Content The Iconography of European Revolution, 1789-1936  
header - crowds Hiram Caton

One might approach the present topic by taking revolutions as empirically given, and deploy the methodology of art history to follow the material where it leads. In that way large questions about the nature of revolutions might be avoided. This is prudent, since the bulk and diversity of the literature suggests that revolutions are more a collection of accidents than manifestations of a hidden essence awaiting discovery by the archaeologist of knowledge.

Such diffidence toward the challenging questions of the European revolutionary tradition would however be feint-hearted at a moment when Europeans are engaged in reinterpreting this experience. They appear to stand on a divide marked by the closure of the main stream of European revolution that burst from France two centuries ago.

  • The Postmodern Malaise
  • Icons of Revolutionary Consciousness
  • Thomas Carlyle and the Modern Distemper
  • Iconographic mutations
  • Conclusion

Closure is effected by the circumstance that the high (as distinguished from the medium) aspirations of the revolutionary tradition are no longer credible either to the intelligentsia or to political publics. There is disillusion with the Enlightenment tradition, culminating in the Postmodern rejection of Reason as a philosophically accessible source for a politics of human emancipation. Since the chief work of reason (on this interpretation) is the historical understanding of human experience, the rejection of reason entails the rejection of all historical world-views (called ‘metanarratives’ in fashionable jargon) that previously imbued the past and the future with comprehensive meaning. To be without a historical world-view is to be situated in ‘post-history,’ as Arnold Gehlen calls it, or at the ‘end of history,’ as it is called by Gianni Vattimo and others. Let us dwell a little on this analysis.

Post-history, the end of history: what can these snappy phrases mean? The unwary are drawn into the net of paradox by the splendid notion that a philosophical decree has stopped history. In reality events continue and history continues to hold a wealth of meaning for all except the affected philosophers and other intelligentsia. The end of history means only that this tribe has lost its faith. The endless caressing of ‘the social’ totem, and heroic ‘unmasking of illusions’ given out as ‘science,’ is no longer credible to the tribe. Inhabiting a Ptolemaic cosmos, where human emotions are the centre, they imagine that this final melancholy insight is also a world-historical event. However, that world-view never was credible to most historians, who accordingly experience no anguish that the search for a foundation for philosophical history of human emancipation is now to be abandoned. Good riddance!, most historians will exclaim. Perhaps now the effort to understand revolution will be less distracted by grandiloquence and rituals of self-confirmation.

We for our part are amused that philosophers only now realize what most others know as mother’s milk. The idea that philosophy could find or establish the foundations of knowledge--the Platonic seduction--has been known to be misbegotten since Galileo replaced metaphysics by the method of hypothesis and experiment; even many pre-postmodern philosophers have admitted as much. Unfortunately the dramatization of this outcome as the advent of Nihilism helped sustain a posthumous existence that Nietzsche wished to extinguish; for he made it seem that the end of philosophy was a world-historical fatality. However, the end of philosophy is nothing more earth-shaking than the humble recognition that it’s better to get on with a non-degenerate research program. If that be Nihilism, then three cheers for good ole Nihil.

We view the wake for history in a positive light. It now no longer needs to be argued that the tradition of thought espousing human emancipation is an ad hoc, literary philosophy of human experience led by wish and by discontent; and that ‘Revolution’ has been the verbal icon signifying the wish fulfilled and the discontent ended. This drama is played out in the consciousness of the philosopher-intellectual, to serve as the emotional support and cognitive map to find passage through a complex world dense with obstacles and mishaps and moral bad luck. It has also provided the casuistry needed to justify action; and finally it has provided a theodicy ensuring the ultimate coincidence of truth, goodness, and power. This religio-philosophical pathos is now a datum, an example of sacred knowledge, for analysis by empirical methods.

There have been many studies of the revolutionary consciousness, but none I think that have interpreted its recurrent metaphors as an iconography that may assist in assigning it an identity. Let us attend briefly to two works, Kenneth Minogue’s Alien Powers and Bernard Yack’s The Longing for Total Revolution: Philosophic Sources of Social Discontent from Rousseau to Marx and Nietzsche. These authors concur in ascribing a basic common predicament, namely, soul-destroying entrapment in an iron cage of some description. The predicament is not a given, although an initial unease is the stimulus to reflection. The predicament is acquired by sustained reflection which displays in a discursive description the stultification of the human spirit (‘dehumanisation’) by powers beyond its control. This leads to a second phase of reflection in which the iron cage is reconceptualized so that an escape route is discovered. This escape route is the illumination of an emancipating doctrine that projects a world in which discontent is ended.

The contour of revolutionary consciousness to this point does not differ greatly from sundry neo-Platonist, Gnostic, Christian and for that matter Buddhist and Hindu assessments of the human condition. Its nerve is an Unbehagen, a melancholy about human existence. The condition is presented every day to psychiatrists, who know it as depression, the most common mental illness. Its symptoms are well described, and cross-national studies suggest that it is a constant in any population, regardless of its weal and woe and beliefs. So the revolutionary consciousness is quite solidly based in human experience, tapping the same source tapped by religion. This no doubt is why one school of thought holds the revolutionary consciousness to be a variation or inversion of religious consciousness.

