University of Virginia Library

Search this document 
Dictionary of the History of Ideas

Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas

expand sectionV. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionVII. 
expand sectionVII. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionII. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionII. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionVII. 
expand sectionVII. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionVII. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionIV. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionIV. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionII. 
expand sectionII. 
expand sectionII. 
expand sectionVII. 
expand sectionIV. 
expand sectionIV. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
collapse sectionV. 


The relationship between ideas and protest in history
has always been complex. Before modern times most
protest ideologies were religious and few were
specifically intended for social protest; this suggests
already the common distinction between the griev-
ances that caused popular unrest and the ideologies
that might be invoked by it. In modern times, the rise
of explicit protest ideologies compounds the interpre-
tive problem in many ways, for it becomes deceptively
easy to assume that actual protest was caused by what
ideologists said it was caused by, and intended what
they said it intended. The leading question, then, is
always the causal relationship between ideas and pro-
test. This should lead to tests of the extent to which
ideas had filtered down to popular levels and of the
links between protesting intellectuals and other groups.

Relatedly, the more elaborate forms of protest re-
quired organization. Protest ideas and intellectual
leaders could help shape such organization, but the
requirements of effective organization could force
ideological compromises, even radical distortions, as
well. The evolution of protest movements, quite obvi-
ously, has more often been an accommodation of ideas
to the demands of constituents and of organization than
an application of any undiluted ideology. Skepticism
is a prerequisite for a study of ideas and protest:
protesters might seize on ideas despite intentions dia-
metrically opposed to these ideas; clearly enunciated
protest ideas might have no impact on actual protest;
ideas initially important in protest, to which lip service
might even later be paid, might decline in actual im-
pact surprisingly rapidly. On the other hand, a wide
variety of ideas has undeniably played a role in many
forms of protest.

Until the late eighteenth century, religion was almost
always the link between formal ideas and popular
social and political protest. European aristocrats and,
frequently, town burghers had a sense of local rights
and status that could be used to justify protest, or even
rebellion, against the growing powers of central rulers,
but until the rise of liberalism political theory offered
scant support for their efforts. For the sporadic protests
of the common people, which became an important
part of European history from at least the fourteenth
century onward, specifically political ideas had even
less relevance. Religion was the only formal system of
ideas that had any hold on the common people, and
a protest ideology before 1789 meant either the
theories of a sectarian Christian leader or the common
man's interpretation of Christianity's social message.

Christianity could serve as a vehicle for social protest
for a variety of reasons. Like any effective protest
ideology, it could combine bitter denunciation of the
present order and belief that a better way, even a
utopia, could be found for the future; and it could
overlay these with deep emotion and a passionate
confidence that could sustain leaders and inspire fol-
lowers as well. The egalitarian message of gospel
Christianity recurred in many types of protests, from
the peasant jacqueries of the late Middle Ages, through
the Levellers and Diggers of the English Civil War,
to the late nineteenth-century peasant uprisings in
southern Europe. The common people now and again
claimed in violent uprisings that Christ had condemned
the rich and preached the sharing of goods. The Church
itself was a frequent object of attack for its opulence
and the worldliness of its clergy. The major heresies
from the Albigensian movement to the Reformation,
with their appeals to a purer Christianity and their
attacks on the corruption of the present order, were
to a significant extent embodiments of social protest
by the common people. More rarely, under impas-
sioned leadership, limited popular protest could invoke
not only the Christian social gospel, not only anti-
clericalism, but also the desire to set up a separate
community of the pure, free from the religious as well
as the social inadequacies of the outside world. This
was the impulse behind the Anabaptists in the sixteenth
century and, to an extent, the most revolutionary
groups in the English Civil War.

Christianity as a protest ideology differed in many
ways from the protest ideologies of the last two
centuries. The Christian churches, including all the
major Protestant sects, were set against protest. The
Christian message to the common people, with its focus
on heavenly rewards, lulled discontent more often than
it inflamed it. This ambiguity with regard to protest
has some parallels in modern ideologies; socialism, for
example, quickly developed an institutional outlook
that discouraged violent protest. We may have wit-
nessed, in the student rebellions of the 1960's, one of
the first of many rebellions in the name of socialist
purity, apart from or even against organized socialism.
But it is too soon to say if the parallel will expand;
the modern ideologies, even when institutionalized,
have been far more tolerant of protest and of social
change than was institutional Christianity. Christianity
as an ideology of protest, though well suited to this
role in many ways, was a deviation from the religious
mainstream and a recurrent rather than persistent
force. Christian protest also looked backward rather
than forward. It stressed that the present had fallen
away from past standards and strove for a better future
that would restore these standards at least in earthly
society. Lower-class protest that used Christian ideas
was also apolitical, in the usual sense of this term. It
might seek major change in the most relevant local
political relationships, those between lord and serf; but


it did not specifically discuss alterations in political
structure, and its participants typically venerated the
central ruler. Only with Protestantism did Christianity
become clearly relevant to violent protest over consti-
tutional issues, particularly in seventeenth-century
England. Even then, the rebels most impelled by
Christian concerns (and many in the lower classes),
were more intent on religious purity and social justice
than on changes in the position of Parliament and the
courts. Christian protest typically tried to ignore the
state rather than to alter it.

