Revolutionary philosophy and philosophers: a plea and a program


by Mark Manolopoulos

Could we, today, imagine Nietzsche submitting a journal paper or a manuscript? Could we imagine his work being accepted? Of course not. Why not? What does the impossibility of imagining such a scenario say about the contemporary state of philosophy and philosophers? Many things, almost all of them critical. Philosophy, in both its analytic and Continental guises, has predominantly failed, betraying itself and the world. For example, only very recently have philosophers begun to speak of love, of wisdom – indeed, of the love of wisdom, which is the very meaning of the word philosophy.

But let’s forget about “love” or “wisdom” for the time being – let’s even forget about the forgetting of Being: in an age of multiplying and accelerating systemic crises and catastrophes (ecological, financial, religious, etc.), such failures pale in comparison to the fact that philosophers have largely forgotten the revolutionary essence of philosophy. If philosophy begins in wonder, then it should end with frustration and the desire – indeed, the demand and the fight – for justice. If philosophy begins in wonder, then it ends with revolution.

Philosophy has always been and always will be revolutionary. But, alas, philosophers have forgotten its revolutionary calling, ignored it, denied it, suppressed it. But like any good repression, it returns – a return that is probably amplified and intensified by the increasingly unignorable crises that surround us and engulf us. To think is to revolt against an unthinking or badly thinking world – but the ridicule to which we might respond to such a seemingly strange claim is testament to our unfaithfulness to philosophy’s radical core.

To be sure, the revolutionariness of philosophy has been occasionally recognized, remembered, advocated. Despite his many failings, Plato stayed true to philosophy by conceiving a radical new society with his Republic.[1] Perhaps somewhat more obliquely, Thomas More stayed faithful to philosophy’s radical impulse with his Utopia.[2] And, of course, Karl Marx perfectly encapsulated this failure and forgetting by insisting that philosophy has thus far interpreted the world but hasn’t transformed it.[3] Of course, Marx himself didn’t contribute much content to the communistic vision, but at least he hadn’t forgotten philosophy’s revolutionary essence and indeed pleaded for it.


[Graphic: Andy Boerger]

I’m not arguing here that there is/shall be no place for philosophical description and analysis – indeed, the past century has witnessed some marvelous strides in this regard: existentialism, phenomenology, deconstruction are all exemplary ways of interpreting the world. Indeed, these and other epistemic currents have revolutionary potential – though one might argue that some currents and/or sub-currents have been more stridently ethico-politically constructive than others. In any case, the emphasis has been on description rather than prescription, on deconstruction rather than reconstruction. Ultimately, what we require is both, but the time has come – and seems to be quickly running out – for philosophers to be primarily driven by thought’s transformative ambition.

But, you may protest, how on Earth do philosophers change the world? More accurately and humbly: how do philosophers contribute to changing the world? Good question. Difficult question. But not an impossible one. I’ve been thinking about it for a few short years now, so my response to it is as introductory and tentative as it is ambitious and sweeping – and it can only be summarized here. Of course, as an introductory line of thinking, the premise is that this nascent thought shall be collaboratively developed over time. And like all good pleas, I’m offering this one with the hope that it be received in a spirit of goodwill and open-mindedness, and that it be “heard” in the sense of being adjudicated according to the determinants of thoughtfulness and practicality.

And as for the program outlined here? Like any speculation, it’s inevitably provisional. But this doesn’t – or shouldn’t – make it any less rigorous or at least sufficiently rigorous. I have learned from postmodern philosophy a certain humility, a certain tentativeness, but the time has come for us thinkers to overcome the paralysis that proceeds from a hyper-postmodern provisionalism, with its endless qualifications and nuances, refusing to offer any kind of agenda or program, for fear of closing off an open future. For this paralysis will ensure that the crises and catastrophes that are overwhelming us are likely to close off the possibility of us humans having any kind of future at all – which is worse than a bleak one, for such a future may still contain the possibility of opening up a brighter one.

And so, I turn to laying out the three basic stages to the kind of revolutionary process I’ve begun thinking about, along the way showing what I anticipate philosophers will possibly/probably be required to do, doing what has already been called upon by philosophy to do.



