The Psychology of Revolution

Utopian Hermit Monk

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I have been re-reading this classic work by the pioneering French social psychologist, Gustave le Bon. Although first published in 1912, it remains insightful and well worth studying.

A free out-of-copyright English translation is available online: http://socserv.mcmaster.ca/econ/ugcm/3ll3/lebon/Revolution.pdf


My motive in consulting this and more recent works on the topic of social revolution is to try to understand what is happening to the Irish social psyche in the wake of the rapid transition from wealth to relative hardship.

The really interesting question concerns what is likely to happen in the coming months, especially after a new raft of cut-backs affecting social welfare recipients, as well as low- and middle-income groups.

After some relatively mild sparks of anger late last year (pensioners, students, unions), the nation appears to have sunk into a kind of collective shocked resignation. However, I do not believe that this will last. There is, surely, a tipping point that could lead to widespread anger, unrest, violence and repression.


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truthforsooth

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Thanks for that. I would add, not just transition to hardship, but also the sense of deep disenfranchisement and alienation that many people may feel over how we are being treated by our State with regards to Tara, Shannon, Corrib gas, zoning of lands etc., and the recourse of law not being there to protect us.
 

sauntersplash

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After some relatively mild sparks of anger late last year (pensioners, students, unions), the nation appears to have sunk into a kind of collective shocked resignation. However, I do not believe that this will last. There is, surely, a tipping point that could lead to widespread anger, unrest, violence and repression.


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In the absence of any guiding ideology whatsoever I can see the anger, unrest, violence and repression of the populace manifesting itself in nothing but the usual old prejudices. "Emigrants did it", "Public Service did it", "Bankers did it".

We are divided and we are ruled.

Looks like an interesting read though, I'll get back to you when I get a chance to check it out. Ever read Fanon?
 

swansandtyphus

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Tara, Shannon, Corrib gas
Those issues have only marginal interest among Irish people.

The majority of Irish people are interested in loss of their investments, the devaluation of their homes and property, unemployment, cutbacks in education, health care and welfare, a fall in living standards and how long before there can be an economic recovery.
 

Utopian Hermit Monk

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Right now, I suspect that the perception of glaring inequity in the distribution of post-downturn pain is like a slow-burning fuse that could easily result in a significant social explosion.

From certain public pronouncements by Government ministers (usually along the lines of: "We must protect the interests of the most vulnerable.") the danger of serious social upheaval is a significant factor in their political and economic calculations. However, I am not at all convinced that their actions match their pronouncements. Hence, the fuse of widespread anger continues to burn. It is still slow-burning (perhaps masked by sadness and depression), but the next wave of cutbacks in public spending could speed things up considerably!



p.s. @sauntersplash:
Yes. Fanon's 'The Wretched of the Earth' is also on my re-read list.



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Utopian Hermit Monk

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The Psychology of Revolution
Part I, Book I, Chapter I

Although the origin of a revolution may be perfectly rational, we must not forget that the reasons invoked in preparing for it do not influence the crowd until they have been transformed into sentiments. Rational logic can point to the abuses to be destroyed, but to move the multitude its hopes must be awakened. This can only be effected by the action of the affective and mystic elements which give man the power to act.
Whatever its origin, a revolution is not productive of results until it has sunk into the soul of the multitude.

The above helps to explain why Ireland is not, in spite of our multiple economic and social woes, on the verge of revolution. For one thing, we lack the kind of rational discourse that might engage the mass of the people, by means of a 'mystic' and/or affective logic, and subsequently produce a non-rational collective 'logic' that could result in revolutionary action.

Many people do not like where we now find ourselves, but they are not being offered clear ideas regarding viable alternatives. The recent elections provided clear evidence of a mood of protest, but the protest is within conventional boundaries. We Irish like to grumble, but we are politically conservative.

Our political discourse, as exemplified by Dáil and Seanad 'debates', continues to be parochial rather than principled. Professional commentators and their audiences are more interested in anecdotes and gossip than in ideology. Generally speaking, we are not driven by ideas.

We have no indigenous philosophical tradition. Even in the religious sphere, most Irish believers are theologically illiterate. Religious faith (like political faith) is predominantly affective. We are more imaginative than intellectual.

Our present difficulties could well result in sporadic outbreaks of emotion-driven civil unrest (along the lines of last years pensioners/students' protests, but on a much larger scale). But we far removed from a collective longing for any particular kind of radical social/political change that could impel the masses to engage in transformative action of the kind witnessed, for example, during Ukraine's 'Orange Revolution'.

Right now, in spite of the truly shocking change in our economic and social circumstances, 'change' is reduced to choosing between a Government led by FF or FG, Brian or Enda, Tweedledum or Tweedledee. In early 21st century Ireland, politics really is that banal!


