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The idea of revolution, when used to denote the total substitution of one indivisible system by another, describes nothing but a dangerous limiting case of transformative politics, seen under the lens of an illusion about how history happens. When reality resists the illusion, the would-be revolutionaries may resort to violence, seeking in physical force the means to make good on the hypertrophy of the will. They want to take from social reality what it stubbornly refuses to give them.

Today the idea of revolution has become a pretext for its opposite. Because real change would be revolutionary change, and revolutionary change is unavailable, and would be too dangerous if it were feasible, we are left to humanize the inevitable. Such is the project of a pessimistic reformism resigned to soften, especially through compensatory redistribution by tax- and-transfer, what it despairs of challenging and changing. Such is the program of gradual adjustment instead of “shock therapy,” of a modicum of social protection rescued from the inevitable weakening of workers’ rights, of a softer version of the other side’s political project.

Thus did the disillusioned ex-Marxist become the institutionally conservative social democrat. He threw out the good part of Marxism, the transformative aspirations, and kept its bad part, the historical fatalism, changing its political significance. Lack of ideas soon made room for lack of character. He prostituted himself to fate, and betrayed his country by his way of accepting it.


~ Roberto Unger, Democracy Realized, 19-20.