Albert on Democratic Revolutions

April 13th, 2011

The esteemed Richard Albert, who sits on the Harlan Institute Board of Advisers, has a fascinating new piece forthcoming in the Denver University Law Review titled Democratic Revolutions. Here is the abstract:

In this Article, which will appear in the Denver Law Review as the featured piece to which invited scholars will respond, I begin the work of repairing the democratic foundations of revolution theory. My point of departure is an observation: conventional theories of revolution rarely venture beyond the only question that seems to matter in the study of revolution, namely whether the episode occurred suddenly, with violence, and on the strength of a popular movement. This procedural, amoral, and mechanical inquiry frustrates the possibility of cultivating a concept of a democratic revolution precisely because conventional revolution theory invites no judgment about the merits of revolution. Revolution theory, in my view, can do better. To do so, revolution theory must free itself from the shackles of proceduralism—shackles that compel revolution theorists to speak in the same breath of all revolutions as if there were no helpful structural principles to help us distinguish virtuous from vicious ones nor any basis upon which to define a particular episode as a democratic revolution and another as an undemocratic one. There is indeed a way, and articulating it is the task I have given myself in these pages.

From the article:

But revolution no longer occupies the sacred space it once did in our socialconsciousness. We think not of citizens transforming their state in the service of virtuousaspirations. Nor do we picture citizens proudly proclaiming a righteous creed of liberty andpopular will. We instead regard revolution as an illegitimate act undertaken by a group ofcorrupted and corrupting rebels seeking at once to concentrate power in their own hands and todispossess citizens of their sovereignty. We have been conditioned by historians, lawyers,political scientists and popular culture to frame the concept of revolution as a plot led by powerhungrymercenaries who transgress the rules of legality, disobediently renounce their citizenship,and sever the bond between themselves and their state. That is the distinctly uninspiring portraitthat revolution now evokes.

I want to reclaim for revolution its sacred ground. Revolution is not the repudiation of citizenship; it is its affirmation. Revolution is not an illegitimate act; it is the greatestmanifestation of the consent of the governed, what Locke in his seminal treatise on governmentcalled the supreme power of society.8 Indeed if it is dissent, not consent, that democratic rule ismeant to facilitate, as Stephen Carter argues in his celebrated Massey Lectures,9 the morality ofrevolution seeks in the same spirit not to dry out the seeds of dissent but rather to sow them intofields of consent. For there can be no higher authorizing force than citizens themselves,professing their convictions, joining together in the service of their state, conjuring Shelley’snineteenth century ode to the democratic spirit in Prometheus Unbound, in which citizens rise todispossess tyrants of their tools of subjugation.10Returning revolution to its grandeur is not possible without first diagnosing its decline

The emphasized sentence dealing with revolution and citizenship fits nicely in my work in Original Citizenship.

Larry Solum said it is Highly recommended. I concur!