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In Situ: The Revolution

The "Arab Spring" was heralded and publicly embraced by foreign leaders of many countries that define themselves by their own historic revolutions. The contributors to this volume examine the legitimacy of these comparisons by exploring whether or not all modern revolutions follow a pattern or script. Traditionally, historians have studied revolutions as distinct and separate events.

Drawing on close familiarity with many different cultures, languages, and historical transitions, this anthology presents the first cohesive historical approach to the comparative study of revolutions. This volume argues that the American and French Revolutions provided the genesis of the revolutionary "script" that was rewritten by Marx, which was revised by Lenin and the Bolshevik Revolution, which was revised again by Mao and the Chinese Communist Revolution. Later revolutions in Cuba and Iran improvised further.

This script is once again on display in the capitals of the Middle East and North Africa, and it will serve as the model for future revolutionary movements. Suppose, as was suggested earlier, that revolution differs from mere rebellion in that the latter is simply a rejection of governmental authority while the former involves that plus a commitment to forming a new political order.

If that is so, and if revolutionaries lack the institutional resources to determine a common understanding of what the new political order is to be, then the task of evaluating the justness of a revolutionary struggle becomes more difficult. It is true, of course that a state that wars with another state will often have more than one war aim and may also have inconsistent aims, but at least in the case of reasonably well-functioning states there is an authoritative, that is, legitimacy-conferring process for determining what the aims of the conflict are and which are to be given priority if they conflict.

But revolutionary wars present a greater risk of literal anarchy, with all of the threats to human rights and well-being that this usually entails, because revolutionaries, even when they succeed in defeating the regime, may not yet have and in some cases may never develop the capacity to impose order. In that sense, the stakes are often higher in revolutionary wars and the traditional likelihood of success requirement of just war theory may be harder to satisfy. There are two other factors, both of which are present in many violent revolutions, that make the problem of creating a new political order that can provide an acceptable level of physical security especially difficult.

First, revolutionary conflicts, like other intrastate wars, are often especially brutal, because the lines between combatants and noncombatants tend to be blurred, because of the spiral of coercion stemming from strategic interaction regarding revolutionary mobilization characterized above, and because individuals and groups often use the general context of violence to settle private conflicts that have little or no connection to the issues for which revolution is supposedly undertaken Kalyvas So building a secure peace may be hindered by persisting animosity, allegations of atrocities, and the quest for vengeance, while social capital in the form of trust may be in short supply.

Second, in the contemporary context, it is often the case that in societies where the just cause for revolution is most compelling, namely, what could be called Resolute Severe Tyrannies, there are deep divisions along religious or ethno-national lines, in large part because the tyrants have fostered such divisions in order to prevent the people from achieving unified opposition to the regime. Where such divisions exist and there is no culture of tolerance and power-sharing, the destruction of the tyrannical regime may result in violent intergroup conflicts, with no indigenous force capable of imposing a peace settlement and building a condition of persisting physical security.

Under these conditions, to undertake revolution is to unleash forces that may result either in violent anarchy or unwanted foreign intervention undertaken on the pretext of establishing order. Sixth, at least under modern conditions, revolutionary wars have the potential to persist longer than interstate wars as they have traditionally been conducted, and hence are likely to involve more human and material destruction other things being equal, because of interventions that serve not to end them but rather to prolong them.

It is a feature of contemporary revolutionary wars that they are seldom left to the primary parties. Instead, rival states or groups of rival states often support different sides. But when revolutions become proxy wars between rival powers, one state is likely to intervene to resupply or otherwise support its proxy to break a stalemate or prevent the other side from achieving victor. That is why most empirical theorists of intrastate war predict that there is no end in sight to the conflict in Syria Jenkins This problem is exacerbated by the fact that one or both of the sponsors of the conflicting sides may not have as its top strategic aim a victory for its side.

Instead, the dominant goal may actually be to prolong the conflict. To the extent that revolutionaries or regimes who oppose them ought to take the traditional jus ad bellum requirement of likelihood of success into account and also ought to heed the requirement of proportionality, their task is complicated by strategic dynamic that occurs when revolutions are not simple two party affairs, but proxy contests between other parties as well.

Intervention makes calculations of both likelihood of success and proportionality more problematic. And if there is a presumption against war unless likelihood of success and proportionality are relatively certain, then it follows that the justification for revolutionary war is even more problematic, other things being equal, than for interstate war. Seventh, and finally, entrenched tyrannical regimes, the most morally compelling targets for revolution, typically use their control over education and the media to instill propaganda designed to prevent the people from recognizing just how rotten the regime is, how poorly the economy is performing, how inferior the quality of life is compared with that in better governed countries, and how widespread dissatisfaction with the regime actually is.