Conceiving the Blueprint

A first task would be to build a global network of thinkers from a broad spectrum of the humanities and other disciplines, such as philosophy, economics, politics, education, theology, etc. This body shall attempt to attract the most powerful thinkers, “strong” thinkers both in terms of cognitive rigor and unwavering courage (one could perhaps imagine the likes of Antonio Negri, Cornel West, Noam Chomsky, Slavoj Žižek, etc., being involved in such an enterprise). The thinkers would work collaboratively to create a blueprint for a new global order, an architectonics for a revolutionary society. With today’s communications technologies (Internet, social media, smart phones, etc.), such a global alliance is certainly achievable.

The network would recognize and be driven by the fact that what is needed for a truly rational society – and therefore a society that is truly just, ecological, ethical, etc. – seems to be either a massive reformation of the existing one or its transfiguration into quite a different one. In other words, the network would determine whether the new System would involve some kind of “neo-capitalism,” or some form of “neo-communism” (such as Cockshott and Cottrell’s Towards a New Socialism)[4], or some type of hybrid of the two, or something else altogether.

However, I won’t offer much by way of content here, for several reasons: (1) I wish to emphasize the collaborative nature of the blueprint’s creation; (2) even though I have elsewhere sketched what I currently estimate to be some elements of its content, I also recognize that such a task somewhat significantly exceeds my cognitive capabilities; and (3) I’m limited by the scope of the paper and by time restraints. With these provisos in my mind, my educated hunch is that the new society will be egalitarian, thoroughly ecological, and resolutely intolerant of the various oppressions, exploitations, and discriminations that pervade the globe. Phenomena such as classism, racism, sexism, homophobia, etc., will not be tolerated.

Of course, one cannot deny the human propensity for evil – theology calls it “original sin,” while psychoanalysis posits an unconscious brimming with debaucherous desires. How shall the blueprint counter this seemingly ineradicable force? Developing Žižek’s insight that our focus should lie with changing a System that fosters this propensity (“the problem is not corruption or greed, the problem is the system that pushes you to be corrupt”)[5], my inkling is that our structures and institutions shall be required to impose the kind of rational discipline to foster the “conformity” necessary for a flourishing society and planet.

And given that I’m a philosopher of religion, I could also propose how the blueprint would negotiate the thorny question of religions and spiritualities. I anticipate that the architectonics shall proceed along a third way, between or beyond the absolutist renunciation of religion (as was the case with atheistic twentieth-century communism) and the contemporary hyper-pluralism or “multiculturalism” that often indiscriminately permits religious excesses (dogmatism, sexist practices, barbaric customs, and so on). Instead, the blueprint will advance a “neo-secularity” that neither seeks the abolition of religion nor permits dogmas and practices that do not align with its reasonable, noble aims of emancipation and enlightenment. They’re just some of the characteristics that I envisage will be constitutive of the blueprint.


[Graphic: Action Philosophers]

Given the contemporary reclamation of singularity, exception, and so on, while the architectonics of this new global Republic will be comprehensive, stipulating the necessary and sufficient amount of content, specifications, and limits, it shall simultaneously remain as open-ended and revisable as possible, so that the new society that is founded on it is able to negotiate and incorporate new knowledge and unforeseen/unforeseeable contexts and exceptions. So there will be a certain degree of openness and malleability to prevent dogmatic hardening and its attendant effects. Reification and dogmatism are enemies of the rational revolution, and so they will not be accommodated by the thinking that conceives it. The blueprint must therefore be relatively flexible, constantly cognizant of its openness, revisability, and limits.

Obviously, the creation of an architectonics will be a massive, almost overwhelming undertaking, but I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility that our corporate brainpower is capable of it. We humans have achieved breathtaking achievements. Let’s remind ourselves that individuals have hitherto attempted such a feat (including Plato and More). (The recent third installment of the popular Zeitgeist documentary series, which appears to be a collaborative project, has a prescriptive dimension, which is rather encouraging.)[6] So I think a blueprint is achievable – and I think philosophers – we lovers of Reason, its potency, its Enlightenmental ambition – should be the first to affirm its achievability.

