The moral reality of revolution

Campbell, Courtney Scott, Religious Studies, University of Virginia
Childress, James, Religious Studies, University of Virginia
Little, David, Religious Studies, University of Virginia
Miller, David Lee, Religious Studies, University of Virginia

While political revolution is frequently considered a nonmoral phenomenon, revolutionary discourse indicates that revolution is not immune from moral analysis. The "moral reality" of revolution is displayed in language that draws on "just war" considerations, the value of trust and the principle of respect for human dignity. Such appeals assume that justification of revolutionary violence is unavoidable.
I argue that the principle of nonmaleficence, which is presupposed in the just war tradition and in revolutionary discourse about "systemic violence," provides insight into the concept of the moral reality of revolution and provides a basis for revolutionary ethics. The use of just war criteria in moral analysis on revolution, however, meets methodological objections as well as substantive difficulties in interpretation and application. From the standpoint of this tradition of moral reflection, the conditions of legitimate authority, reasonable chance of success, proportionality and discriminate conduct raise difficulties for morally justifiable revolution.
The political ethics of John Locke provides one approach to the issue of morally legitimate authorization to use violence against the State. The problems of success and proportionality in revolution are illuminated through both Marxist and Weberian reflection on the "inevitability" of revolution. Finally, while revolutionary violence is often assumed to be the moral equivalent of terrorism, revolutionary discourse, as expressed in dehumanizing images of the enemy, and appeals to the concepts of systemic violence, moral necessity and reprisal, exhibits a moral logic to validate apparently "indiscriminate" violence. Nevertheless, revolutionaries often are murderers in a good cause, and their inability to resolve the problem of "dirty hands" represents a fundamental moral defect that prevents realization of the revolutionary ideal of a new society.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Revolutions -- Moral and ethical aspects
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