Hence, effective revolutionary action may require the dissipation of false consciousness on the part of the people. The aspiring revolutionary leadership thus may be faced with the task of trying to dismantle the false consciousness of those they hope to enlist in the revolutionary struggle. In actual cases, aspiring leaders have often used violence and sometimes terrorism in an effort to overcome the epistemic obstacles to widespread participation in revolution.

Another tactic often used by revolutionaries to overcome epistemic obstacles is to provoke the regime to undertake brutal responses to relatively peaceful demonstrations, in order to reveal to all just how ruthless the regime is. Such actions, which are condemned by mainstream jus in bello thinking, are said to be necessary to instill the sense of agency that false consciousness has undermined.

For all of these reasons, revolutionary wars tend to present additional moral problems, over and above the daunting issues involved in interstate wars, or, as in the case of likelihood of success and proportionality, to involve more serious instances of difficulties common to both kinds of war. A theory of just revolutionary war ought to take these differences seriously and not begin with the assumption that the commendable work that has recently been done in just war theory—which as has been noted is mainly geared to interstate war—can be adapted without significant modification or augmentation to the revolutionary case.


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The assumption that mainstream just war theory provides all or even most of what is needed for a theory of just revolutionary wars seems plausible only if one traffics in unhelpful abstractions and fails to look at the differences revealed by the empirical literature on revolutions and the special moral issues they raise. A major conclusion of this entry is that a plausible moral theory of revolution must be informed by the best empirical studies of what actually goes on in revolutionary struggles.

It is necessary to factor out the distinctive moral problems faced by those who initiate revolutionary war and aspire to recruit and lead others in the struggle [ 8 ] and those who join the revolution once it is underway and do so without any pretensions to being leaders. These two classes of agents both face some common moral issues, but they also each must resolve moral issues peculiar to their situation.

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An affirmative answer to the first question does not guarantee affirmative answers to the rest. We may begin with the first question: when do agents have the rightful authority to try to initiate a revolutionary war? This is an appropriate question to ask if one attempts to apply mainstream jus ad bellum theory to the case of revolutionary war, since rightful authority is generally assumed to be a requirement in jus ad bellum. An initially plausible answer is that the agent must stand in a certain relationship to the people on whose behalf the revolutionary war is to be waged.

Different theorists have tried to spell out this relationship in different ways, asserting that the initiator of revolutionary war i must have the consent of those on whose behalf she claims to act, ii must have their approval, iii must represent them, or iv must take responsibility for their common good and have the capacity to pursue it effectively. Each of these proposals will be considered in turn.

21 Revolutions

The distinction between consent and approval is to be understood as follows: consent must be provided ex ante , prior to the action to which consent is given; approval is ex post , a retrospective endorsement of an action that has already occurred. There are two problems with the view that consent of the oppressed is either necessary or sufficient for rightful authority to initiate revolutionary war.

First, in virtually every real world situation, consent will not be unanimous; so two questions immediately present themselves and a plausible answer to either is far from obvious: 1 if consent is necessary for rightful authority, how can anyone have rightful authority over those who do not consent; and 2 if the consent of some is sufficient for rightful authority over all, how many must consent a bare majority, a supermajority, etc.

If the point of consent is that without it those who initiate revolutionary war are arbitrarily putting those who do not consent at risk, then the fact that some have consented cannot make the imposition of risks on those who did not consent any less arbitrary.

John Simmons has argued that even where the best democratic political processes are available, genuine consent cannot be obtained; if that is so, then it is hardly likely that consent can be gotten in the much less favorable circumstances in which the aspiring revolutionary leadership might seek it. Because of these difficulties with consent as a criterion for rightful authority, one might think that approval is the appropriate notion.

However, the same problems that afflicted consent render approval dubious. If approval is not unanimous, it is hard to see how the approval of some can confer rightful authority over all or justify the imposition of risks on all. But if unanimity is not required, it is unclear how much approval should be required.

The problems with approval and consent might lead one to opt instead for a notion of hypothetical consent or hypothetical approval: an agent has rightful authority to initiate and attempt to lead a revolutionary war only if or if and only if her doing so would be consented to or approved by a rational person and who rightly values freedom from oppression, under those circumstances. This move presents two difficulties.

