Historians in an Age of Revolution

Nuit_Debout_-_Paris_-_41_mars_01Do we live in revolutionary times? It’s tempting to imagine so. Bernie Sanders’ promise of “a political revolution” resonated with surprising numbers of Americans, especially the young. The Nuit Debout has captured some of the same spirit in France. Dramatic moments like the Oxi vote in Greece and the Umbrella Revolution in Hong Kong have followed the so-called Arab Spring and global Occupy movement. In spite of their failures and betrayals, those movements seemed to reveal revolutionary sentiment in east and west.

Yet in a recent interview for Dissent, David A. Bell, a historian of the French Revolution, put something of a counterpoint. “If we look at the broad sweep of modern history from the eighteenth century to the present,” he said, “we see that revolution has lost its salience as a political concept.” Continue reading