Bodin's 'Revolution' in Relation to The English School's 'Revolutionism'

After consulting Dale Yoder’s article ‘Current Definitions of Revolution[1], a note I would like to anchor within this log is the extent to which Bodin’s conceptualisation of revolution[2] is applicable to the English School’s categorisation of ‘Revolutionism’ as a theoretical tradition of international politics.

In the first instance, Bodin makes a note that that at the heart of what he pens as ‘revolution’ is political reversal. This such a view is shared, in some form, by a number of modern thinkers from the thought of Hobbes in Behemoth, as a ‘six stage process of usurpation’[3], to the semantics of historical time that underline the historiography of Reinhart Koselleck[4] – as a ‘return’ that takes place down the path of time, manifesting as radical change or adaptation; as in the use of the term revolution in reference to vinyl records (revolutions per minute [RPM]). This does not necessarily complicate the manner in which one should grasp the concept of ‘revolution’ behind revolutionism in the thought of The English School of International Politics, whereby all revolutionism entails a certain sense of reactionary conservatism on some level.

The second instance, however, is less generous and perhaps more consequential for the study of revolution within English school theory. Aside from the notion of political reversal, Bodin contends that revolution is a purely political phenomenon – referring to a markedly significant adaptation or shift in the location of sovereignty. This is where the problem lies for the use of a Bodinian conceptualisation of revolution in the international sphere. Due to the distinct lack of overarching sovereignty within international society - the very facet that makes it, in Hedley Bull’s own words, the anarchical society – revolution simply cannot relate to a shift in the location of sovereignty, as sovereignty on the level of the international must first be established for such a revolution to take place. Perhaps, for the sake of ponderance, this relates to the extent in which we may consider cosmopolitans like Kant as revolutionists – precisely because their contribution to international theory is to argue in favour of some mode of global sovereignty (be it in a universal, unitary, federal or confederal manner)? Nonetheless, revolution may concern the location of sovereignty in lieu of the very fact of an established sovereign entity over the international sphere. As such, the use of Bodin’s conceptualisation can only be partial.   

[1] Dale Yoder (1926) ‘Current Definitions of Revolution’, American Journal of Sociology, 32(3): 433-441.

[2] Jean Bodin, The Six Books of The Commonwealth, pp. 406-7.

[3] See: Mark Hartman (1986) ‘Hobbes's Concept of Political Revolution’, Journal of The History of Ideas, 47(3): 487-495.

[4] See: Reinhart Koselleck (2004) “Historical Criteria of The Modern Concept of Revolution”, in Futures Past: On the Semantics of Historical Time, New York: Columbia University Press, pp. 43-57.