It just doesn’t seem right to take a reductionist approach to such a beautifully complex year of learning. Revolution is so much more than the limits of one broad definition. This is why I have chosen to take the cluster definition approach, as recommended by Dr. Robb.

When defining a term it is important to note that “informative necessary and sufficient conditions cannot be obtained for any interesting term.” [1]. Therefore, for the purposes of this portfolio, I will be defining revolution with as many conditions and tendencies as possible. To test if an object, idea, or experience is revolutionary, apply these conditions to it and see if they sufficiently satisfy the conditions listed. The more conditions satisfied, the more “revolutionary” it is. Without further ado, here is my definition of revolution.

Revolutions are:

1. Exclusionary. There is an in-group and an out-group. Revolutions will come from one of these two groups.

2. A break (small or big) from the stated conformity of one’s group (see point 1).

3. Built upon the knowledge or ideas of others before us. They do not require a drastic, complete overturn of structure. Can be big or small changes.

4. Built upon a place of struggle or need for change.

5. Change in power dynamic. One group will overtake the other group because of a superior idea, power, or use.

6. Involving the intentional courage to break from the stated conformity. Involves being a minority group facing the backlash of a more powerful majority group. In this, one is no longer complicit or following appeasement.

The revolutions of the following works below have embodied each of these conditions in one form or another and have formed my basis for this cluster definition approach.

The Copernican Revolution. Thomas S. Kuhn, philosopher and author of The Copernican Revolution, defined revolution as “the culmination of a past tradition and the source of a novel future tradition.” [2]  Revolution does not require a complete overturn of structure or the genesis of new information. The only thing unprecedented about Copernicus’s heliocentric model was the mathematical system that Copernicus built upon the earth’s motion. [3] Copernicus presented a small break from the stated conformity of geocentric believers. This resulted in a power dynamic change, an improvement to our understanding of the universe that is now universally known as factual truth.

The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House. Audre Lorde states that “it is learning how to stand alone, unpopular and reviled, and how to make common cause with those others identified as outside the structures in order to define and seek a world in where we can all flourish.” [4] This fits the criteria of a change in power dynamic and learning how break out of one’s stated group. Unlike point one, however, Lorde argues for an involvement from a minority to majority to strengthen the revolutionary cause. This is true, a larger majority strengthens a revolution. However, for the purposes of revolution, they usually come about from a minority breaking from the stated conformity and appeasement of their respective groups.

Hannah Arendt and The Wannseee Conference. Arendt states that the reason for Eichmann’s appeasement of his superiors in the Nazi Final Solution was because “there were no voices from the outside to arouse his conscience.” [5] The Nazi “revolution” arose from Hitler’s call to action. The reason why there were so many complicit in the Final Solution and there was no counter revolution to stop the Final Solution was because of the vast amount of people that became complicit. They followed a policy of appeasement, rather than learning how to stand alone (see Audre Lorde).

We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families. Girumuhatse, Hutu leader of the roadblock, told Gourevitch that he was “called on by the state to kill” and that they were “just pawns” told that they had a “duty to do this or [they’d] be imprisoned or killed.” [6] This shows appeasement. This is why, similar to the Nazi Final Solution, there was no counter-revolution against the genocide of innocent people. The few that do have the courage to stand alone, no matter the consequences are those that incite revolution. If Girumuhatse was no longer complicit in the genocide, this would be considered revolutionary.

Demons. With the new generation of indulgence in one’s own pleasures and revolutionary ideas, Pyotr Stepanovich tells Kirillov: “You haven’t consumed the idea but you… have been consumed by the idea, and so you won’t be able to relinquish it.”[7] In Demons, there is theme of freedom and submissiveness. Kirillov has become a vector for one’s grim obedience to ideology, no longer a man acting of free choice. This shows the revolutionary aspect of a change in power dynamic and a break from one’s stated conformity.

Reductionism in Art and Brain Science. Kandel states that there is a “form of associative learning that is recruited unconsciously in our brain when we look at a painting and implicitly relate it to other paintings we have encountered or to relevant personal experiences.” [8] This shows that no matter what we see, we recall past experiences to always interpret all future experiences. Therefore, revolutions are built upon past experiences and knowledge.

Lapham’s Quarterly. Lapham states that “nothing could be further removed from the original meaning of the word revolution than the idea by which all revolutionary actors…are agents in a process which spells the definite end of an old order and brings about the birth of a new world.” [32] This speaks to me that revolutionaries are not complete breaks from the system and legitimizes the wide variety of revolutions that can occur, big or small. Revolutions do not involve definite ends, but ongoing change, culminations of the past world utilized to mobilize the future. Speaking on how a revolution becomes a revolution, Pierre Boulez, French composer, describes revolutions as “celebrated when they are no longer dangerous.” [10]. This is true when it comes to revolutions such as Ulrike Meinhof and the RAF, which were reviled because of the violence they incited. The violence inflicted was a distractor from their cause, delegitimizing and leading to the downfall of the group. In Germany, some still celebrate the group, bringing about Boulez’s quote as true.


Given my paper on the sprawling but methodical ways that white supremacists use the neoclassical to legitimize their cause (for an explanation on why and how this has come to be, see my research paper here), it is clear that we need a revolution that counters the revolution of the white supremacists usurping the neoclassical. Although some may argue that the neoclassical statues are revolutionary for their artistic excellence of ushering in a new era of realistic celebration of the human body, neoclassical art is not revolutionary because they are tainted by outdated, racist ideology. This calls for a counter-revolution, which means changing this power dynamic. Following the conditions of revolution as seen above, this means intentional courage to be the minority to break from the majority that are complicit with symbols of the necolassical as white privilege in our government and schools and other places of privilege.


Making the distinction between reform vs. revolution:

[1] Dr. David Robb on Definitions, 2019, essay on definitions, https://hum.davidson.edu/on-definitions-by-prof-robb/.

[2] Thomas Kuhn, The Copernican Revolution: Planetary Astronomy in the Development  of Western Thought (Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1985), 135.

[3] Kuhn, 144.

[4] Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches (Trumansburg, NY: Crossing Press, 1984), 112.

[5] Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (Brantford, Ont: W. Ross MacDonald School Resource Services Library, 2010), 126.

[6] Philip Gourevitch, We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families:

Stories from Rwanda (New York: Picador/Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2004), 370.  

[7] Fyodor Dostoevsky, Demons, translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (New York: Vintage Classics, 1995), 44.

[8] Eric R Kandel, Reductionism in Art and Brain Science: Bridging the Two Cultures (New York: Columbia University Press, 2016), 50.

[9] Lewis H. Lapham, Lapham’s Quarterly Revolutions (New York, NY: American Agora Foundation, 2014), 32.

[10] Lapham, 131.