Moreover, I also think a blueprint is necessary: without some kind of plan – albeit one with the kind of flexibility that satisfactorily negotiates unforeseen contexts and circumstances – an aimless revolution will either run aground or go off-course. While it never claimed to be a revolutionary movement (perhaps it never claimed to be any thing at all), it wouldn’t be unreasonable to propose that the Occupy phenomenon stalled and died precisely because it lacked intention or direction. By definition, a move-ment moves by moving in a certain direction. I confirm the notion that revolutions have/can have a certain “spontaneous” “event-al” dimension to them, but I contend that a certain amount of planning and programming is also crucial.

Given the difficulty and immensity of the task of devising this blueprint, this process will obviously take some time to complete, perhaps/probably much time to complete. The network will be compelled to work urgently and quite quickly (given the multiplying, accelerating crises and catastrophes), but it must not be rushed – or rushed too much – for a couple of reasons. The most pressing reason for patience is that the more time that is spent on it, the more thoughtful it will be, and therefore it will be more just and ethical and ecological and so on. But producing the best possible blueprint isn’t crucial for its own sake, but also for fostering the tasks that follow its conception.

philWendy Lippincott1

[Graphic: Wendy Lippincott]

Advocating the Blueprint

Given that the blueprint shall be thoughtful, and therefore just, ecological, and so on, it is anticipated to be highly persuasive and convincing to its “stakeholders” – i.e., rational members of society. So, by taking the necessary time to carefully conceive the architectonics of a new society, there is greater likelihood that more and more people will be attracted to it, moved by it, and motivated to participate in its implementation. The greater the blueprint’s traction, the greater the movement’s critical mass, and the greater its critical mass, the greater the likelihood of its success. The more “seductive” the Cause, the greater the chances of its fruition.

This is how I construe the blueprint’s promotion will proceed. Once it reaches a sufficient level of “completion,” the network will advocate it, initially to other intellectuals. Philosophers shall thus be involved in this process of spreading the good news of the revolutionary blueprint to other philosophers, to other thinkers. Consequently, it shall be brought to the attention of university students and the broader intelligentsia. Its popularity shall also spread to artists and other creative people. In this regard, capturing the attention and obtaining the approval of enlightened celebrities (Russell Brand immediately comes to mind)[7] shall probably be crucial for the movement’s success, for they often/usually generate greater publicity among the general public in shorter periods of time. Furthermore, revolution often/usually requires charismatic personas, and more of them tend to be found among the creative community.

The vigorous and hopefully viral “marketing campaign” will spiral outwards, to ever-more-broader sectors of society – activists, trade unionists, and so on – gathering critical mass. With this kind of momentum, more and more of the oppressed shall be drawn to the blueprint, including the working poor and the unemployed. The stage would now be set for the third phase of the revolutionary process.

PeacestudentsDavid Fichter-1

[Graphic: students of David Fichter]

Implementing the Blueprint

What next? We may begin with the reasonable assumption that the network of revolutionary thinkers will devise a System which requires altering existing power-relations, modes of production, and so on. For instance, it would be surprising in the extreme if contemporary capitalism – with its literally ­all-consuming desire for constant growth and greater profits – were to be retained as the new society’s dominant economic mode. After all, I expect that a radically more rational economic system shall be envisaged by the network of thinkers, one which takes into account, for example, planetary limits, which fiercely contradicts the capitalist drive for endless growth. (So the challenge for any “neo-capitalist” possibility I cited above would differ from capitalism-as-we-know-it, if such a thing is possible). So I think the assumption stands: I anticipate radical structural change.

Involved in such change is, as I’ve already indicated, the expectation that there shall be alterations in relations of power. My cognitive inkling is that power shall be organized, concentrated and/or shared in different ways to the status quo.

If that shall be the case, how will the power elite respond to such changes in power-relations?

One may envisage two basic scenarios (though we shouldn’t discount the possibility of others). A first possible response is that the powerful shall voluntarily surrender their power in the face of a multitude that embraces the blueprint and passionately expresses its support for its implementation in the form of peaceful mass demonstrations, protests, and so on. With the multitude flexing its peaceful people-power, the hope is that the elite shall voluntarily transfer power to the movement. Its unequivocal desire is for a peaceful transference of power. In recent times, we witnessed something like this in the “Arab Spring.”

