The Way to Win a Revolution

Change the language.

Devin Foley | November 30, 2015

Change the language.

When talk of revolution comes, probably a fair amount of Americans think of the American Revolution and the need for the modern equivalent of muskets and artillery. But is that the best way to make change?

Violent revolutions are at times needed, but it seems that there is work needed well before the first shots are fired, if that is even necessary. Georges Bernanos touches upon this topic in The Diary of a Country Priest. While it may seem like an odd title for conversations about revolutions, the book is actually quite the reflection on life and history. As Bernanos writes about revolutions:

”So many of us, supposedly standing for law and order, are merely clinging on to old habits, sometimes to a mere parrot vocabulary, its formulae worn so smooth by constant use that they justify everything and question none. It is one of the most mysterious penalties of men that they should be forced to confide the most precious of their possessions to thing so unstable and every changing, alas, as words. It needs much courage to inspect the key each time and adapt it to one’s own lock. I wonder at revolutionaries who strive so hard to blow up the walls with dynamite, when the average bunch of keys of law-abiding folk would have sufficed to let them in quietly through the door without wakening anyone.”

When we consider the changes in education in America and the latest revolutions on campuses through the adoption of terms such as “micro-aggressions”, “cultural appropriation”, “cisgender”, etc. Bernanos might be quite right.

Strangely enough, while Americans like to think about the colonists’ military fight to free themselves as what made the American Revolution possible, John Adams had a very different perspective. In a letter to H. Niles dated February 13, 1818, Adams reflected on what really won the revolution:

“The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people; a change in their religious sentiments of their duties and obligations … This radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the people, was the real American Revolution.”

And so it seems that it is through words that revolutions are won or lost.