David V. Johnson in Dissent:
The rhetoric of revolution is in the air. Democratic socialist Senator Bernie Sanders launched an impressive bid for the Democratic presidential nomination on a call for “political revolution” and, since conceding the nomination to Hillary Clinton, has redirected his campaign into a permanent organization under the same banner. Donald Trump succeeded in his insurgent campaign for the GOP nomination by tapping populist anger against Washington’s corrupt establishment. In Europe, far-right and -left parties have scored eye-opening wins in the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Hungary, and Greece, and threaten to shred the fabric of the European Union and even some of its member states.
But all movements for revolutionary change inevitably confront the challenge of navigating (or disrupting) the institutions in which day-to-day politics is housed. Calls to end austerity, reform immigration, overhaul campaign finance, or correct massive inequality ultimately end up in the legislatures, executives, and courts. Radicals may seek to smash such institutions, but if they gain power, they face the Herculean task of building new ones.
The problem with revolutionary politics, in short, is that it tends to be naïve about political institutions. I can recommend no better corrective than liberal political philosopher Jeremy Waldron, and no better introduction to his thinking than his recently published collection of essays, Political Political Theory.