Passive Resistance Comics

Of Violences

But what if the peaceful approach won’t work? What if glorious people-power alone won’t compel the oppressors to surrender their power? This is certainly a possibility – and perhaps even a probability – as history attests: greedy, stubborn elites often refuse to relinquish their power, even in the face of mass protests and insurrections, with the consequence of either retaining power (and even radicalizing it) or fighting for it to the bitter end. So it may be necessary for us revolutionaries to wrestle it from the Establishment. In other words, what may be required – as a “Plan B,” as a last resort ­– is revolutionary violence. While peaceful revolution is infinitely preferred by us peace-lovers, we realize that we may be forced to use force. Part of the work that the network of thinkers must therefore undertake is to theorize, strategize and ready the revolutionary movement for the dire possibility of having to violently wrest asunder the power that the powerful may not be willing to surrender.

Indeed, I assume that the very suggestion of revolutionary violence may/will sound irrational, shocking, scandalous to our bleeding-hearted ears. So I’m compelled to offer a relatively lengthy justification, although, given the controversial nature of the subject-matter, it shall perhaps fall violently short of a sufficiently lengthy defense.

Let’s begin with an immediate and obvious objection: what if violent insurrection simply re-inscribes the cycle of destruction, and that the new System will retain (perhaps in reconfigured ways) the very exploitations and oppressions that the revolution seeks to erase? To begin with, there is no doubt that there is a risk of the re-inscription of violence. Revolution is a gamble; the outcome is unknown. Indeed, we should even allow for the possibility that things may end up being worse – if such a possibility is indeed possible, but it’s probably improbable given the status quo. Still, it’s nonetheless possible. But surely this is a gamble that must be taken for philosophico-practical reasons, both in terms of philosophy’s eternal call for change and in terms of our dire ethico-political circumstances, whereby the planet is already enduring various oppressions, exploitations, crises, and catastrophes.


The second point is absolutely crucial. Rather than doing violence to “violence” by insisting upon its homogeneity, we must emphatically insist upon its heterogeneity. In other words, we must nuance the notion of “violence” – indeed, we must differentiate it. “Violence” is not one homogeneous thing; it is many, multiple, plural. In other words: there are violences. We must discern between rational and irrational violences; between good and bad violences; between ethical and unethical violences (Žižek has articulated this difference)[8].

Indeed, to return to one of philosophy’s other eternal themes, love itself is violent. Both Žižek and Alain Badiou have incisively analyzed love’s violence. How, then, could love be violent? Even – and especially – “romantic love”? This seemingly absurd notion is advanced by Žižek in a 2013 paper entitled “Love as a Political Category,”[9] and he (somewhat characteristically) launches his argument with reference to Badiou:

What is love? As Alain Badiou, our good friend, put it in his wonderful book, In Praise of Love,[10] there is always something traumatic or extremely violent in love. Love is a permanent emergency state. You fall in love. You lose control. . . . [Y]ou passionately fall in love . . . everything is ruined. The entire balance of your life is lost. Everything is subordinated to this one person. I almost cannot imagine in normal daily life, outside war and so on, a more violent experience than that of love.

Anyone who has fallen in love will readily testify to the truth of its terrifying dimension. Unconvinced? Žižek reinforces his argument by incisively noting how contemporary dating agencies attempt to subtract the vertiginous element. We want to be in love without “falling in love,” without exposing us to its terror. This may (help to) account for the fact that many people seem to be resistant to falling in love and instead seek the tranquility of casual encounters, “friends with benefits,” etc., as passionate love would violently interrupt our “safe,” routinized, consumer-hedonistic, atomistic lifestyles. Love’s violent dimension may also (help to) account for the fact that people often fear and resist falling in love again, going through its trauma again.

