This is the story of the Revolution
that you do not know the name of,
even though you know most of the parts,
and many of the characters.
You have heard of Abraham Lincoln, and Karl Marx,
and probably Otto von Bismak and Emperor Napoleon III,
perhaps Florence Nightengale, and Charles Darwin, Robert Clerk Maxwell,
and Benjamin Disreali.
It is a revolution that the winners did not want to name,
and the losers did not want to admit was a revolution,
precisely because the winners wanted peace and continuity,
after a half century of upheaval,
the losers wanted all revolutions to push the course of human history
in a particular way.
The period of time is 1848-1873.
From the “turning point where history failed to turn,”
to the establishment of a new order,
which pretended to be the old, continuous, order.
The revolution is the Realist Revolution,
a period of time which created the German Empire,
Austro-Hungary, The Kingdom of Italy, the “restored” Empire of Japan, the British Raj as an Empire over India. A period that start
ed with two of the bloodiest conflicts in European History
to that time: the Crimean War from 1856-1858,
and the American Civil War of 1861-1856.
But why did this remarkable quarter century fail to be labelled as what it was?
At the time, it was understood as a revolution,
or series of revellions and revolutions.
The winners did not want to win a revolution,
but to defeat rebellion,
the losers wanted to have revolution mean a step towards either a liberal or socialist future,
based on an uprising of the people.
Thus, they saw this “revolution from above”
as the spirit of reaction,
and therefore a step backwards.
The losers fell into two camps:
the localized, often landed, anti-capitalist forces,
many of them rallying around local aristocracies,
and the Romanticist liberalizng forces,
which included the communist movements of the time,
but also the liberalizing and direct democratic forces.
Thus the idea of a global moment of revolution
did not fit into any of the three story lines that major bodies of opinion wanted to tell.
For the adherents of the old French and American Revolutions,
the declaration of a German charter and legislature in 1848 should have been “the revolution itself.”
From this should have followed elections,
and an order based on the consent of the governed.
For the decentralized agrarian forces,
the overthrow of the last Mughal Emperor,
the creation of large nation states,
and the defeat of the American confederate cause,
represented a usurpation of ancient rites and customs by an encroaching,
and illegitimate state.
They did not want to admit that their might be revolution,
which did not move in their “natural” and “inevitable” direction,
Defeat meant that there had been “revolution from above.”
From the point of view of the winners,
the constant violence around economic populism,
that had caught fire repeatedly for three quarters of a century
needed to be laid to rest,
and following Machiavelli's dictum, declared that all was old again.
But when examined, this turned out to not be the case.
Take, for example, the “Meiji Restoration,”
It claimed to reassert the rule of the emperor.
However, examining Japanese history,
it is arguable that the emperor had ever had personal command.
In the early Japanese dynasties,
the emperor was essential the chief priest of Shinto,
and the ceremonial demands were so strenuous,
that it took retirement from the throne to actually have time to rule.
For the previous 250 years,
there had been a continuous line of military rulers,
the Shoguns, all in a single family.
The rule by the bakufu had been in existence since roughly 1200 AD,
with only two brief interuptions.
Before that the imperial family had been often only nominally in charge
since the Taika Reform starting in 645.
That is, 650 years of Shogunate,
and before that the Emperor
had not been the real power
for most of the previous 500 years.
This pattern is true in France as well,
Louis Napoleon won an election,
and then asserted rule in the name of a deposed usurper.
The House of Bourbon would never sit on the throne again.
The Bakufu, gone,
the Mughal empire, gone, t
he British East India Company, gone,
the Restored Monarchy of France, gone.
The United States was under the control of a political party that had not existed until 1854.
To deny the political dimension of what happened in this period,
is to ignore the obvious facts.
Thus in Marxist-Leninist thought the concept of a Boursgeois revolution
based on objective factors of work was invented,
which had various sub-types based on the ability
of the bourgeois core to recruit other oppressed groups into the revolution,
including broad “democratic” revolutions. At leas this viewpoint allows for revolutionary movements and moments which do not adhere to a particular progressive narrative.
