In our penultimate lecture, Professor Keith Peterson, an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Colby, spoke on modernity and feminist philosophy. Although at times dense, and somewhat intimidating due to (maybe my poor understanding of philosophy) the complexity of his work, Professor Peterson addressed an issue that had yet to truly be brought up in the previous ten weeks – why do we want to be revolutionary, if at all?
Professor Peterson specifies that differentiating oneself qualifies as being revolutionary, and that often, modern revolutions create cultural divides. However, he also noted that, why are we able to credit our work as “revolutionary?” (Our, being the preceding Americans and global citizens). Professor Peterson raises an important question that we have not really explored, and that often goes unnoticed in our daily lives and in discussion? What justifies past Revolutions as actually being revolutionary, and does it matter whether or not they were revolutionary? This discussion is quite relevant and reminiscent to an ongoing conversation, related to President Trump. Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again,” received backlash (for a slew of reasons, but I’ll only focus on two) throughout his campaign, for why is America not great now? American patriots and “country lovers” fought this statement, for it assumes that the people existing in it currently do not make it great. However, the greater backlash, particularly from communities who did not support President-elect Trump, resulted from the claim that “America was never great.” While of course extremely subjective, this claim falls in line with Professor Peterson’s question of whether or not “revolutions” in the past were even revolutionary? Under whose authority can we deem past revolutions as revolutions, and from whose perspective was America great? In the American revolution, European settlers arrived in the United States, free from British rule and able to create their own nation! How glorious! However, how can we immediately forget the native populations that were displaced, wronged, and even killed in the process? Is it likely these populations existing today excitingly and willfully refer to this period as “The Great American Revolution” as it is so popularly romanticized today? Similarly, do minority groups of African Americans, gays, Jews, and a number of others look to previous times in supposedly prosperous America (think late 1800’s, mid 1900’s) as America being a “great” nation? To whom was America great, and does this phrase truly deserve its place in our society today? Professor Peterson’s lecture was so valuable because it gave a perspective revolving around modernity, one that is rarely placed on the word “revolution.” This modern perspective is so important as it is impossible to understand 1776 America the same way as 2016 America, with completely different populations, standards, and even shifting values. Whose America is it, and where does revolution fit in? This is of course a question with an ever-changing answer, one that will really never have a specific answer due to varying perspectives. However, it is a question we must keep in mind when understanding revolution and subjectivity.