Our present discontent
One of the greatest explanations for political upheaval I’ve heard was given by one of my former college professors. He said that revolution is present when a society “gives up centripetal for centrifugal force.” He explained that all healthy societies have a centripetal force to them, which draws or pushes the disparate parts of that society toward a unified center.
In American history, we might think of things such as a shared language, a common desire for liberty, or a mutual belief in God as providing that central focal point.
That unifying force can also be applied from the outside such as in the case of a common threat or enemy. Consider how America united when it was challenged by Soviet aggression or by Islamic terrorism. When a hostile enemy attacked Pearl Harbor or when the Nazis threatened the established world order, Americans united around common ideas, values, and goals.
By contrast, a society that lacks a cohesive force can fall prey to an opposite and destructive energy or centrifugal force. This sort of momentum, away from a common center, results in the fracturing of a formerly healthy society into disparate parts. In politics, this sort of disintegration is called revolution.
The only antidote to the decadence of revolution, according to the British philosopher C.E.M. Joad, is to “rediscover the object” (or, I would say, set of ideas) around which a healthier society once coalesced. Rather than a barrier to progress, history and tradition should serve as a lantern to illumine our steps as we seek to move past our present discontent.
Kevin J. Ritter