Bernard Yack contests this interpretation. The revolutionary consciousness, he believes, is distinguished by a specific doctrine, which holds that the human spirit is dehumanized by certain conditions prevailing in modern society. ‘Dehumanization’ means want of fulfilment, a loss of self. The dehumanization thesis implies that humanity is an achievement rather than a given. The sociological or historical thesis holds that emancipation to the achievement of full humanity is possible only through social action that abolishes the stultifying institutions of modern society. (p. 19) These two theses together constitute the distinctively revolutionary consciousness according to Yack. It arose, he states, from ‘reflection on the failure of the French Revolution to achieve what some German Kantians perceived as its goal . . .’ It presupposes the historico-philosophic belief that the institutions and culture of a given epoch are suffused by a unitary spirit. When institutions do not create or embody our humanity, they dehumanize. Hence, the cognitive-affective map of the revolutionary consciousness postulates total change of society as the one path to deliverance. The icon of deliverance is Revolution--a great collective event like the French Revolution, only this time really total.

Yack’s data do not square with his periodization, since he dates the longing for total revolution to Rousseau. Moreover, Rousseau’s protest against modern society in the name of community was hardly unique. The Abbé de Mably also denounced the vices of a society absorbed in courtly ceremony and commerce. His longing for total transformation culminated in the elevation of a future communist Sparta as France’s political model. It was he who launched, three decades before the event, the idea of the Estates General as the stepping stone to a republic, and it was he who predicted that this noble aspiration would end in confusion. The Physiocrat Mirabeau could also be mentioned in this connection, as well as the Country Whig tradition in Britain and the colonies, that has come to be called ‘civic humanism’. These streams affirm that humanity is stultified by modern conditions, and that the disaffection can be remedied only by drastic, let us say total, reform. Yack also overlooks the most creative voice of disaffection in the first half of the 19th century, Thomas Carlyle (whose admirers included Engels, Marx, J.S. Mill, Thomas Huxley, and Nietzsche). At the moment when Saint-Simon was attempting to merge the revolutionary tradition with an affirmation of machine civilisation, Carlyle took the negative, and in so doing created the critique of science, technology, and bureaucracy that has been the mainstay of disaffection since. It was Carlyle as much as Schiller who discovered that modern man is dehumanised by the machines he creates.

Let us consider briefly one of his many resounding icons of disaffection, this from the Chartism essay.

If men had lost belief in a God, their only recourse against a blind No-God, of Necessity and Mechanism, that held them like a hideous World Steam-engine, like a hideous Phalaris’ Bull, imprisoned in its own iron belly, would be, with or without hope,Ñrevolt. They could . . . by a ‘simultaneous act of suicide’, depart out of the World Steam-engine; and end, if not in victory, yet in invincibility, and unsubduable protest that such World Steam-engine was a failure and a stupidity.

Here is the original iron cage whose mixed metaphors invoke entrapment and death by immolation. Escape is by revolt, characterized as a defiant protest by massed men, which, even if it should be crushed through suicidal assault on the all-powerful machine of the state, will yet triumph by registering the spirit of revolt. The elements of depressive ideation in this icon are the totalities of enclosure or entrapment and corresponding deliverance. Carlyle’s escape formula is comprised of heroic revolt conceived as assertive suicide. Suicide is among the ingredients of depressive ideation and Carlyle, of course, suffered from chronic depression.

When the literature of discontent is considered in its fullness, Marx’s emphasis on the industrial system appears as an epicycle in cycles of disaffection that emerged around 1730 and continued unabated to the turmoils of the Sixties and to contemporary ecological critiques of civilization. The factor threatening self is repeatedly identified as either the commercial spirit or the scientific/technological spirit of modern civilization. Since commerce, science, and technology are the main catalysts of modernity, the revolutionary consciousness is fundamentally anti-modern.

The voices of these prophets and seers failed to arrest the locomotive of progress. Until the Russian Revolution installed Marxism as state doctrine, they exercised little influence on modern publics. In contrast to disaffected intellectuals, the vast majority affirmed the benefits, entertainments, and opportunities provided by machine civilization. The machine itself was positively valued. A tour through industrial museums, or examination of the popular literature of the nineteenth century, reveals the enormous pride craftsmen took in building what they boasted was ‘the most powerful machine in the world’--steam engines. Often these engines were lovingly ornamented. The positive valuation carried over to railroads and indeed to every new technology. At the moment when Byron declared poets to be the legislators of mankind, they were being displaced by engineers, who created an iconography of the modern that celebrated action, innovation, strength, fulfilment.

The contrast then is between the experienced impotence or emptiness of the revolutionary consciousness, its longing for salvation, and the experience of vigor, action, and triumph in the society which revolutionary consciousness experiences as alienating. But the revolutionary consciousness projects its misery onto the whole of society because, locked into the totality of depressive ideation, it can view the world only in sombre colors and imagines the world to be as miserable as itself, since in the Ptolemaic cosmos the boundaries of self and world are coterminus.

