Complacent revolutionaries

If you think “complacent revolutionary” is a contradiction in terms, you must either be outside the world of the professional class — or you must yourself be a complacent revolutionary.

Here’s how it goes: privileged, meek, conformist people are taught by authority (the same authorities, by the way — elite universities, news organization and corporations — who have always been the foremost perpetrators of oppression) to think of themselves as radicals and to perform the role of revolutionary when revolutionary performance seems appropriate and seem likely to win approval. So, they’ll loudly call for the complete dismantlement of this oppressive system — a system, which, unfortunately, provides them the comfortable life they enjoy.

It is hopelessly corrupt! Reform? Bah! That’s weak sauce. Nothing less that dismantlement and replacement will do!

But, weirdly, the system itself dumps huge quantities of cash into these revolutionary efforts. Universities establish programs to encourage overturning, presumably of themselves. Corporations make revolutionary theorizing nearly mandatory. They loudly support openly Marxist organizations that claim to seek destruction of capitalism. The louder your revolutionary talk the more approving pats on the head a revolutionary activist can expect to receive from the powers that be. Lucrative and prestigious careers are made preaching revolution against the very funding sources that pay the revolutionaries’ salaries.

Of course, nobody in this system really wants change. Things are comfortable.

Revolutionary self-images, revolutionary gestures and revolutionary talk are just opiates to sooth the consciences of those who belong to an order that they know is corrupt, self -serving and exploitative of their social inferiors, but which is the foundation of their own prosperity and comfort.

Attempting to reform this order, by reforming particular organizations in concrete ways would actually risk their position in the order. And succeeding at reform would actually divert resources and prestige away from themselves. Funds will be diverted from the pseudo-revolutionary programs that write their paychecks and give them a reasonably bearable career and a position of moral authority in the culture. Because, in fact these revolutionaries actually get an extra scoop of benefit in this exploitative system — and they are the last to want to overthrow it.

And of course, this is the whole point of it all.

By disdaining substantial reform and holding out for a dismantlement that nobody really wants, the complacent revolutionary can dissociate from the system that sustains their way of life while continuing to enjoy all its benefits, feel moral superiority over those who favor reformist half-measures and reject their “radical” views, and enjoy simultaneously mainstream and countercultural authority without a twinge of hypocrisy.


When marginalization, disprivilege and oppression become a valuable commodity, it will be bought up and appropriated by the rich and powerful, and doled out to those who faithfully serve them.

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