John Rowan: Spirituality and Revolution

To the revisions of the basic statement of Systematic Ideology there is no end. Here is another suggestion. It seems to me that in the current version of the basic statement the description of the second of the eidodynamic levels as “Revolution” needs a little adjustment. At the moment it is phrased exclusively in terms of socialism or communism, which is only one expression of this ideological level, and quite a specific and political one. It leaves out all the other expressions of the same ideological level, and gives thereby the impression that this level is necessarily materialist. I have argued against this elsewhere. (See my The Idealist Route through the Eidodynamic Level.)

The reason why this is not true is because the thinking at this level becomes dialectical in character. The process logic of the previous stage gives way to dialectical logic. This is the radical change in outlook which makes the difference between reform and revolution. Reform sees change as gradual and evolutionary, revolution sees change as step-jump in character, and also sees real change as necessarily repudiating the previous stage of ideological development. We do not move on except by being able to let go of earlier assumptions and practices. (This is very similar to the distinction between horizontal translation and vertical transformation made by Ken Wilber in his book “Sex, Ecology, Spirituality” [Shambhala 1995].) We go from conflict to unity, from unity to conflict. We are interested in the conflict of opposites, the interpenetration of opposites and the unity of opposites. (See my Dialectical Thinking.)

But if we see dialectical thinking as the essence of the revolutionary stage of development, then the great dialecticians have by no means all been materialist or political. That belongs to dialectical materialism alone.

I suppose the most famous of the dialecticians is Hegel, who hardly conforms to the description given in the current statement. But there are many others: Hutchinson Stirling, Bernard Bosanquet, Thomas Hill Green, Sir Malcolm Knox, J N Findlay, A C Bradley, A V Miller, William Wallace, Francis Sedlak, Francis Herbert Bradley, Edward Caird, Charles Taylor and so on. If we go back far enough, we come to Heraclitus, perhaps the first dialectician. None of these were revolutionaries in the political sense. They were revolutionaries in the sense that their mode of thinking was revolutionary: dialectical thinking is always revolutionary. They revolutionised the established notions of what was or was not logical or rational.

In the early stages of the development of dialectical thinking, there is often a one-sidedness still remaining. Many of the dialectical thinkers on the philosophical side were typed as idealists, and counted themselves as such. They emphasised the unity of opposites, or the unifying activity of conflict resolution, and their work is contained in an academic framework which is clearly no threat to the political status quo. But of course the further development of dialectical thinking removes this one-sidedness, and brings about the emergence of dialectics proper.

Similarly many of the dialectical thinkers on the political side were typed as materialists, and counted themselves as such. Here the emphasis was all on conflict and opposition, and Lenin put this very strongly by saying that unity is relative, but struggle absolute. And of course we know that this view does result in very strong threats to the status quo, in the shape of political and economic revolution. But again the further development of dialectical thinking removes this one-sidedness, and brings about the emergence of dialectics proper.

Dialectics is not one-sided. Its most characteristic feature iis to be continually moving between one-sided statements and showing each of them to be inadequate to what is being described. This is of course a feature of Ideological Commentary itself, where dialectics has been extended to its farthest reaches.

So my suggested rewording of the item in question would go as follows: REVOLUTION: Sees change as step-jump rather than gradual, and emphasises the necessity of repudiation of previous stages. Increasingly dialectical thinking leads sometimes to socialism or communism, sometimes to more academic revisions of previous logics and other assumptions. Strong tendency to radical re-evaluation of earlier views, both political and religious.

24 November 1992
9 September 1999