Let me say a little about Revolution on the Ground in this post. The story starts with Revolution in the Air.
Revolution in the Air is a collection of posts from The Jeffersonian. A few of the articles did not appear in this blog. The opening essay in that book is a review essay of James Douglass’s JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters. The book contains other essays on several topics. Most of them illustrate deep problems with our government, and our responses to those problems. The essay I remember has a picture of Lincoln with it. It’s called Lincoln’s Legacy and the Path Ahead. Among other things, it discusses the right of secession in the United States. It appears in Revolution on the Ground as well.
I don’t have practical experience with revolutionary political movements, or with civil resistance… So I suppose I might have known the essay would not become a handbook after all.
After writing about revolution in the first book, I intended Revolution on the Ground to be something like a practical handbook for how to proceed. It started out that way, but in the end it did not concentrate a lot on practical matters. I don’t have practical experience with revolutionary political movements, or with civil resistance. Moreover, people familiar with my work know that I’m a generalist. So I suppose I might have known the essay would not become a handbook after all.
A friend read the Revolution on the Ground, and remarked that it is a manifesto. Since Marx and Engels wrote the Communist Manifesto, this type of writing about revolutionary change has a dubious reputation. Mao’s little red book and the Port Huron statement in the 1960s added to the negative impression. When you think of these tracts, ideas like, “The ends justify the means,” “A specter is stalking Europe,” and other unsavory classics of the genre come to mind. You don’t think hopeful thoughts about a better life. These manifestos led to violent conflict, not to the kind of change I wanted to write about.
Yet Revolution on the Ground did in fact qualify as a manifesto. That made me wonder how the word came about: manifest with an o added to the end. When you check the dictionary, you find it means a public declaration of intentions, opinions, objectives, or motives. Manifest means readily perceived by the eye or the understanding: evident, obvious, apparent, plain.
That’s the definition, then: a manifesto that says we must alter or abolish our government makes one’s intentions or objectives plain. It also explains why you think that way: what motivates the project, what reasoning underpins the goal? You make your thoughts plain to persuade other people to act. If the manifesto is successful, you persuade others to join their efforts to accomplish a necessary goal. In any conflict, ideas come first, then action.