In the very same text, Žižek seamlessly moves onto examining the violence in/of Christic love, a revolutionary hatred. I assume we’re all familiar with that extremely bewildering saying attributed to Jesus about “hating” one’s family. Žižek’s incisive exposition needs to be quoted in full:

“Father,” “mother,” and so on, here condense the entire hierarchic social order, the network of relations of domination, subordination, and so on. So that the hatred Christ mentions is simply the hatred of established social hierarchy: “you are my follower, if instead of functioning as a part of social hierarchic order, you see as your true home, as it were, the Holy Spirit, an unconditionally egalitarian community.” The hatred enjoined by Christ is therefore not any kind of dialectical opposite of love, but the direct expression of love. Or as St. Paul put it, it is love that enjoins us to unplug from our social community into which we were born, so that “there are neither men, nor women, neither Jews nor Greeks” [Žižek’s rendering of Galatians 3:28]. This is, I think, the very core of the Christian insight for me. God [sic] dies, Christ dies at the same time the Father [sic] dies; all that survives is the Holy Spirit, which is the first name of the Communist Party as we know. A radically egalitarian society which violently opposes social hierarchy, an immediate violent assertion of universal equality.[11]

I’m struck by the insight of this interpretation, of how it makes sense of a perplexing Christic notion (“hatred of one’s family”). It’s certainly a persuasive reading and even perhaps/probably a/the most convincing rendering, so we must not only remain open to it but are compelled to adopt it (unless an even more convincing interpretation becomes available, which is unlikely but possible). Given its cogency and force, this rendering reinforces Žižek’s confronting proposition that Christic agape is a violent political love that justifiably expresses itself in revolution.[12]

philAlfredo Rostgaard

[Graphic: Alfredo Rostgaard]

Žižek convincingly argues that this paradoxical figuration of love accounts for the seemingly contradictory nature of the provocatively paradoxical comments of that exemplary revolutionary lover, Che Guevara. On the one hand, Che contends: “At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love. It is impossible to think of a genuine revolutionary lacking this quality.”[13] On the other hand, he declares: Hatred is an element of struggle; relentless hatred of the enemy that impels us over and beyond the natural limitations of man [sic] and transforms us into effective, violent, selective, and cold killing machines. Our soldiers must be thus; a people without hatred cannot vanquish a brutal enemy.[14]

How can these competing remarks be reconciled? Žižek explains:

These two apparently opposite stances are united in Che’s motto: Hay que endurecerse sin perder jamás la ternura. (“One must endure – become hard, toughen oneself – without losing tenderness.”)  I think Guevara is here basically paraphrasing Christ’s declaration of the unity of love and sword. In both cases, the underlying paradox is that what makes love angelic, what elevates it over mere unstable, pathetic sentimentality is its cruelty itself, its link with violence.[15]

What we have, then, is a violence that inhabits both erotic and political love. Or, perhaps in a more nuanced way, we may say that erotic and political love are astir with violences that need to be differentiated from any monolithically negative/bad forms of violence.

Lest you’re not convinced of the ‘manyness’ of violence, consider, as a final example, the violence that may be required in an act of self-defense: no rational person could argue that an innocent person should not protect themselves from being attacked, even when such protection involves violence. In a same/similar way, revolutionary violence – at least our transformative violence – would be a good violence, for our revolution is precisely a “self-defense”: we’ll be defending ourselves and other creatures against our violators, defending a planet that cannot defend itself. In a similar vein, Žižek speaks of a “defensive violence” in the context of peaceful protest: if the power elite responds with violence, then we are ethically justified to counter such force with good violence.[16]

As bizarre as this differentiation of violence may initially appear to us peace-lovers, it turns out to be rigorously reasonable. And so, while peaceful transformation is infinitely preferred by us peace-lovers, we realize that we may be forced to use force if the elites don’t voluntarily and non-violently surrender their power.


It is perhaps unsurprising that philosophers have forgotten, repressed, ignored philosophy’s revolutionary calling: its reclamation and enactment requires us to undertake daring and dangerous work. We (philosophers) are now summoned to participate in the conception, promotion, and implementation of a blueprint which may or may not involve risking our lives and even sacrificing them – a possibility that is not so original or radical once we evoke the good name of that exemplary revolutionary philosopher, Socrates. And if/when we survive the revolution, there may be some free time for us to resume the philosophical games we now play with such breathtaking self-indulgence.

VLUU L310 W  / Samsung L310 W

End notes:

[1] Plato, The Republic, second ed., trans. Desmond Lee (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1974).

[2] Thomas More, Utopia (New York: Barnes & Noble Classics, 2005).

