Revolution: a double-edged national identity


Since 1968, the word "revolution" has been regularly used in speeches and since crises have been strung like pearls on the thread of our daily lives, the word has returned as a leitmotif promising us a brighter tomorrow. What does this regular infatuation with the Revolution tell us and what does it teach us about our social dynamics? What are we talking about?

(Painting: excerpt from Eugène Delacroix's painting "Liberty guiding the people")

First of all, a little etymology.

The word "revolution" leaves behind a hint of tabula rasa. Initially, its etymology means "going backwards" from its Latin origin "revolutum" "to roll backwards" or in astronomy, a celestial object turns around an axis. In the 16th century it was synonymous with "sudden change bringing trouble". It was not until the 18th century that the term became synonymous with "sudden change" following the example of the French Revolution and that it now means "the (political) regime that follows an upheaval". Consequently, since the 20th century it has meant "a total change in society or morals".

A word, even if it evolves over time, always carries the totality of its meaning, and even if one of its uses falls into oblivion, somehow hidden, like everything else that is symbolic, this part of shadow nevertheless remains active.

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"It is not by looking at the light that we become luminous, it is by becoming aware of the dark. But this work is often unpleasant and therefore unpopular." , Carl Gustav Jung.

Thus, we can observe how many shattering "revolutions" have in fact gone into the past to sow the seeds of their future. Yet when the adage says that "History is an eternal beginning again", this is inaccurate, it is more of a spiral. As Heraclitus says "we never bathe twice in the same water. »

Arab SpringIs wanting to change EVERYTHING a fantasy because reality corresponds more to progressive mutations? Change is sometimes so difficult to operate that often everyone dreams that, with a wave of a magic wand, everything will be transformed the next morning when they wake up.

The Arab springs of 2011 have clearly demonstrated that following revolutions carried by citizens in the streets, without prior preparation of a real alternative, the risk is that the "same thing" will come back, to paraphrase Watzlawick. From a dictatorship, these countries have gone from dictatorship to Islamist regimes (2012), each of the regimes providing a form of authoritarian government, far removed from the democratic expectations of the citizens, hence the upheavals in Tunisian or Egyptian public opinion (2013).

Then why talk so often about revolution?

The "revolution" in France sells well. Why is it selling well? Is it the unconscious desire to return to idealized golden ages or the will to experience radical transformations?

The Revolution is part of our cultural DNA.

Since the historic event of the French Revolution, we have in fact had a privileged attachment to the glorious face of the Revolution, that of Human Rights, the universality of these values, the highlighting of freedom... However, totally concealing its shadowy parts, including Terror and its various excesses.

Thus we have made a symbolic shift from a one-off historical event. From a moment in history we have made it a permanent pride, decorated by the events themselves and which is more a form of identity sycophancy than a societal reality.

We could describe its social dynamics using the repertoire of Transactional Analysis and qualify the French mentality as passive-aggressive. Because our functioning as a society is based on a certain inertia when it comes to making decisions and, above all, taking action. We are excellent to criticize (derived from the radical criticism of Descartes) constantly the established system, which gradually increases the tension waiting for the lid to explode = revolution. The system waits for the release by the explosion, but when it does not come, then only the tension remains which gives rise to different types of polymorphic violence.

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However, since May 68, the tension is real, the criticisms are omnipresent, the word of revolution circulates everywhere but the long awaited flare-ups do not take place. The explosion is slow to manifest itself, which disappoints some.

Why? Because real changes are taking place, but they are taking place in the silence of progressive mutations, underground transformations often orchestrated locally by citizens in the anonymity and silence of the media.

"When a tree falls you can hear it, when a forest grows, not a sound. » African proverb

We fantasize about hearing the tree fall, we dream of the spectacular that lies in the destruction, let us become more attached to life and to the forest that grows silently.

Another national pride: resistance

Similarly, we are proud of the Resistance, a specific event of the Second World War, although we know that the real resistance fighters were few in number and that very few came out of the war years alive. But we all feel proud to be a member of the Resistance. Forgetting what it meant at the time, namely real commitment, putting one's own life or that of one's loved ones at risk, and risky and sometimes violent concrete actions. And we are also hiding all the obscure aspects of the resistance, such as the fact that there was talk of assassinations and attacks and that some resistance fighters continued their criminal acts and were no longer able to reintegrate socially.

In short, we pride ourselves on being resilient and from this historical moment we have made a semantic shift this time. Our acts of resistance are often limited to a mouse click on the Aavaz website.

Because today we are mostly resistant to change. We have great difficulty in taking action. We conceive the changes to be made, but action does not follow. Fears and apprehensions predominate, and isn't our economy said to be at a standstill? And also that we have all kinds of great innovations in our R&D drawers and no budget to finance them and make them viable and marketable?

So is the revolution/resistance binomial a strong French identity component leading us to have social dialogues mainly based on the dynamics of the conflict and ultimately limiting our capacities for action, initiative, real innovation and applied creativity?

They said in 1973: "In France we don't have oil, but we have ideas. » Today, we need to move from ideas to action, while limiting the harmful effects of this double-edged national pride.

We suffer from the dark side of our forces!

Buddha2Perhaps by making them visible and conscious we could then pilot them more easily?

"With our thoughts, we create the world. » Buddha

The whole question lies in the formulation of thoughts: our representations, like the words we use, which will condition our actions.

Christine Marsan

Adapted from the book Marsan C., "Réussir le changement", Editions de Boeck, 2008.


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