The positive valuation of Modernity, whose cultural dominance was expressed in the ideology of progress, provides the contrasting landscape needed to identify the distemper of revolutionary consciousness. From the lamentations of the Old Whigs about the dominance of money and new men, to de Mably’s and Rousseau’s sentimental praise of virtue and denunciations of commerce, to Marx’s thunder against exploiting capital, the revolutionary consciousness is seen to be really unfulfilled, inhibited as it was from participating in the common feast of the new. The inhibition was in some individual instances clearly a neurosis. In some instances the disaffection appears to stem from the devaluation of the literary and religious imagination by the technological imagination. Rousseau, Carlyle, Marx, and the Ayatollah Khomeini would seem to fall into this class. In all cases the revolutionary consciousness inhabits a Ptolemaic universe in which the sufferings of self are the centre of a Manichean world so abundantly present in depressive ideation. To put this in the political language of the times, the revolutionary consciousness is reactionary.

What is the relationship between the revolutionary consciousness as described here and revolutionary events? The participants in these events are people of every degree of knowledge and ignorance, and of every variety of personality and health status. Revolutionary crowds do not, in other words, share the revolutionary consciousness as described. The links are likely to be perceived or real political oppression; another is the typical experiences of crowds united in a common sentiment.

Oppression is a constant of political life in the sense that there is always some public in every polity that perceive themselves to be oppressed even though by objective indicators they may be very free and prosperous, as was the case with the American rebels. Oppressed groups usually seek melioration from governments and indeed this was much in evidence prior to the French and American revolutions. But they may also resolve to cut the Gordian knot of inconclusive negotiations. The revolutionary consciousness attaches itself to these ordinary political processes by interpreting oppression in terms of its own neurotic totality, so that the oppression is imagined to be total and therefore requires a total world transformation. But a world transformation for Ptolemaic consciousness is coincidental with a change of personal identity, that is, a transformation of self. Similarly, the change of state that may be achieved by political action is interpreted as deliverance from the self-destroying entrapment. The key question, which we leave aside for now, is why the revolutionary consciousness identifies the massed action of political crowds as the cataclysmic salvational emancipation.

Revolutionary iconography does not speak the emotional language of the revolutionary consciousness but instead flows from local traditions of representation of life course events. Recent studies in this field are largely by historians following one of two methodologies. They may attempt to orient or loosely organise their materials by reference to a psychological theory, which usually turns out to be a bowdlerize Freud; or, what is more fashionable, they adopt a hermeneutical approach that renounces the search for causal connections, or the attempt to establish ‘what actually happened’. Inquiry is instead lodged in a universe of meanings, rhetorics, images, discourses where events, actions, and ideas--the stuff of objective history--become ‘texts’ from which there is no appeal to a ‘reality’ outside them. Inquiry thus becomes the compilation of phenomenologies. These compilations are often valuable. However, the phenomenological caution against premature causal analysis is not warranted when a solid basis for the interpretation of myth, symbol, icons and other units of meaning is available. Naturalistic investigations of meaning stemming from the behavioural sciences, particularly ethology, is such a basis. It is now understood that the fundamental expressive language of all cultures is non-verbal communication, the behavioural repertoires accompanying them, and the paralinguistic properties of speech (tone, stress, rhythm, speed, volume, euphony, etc.). Add to this the psychology of sensory-motor experience and one has an armamentarium for the identification, classification, and analysis of a pan-cultural symbol system, called by anthropologists the ‘foundations of primitive thought.’ Those foundations have been sought in vain because structural anthropologists do not take bodily functions and behaviour seriously as sources or referents of meaning. However, this has been done by Joseph Campbell in his cross-cultural survey of the thousand masks of gods and heroes, and in Balaji Mundkur’s The Cult of the Serpent. Campbell finds that mythology represents and celebrates the gravity of human experience which is perceived as revolving around suffering, deception, deliverance, rapture, and illumination. Its symbols and metaphors are firmly anchored in body image, experience of the body, and sense experience, e.g., birth and death; sickness and vigor; light and darkness; day and night; dawn and dusk; the course of the sun, moon, and stars; fire and water; water and desert; storm, floods, torrent, hurricanes, vermin, serpents, carnivores, gentle ungulates and other totemic animals; depletion and surfeit; frenzy and sexual abandon; defecation, feces and filth; tearing, rending, and eating the body and spirit; kin relations and paternal roles; fear, terror, triumph, humiliation, and dominance. The dynamics of these experiences are to be specified in part by reference to the kinesis of sensory-motor experience. Fire, for example, as a point source of light, is a signifier to locomotion and vision. But it is also embedded in the sense of touch and cognitively it is perceived as a destructive and as a helpful agent. Hence the enormous polyvalence of fire symbolism. The dynamics of the experiences from which symbols are drawn refers also in part to the repertoire of social and manipulative behaviors. Thus eye gaze and teeth display strongly signify mood state and for this reason their display is ingredient to signaling appeasement, threat, or fear. Since these are natural signs, we do not endorse the usual definition of iconography as an interpretation of cultural-specific optical signs, but as a universal behavioral language inflected for a particular cultural area. For us, then, the iconography of European revolution is a dialect of a universal language.

Iconographic mutations and transformations

Revolutionary change that penetrates into fabric of thought and action is a laboratory providing a unique view of the rapid, often deliberate generation of new meanings from existing cultural materials.

Image mutation in revolutionary France worked on materials from the royal tradition, the republican tradition, and the many streams that compose the Christian tradition. The outcome was a sensibilité révolutionnaire that became a political aesthetics for many. If the arts are auto-manipulative techniques for stimulating, ramifying, and transposing one set of world models into another, the fundamental contribution of the arts, especially poetry and theatre, in the creation of that sensibility would be understandable. Indeed, European revolution may prove to be essentially a theatrical performance.

The Revolution’s anti-Christianism led to the replacement of the Holy Trinity by Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity, who were represented as goddesses in the neo-classical style that conjured republicanism. The new calendar of 1793 was meant to liberate time from the Christian cycle of Christ’s birth and crucifixion. That bucolic Revolutionary icon, picturesque Nature, replaced the narrative quality of Jesus’ mission by the four seasons and their associated produce. The revolutionary artist and impressario, Louis David, painted the murdered leader Marat in the conventional posture of the piéta, thereby evoking for a modern hero the terror and pity that Christian art had directed to the Christ. The Notre Dame was transformed, through the ritual medium of a pageant, into the Temple of Reason consecrated by the neo-classical goddesses of Reason, Liberty and Truth.

The royal tradition was either desecrated or suppressed in revolutionary imagery. Royal statuary was toppled and smashed in iconoclastic rampages that seem to occur in every revolution. But even subtle momentos of monarchy, such as the king and queen on playing cards, were replaced by sages or by the geniuses of war, commerce, agriculture and peace.

Sometimes new symbols were generated from old ones by reversal of meaning. The transformation of the red flag from a police symbol of martial law into a symbol of revolution is such a case. In 1792, a revolutionary wrote on such a flag ‘The Law of the People against the rebellion of Sovereign Power’. From this reversal of onus, the red flag came to symbolize the popular will.

Perhaps the most arresting transformation of the monarchal self-image was the inversion of the king as father figure. Royal paternal benevolence metamorphosed into a Saturn who devoured his own children. Alternately, the revolutionary crowd was represented as civic throng destroying the tyrant and devouring his entrails; or as Medea (that is, France) cutting up the king and eating him to assimilate his powers. Since cannibalism was believed by Europeans to be a Polynesian perversion, one is surprised by the frequency of the icon’s occurrence. The saying that the Revolution devours its children stems from France, and Tom Paine wrote in The Rights of Man: ‘By the aristocratical law of primogenitureship, in a family of six children, five are exposed. Aristocracy has never more than one child. The rest are begotten to be devoured. They are thrown to the cannibal for prey, and the natural parent prepares the unnatural repast’. Paulson 78 As we will illustrate presently, the ascription of cannibalism to hostiles is a standard iconographic trope.

Let us consider a few biological commentaries on this imagery. First, the association of abstract ideals with comely virgins transfers the emotional appeal of natural signifiers, secondary sexual characteristics, to an idea that has no unambiguous natural signifier. Youth, full breasts and buttocks, and good proportions naturally signify sexual and reproductive readiness. Such representations are typically arousing or suggestive to both sexes. Fatherhood as representations of political dominance is also based on the sexual dimorphism of the human species, in this case the mammalian dominance of the reproductive male. Males compete for women; dominant males engross numerous women and increase their prestige but at the cost of excluding some males from access to females. Excluded males may attempt to displace a dominant male and capture his women and prestige. When the challenger succeeds in these competitions among mammalian species, primates in particular, temporary social disruption occurs as old attachments are replaced by new ones. In terms of the human species, familial disruption by displacing the patriarch signifies simultaneously turmoil, a new dominant individual or individuals, and ‘freedom’, that is, the acquisition of dominance.

As for cannibalism, we point out that despite the cultural tabu, it is very common as a metaphor. It is used affectionately to mock terrorise children; it is omnipresent in horror films, sport and other forms of competition, such as politics and in human sexuality. It is a pan-cultural signifier of ferocity, punishment, and moral bad luck; but it may also signify honoring the cannibalised (by taking on their virtues) or affectionate aggression. The metaphor’s biological basis is the hunter’s hankering for animal protein, its linkage with the thrill of the chase and dominance, and these in turn with the polyvalent human libido.

Slide 1 - to be supplied

James Gillray cartoons of John Bull as a cannibal.

The revolutionary crowd is itself one of the most important icons of revolution. There appear to be two major modes of its representation, an action mode and a spectacle mode. The action mode exhibits the crowd engaged in the deeds that break the hold of the past and herald the new dawn.

The storming of the Bastille is the source event for these icons throughout the modern revolutionary period. The event as depicted in revolutionary mythology features ordinary people overwhelming a fortified stronghold by the sheer energy of their ferver and solidarity. This icon may be inflected in many ways.

This poster shows the Russian revolutionary crowd in triumphal advance on the ancien régime. All nuance of character is abolished by the use of stereotyping. Good guys show the face of innocence and suffering. Bad guys are grotesque figures exhibiting hybrid animal-human attributes denoting rapacity, greed, lust and malice, and cannibal propensities. Body mass, carnivore teeth, eye gaze, and costume are used to signify these attributes. While the evil ones in the foreground are shown in retreat, the menace is not overcome because other evils ones hover threateningly above the valiant crowd. Notice that the use of light and darkness places the good guys in white light.

This poster further illustrates the facial features that communicate good and evil intent (affiliation and aggression). Again we see the bared teeth in threat display, and the eyes narrowed in a stare. The fingers are the talons of a predatory bird, probably a vampire, a suggestion reinforced by the flock overhead. Again the allusion to cannibalism is present.

In general political posters make frequent use of gesture, caricature, and mimicry.

The virtuous may be shown in action or in repose. In either posture they are shown well proportioned in face and body, never disfigured or obese. The facial expression is resolute or serene. This slide shows the revolutionary leader beckoning forward against the background of a monumental revolutionary work, a hydro-electric dam. Revolutionary dramaturgy imbues the dam, technically indistinguishable from capitalist dams (which are also public property), with Bolshevik traits.

Here is the revolutionary in repose. Notice the well-proportioned body emphasizing the male morph and the expression of strength through high-lighting of musculature. In counter-point to the repose is the great energy of the background, which generates motion in all directions.

The second mode of the revolutionary crowd is as witness of and participant in a festival. French revolutionaries instituted festivals (fétes révolutionnaires) from 1791; these events continued, through various transformations, until the Restoration in 1815. Revolutionary festivals were republican substitutes for royal and church festivals, and in their design and iconography borrowed much from prior practice. The revolutionary festival reached is zenith in Nazi Germany, where it was regarded as a fundamental agent for the formation of solidarity, for recruitment, and for intimidating critics or hostile bystanders. As in France, festivals were frequent, and were staged in all localities. But again as in France, there was an annual national festival, the Party Congress, held at the gigantic Luitpold Arena and Luitpold Field in Nuremberg.

Festivals are pan-cultural. In pre-revolutionary European they were spectacles dedicated to celebration and thanksgivings, and entertainment. They were accompanied by abundance of food and drink, release from toil, and indulgence of riotous behaviour. They combined high royal dignity or religious sublimity with an element of saturnalia, including mock vandalism or killing (torment of effigies), orgiastic gestures, the grotesque (exhibited in masks and costume), scatology, irreverence, and conspicuous consumption. In their function and style they are continuous with the feasting that plays a central role in cementing intra-group alliances in ranked societies.

This painting15 depicts the celebrations in Rome honoring the newly converted Queen Christina of Sweden. The festival space is important for the symbolic significance it may have, but also for its capacity to make the spectators in some manner participants in the event. This space, in the Palazzo Barberini, closely binds spectators to the event. Splendor, so obvious here, is a principal ingredient of feasts, pageants, and festivals. Splendor is a costly gift from the host to the spectacle audience and participants. A costly gift is a sign of favor and honor; it also signifies prestige and power of the host. This axis of affiliative reciprocity defining the social space of feasts cues multitudes of personal and small group affiliative exchanges.

The components of the spectacle include unusual and evocative costume and body decoration, the marching or dancing movement of the parade, the narrative enacted by this movement, poetry and declamations, and music. This Gesamtkunstwerk aimed for what the theatre master Wagner said it did: transport by sensory rapture out of the diurnal routine into the sublime and the beautiful. These transports are meant to facilitate and confirm the joyous or solemn social affiliation that the pageant depicts or celebrates, in this case religious conversion. The theme of the pageant, the conquest of the Amazons by his most catholic Hispanic majesty, gave the costume designer a wonderful opportunity to introduce the novelty and splendor of the Amazon headdress.


amazons in regalia

This scene16 depicts the 1615 Ommeganck festival in Brussels honoring the Virgin. Floats (standard exhibits of pageants) display tableaux evoking a narrative and an associated flight of ideas. Many floats in sequence evoke many narratives. In the background we see an elaborate ship carrying the figures of the Virgin and Child, towed by sea-horses followed by the Pillars of Hercules. In the middle row is a depiction of the Annunciation (only half is shown here). The float in the middle exhibits Apollo and the Muses. In the foreground is the Court of Isabella, with Fame seated on a pillar, and Diana and her nymphs. Status presentation, that is, signifying the status of personages, is very marked in this scene. High status is indicated by placement at the centre of visual attention, by high/low spatial contrasts, and by signs of dominance and submission.

Notable is the abandon with which images from disparate traditions are mingled and juxtaposed. The association of the Pillars of Hercules with the Virgin is historically bizarre yet meaningful to sailors who sailed through the Pillars clutching images of the Virgin to protect them on the dangerous seas. Similarly, no incongruity is felt in juxtaposing the Virgin with Isabella’s pagan symbols of fecundity, sensuality, and majesty. The symbols of Europe’s royal houses and churches were saturated with these two traditions. Intellectually, these disparate elements were held together by functional differentiation. Emotionally, however, they mingled.

This etching of the Fête de la Féderation illustrates the continuity of religious and royal styles in the revolutionary style. Observe the protagonist function of the altar, achieved by locating it to express the high/low symbolism so common in festivals and ritual. The axis of the festive space defines a stage for the performance. In this case the axis is defined by the 25 metre high model of the Arc de triomphe forming the entrance to Mars field, and by the dais at the extreme right. The performers were representative military, municipal, and social organisations choreographed for marching, dance and music. The fires in the background are, like fireworks, a means of heightening effect. Once again we see strong status promotion.

This painting represents a provincial festival commemorating 2 June 1793, the beginning of the new calendar. The mountain representing the French nation symbolizes by exhibiting the high/low contrast in a natural symbol of majesty. Citizens are shown dancing around the tree of liberty--a performance characteristic of ancient fertility celebrations. Note the light/dark contrast and the unusual lightning used to heighten with high/low contrast. Drowning in the foreground are enemies of the new order.

Execution in effigy is a ritual of aggression. Here we see the symbols of the ancien régime burned by purifying fire at the Fête de l’Unité in August 1793. The event was staged in the Place de la Liberté, whose architecture imbues the scene with a majestic character. In his absorbing study, The Power of Images, David Freedberg describes effigy manipulation across many cultures and times. He finds it to be linked with image magic and witchcraft from antiquity to the present. By the nineteenth century, image magic seemed strange to European anthropologists, who invented the ‘primitive mind’ as a distant purgatory to house pre-rational manifestations the human psyche. They were poor observers, for here we see the primitive mind active at the ostensible commencement of rational politics.

The Nuremberg Party Rally of 1936 was the first time that both the Luitpold Field and the Luitpold Arena were used, as it was also the first use of architect Albert Speer’s unique effect, the Cathedral of Light. As was mentioned, the Party Rallies were the pinnacle of Nazi festivals, whose object was to unite all participants, and through them, the whole nation, in a brotherhood of solidarity and devotion. They were consciously organised as a Gesamtkunstwerk executed with artistic refinement and precision. The experiences they aroused made an ineffaceable impression even on cool bystanders. British Ambassador Sir Neville Henderson said of this Rally: ‘I spent 6 years in St Petersburg . . . in the best days of the old Russian ballet, but for grandiose beauty I have never seen a ballet to compare with it.’ Grandeur was indeed the aim. It was achieved by massing hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children from all over the nation and marching them through six days of performances in flawless order and precision. The style of Nazi rally spaces was geometrical, featuring a strongly defined perimeter and abundant use of high/low symbolism. The performance at national rallies was meant to be a microcosm of the Reich in that representative groups from all provinces were put on display. Mood synchronisation was achieved by song, chants, and spectator choral response to speakers. The Cathedral of Light was achieved by placing 410 searchlights around the perimeter of the Luitpold Arena, and inclining each to a small angle so that at 10,000 metres they converged to form a dome. This was the ultimate in the political use of light symbolism.

Now let us comment briefly on the iconography of a film that in the Soviet Union figured as the most successful artistic representation of revolution, Sergi Eisenstein’s October.

The film was released in 1928 without a sound track. It was reissued in 1967, with a musical sound track by Dimitri Shostakovich, as part of the 50th anniversary celebrations.

The film opens with a tumultuous crowd scene. Men, women, and children are dashing about on sundry missions of uproarious assertion, including pulling down a large statute of Czar Alexander III. Close-ups show joyous faces. The camera then visits rural Russia, where peasants greet one another as ‘citizen’ and ‘Brother’. There is much embracing, food-sharing, and fraternisation between peasants and soldiers. Then the bourgeois revolution goes sour. The camera visits scenes of suffering, especially the hungry masses. Then we are shown throngs in festive mood at the Finland Station. The hero steps forward on an elevated position (high/low symbolism) to delirious hurrahs, banner-waving, and caps hurled into the air, while Shostakovich’s score supplies rousing, heroic music.

The crowd scenes in the film are all of this character. The crowd is of mixed sex, joyful, and unanimous in its sentiment. Eisenstein’s revolutionary crowd always holds a spontaneous festival, and expresses its feelings through a remarkably limited repertoire of non-verbal signals and actions. These signals are shown in isolation from the socially problematic sexual or aggressive behaviors that stand in the continuum of their polyvalence. Thus the spectator is not exposed to the well-drilled agitators and crowd masters.

The present small sample of revolutionary iconography illustrates several generalisations that emerge from our examination of a much larger sample. We find that the fundamental iconic signifiers are not unique to a cultural milieu but are pan-cultural natural signs. This condition indeed had to be met by any revolution that aspired to reform the world. The signifiers are constant across ideological difference. Fascist, Nazi, Bolshevik, Peronist, civil rights, and anti-war iconography are largely interchangeable. The basic signifiers are not peculiar to revolutionary politics; they appear wherever vigorous assertiveness is wanted, including religious agitation. Local inflections, including stylistic difference, derive substantially from pre-revolutionary artistic conventions or else from broad artistic trends. Thus, the Nazi and Bolshevik revolutions excluded Futurist elements from their graphics, but retained the mechanical style that gained currency in popular art in the 1880s. Our investigation has cast no light on style, but we believe that the psycho-physiology of perception together with genetic studies will prove to be fruitful in understanding the millenia-long stability of style in many cultural traditions.

Iconography, as the study of the visual sign, yields no information about the aural channel and kinesthetic automanipulation. The emotions it describes are inferred from the data, by analogy to experience. Something needs to be said about the total experience that has so captivated modern publics.

The early students of mass psychology took as their point of departure the exotic experiences that typically occurred in political crowds. Self-reporting and bystander reporting indicated that ordinary people found themselves swept away by powerful emotions unlike any they had experienced. They underwent strong affiliative bonding with strangers, they felt transformed into a new identity (e.g., citoyen, comrade), and they may have engaged in acts of violence that in their ordinary condition of mind would have been abhorrent. Clearly this experience was a potent means of recruiting or converting masses of people to new political allegiances. In the meantime the appetite for the celebrated ‘madness’ of crowds spread like a contagion among many publics, each of which believed that the strength of the affect experienced was witness to the authenticity of the gospel vouched by their movement. Today we have some understanding of how the chemistry of the brain induces quite a range of altered states of consciousness, some of which may be mimicked by opiates and hallucinogens. Crowd madness is probably an altered state of consciousness induced by a combination of stimuli among which music and the mood-synchronised crowd itself are prominent, as can be seen in the football crowd phenomenon. And with this observation we may return to a question that we put to one side: why is it that the melancholy intellectual in the grip of alienation tends to identify the revolutionary crowd with emancipation and world transformation? The answer is that the crowd experience is one of the most profound and invigorating psychological transformations in human experience. It is like the love experience in its capacity to refresh and inspire and endure as an ineffaceable memory. It is, in a word, a conversion experience which for persons suffering from melancholia, or depression, can act as a spontaneous remission from their illness. For such persons, revolution really is deliverance from their iron cage of despair.

[1] No theory of revolution underlies this paper; in our view it is not a phenomenon for which a theory can be constructed. The abundance of sociological and political science studies of revolution since 1950 have ‘theorized’ revolution by relating it to social, economic, cultural, or political structural properties that are supposed to be the causes of revolution. In a literature review (Theories of Revolution: The Third Generation, World Politics 32 [1980], 425-453), Jack Goldstone concludes that not even the first requisite of theory construction, an enumeration of defining traits, has been achieved (p. 450). This is brought sharply to the fore by the inclusion of ‘revolutions from above’, i.e., coups d’etát, in the revolution phenomenon. In this case the ‘mobilization of the masses’, often thought to be a defining trait of revolutions, is missing. Revolutions from above are considered to be revolutions when they initiate deep social change. However, many revolutions that did mobilize masses did not initiate deep social change (e.g., Peron, Nasser, Sukarno). On the other hand, most deep social change has occurred through the avenues of stable institutions, without abrupt political dislocations: are these changes nonetheless ‘revolutionary’? Authorities waver on this point. Attempts to tie revolutions to deprivation fail because revolutions occur among flourishing populations (nearly all European revolutions). They cannot be tied to oppression because peoples enjoying a high degree of freedom also revolt (the American Revolution, the French Revolution, 1848). They cannot be styled a modernizing force because some are developmentally neutral while others are militantly anti-modern (the Iranian revolution) and still others mingle modernizing and archaic trends (the Nazi revolution, Mahatma Gandhi’s independence movement). The root assumption in this literature is that revolutions must be functional for deep structure and are likely to be purposive as revolutionaries conceived their purpose. This assumption is incompatible with facts mentioned above. The error seems to arise from the belief that strongly shared emotions must have deep social causes and effects, and this in turn affirms sociology's dogmatic exclusion of psychological evidence. From psychology we learn that gripping emotions, even life-defining emotions, may have trivial causes bearing no relation to social experience let alone social structure. The recurrent emotions, for their part, are part of the sensory-motor-behavioural complex of a primate species and are to be understood in the first instance from the perspective of evolutionary adaptation. The sociological impulse to identify ‘social structure’ as the causal agent in revolutions obliterates the human experience of revolutions--experience corresponds to the psychological evidence--that mass revolutions usually adopt the expressive styles of festival, and they are experienced as entertainments, even (perhaps even especially) when they involve sustained violence including methodical killing (the killing frenzy). These facts are our starting point; they may be rendered in the statement that revolution is jolly good theatre.

[2] The point may be illustrated by reference to the euphoria of May ’68 - that revolution without causes whose ostensible aim was the ‘abolition of capitalist society’. Jean-Paul Sartre experienced the events as a Ptolemaic thinker, idolizing Daniel Cohen-Bendit with the words: ‘Something has come forth from you that is astonishing and overwhelming. It defies everything that our society, as it is today, has done. It is what I will call the ‘extension of the limits of the possible’. Do not renounce it’ (Time Magazine, May 31, 1968, p. 35).

[3] Minogue describes the ‘formal centre of ideological understanding’ to be ‘that the evils of life are not . . . part of an immemorial human condition which it is beyond human power to change, or a set of problems to each of which a specific solution may be hazarded . . . but that they are part of a single system of dehumanization which determines everything that happens, and which cannot be changed except by a complete transformation’. He states that revolutionary ideology is an ‘inspirational message revealing the hidden and saving truth about the evils of the world’. Its essence lies in struggle revolving about the polarity of oppression and liberation. This polarity is total because it exhausts the totality of meaning. Revolution is the event that abolishes oppressors and the oppressed, and confers a new identity as whole human beings. Kenneth Minogue, Alien Powers: The Pure Theory of Ideology (New York: St Martin’s Press, 1985), 2-5.

