Making existential sense of the Syrian events: remembering Barrington Moore’s words


“The contradiction between politics and morality reasserts itself with particular vehemence in times of revolutionary change. Why is it that revolutionaries sooner or later adopt, and sometimes intensify the cruelties of the regime against which they fight? Why is it that revolutionaries begin with camaraderie and end with fratricide? Why do revolutions start by proclaiming the brotherhood of man, the end of lies, deceit and secrecy, and culminate in tyranny whose victims are overwhelmingly the little people for whom the revolution was proclaimed as the advent of a happier life? To raise these questions does not want to deny that revolutions are the most significant ways modern mankind has been able to sweep aside some of the institutional causes of human suffering. The fundamental contradiction lies between the immorality of effective political methods and the necessity for morality in any social order… A revolutionary cannot be scrupulous about the means he uses, if he is serious about his objectives and not merely an oratorical promoter of edifying illusions. If he refrains from using unscrupulous means, the enemy may use them first and destroy the revolution itself… Anarchism, on the other hand, has apparently succumbed to the opposite horn of the revolutionary dilemma: ineffectiveness. For this matter the anarchists too share the revolutionary justification of cruelty. This time the victims of violence will be only the oppressors themselves. The imperatives of human society discard great political illusions. Mankind can expect between the cruelty of law and order and the cruelties of changing it for as long as it leaves the globe fit for human habitation”.

(Barrington Moore, from “Reflections on the Causes of Human Misery”, Boston, 1970).

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