The Philosophy of Perpetual Revolt

I chose those words carefully and I hope to shake those of you who believe supporting peace is enough. Who isn’t pro-peace?  Being Pro-Peace is not enough. I wish it were, but it isn’t. We must be Anti-Oppression. We must be Anti-Imperialism. We must be Anti-War. When we stand against such things, we leave no room for ambiguity. For too long now the left has sat in its new-age dreamland, waiting for the heavens to overthrow monsters like the one in the White House. And now many liberals are taking a sigh of relief that Obama looks unbeatable. From one Obama supporter to another (or not), Obama is just the very beginning of the end of reforming our nation.  

The only reason women have the right to vote; the only reason the civil rights movement was largely successful; the only reason financial safety-nets were erected during the Great Depression; the only reason we aren’t a British Colony is because our Leftist Ancestors engaged in Perpetual Revolt against oppressive institutions. They fought. Thomas Paine, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Helen Keller, Upton Sinclair, Rosa Parks, Alice Paul, Lucy Burns and Huey Long. And those are just the names we know. Countless others fought for justice. In their day, they were all brave radicals who stood up and said enough is enough and asked the question, what is right before they asked what is popular.

This is the challenge of our calling. Perpetual Revolt acknowledges what most of us try hard to put out of our heads, that there is no victory, no end to our struggle in sight. It acknowledges that a Democrat in the White House will not solve our problems and allow our conscience to return to a mundane, consumerism existence.

This work, I believe, is especially important as "Liberal" Democrats throw gasoline on Bush’s burning desire to bomb Iran. More than 70 House Democrats, including the so-called "Fire-Breathing" liberal Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fl) and my own congressman, Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL) have co-sponsored House Resolution 362, which would amount to a blockade against Iran. As pointed out by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer editorial board, the United Nations holds that a unilateral blockade constitutes an act of war ("Iran: Scary language").

A bill that would make a war-monger proud, HR 362 sounds like something straight out of President Bush’s mouth: "Expressing the sense of Congress regarding the threat posed to international peace, stability in the Middle East, and the vital national security interests of the United States by Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and regional hegemony, and for other purposes." It also continues with the double-speak of describing "Hamas" as having seized control of Gaza from the Palestinian Authority, with no mention of the fact Hamas was democratically elected.

The following details my Philosophy of Perpetual Revolt and I urge you all to consider making yours, too. What follows is an adaptation of the opening essay of my new book, Perpetual Revolt: Essays on Peace & Justice and The Shared Values of Secular, Spiritual, and Religious Progressives (Howling Dog Press). The book includes journalistic accounts of recent mass anti-war demonstrations, obscured in the mainstream media, research on the revolutionary nature of Martin Luther King, and speeches I’ve made at protest events.

Philosophy of Perpetual Revolt

Perpetual Revolt denotes my philosophical, political, and written maturation. Many associate maturity with the process of becoming increasingly cynical and resigned to accept things the way they are. Reaching maturity for me, however, is the discovery and development of what I would call a philosophy of Perpetual Revolt. This philosophy is the product of my activist experience in the anti-war movement and my intellectual experience with the writings of a great many thinkers including the ancient Greek philosophers Heraclitus and Epicurus, French author and philosopher, Albert Camus, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Palestinian American activist and intellectual, Edward W. Said, and 20th-century Russian literary intellectual, Zamyatin.

Perpetual Revolt is a willingness to accept that heresy is required against the forces of today’s status quo. In his 1919 essay, "Tomorrow," Zamyatin wrote that "eternal dissatisfaction is the only pledge of eternal movement forward, eternal creation." Moreover, he wrote that heretics like Christ, Copernicus, and Tolstoy keep the world alive. Today’s heresy is an insistence that we forsake comfortable middles for daring sides and demand our nation respect the human rights of others around the world and respect universality in matters of international law, to name just two important issues. Just as former supporters of Soviet-Russian communism eventually repudiated its end-all-be-all mentality, we in the United States must recognize the failures of pure, free-market fundamentalist capitalism and realize, as Zamyatin wrote, "There is no final revolution, no final number." The world is always changing and we must find a new middle between the horrors of U.S.S.R. communism and U.S. capitalism. A struggle for equity and justice that ignores economic injustice is too apathetic to accomplish anything of substance. As Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said, "Communism forgets that life is individual. Capitalism forgets that life is social. The kingdom of brotherhood is found neither in the thesis of Communism nor the antithesis of Capitalism but in a higher synthesis. It’s found in a higher synthesis that can combine the truths of both."

