Revolutions and social transformation
REVOLUTIONS HAPPEN because of an unjust social and political order. Revolutions naturally seek to eliminate not just the symptoms but the root cause of the injustice—either a ruthless tyrant or a dominant oligarchy. People are powerless not because they do not have the favor of the gods. People are powerless because they are being taken advantage of by their leaders. As such, revolutions are ultimately rooted in some form of discontent.
The French Revolution has been described as an important period of political upheavals against theocracies and monarchies. The French Revolution ushered a new era in history as it gave birth to modern democracy. The ideals of the Enlightenment to this day have defined the discourses on political theory—liberalism, nationalism, feminism and socialism. Modern democratic discourse on human rights is anchored on liberty, equality and fraternity as the highest form of political values. The ideals of the modern democracy have built what has become of the Western world today. Monarchies have become ceremonial, and power now belongs to the secularized order of politics.
The Edsa Revolution was a reaction against the Marcos dictatorship. Marcos promised that the country will be great again by changing the old order, which means reconfiguring the economic order of the country. But instead of empowering the Filipino people, Marcos stole billions of dollars from them and destroyed the country’s democratic institutions. The plunder of the nation was made possible through crony capitalism. Moreover, human rights abuses during martial law resulted in 10,000 deaths or disappearances. Benigno Aquino Jr. stood up and gave his life for freedom and democracy and symbolized the collective consciousness of the Filipino people who realized that the tyranny should be putto an end.
The Arab Spring that began as a wave of street protests, riots and peaceful demonstrations in Egypt and Libya, to name two of the most prominent centers of the revolt, was based on a confluence of factors—i.e., social, political and economic. But while both the Libyan and Egyptian dictators are already out of power, their societies have remained in great turmoil. Terrorism and violence characterize the state of both countries today. Without security, their populations are under constant threat. The free world is a mere spectator to a bloody civil war in Syria that has so far claimed the lives of more than 200,000 people, with the use of barrel bombs and chlorine. It is a senseless war that has displaced and destroyed the lives of millions.
Occupy Wall Street may be considered a revolutionary way of fighting capitalist greed. Wall Street executives allegedly earn hundreds of millions of dollars from their annual pay. This is immoral, considering that millions of people earn a pittance while working eight hours a day. Sub-prime lending allowed financing firms to generate huge revenues by betting on money that was not yet earned. When the housing market bubble burst, people lost their jobs. The moral argument is simple. Wall Street needed more regulation. The US government reacted by strengthening its regulatory powers; it put a cap on executive pay and used its broad financial muscle in order to inject money into the ailing economy.
Revolutions may be understood on the basis of Hegel’s theory of the dialectic. In a way, all revolutions seek to achieve social change. For Hegel, human society naturally undergoes internal contradictions which will result in systemic reform. The unjust economic order of society, for instance, often results in social conflict because it is grounded in the self-interest of those who are in power. Self-interest gives rise to unjust hegemonic structural positions in society. The French Revolution, the Edsa Revolution, the Arab Spring, and Occupy Wall Street all have a common enemy—tyranny!
What all these tell us is that the situated context of people is important in terms of the normative ways upon which social conflicts may be addressed. Poverty is the most obvious symptom of injustice. It will not be solved by simply eliminating those whom we think are perpetuating the system. While a bloody revolution can temporarily remove all traditional politicians from the earth, the corruption in the system will most likely give birth to new insatiable monsters.
Indeed, we cannot afford a bloody revolution. It is social transformation that is necessary. Social transformation requires people to embrace a new paradigm. Reform can only begin once we accept that things are not right. This requires a change of attitude. We need a critical mass of individuals who will accept the responsibility of holding those who are in power accountable to their pledge. And out of this critical mass, we have to find a revolutionary moral leader who can motivate people to change the way they see things. Only then will people have the strong resolve to refuse the domination imposed upon them by the powers-that-be.
Christopher Ryan Maboloc teaches philosophy at Ateneo de Davao University. He holds a master’s degree in applied ethics from Linkoping University in Sweden.