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Libero

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I've always had a lot of time for the J-curve theory of revolutions:
"Revolutions are most likely to occur when a prolonged period of objective economic and social development is followed by a short period of sharp reversal. People then subjectively fear that ground gained with great effort will be quite lost; their mood becomes revolutionary."
(James Chowning Davies - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

Here's a graph:


Here's the Classic Citations take: http://garfield.library.upenn.edu/classics1982/A1982NQ25300001.pdf

Of course it follows that if society (or elements of society) re-adjust its expectations downwards, the gap no longer exists. And looking at Ireland today, a lot of people with good reason to be angry are also displaying emotions like despondency and resignation that will keep that anger in check, at least on a political level. At a wider national level, we're all being asked to believe by the great and good in the paradox of sacrificing living standards now for the sake of eventual recovery. Of course that only works for a while...

Mass emigration also helps. Students and the young are often at the vanguard of any revolution but if they think that emigration is the natural order of things, then they’ll probably be brought up to accept it and even look forward to it. It wouldn’t be the first time.
 
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Utopian Hermit Monk

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An interesting graph, Libero.

Do most Irish people find the gap between expectations and reality acceptable or unacceptable?
I suspect that the former is the case, partly because many people's expectation was that the 'good times' wouldn't last anyhow.
Unfortunately, our present reality may actually confirm an expectation that the 'cutehoorism' of recent tears would end in tears, or that we Irish never really deserved to belong to the Rich Club.
Could this explain, in part, why the predominant reaction to the present mess is more shocked paralysis than indignant activism? As you point out, if reaction to the crisis has been a downwards readjustment of expectations, the Unacceptable Gap disappears, along with any prospect of fundamental political change.


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Cael

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Ultimately, any revolution in Ireland will begin with the Republican Movement. No other group of people in Ireland have the tradition or the determination necessary to do what must be done. All thats lacking is the RM fully adopting Marxist theory. Without Marxist theory, the IRA is just banging its head against the border, which is OK with the ruling class, because that really isnt their weak point. When we get a fully Marxist IRA, the bourgeois state will have its days numbered.
 

sauntersplash

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Some ill thought out obstacles to revolution -

-It is simply unimaginable to most of the people in our society. They are unable to conceive of what might be actually involved in armed struggle. They are incapable of imagining what it might be like to walk for two miles when their car breaks down let alone sit in the rain for three days with bullets whizzing past their heads.

- Ireland has never really had a military class, we have very very very few people with the knowledge/experience/confidence to get involved with this sort of thing.

- People are asleep. They are consumers and have been programmed to believe that it is possible improve their lot only through the purchasing of new objects.

- The rhetoric of revolution has been co-opted and disarmed. Sold for a hip Che Guevara t-shirt. "Adults" can no longer take it seriously.

- The proletariat (for want of a better word) has no ideology. Without them nothing can happen.

- There are no common goals in society. It is impossible to unite a society in our state of decline. Most citizens are forced to see it as every man for himself. They distrust 'the public'.

- Simon Cowell is in control of peoples hopes and dreams. This is how poverty stricken peoples imaginations have become. This is how degraded their conception of the human being is.

- Most people feel, in the back of their minds, that they don't really have it all that bad.
 

Utopian Hermit Monk

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Referring to the French Revolution, Le Bon says:

The power of the Revolution did not reside in the principles — which for that matter were anything but novel — which it sought to propagate, nor in the institutions which it sought to found. The people cares very little for institutions and even less for doctrines. That the Revolution was potent indeed, that it made France accept the violence, the murders, the ruin and the horror of a frightful civil war, that finally it defended itself victoriously against a Europe in arms, was due to the fact that it had founded not a new system of government but a new religion. Now history shows us how irresistible is the might of a strong belief. Invincible Rome herself had to bow before the armies of nomad shepherds illuminated by the faith of Mahommed. For the same reason the kings of Europe could not resist the tatterdemalion soldiers of the Convention. Like all apostles, they were ready to immolate themselves in the sole end of propagating their beliefs, which according to their dream were to renew the world.
The religion thus founded had the force of other religions, if not their duration. Yet it did not perish without leaving indelible traces, and its influence is active still.

The same could surely be said of the Easter Rising and the post-1916 period leading to the declaration of the Republic. The 'religious' element of this movement was heightened, especially, by the self-immolation of the most significant 1916 leaders. Their blood sacrifice facilitated what Le Bon regards as the crucial step from rational principles (property of an enlightened elite) to a non-rational mythic/mystic 'logic' capable of mobilising the support of the masses.

As in the case of the French Revolution (and, according to Le Bon, all revolutions), "The religion thus founded ... did not perish without leaving indelible traces, and its influence is still active".

These traces can continue to play significant political and cultural roles, especially if the post-revolutionary reality diverges too far from the utopian ideal.

In early-21st century Ireland, there can be little doubt that the gap between our reality and the founding revolutionary ideal is enormous. The present economic crisis has lifted the lid on multiple cans of worms. There is widespread loss of faith in traditional authority (political, cultural, religious, etc.). Most of the social, political and cultural institutions which used to command respect are now regarded as profoundly corrupt.

