Revolutions Come and Go. Thank You, Dear Lord.

All revolutions fire up, simmer and cool down. Only then do we know if it’s the real thing.

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Kenosha WI

All revolutions fire up, simmer and cool down. Only then do we know if it’s the real thing.

Popular uprisings follow one of two predictable patterns. An incident sparks local outcry, which turns into mass unrest that topples the existing order and transforms into a global movement. But others quickly lose steam and go out of business. Why?

A rebellion has a natural tendency to fail eventually. It usually takes the form of a chaotic rivalry among the leadership, failure to inspire new adherents or the existence of a mesmerizing presence like George Washingon for the Americans or Lenin for Russians that recruits fresh followers. Revolutions lacking in these qualities always fail regardless of the merits of their cause. Seeds of dissent erode over time without a compelling life force, and the whole shebang comes toppling down.

The George Floyd 2020 protests and subsequent riots are at the early stage of becoming a global revolution, or they still may turn into a decisive but fleeting moment in history. We do not know, according to my theory below. Stop back in a few months to find out.

In mass actions against an established elite, from Hong Kong to Gilets Jaunes, a fractious mood is submerged until someone, or something sparks a movement. Once the fuse ignites, there is no stopping it. The mob feeds on the size and scope and a sense of self-empowerment that authorities cannot contain. Today, the embers of those two cataclysmic events are swept aside so totally they may reappear only when a museum sponsors a retrospective exhibit.

With revolutions, there are no perpetual motion machines. When mayhem took over Paris, Jauneist protesters became widely unpopular; as Chinese authorities overreacted, new life breathed into Hong Kong. A tale not only of two cities but two revolutions. They make hairpin turns on the slightest provocation.

When it comes to changing the existing order, nothing is more mercurial than a marginalized group (see Phase I below). The generalization of the message is critical. If what emanates is neither consistent nor coherent, it conveys collective anger, not a single voice everyone hears. It is why so many revolutions end chaotically, as did the French Revolution of 1789 when the new ideology of Lafayette got lost in the melee that offended the average French citizen, or like the American Revolution in 1776, they do go on to create a new world order. It comes down to leadership and sympathy.

According to my old history teacher, Norman F. Cantor, we can tell the pattern by looking at the ten stages of revolutionary development. In 2020, we appear to be at stage five or six.

Phase I: Overthrow

The purpose of a revolution is to confiscate power from the opposition through public approval to violent demonstrations. The catalyst for such actions is usually a rising tide of rebelliousness in one or more of the 4 Gs: generations, geographies, gender, and cultural groups (which can mean ethnicity, race, and ideologies).

Phase II: Spark

Revolutions require an incident that captures the popular imagination. The order in which the events take place is also essential. If you pour gasoline on a lighted match, rather than the other way around, the fire goes out.

Once the revolution begins, the initial cause loses power to unite. People may forget what started the whole thing, and the revolutionaries rely on sloganeering and demagoguery to send the message. The kinship of revolutionaries carries it to a certain level, at which time fear and threats may extend its lifespan until a leader moves it forward.

Phase III: Revenge

Perceived moral wrongs bring about each revolution that enflames marginalized groups. Complaints of corruption and abuse may be valid. The established elite vanish. Moderates go dark. The revolution has lost its way as the ultimate aim becomes a new order run by revolutionaries.

Phase IV: Violence

In the early stages, violence is the means of impact. The revolution has to broaden its appeal by turning into a contagion of generalized and widespread unrest. This is the period where shaming, shunning, and shoving takes place. The protest movement turns into a gang war of mob hysteria.

Phase V: Suffering

The original spark is extrapolated into communal suffering shared by many and has the benefit of uniting people but encourages polarization. In this period, norms of civil behavior erode. Radicals take extreme measures the media ignores. They do this to gain access to the inner sanctum or may because they have become partisan. This stage often sees purges of the middle of the roaders, book burnings, censorship, and suppression of dissent. Reports of atrocities by the radicals are ignored in favor of a “both sides are doing bad things” narrative.

Phase VI: Muscle

Revolutions rely on extremists to do the dirty work. The motivation may be something other than a passion for the cause. For violence to be acceptable, belligerents must be recruited, which require rewards and incentives and the discounting of moral conflict. It is why clear thinkers don’t get to lead, and ethical doubt cast aside. The use of force also generates publicity and inspires more radicals who replace moderates repelled by excess, leading to a more extremist direction.

Phase VII: Moderates

The British call the moderate view of things “the middlin way,” and it can be found in the beer-soaked opinions in pubs or caffeine-infused statements of the coffee shop. They tend to express fluid sympathies. They believe in right and wrong. They soon tire of chaos. They want order restored and back to business. Their commitment to the revolutionary cause weakens in the face of disorder. They will shift to the side that promises to fix the chaos, so time becomes essential. This can inspire extreme activity for fear of time is running out. The radicals respond to this with violence, sowing more fear into the ranks of moderates.

Phase VIII: Totalitarians

Radical ideologists rarely see or think beyond destroying the old system. When objectives are finally achieved, the new world order is not a revolutionary utopia. The next sequence leads to totalitarianism, limiting free speech, or persecuting innocents in the name of loyalty. These tactics backfire as moderates perceive the aim of the radicals and cronies is self-empowerment.

Phase IX: Disintegration

Depending on popularity, the new regime may represent the will of the people. Still, revolutionaries being revolutionaries, they become an instrument of discipline and control that vanquishes opposition and alienates the populace. We saw this in revolutions in Russia, China, Venezuela, Cuba, and every regime in which revolutionaries maintained control. The reason is that the new leadership is bent on power, which leads to a quasi-police state.

Phase X: Politics

Politicians slowly reemerge as a faction, trying to bind the people with the cause, often with self-promotion as glue, and eventually regain control as people now dream of balance through a more pragmatic approach. Political leaders and their administrative staff try to reconstruct the shattered pieces of the old system with the achievements of the revolution into a new and workable synthesis. If they succeed, the revolution is the new status quo, and radicals retreat into academia and safe spaces seeking sanctuary.

Author of “Be Somebody — Extraordinary Lives” (published 2021); 2019 Telly Award for Documentary @IconicVoices.tv; ex-publisher @Forbes

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