Monday, June 28, 2004

The philosophy of reform

"Let me give you a word on the philosophy of reform. The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of earnest struggle. The conflict has been exciting, agitating, all absorbing, and for the time being putting all other tumults into silence. It must do this or it does nothing. If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favour freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what people will submit to, and you have found the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue until they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress. - Frederick Douglass - Letter to an abolitionist associate, 1849. (Quoted in Howard Zinn - A peoples history of the United States).

1 comment:

Lyndal said...

Reform v. Revolution In Quotes....

"Hurrah for revolution and more cannon-shot!
A beggar upon horseback lashes a beggar on foot.
Hurrah for revolution and cannon come again!
The beggars have changed places, but the lash goes on."
(William Butler Yeats, The Great Day)

"The word 'revolution' itself has become not only a dead relic of Leftism, but a key to the deadendedness of [male] politics: the 'revolution' of a wheel which returns in the end to the same place; the 'revolving door' of a politics."
(Adrienne Rich, On Lies, Secrets and Silence, 1980)

"Revolutionaries are like God - they create the world in their own image. Our awesome responsibility... is to create ourselves in the image of goodness, because the future depends on the nobility of our imaginings."
(Barbara Grizzuti Harrison, Unlearning the Lie: Sexism in School, 1973)

Reform v. revolution is a haggard debate - burdened beyond usefulness by its history and its Capitalist and Marxist dogma. We need to think beyond this binary. What are some alternatives? Gradualism? certainly not. Transformationalism? perhaps....