[3] Karl Marx, “Theses on Feuerbach” (1845). Marx/Engels Internet Archive.

[4] Paul W. Cockshott and Allin Cottrell, Towards a New Socialism (Nottingham: Russell Press, 1993).

[5] Žižek, “Occupy Wall Street: What is to be Done Next?”, The Guardian, April 24, 2012.

[6] Zeitgeist 3: Moving Forward. 2011. Dir. Peter Joseph.

[7] Refer to, e.g., Russell Brand with Jeremy Paxman, “Newsnight: Paxman vs Brand – full interview on BBC.” Youtube. October 23, 2013.

[8] Refer to, e.g., Žižek, “A Plea for Ethical Violence,” The Bible and Critical Theory 32.1 (2004): (02)1-(02)15; Violence: Six Sideways Reflections (London: Profile Books, 2008).

[9] Žižek, “Love as a Political Category.” Subversive Festival (No. 6). Zagreb, May 16, 2013.

[10] Alain Badiou, with Nicolas Truong, In Praise of Love, trans. Peter Bush (New York: New Press, 2012).

[11] Žižek, “Love as a Political Category.”

[12] Žižek, Living in the End Times (London: Verso, 2010), 98.

[13] Ernesto Che Guevara, “Socialism and Man in Cuba” (1965), in The Che Reader, ed. David Deutschmann (North Melbourne: Ocean Press, 2003), 212-230.

[14] Ernsto Che Guevara, “Create Two, Three, Many Vietnams (Message to the Tricontinental)” (1967), in The Che Reader, ed. David Deutschmann (North Melbourne: Ocean Press, 2003), 350-362.

[15] Žižek, “Love as a Political Category.”

[16] Žižek, Demanding the Impossible, ed. Yong-june Park (Cambridge: Polity Press), 114-115, 124-125.

philWenzel Hablik1

[Graphic: Wenzel Hablik]

[Thank you Mark for this contribution.]

The writer is a Research Fellow with the Swinburne Leadership Institute, Swinburne University of Technology, and an Adjunct Research Associate at Monash University. This essay is based on a talk given at the 2014 Conference of the Australian Society for Continental Philosophy.

If publishing or re-posting this article kindly use the entire piece, credit the writer and this website: Philosophers for Change, Thanks for your support.

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3 thoughts on “Revolutionary philosophy and philosophers: a plea and a program

  1. The blueprint Mr. Manolopoulos writes about must include different ways of living in and constructing societies and at the same time prove beyond a reasonable doubt that those changes will certainly result in an improvement in the health and well-being of humanity. The last intention of such an important endeavor is seduction, but the first intention is genuine concern for the family of man. In this, one includes a genuine concern for one’s family, friends and even oneself, as a natural reaction to the pain endured by others far away on the other side of the Earth, and pain to a lesser extent close to home felt as empathy, compassion and love for your hurting fellow fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, daughters and sons.

  2. Good article. “Up to now philsosophers have interpreted the world, our goal is to change it.” Marx.

    I think that many blueprints have been concocted and there is no shortage of how to construct a more rational society. The problem we face is getting there amidst the violence that is the world. This will mean overthrowing the global capitalist order and although the two are related, in face of the massive military and police violence this will be a chore. The ruling elites will never step down and the creation of class consciousness seems to be the chore we all face.

    This ruling elite of the world is the most class conscious in world history. The average American is both authoritarian in thought and masochistic in theory and practice.

    Empathy cannot come about without class consciousness among the masses of people and this cannot come about without political organizing.

    I think the so-called left has been very good at commenting but not so good at organizing. We need an organized full spectrum media that goes beyond individual sites. Lewis Powell, author of the Powell memo was well aware of this when he issued the memo in ’73. Since then the right reactionaries have done his blueprint to the tee. They have organized all their media within one consortium and have developed think tanks and an echo chamber that has reconfigured the world.

    It is time for those interested in saving the planet, staunching the disposable and halting extermination of both humans and species world wide, to do the same. Only a true organized media can meet the challenges described in this article. Education will not take place in schools and we may be seeing the development of a One Thousand Year Reich as we have never seen, one ladled in totalitarianism, theocracy and corporatism.

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