Under What Circumstances, If Any, Might Revolution Be Justified?

Topics: Political philosophy, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Edmund Burke Pages: 6 (2370 words) Published: February 19, 2006
The word revolution holds many connotations and implications, for it has been continuously evolving in a political sense since the beginning of societal structures and governments. However, in its more modern sense, revolution suggests dramatic episodes of political change, where a collective force recognizes the need for a change and is able to take action to create this in order to remove what they consider to be the impurities of the system, and replace it with what is presumed to be necessary. Revolutions can take many forms, varying between social and political, and violent and peaceful, yet while revolutions in this modern sense are deliberate acts, either violent or otherwise, against a given government, they can, under certain circumstances, be justified. Revolutions can most commonly be justified when the majority of the people under a government determine that there is a desperate need for change; when they are necessary for the stabilization of the state; and when the governing body deviates from its duty to protect the people and the state. The justifications of revolution presented by various political theorists often refer to the establishment that is being overthrown and the reasons provided for the dissatisfaction shown towards the established power. This dissatisfaction may be the result of numerous things such as the failure of the government to act in accordance to what the majority feels is suitable, the government's failure to act in the best interest of the people, or the government's failure to maintain a state of stable economy and general well-being of the people. It is often suggested that the government of a society is primarily designed to protect both the state and the people of that state, thus placing a duty, or responsibility on the government to adhere to the desires of its people. This view that the governing body maintains a responsibility to both its people and its state, is a notion frequently put forth by various political thinkers. In many societies the state is maintained under a type of democracy in which the governed people may decide the rules and regulations of their state through the vote of the majority. For example, when Jean-Jacques Rousseau states that, "law is the expression of the general will", he is suggesting that the governing body should merely act as a representative to display and enforce the desires of the majority of the people in the society, in order to protect their needs and desires. In his writing, "The Social Contract" Rousseau places much emphasis on the ruling of the general will (which in practice may simply be the majority's will), and discusses in depth the process through which decisions of law and rule shall be made. It is clear that this view of the general will would be of much importance in a society, since "the holders of the executive power are not the people's masters, but their officers"(Rousseau, 146); thus implying that the governors must act in accordance with the people's demands. If however, the governors attempt to usurp this sovereign power, then a revolution may be necessary. In order to maintain the social order, and to ensure that the rules are altered according to the general will, Rousseau explains that general assemblies should be periodically held so as to address any desired alterations. In this sense, when the people are simply not happy with the present form of government, the revolution need not be violent for at the opening of every one of these assemblies so described by Rousseau, the first question to be asked is; "Does it please the sovereign to maintain the present form of government?"(Rousseau, 148). If the answer to such question should be ‘no', then immediate change will occur. While Rousseau does not specifically mention democracy, this form of rule in which the decision of the majority prevails, allows for the change of the governing body simply by a vote. Under such conditions it seems unlikely that revolution...

Bibliography: 1. Burke, Edmund. Reflections on the revolution in France, Penguin Classics, London, 1986.
2. Locke, John. Second Treatise of Government,
3. Marx, Karl. & Engels, Friedrich. The Communist Manifesto, Penguin Classics, London, 1967.
4. Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. The Social Contract, Penguin Classics, London, 1968.
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