First, it assumes something very problematic, namely, that hypothetical consent is as morally potent as actual consent and, even more dubiously that hypothetical approval can substitute for actual consent. Second, it appears that if a determination can be made of what a rational agent who rightly values freedom from oppression would consent to or approve of, then the whole exercise becomes otiose, because the same result can be achieved by calculating whether the initiation of the war satisfies the conventional criteria of likelihood of success, just cause, and proportionality.

In other words, to the extent that the notion of what a rational agent who rightly values freedom from oppression would consent to or approve of can be ascertained, it appears that such an agent would make that determination by employing the least controversial jus ad bellum requirements.

Ukraine's two different revolutions - BBC News

Further, different actual people will be affected differently by the revolution if it occurs and will weigh the risks and benefits differently, and should do so to the extent that they are rational. If the notion of a rational agent abstracts from these differences, it is hard to see how what she would approve of or consent to could be relevant to whether revolutionaries should subject actual people to the risks of revolution. Consider now the claim that those who initiate revolutionary wars and assume leadership of them have rightful authority to do so if or if and only if they represent the people or at least those members of the people who are oppressed.

This standard, institutionally-based understanding of representation would work as a criterion of rightful authority to initiate revolutionary war only if one of two conditions were satisfied. First, those who initiate revolutionary war were duly chosen as representatives prior to the advent of an oppressive regime as when an authoritarian coup usurps an elected government. Second, the constitutional order included pre-authorization for revolution under certain specified conditions. It is worth noting that the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen explicitly included a right and indeed a duty to resist tyranny and that the Inner Service Act of the Turkish Armed Forces articles 35 and 85 goes farther, designating an agent of revolution by pre-authorizing the military to depose the government if it violates the constitutional requirement of secular government.

Just as an advance directive for medical care enables a competent patient to pre-authorize agent to act on her behalf in the event of her losing the capacity to act, so a constitutional provision of this sort would enable a people under conditions of political freedom to pre-authorize some agent to initiate revolution on its behalf should the abuse of government authority undermine its ability to perform an act of authorization.

Neither of these two conditions will be satisfied if the country in question never had a political system that produced bona fide representatives of the people or never had a constitution that pre-authorized revolution. Interestingly, current discussions of rightful authority for waging revolutionary war do not consider the possibility of pre-authorization for initiating and leading revolutions, thus following the unfortunate but widespread practice of discussing the morality of war as if institutions did not exist or were relevant only as instruments for applying a system of moral principles that can be fully worked out by eliciting intuitions from cases of individual actions considered apart from any institutional background Buchanan , In the absence of any institutional provisions for pre-authorization, a proponent of the notion of representativeness might offer a different understanding of it.

An agent represents the people, in a fashion that morally empowers her to initiate and lead revolutionary war, if she is committed to and acts appropriately to realize their shared interest or common good Biggar It is worth noting just how distant this view is from any widely accepted notion of rightful authority to make war in other contexts or for that matter of rightful authority in any context, whether private or public.

Further, this notion is incapable of establishing exclusive rightful authority, since there may be more than one party, each contending for the role of leadership, all of which are committed to and capable of promoting the common good. That is a significant problem, since one of the traditional rationales for the rightful authority in just war theories is that there must be some one authority on each side of an armed conflict, both to ensure discipline among the armed forces so as to limit destruction, to achieve adherence to jus in bello principles, and so that it will be clear who should be party to negotiations to end the conflict and ensure a just peace.

If for these reasons one despairs of spelling out rightful authority in terms of actual or hypothetical consent or approval, representativeness, or commitment to the common good, an alternative approach may appear attractive: jettison the assumption that initiating and attempting to lead a revolutionary war always requires rightful authority. Argue instead that where the conditions on the ground make rightful authority unobtainable, it can still sometimes be morally justifiable for an agent to initiate a revolutionary war and attempt to lead it Fabre Suppose that there is a group of agents who have the capacity to create basic order, lifting all out of the state of radical physical insecurity, but who can accomplish this only by imposing a coercively backed set of rules under conditions in which there are no institutional resources for conferring rightful authority to perform these tasks.

Suppose in addition that there are no informal means for conferring rightful authority, that for reasons adduced earlier, either consent or approval cannot be ascertained due to severe oppression or that they would fall significantly short of unanimity. Suppose also that these agents are committed to providing physical security for all by the least coercive and fair means that are likely to be effective under the circumstances.

Finally, suppose that they are committed to helping to build institutions that would make the legitimate or rightfully authorized continued use of coercion possible and that they are publicly committed to relinquishing power should those processes confer legitimacy on some other agents. Surely under these conditions, such agents would be morally justified in wielding coercive power, even if they lacked rightful authority.

If that is so, then instead of saying that coercive power may only be permissibly wielded by rightful authorities, one ought to say instead that rightful authority is required where the conditions for conferring authority exists, but that where they do not, it may be morally justifiable to wield coercive power nonetheless, at least if this is done in such a way as to promote the emergence of conditions under which legitimate use of coercion can exist.

In extreme cases, tyrannies are sufficiently like a state of violent anarchy that it appears that the same conclusion holds there as well. If a group of agents can end such a tyranny and establish a minimally just order in which all can enjoy physical security and if it is committed to doing so by the least coercive means and in observation of basic principles of fairness and is also committed to helping to establish the conditions under which the exercise of coercive power can become legitimate or rightfully authorized, then it appears that it would be morally justified in initiating and leading a revolutionary war to create such conditions.

Whether or not this sort of argument for abandoning the unqualified commitment to a principle of rightful authority in the case of revolutionary wars is ultimately persuasive, it appears to have sufficient initial plausibility to call into question the assumption that if rightful authority is a requirement for just interstate wars, then it is also so for revolutionary wars in all cases.

So, one central issue for a comprehensive theory of just revolutionary war is whether the requirement of rightful authorization for initiating and leading armed revolutionary struggles is unconditionally valid. If the answer is that it is, then it appears that initiating a revolutionary war will rarely if ever be justified. It does not follow, however, that joining the fight, once it has started, is unjustified whenever the initiation of the conflict was unjustified Buchanan Whether various individuals are morally justified in joining the war effort depends upon whether they have morally acceptable reasons for doing so, not upon the morality or immorality of the actions others took to initiate the conflict.

The justification for initiating revolution will be different from the justification for joining a revolution. This point is not limited to revolutionary wars, but it may be more significant in the revolutionary case, if generally speaking the initiation of revolutionary wars is harder to justify than some interstate wars, especially wars of self-defense or defense of others against aggression. There are several reasons, as already noted, why revolutionary wars may be especially hard to justify.


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The most obvious, as noted in Section 3, are that there are many ways in which the aim of establishing a more just political order may be frustrated and hence it may be hard to satisfy the requirement of a reasonable likelihood of success. Another problem is the difficulty of determining that a proportionality requirement is satisfied. Indeed, some of the most daunting moral issues of revolutionary war arise when one attempts to apply the standard just war requirement of proportionality as a necessary condition for justified initiation of revolutionary war.

That said, Rodin, McMahan, and Finlay share two questionable assumptions. First, that the use of lethal force can be proportional only if it is used against lethal force or perhaps against enslavement as well ; and second, that the proportionality assessment should only encompass harms to those directly affected.

Against the first assumption, Mattias Iser has argued that respect for civil and political rights not only serves to protect important interests but also has the expressive function of publicly recognizing equal basic moral status. Given the fundamental moral importance of such recognition, the violation of these rights, at least when it is a feature of the basic structure of society, can justify violent revolution Iser — The second problematic assumption shared by Rodin, McMahan, and Finlay in their discussions of proportionality is that only harms to the parties directly affected count.

And, of course, revolutionaries often try to justify the violence that will result from their conduct by saying that it will be compensated for by the benefits gained or the harm averted for many people to come. Suppose the valid norm is that governments are not to be tyrannical, that they are not only to refrain from killings, maiming, and enslavement, but are also to respect civil and political rights, including especially the right to democratic government, primarily because rights to physical security are best realized in democracies.

Suppose also that because of weak international institutions, the best prospect for enforcing a norm of good government is the threat of revolution against governments that violate the norm.

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Under these conditions, it would be problematic to restrict proportionality assessments to immediate, direct harms, ignoring the effects on the enforcement of important norms of justice. Most but not all contemporary discussions of proportionality ignore the possibility of justifying violence for the sake of norm enforcement, because they elaborate on intuitions stimulated by one-off consideration of cases viewed in isolation, rather than taking into account the effect of particular actions on patterns of behavior persisting over time Fabre , Rodin And because they largely ignore institutions, they do not consider the requirements of effective international norm enforcement under conditions in which international institutions for enforcement are weak.

Those who exclude from assessments of proportionality effects on future generations and on norm enforcement might reply as follows. Even if in principle it makes sense to consider such wider effects, in practice any attempt to do so would require calculations so difficult and prone to error that, as an action-guiding principle, the proportionality requirement ought to construe harms more narrowly. As it stands, this reply is unconvincing, because it assumes, without argument, that the risks of error or abuse attendant on a wider construal of harms relevant to proportionality clearly outweigh the apparent impropriety of ignoring what appear to be whole classes of morally relevant harms.

