept is that it is a naturally occurring phenomenon, that travels through several stages when large groups of people live together. Revolution is both gradual and sudden, violent and non-violent, and it is inevitable. History and common wisdom tell us that change is inevitable, progress is always being made, and human society is dynamic. Every society, at every point in human history, has undergone a revolution at some point. Revolution is inevitable. Some revolutions, however, may not be realized.
Revolution isn’t a singular threshold or moment in time, rather a fluid, analog process. It starts with an existing conceptual scheme or status quo that is unsatisfactory. Then, the recognition of this dissatisfaction. Next, a growing group of people forms under the recognition of this dissatisfaction. The dissatisfied group then will start to act out in retaliation (violently or peacefully). If the group is able to garner enough political or military power, then they will eliminate this perceived slight and implement their own system.
Revolution encompasses every step of this cycle, but as mentioned earlier, not every revolution will reach every step of the process. Some revolutions may fail to garner enough support or power to overthrow the perceived dissatisfaction. This is what many refer to as a failed revolution. I will differentiate between a successful revolution and an unsuccessful revolution based on if a revolution completes the cycle.
The second main attribute is that revolution inherently has to involve several people in a community, it cannot be an individual act. A revolution begins when a new idea is spread and adopted by others. An idea kept to an individual’s self cannot make an impact on society, and instead can be labeled a “revelation”. One might argue that a person’s revelation can manifest into behaviors that impact others, but as soon as a behavior impacts someone else, it is no longer an individual act. Therefore revolution has to involve more than one person.
The third attribute is that a revolution has to be “drastic”, which I will define as coming from outside the currently accepted conceptual scheme of a society. For example, lobbying for a new law that gets passed is not revolutionary because it occurred under existing infrastructure. The American revolutionary war is revolutionary because it took place outside of the British system of law.
Lastly, a revolution cannot be undone. Once the new idea has been spread and successfully implemented, its effects ripple in permanence. Like a deep cut on the body, the wound may heal, and even fade, but the scar will always remain. A government or power structure may try to suppress or eliminate a new conceptual scheme, but once it is out in the world it can’t be taken back.
Lapham’s Quarterly is an example of the idea that a revolution can’t be undone. The art and writings regarding revolutionary ideas are eternalized in books like Lapham’s.