Zamyatin was principally concerned with what he saw as the forces of entropy (the thermodynamic concept of energy moving toward rest). He was concerned with those wishing to reach the conclusion, to uncover artistic, social, even scientific finality. He actually witnessed this desire and tendency in Russia when the Stalinist regime put great effort into constraining the imagination of many of the very creative minds who had initially supported the Russian revolution. Zamyatin’s ideas date back to at least ancient Greece when Heraclitus noted that fire was the most basic element of the universe. On a more abstract level of understanding, Heraclitus’ view of fire as the universe’s most fundamental building block referred to the fact that the flame of perennial change is the only constant the universe has to offer. In short, according to Diogenes Laertius’ work, Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers, Greek philosopher, Heraclitus held that "Nothing endures but change." So even when cultures resist change, the world around them, indeed the very universe in which they live continues on in a state of flux. For Zamyatin, the heretic is one who understands that both the beauty and the reality of existence requires the acceptance of constant change. In this way, Perpetual Revolt acknowledges that change is the only constant in the universe, and that only a life of struggle can compliment this reality. For serenity and perfect peace are elements of only death’s domain.

In a similar vein, Said urged intellectuals to be on the front of the curve of change. (Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci believed that all people are intellectuals in that we all possess rational faculties.) In the same way Zamyatin feared the forces of entropy, Said believed that intellectuals must oppose the forces of inertia which exalt the status-quo and thus misguide the charging train that is life. What we know is that the moment an idea becomes canonized as dogma, be it rigid communism or rigid free-market capitalism, that idea poses a threat to the reality of constant change.

The trouble with renouncing dogma and accepting the reality of constant change in the universe, of course, is that we must accept the reality that nothing is everlasting. This idea is not only disturbing to many, it can literally be accused of collapsing the institution of hope. But it should not. The problem with our desire for eternal truths and eternal existences is that the universe refuses stasis. In order to "arrive," be it intellectually, politically or otherwise, human beings are forced to ignore new and sometimes temporary truths and the sanguinary consequences of their calcification: lives turned to corpses against the hard rock of their obstinate prejudices and principles. Instead, in order to keep alive the things most sacred to us, we must be ever vigilant and ever evolving – a fearless state of Perpetual Revolt.

I believe that this view of life is essential to living and acting justly in 21st century United States. While I write this amid a historical and heated 2008 election that promises to "change" what must be viewed as nothing short of a period of perpetual war-mongering, dishonesty, and intellectual corruption, the promise of Democratic control of our government is but one step in the "left" direction. In reality, the Democrats are as responsible as the Republicans for the most serious problems in this country: our grotesque military spending; our fanatical and amoral if not immoral foreign policy; our willingness to allow corporations and the wealthiest of citizens dominate our "Democracy"; our treatment of women and minorities; our education system and so on. The struggle to create a better world does not hinge on elections. Presidential elections are merely a stepping stone, one which we should, indeed, use. The larger picture, however, requires that we understand that the struggle to implement such a vision is never totally won. The forces of hatred and fear and intolerance will never relent. Once we realize this, we then accept that the struggle for peace and justice and the ideal of humanity is not a campaign to win and then ignore, but instead an effort which defines our way of life. In short, I believe it is a way of life which requires Perpetual Revolt on the part of those who believe the only purposeful life is one which seeks to make the world better than it is. With every breath comes an opportunity, an obligation to remake the world into a more humane place. Let us take deep breaths, long strides, and bold actions!


Jeff Nall is writer, activist, academic, and speaker. His book, Perpetual Revolt: Essays on Peace & Justice and The Shared Values of Secular, Spiritual, and Religious Progressives (Howling Dog Press, 250 pages, $15.95), is available at his website: Jeff will also be holding a book release party on Friday, August 29th in Melbourne, Florida. For more info on the event email: