The trouble with revolutions

In the first chapter of The Scarlet Pimpernel, Baroness Emma Orczy paints a gruesome image of the dark side of revolutions. She writes that the people watching executions like a spectator sport are “a surging, seething, murmuring crowd of beings that are human only in name, for to the eye and ear they seem naught but savage creatures, animated by vile passions and by the lust of vengeance and hate.” And of those being executed, she writes, “Their ancestors had oppressed the people, had crushed them … and now the people had become the rulers of France and crushed their former masters.”

It is astonishing how easily the negative aspects of revolution get buried and forgotten. The murders of bloody, violent revolutions take place far from home—or those who are murdered are unborn and invisible. In North America, revolutions are fought as much with stinging Facebook posts and sarcastic t-shirts as with guns. Battle is waged with subtle mind games, peer pressure, and constant blather. G. K. Chesterton wrote, “How quickly revolutions grow old; and, worse still, respectable.” Indeed, we are surrounded by revolutions that are not only considered respectable, but fashionable as well. Revolutionary technology, revolutionary medicine, revolutionary ideas about families, revolutionary vacuum cleaners, and on, and on.

Because these revolutions are not often violent, well packaged, and make life easier, it is easy to forget the skills and the simple pleasures that have been buried. Of course, there are times when the outcome of the revolution is far better than what came before—when the things subverted ought to have been lost in the past. Here in the US, we’ve spent the week celebrating a revolution that turned out pretty well. But revolutions in general throw the baby out with the bath water: they are all or nothing, us vs. them, no compromise sort of situations with a lot of pointless damage.

Revolutions are destructive because they require that Men relinquish elements of humanity. Rather than individuals who think and debate, revolution calls for masses to act as one obsessed group that does as it is instructed. Revolution is dehumanizing—so the solution is to refuse to sacrifice our humanity. After all, we are not called to be revolutionaries; we are called to be saints—individuals made in the image of God.

Here, in this time and this place, we have the unbelievable good fortune to have the opportunity to stand for a cause that is important enough to shake the entire world. Countless men, women, and children have sacrificed to give us the freedom that we have today. Giving in to the call of a dehumanized mob seems a very poor way of repaying that sacrifice. So don’t be a mindless mob member. Think for yourself, follow the Faith, and fight for the only revolution that matters in the end—God’s.

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