It is unlikely that the mass of the people retains sufficient 'religious' ('Republican') mythic/mystical fervour for a spontaneous revolt against the status quo. The present crisis could (but this is hy no means inevitable) lead to a renewed revolutionary movement, based on a reaffirmation of the State's founding principles or a statement of new revolutionary principles. For this to happen, it is necessary for a new 'enlightened elite' to emerge, motivated by rational principles and willing to engage in some type of self-immolation that will translate into a new mythic-mystical non-rational logic, capable of mobilising mass support.

At present, there is no evidence of such an enlightened revolutionary elite emerging as a response to the economic crisis and the clear evidence of endemic corruption among the present holders of the reins of power in Ireland. We are in a period of widespread disillusionment, but the national mood remains far from revolutionary.


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stewiegriffin

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Too many 'me feiners' for a revolution . The working class has been split into factions . In france in 1968 for example the workers and students united to some degree , could you picture that happening here ? No chance . We will just kick out at those less fortunate and hope we can quicky return to the days of overpriced houses and services . 'Vive la revolution ' indeed.
 

wysiwyg

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Too many 'me feiners' for a revolution . The working class has been split into factions . In france in 1968 for example the workers and students united to some degree , could you picture that happening here ? No chance . We will just kick out at those less fortunate and hope we can quicky return to the days of overpriced houses and services . 'Vive la revolution ' indeed.
While the thread is a very interesting read.. this so far sums up the reality... no matter how bad people think they have it, when actually asked to change, they shy away from any real revolutionary thought

Even the recent local elections.. did FF get that bad of a kicking ? 1/3 people voted for them after all.. as many voted for the main Opposition, FG... and are FG really that different ??? In the majority of many peoples eyes.. no they aren't

Maybe if, and it's a big if... the recommendations of the Mc Carthy report start to get implemented, people will start taking to the streets... but until then, there really is no revolutionary appetite in the country just yet, despite what many think or hope

However... the funny things about revolutions... is that they can spring from the most unlikely sources.. witness the OAP's last year... you could easily find, that some over zealous Garda wading into what was up to then a peaceful protest, could spark a riot which takes on a life of its own
 

arcadeparade

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Too many 'me feiners' for a revolution . The working class has been split into factions . In france in 1968 for example the workers and students united to some degree , could you picture that happening here ? No chance . We will just kick out at those less fortunate and hope we can quicky return to the days of overpriced houses and services . 'Vive la revolution ' indeed.
People are very atomized in this country, that is true, and there's the built in begrudgery that a lot of people here have which makes it hard for new opinions to take hold easily, but at the same time, I think under the right circumstances, we could see huge change, like the oap and student protests before, people are angry right now and are not sure of the future, so I dont think it will take very much more to set people off.
 

Utopian Hermit Monk

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As the Civil War drew to a close, some artists sensed that the revolutionary fervour had evaporated.

Sean Keating's painting 'An Allegory' (1922) is a good example:



In the background, the ascendancy mansion, symbol of the old order, lies in ruins.

Over to the left, a clergyman and a businessman are quietly coming to a mutually advantageous arrangement in the new fledgling State.

On the right, former antagonists in the Civil War are burying their dead. The coffin draped in the Tricolour may even symbolize Ireland itself.

Keating depicts himself slumped against the tree, exhausted, worn out by the events of 1916-22. Perhaps idealism has been exhausted at this point.

The only hopeful sign is the young mother holding the baby, representing the post-revolutionary generation. That baby would be 87 years old today. It might be worth having a chat with remaining survivors of that generation, before they finally disappear. Of course, that same generation produced the pragmatic go-getters of the 1960s, who paved the way for the Celtic Tiger (C.J. Haughey was born in 1925). Revolutionaries cannot control the aftermath of their actions!


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ajax1000

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All very highbrow for me. Tell you what. You go off and start the revolution. I will be behind you, about a mile behind you.
 

Jock_the_Waster

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As the Civil War drew to a close, some artists sensed that the revolutionary fervour had evaporated.

Sean Keating's painting 'An Allegory' (1922) is a good example:



In the background, the ascendancy mansion, symbol of the old order, lies in ruins.

Over to the left, a clergyman and a businessman are quietly coming to a mutually advantageous arrangement in the new fledgling State.

On the right, former antagonists in the Civil War are burying their dead. The coffin draped in the Tricolour may even symbolize Ireland itself.

Keating depicts himself slumped against the tree, exhausted, worn out by the events of 1916-22. Perhaps idealism has been exhausted at this point.

The only hopeful sign is the young mother holding the baby, representing the post-revolutionary generation. That baby would be 87 years old today. It might be worth having a chat with remaining survivors of that generation, before they finally disappear. Of course, that same generation produced the pragmatic go-getters of the 1960s, who paved the way for the Celtic Tiger (C.J. Haughey was born in 1925). Revolutionaries cannot control the aftermath of their actions!


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wow, great stuff Monk, thanks for that
 


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