[4] Hans Jonas, The Gnostic Religion, and Ralph Metzner, Ten Classical Metaphors for Self-Transformation, Journal of Transpersonal Psychology 12 (1980), 47-62. The core of self-transformation is the release of the soul from entrapment or confinement to an open space dominated by the self--a classic expression of the depressive symptom.

[5] The incidence of depression does of course vary among populations. It is worth noting that one highly integrated community, the Amish of central Pennsylvania, have a high incidence of depression (experience of alienation) because a genetic deficiency that is expressed as depression is heightened by inbreeding.

[6] This view was once commonplace among historians and progressives, who believed that a secular society was neither possible nor desirable. The links between religion and revolution were thoroughly documented by 1900. The documentation has continued in the post-war period; see especially B. Lincoln, ed., Religion, Rebellion and Revolution (London: Macmillan 1985) and Vittorio Lanternari, The Religions of the Oppressed: A Study of Modern Messianic Cults (New York: Knopf, 1963). For a discussion of the historical debate on the subject, see Clarke Garrett, Respectable Folly: Millenarianism and the French Revolution in France and England (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1975), pp. 1-9

[7] Bernard Yack, The Longing for Total Revolution (New Haven: Yale University Press), 17.

[8] Minogue is among the many who recognize the ‘morbid introspection’ of the revolutionary consciousness, but owing perhaps to the tabu among historians upon using the results of psychology for interpreting the human psyche, he abstains from discussing the clinical syndrome or using its name. ÑIn a revealing book on the mood states of sociological writing, Harry Liebersohn detected the ‘tragic’ perspective on modern society in the works of Tšnnies, Troeltsche, Weber, and Simmel, which he traces to a sense of fate (Fate and Utopia in German Sociology, Cambridge: MIT Press, 1988). Many names might be added to Liebersohn’s list.

[9] Revolutionary consciousness is often dogged by the anxiety that it may be reactionary. Socialism, for example, grew directly from French revolutionary longings to restore the virtuous republic of antiquity, or else as in England from the political extension of Christian charity (Godwin). Marx and Engels were well aware of this heritage. In the Communist Manifesto, they deride all previous socialisms and communisms as reactionary and ridicule socialist ideals expressed in the New Harmony movement as ‘pocket editions of New Jerusalem . . . by degrees they sink into the category of the reactionary conservative Socialists depicted above differing from them only by more systematic pedantry and by their fanatical and superstitious belief in the miraculous effects of their social science.’ See Dirk J. Struik, Birth of the Communist Manifesto, 147-49. This was Marx’s consistent view, which controlled his opposition to socialist parties that claimed to adhere to his doctrine. Of the socialist tradition, he wrote to César de Paepe 18th Sept 1870 (Werke vol.33, p. 147) that ‘the tragedy of the French, and of the working class as a whole, is they are caught up in their memories of a momentous past. Events must put an end, once and for all, to this reactionary cult of the past.’

[10] Among the noteworthy recent studies in this vein are Jeffrey C. Alexander’s edited volume, Durkheimian Sociology: Cultural Studies (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988). The authors hold fast to the data relating the sacred, collective experience, and peak emotions, but in doing so are obliged (like Durkheim himself) to recognize that the behavior occurring at this intersection of experience is frequently a scandal to morals or even murderous. Indeed the peak collective experience is regularly the means of transforming the idée homicide into a moral imperative, as the French leaders and crowd did at the guillotine. Where Durkheim fails the interpretative schema, Freud is sent to the rescue. See René Girard, Violence and the Sacred, and Stan Wilentz, Rites of Power (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985).

[11] For a systematic exposition, see IrenŠus Eibl-Eibesfeldt, Human Ethology (Chicago: Aldine 1988); a bibliography of the field will be found in Hiram Caton, Frank K. Salter, J.M.G. van der Dennen, A Bibliography of Human Behavior, Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1993. For a résumé of biological approaches to aesthetics, see Frederick Turner, Kalogenetics: Bibliographical Notes on Recent Developments in the Scientific Study of Esthetics, Journal of Social and Biological Structures 8 (1985), 367-389.

[12] Joseph Campbell, The Masks of God: Primitive Mythology (New York: Penguin, 1969),56f See also Piero Camporesi, The Body and the Cosmos: Natural Symbols in Medieval and Early Modern Italy (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1991).

[13] See Ekkehard Kaemmerling, ed., Ikonographie und Ikonologie: Theorien-Entwicklung-Probleme, Cologne: Dumont, 1979.

[14] Uwe Schultz’s edited volume Das Fest: Eine Kulturgeschichte von der Antike bis zur Gegenwart (Munich: Beck, 1988) presents cross-cultural descriptions of festivals from the Opet Feast (Egypt, 2000 B.C.) to Woodstock. Common features of festivals according to this volume are the presentation of status, including especially the dominant group, self-dramatization, and crowd bonding. The authors emphasize the connection between theatre and festival. See also Gerd-Klaus Kaltenbrunner, Grund zum Feiern: Abschaffung und Wiederkehr der Feste (Freiburg: Herder, 1981).

[15] By Lauro e Gagliari, c. 1656. Museo de Roma.

[16] By Denis van Alsloot, Flemish. 1616. Victoria and Albert Museum.

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