According to the internet revolution is an act of overthrowing the currently effective rule. The word itself, implies that the circle is completed, which is rather returning back to the initial state than initializing a new state.

I've been informed that the current meaning of revolution (i.e. out with old, in with new) originates in the French revolution of 1789.

While I can accept the above, I'm curious why the concurrent philosophers chose such an, in retrospective, misleading and poorly corresponding nomenclature.

  • I'm not going to submit an answer, because I couldn't find any solid answers. But my guess would be that the term probably was used initially to refer to some sense of a "restoration of divine order", because the first revolutions were against absolute monarchs whose excesses were seen as destabilizing of this order, replacing these despots with "just" kings, rather than like modern revolutions based on creating some new form of political system. So the "return back to the initial state" would be seen as restoring a monarchy to some form of just rule. But again, that's only a guess on my part. – J. Taylor Mar 26 '18 at 16:55
  • Don't let the guys handing out anarchist pamphlets at the student union get started on this one. – choster Mar 26 '18 at 16:55
  • @J.Taylor I see where you come from but I'm not entirely convinced. As far I understand, the first period when revolution's been used in the modern sense was due to the French dito and that thingy introduced the concept of equal right (men, white etc. but still), democratic idea and elective rulers (as opposed to the power transfer by birth of by Godly will). I'm not claiming that you're mistaken as you definitely make a compelling argument but I'd love to see a rigid reference to a source. Regrettable that you haven't found one. – Konrad Viltersten Mar 26 '18 at 17:03
  • The etymology in the full (subscription-only) OED for the relevant "root" word revolt says Middle French revolte (French révolte ) act of uprising against established authority (1501), apostasy (1564) < révolter revolt v. Compare Catalan revolta act of turning back, act of uprising (both 15th cent.), Spanish revuelta (14th cent. or earlier), Portuguese revolta (13th cent. as reuolta ), Italian rivolta act of turning again or back (1374), act of uprising (1540). I don't see any special reason to extrapolate the sense of turning (180°? 360°?) in a circle for this usage. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Mar 26 '18 at 17:24
  • Makes total sense to me. "The more things change, the more they stay the same." Or, as The Who once famously sang: Meet the new boss / Same as the old boss. – J.R. Mar 26 '18 at 17:36

According to etymonline, The meaning of "a great change" dates from the 15th century, only 100 years after its earliest use referring to the motion of a planet around the sky.

The political sense was first applied to the overthrow of James II and his replacement with Mary and her Husband William III, now called the "Golden Revolution" (it was done without major bloodshed)

It is reasonable to suppose that the link from the meaning "orbit of a planet" to "great change in affairs" is astrological. The supposition is that when a planet completes an orbit, there will be a great change.

  • I think the term can be traced to Fortune's Wheel. We have Lydgate in 1425 using the term to mean reversal or overturning of the status quo: Fortune..Þoruȝ her envious disposicioun Of sodeyn chaunge and reuolucioun..wil nat bide whan a þing is wele. Per the MED. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Mar 26 '18 at 17:57
  • A good find, and the wheel of fortune is linked to the the zodiac – James K Mar 26 '18 at 19:04

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