However as soon as it is established that there can be boursgeois revolutions,
the Lenninist argues that the proletariat is the only truly revolutionary class,
or at least it is “the most” revolutionary class,
as the Great Soviet Encyclopedia outlined in its 1979 article.
The problem with this theory in response to the 1848-1873 period,
is that it saw the boursegeois revolution as defeated in 1848,
and its standard was the “vestiges of the medieval.”
Similar narratives are found in sociology.
In 2012, Neil Davidson published a detailed study
“How Revolutionary Were the Bourgeois Revolutions?”
By his own admission, he was strongly influenced by Isaac Deutscher,
and involved in a defense of the idea that bourgeois revolutions are primarily social,
directed at a specific crisis,
and involved in overthrowing the feudal order.
“The bourgeois revolutions are bourgeois not because they are led by the bourgeoisie,
but because they make possible the development
of bourgeois society on the basis of the capitalist mode of production.
In other words,
it is the outcome which is important,
not the process or the personnel.”
it is the outcome which is important,
not the process or the personnel.”
The classical Marxist position has the bourgeois pushed by lower classes,
interested in revolution,
and classifies the result,
as Deutscher would state in his writings,
as the establishment of the capitalist mode of production,
and if not, then there would be a “passive revolution” from above.
This description too has deep empirical problems.
Bismark, the realpolitick maker of the German Revolution,
was hardly a passive actor:
he fought several wars,
engaged in internal political struggle,
and with his political allies,
such as Moltke,
remade the Prussian military instrument.
It has great difficulty explaining the overthrow of a private capitalist enterprise,
the British East India Company,
with the Raj.
ample words expended on these explanations,
but the core problem is that they fail to relate,
except by enumeration of ever longer lists of “tasks.”
Among the winning side,
it was better to place what happened in the context of what would later be termed,
“The Whig Narrative of History,”
or just “Whig History.”
The term itself requites history to decade.
The Whig party evolved in the 1800's in England,
arguing that enlightened self-interest in
stakeholding aristocrats was an essential counterweight to royal prerogative.
It was grounded in ideas of John Locke,
and looked at the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688
as the model of a revolution,
short, sharp, decisive, virtually bloodless,
and with minimal disruption to business.
We should take the term with some due distance,
it was meant perjoratively,
as the writer who codified it,Hergert Butterfield,
was critiquing what he called “a psychology of historians.”
The reason for digging into these details so quickly is to prove a point:
history is told not on agreement,
but on the fulcrum of disagreement.
Winners and losers were willing to argue
over short sharp encounters such as 1848,
being the largest revolution that the winners would admit to being,
and the largest the losers would admit to losing.
Instead the moment is called “the industrial revolution,”
and chalked up to a technological change, with a “social revolution,”
rather that what the people
at the time understood as a violent re-arrangement of the political order.
When Bismarck gave his short oration that is now known
to history as his “Blood and Iron” speech,
he closes with the following:
Germany does not look to Prussia's liberalism, but to its power. Bavaria, Wurttemberg, and Baden would like to turn to liberalism, but they shall not assume Prussia's role. Prussia must collect its forces for the favorable occasion, which has several times been neglected; Prussia's borders are not favorable to a healthy national life. Not by speeches and decisions of majorities will the greatest problems of the time be decided - that was the mistake of 1848-49 - but by iron and blood.
This is not a passive statement,
nor is it counter-revolutionary,
against some new order from which Prussia had fallen,
but of a direct assertion of new principles.
They just are not the principles which either the whig view of history,
or the marxist view of history would like to ascribe.
To understand the period,
is to understand that is a full blooded revolution
against encumbering ties and established powers,
and it is an integrated replacement for the previous period's dominant ideologies.
The Realist Revolution should be so named,
because it's most proximate target, was the idealistic romanticism.