There is one more way in which institutional capacity can affect proportionality. If international or regional institutions provided for effective intervention in support of just revolutions, then the risks of failed or corrupted revolutions and of violent anarchy that lead some theorists to deny that revolution can be justified would be mitigated, with the result that engaging in revolution could satisfy the proportionality requirement.

Once again, it is clear that the validity of a theory of just revolutionary war depends upon the validity of empirical assumptions about institutional capacity. Unfortunately, many theorists of the morality of armed conflict either ignore issues of institutional capacity or assume that the current paucity of institutional resources cannot be remedied.

Thus far the moral complexities of revolutionary jus ad bellum have been the focus of the discussion, emphasizing in particular the difficulty of satisfying the requirements of rightful authority and proportionality. The jus in bello component of a theory of just revolutionary war is also morally complex. A key issue that a theory of the morality of revolutionary war ought to address is whether widely accepted jus in bello norms apply without exception to war-making by revolutionaries or whether, instead, revolutionaries are morally permitted to undertake acts of war that the military personnel of states are usually prohibited from performing.

They have assassinated civilian leaders and other civilians such as government bureaucrats and judges, attacked regime forces while wearing civilian attire not wearing uniforms or insignia as required by the laws of war and not carrying weapons openly , and engaged in terrorism, deliberately killing individuals who had no discernible connection with the regime by detonating bombs in public places.

Contemporary theorists who have addressed the morality of irregular warfare have generally argued that terrorism, whether its goal is to persuade the regime to capitulate or to coerce the oppressed into joining the revolution or not supporting the regime, is morally impermissible. Most of the controversy concerns whether any or all of the other forms of irregular warfare are permissible and if so under what conditions.

This author Buchanan has argued that even if terrorism perpetrated against members of the oppressed population is unjustified, some forms of coercion may be permissible, as when revolutionary fighters are conscripted through the threat of penalties such as expropriation of property or even perhaps confinement or lesser restrictions on liberty. The most plausible justification for such methods of coerced mobilization would characterize the goals of the revolution as public goods of extraordinary moral importance and present coercion as a solution to the collective action problem.

Whether coercive mobilization would be justified would depend on at least two factors: whether the forms of coercion employed were necessary, whether they were the least restrictive among the effective alternatives and whether the burdens of coercion were distributed fairly Finlay 87— Those who argue that it is permissible for revolutionaries to target civilians tend to argue that only those civilians who contribute in some significant way to the oppressive activities of the regime lie beyond the protection of the jus in bello norm of discrimination. But what counts as significant contribution is both unclear and disputed.

Those who argue that such actions are permissible typically appeal to fairness. Revolutionaries typically have inferior arms and logistical capacities, they have no safe rear areas behind which they can regroup and resupply because there are no battle lines as in conventional wars, and when they face a ruthless tyranny it is unlikely that their opponents will observe jus bello norms. That argument is of limited force if the regime is likely to violate the discrimination norm anyway. A tyranny that routinely violates basic human rights in peacetime is unlikely to become scrupulous in use of force in a revolutionary conflict Meisels The topic of revolution presents a fertile and challenging field for moral theory and applied or practical ethics—and one in which the greater part of systematic thinking remains to be done.

Violent revolutions typically present the most serious and difficult moral issues. Until recently, the excellent work done by contemporary just war theories has not given the peculiar moral problems of revolutionary war the attention they deserve, but there is reason to believe that this deficiency will be remedied. Because the success of a revolution may depend upon whether there is intervention in support of it, a comprehensive theory of the morality of revolution should cohere with a theory of the morality of intervention Buchanan The Law of Armed Conflict assigns the latter the same legal duties as the former, but grants them a much leaner set of legal rights.

Revolution First published Mon Aug 21, Conceptual Matters 2. Distinctive Features of Revolutionary Wars 4. Revolutionary Jus ad bellum , Revolutionary Jus in bello 5.

revolution

Distinctive Features of Revolutionary Wars A key question that will arise at a number of points in this investigation is whether mainstream just war theory, in spite of its implicit focus on interstate wars provides an adequate account of the morality of revolutionary wars. Conclusion The topic of revolution presents a fertile and challenging field for moral theory and applied or practical ethics—and one in which the greater part of systematic thinking remains to be done.

Bibliography St. Dyson ed. Cohen, G.

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Davis, Ryan W. Finlay, Christopher J. Frowe, Helen and Seth Lazar eds. Hill, Thomas E. Rickless eds.