On Revolution (1850)

A revolution determines, within the social body, an instantaneous process of reorganisation akin to the tumultuous combinations of the elements of a dissolved body that then tend to recompose themselves in a new form.1 This process cannot begin as long as a breath of life animates the old aggregation. As a result, the ideas that would reconstitute society will never take shape so long as a cataclysm, by dealing the old, decrepit society a mortal blow, has not freed the captive elements whose spontaneous and rapid fermentation will organise the new world.

All the powers of thought, all the greatest efforts of intelligence are unable to anticipate this creative phenomenon that can break out at any given moment. One can prepare the cradle, but not bring to life the long-awaited being.

Right up until the moment of death and rebirth, the doctrines [that will serve as the] bases of the future society remain vague aspirations, distant and hazy glimpses. They are like a blurred and floating silhouette on the horizon, the contours of which cannot be determined or grasped by human efforts.

During periods of renovation a time also comes when discussion, exhausted, is no longer capable of moving so much as an inch further towards the future [l’avenir]. In vain it tires itself out attempting to lift an insurmountable barrier to thought, a barrier that only the hand of revolution can break. Such is the mystery of future [future] existence, whose veil, which remains impenetrable to the survivors [of the past], falls by its own accord when facing death.

Let us destroy the old society – we shall find the new one beneath the ruins. The final blow of the pickaxe will bring it out, in triumph, into the light of day.

  1. Source: MF, 163-164, in keeping with the unpublished fragment in MSS 9581, ff. 161-162, §57.