From the Enlightenment on, the principal ideologies
of protest were non-Christian and often explicitly anti-
Christian. Liberalism, radicalism, and socialism differed
in crucial respects but, as protest ideologies, had im-
portant points in common. They were vigorously po-
litical, seeing changes in the organization and control
of the state as the basis for achieving social justice;
only a few Enlightenment-derived ideologies, such as
syndicalism, dissented from this view. They were
avowedly progressive and spent little time measuring
the present by the past. Often, as in Marxist socialism,
the existing order was admitted to be in many ways
an improvement over the past. Their main point was
that an unprecedentedly good society could be built
in the future, and of course on this earth. The new
ideologies also countenanced protest directly, even
urged it in many circumstances; they were, at least
in the early stages of their existence, truly protest
ideologies and did not have to be reinterpreted or taken
out of the mainstream to be used as such.

Furthermore, the new ideologies depended heavily
on formal intellectuals not only for their articulation
but also for their adaptation to actual protest efforts.
This was part of the broader transition from Christian
to secular culture and helps explain the extraordinary
proliferation of protest ideas. Intellectuals, no longer
priests, lost their traditional channel of communication
within the larger society. Books written for sale to the
public and leadership of political movements—both
ways of using ideas to stir protest—became the new
channels for intellectuals. In many ways they were less
satisfactory channels than religion had been, for they
long continued to be weaker organizationally than the
churches and narrower than religion in emotional
commitment, and hence less effective in reaching ei-
ther the mass of the people or the wielders of power.
Intellectuals therefore moved to spread political
awareness and build massive organizations out of pro-
test movements. Their concern about their status and
their relationship with society frequently became in
itself a motive for protest. This meant that protesting
intellectuals were not moved by their ideas alone and
that leaders of quite different, even opposing, protest
movements might be concerned about similar problems
in their role as intellectuals. It meant also that intellec-
tuals were often more aggrieved than other groups and
might misinterpret broader protest movements.

Because of the changes in the content of protest
ideologies and in the position of their advocates, the
function of ideas in protest changed and increased as
well. The sheer expansion of protest ideas and ideolo-
gists, clearly related to a rising tide of actual unrest,
was as important as the new stress on secular progress.
The first new functional connection between ideas and
protest was at the level of leadership. From the ranks
of intellectuals or their immediate adherents, the self-
proclaimed advocate of protest emerged for the first
time. At an extreme, the professional revolutionary
came from this environment, armed in some cases with
devotion to disorder and little else. Filippo Michele
Buonarroti and, even more, Louis-Auguste Blanqui
preached revolution for revolution's sake, with only
the vaguest suggestion of the social and political justice
that would ensue. Theirs was a minimal ideology which
won few followers. It proved impossible to foment
revolution so directly, and only in the Paris Commune
did the pure revolutionaries play much role even in
a movement not of their making. But the revolu-
tionaries' organizational notions, particularly their
stress upon a strict hierarchy descending from central
control to small local unit, and something of their spirit
influenced more elaborate protest ideologies and more
successful leaders.

There were also signs that ideas were becoming
increasingly involved in popular protest, a natural
result of the radical intellectuals' efforts to be relevant
and of the unrest caused by population growth and
industrialization. Every modern revolution involved
one or more ideologies, of course. There was in fact
something of an ideological buildup before each revo-
lution. This consisted of an increased outpouring of
dissenting ideas and a growing diversity in the ideas
themselves, resulting from a new or newly-important
left wing. The proliferation of political tracts which
were increasingly specific in content, and the birth of
socialist theory helped prepare the French Revolution
of 1789. Histories of this revolution, stressing its liberal
or radical or socialist legacy, combined with rising
agitation in the press and pamphlets to set the stage
for the revolutions of 1830 and 1848. Ideas helped spur
leaders like Louis Adolphe Thiers and A. M. L. de
Lamartine. They provided goals, or at least slogans,
for supporters of a revolution and for actual rioters,
though by 1848 at least the multiplicity of ideologies
helped divide the revolutionary ranks and set one
group against another.

Dissemination of ideas before a revolution also
helped create organizations capable of taking charge of
the revolutionary effort once it began. Groups like the


Masons, and even simple reading societies that formed
initially to discuss ideas and circulate tracts, often in
secret, developed revolutionary cadres in western and
southern Europe in the late eighteenth and early nine-
teenth centuries, and in the Balkans later on. Efforts
by a regime to stifle the effervescence of ideas could,
finally, trigger the revolution itself. New censorship
laws set off the French revolution of 1830, while the
Austrian government's restrictions on intellectual life
created the student revolutionaries of 1848.

Ideologies played an increasing role in protests that
fell short of revolution. There had always been, and
continued to be, lower-class agitation without any
connection with formal doctrine. Bread riots, banditry,
theater riots, and the like were directed at specific
targets and needed no larger goals; or at most they
expressed a traditional belief in natural justice and a
hatred of the rich, related perhaps to the radical Chris-
tian social ethic but long since separated from any
reasoned theories. In the nineteenth century, however,
traditional rioting declined, partly because elements
of the lower classes gained a new contentment, but
also because better-organized outlets developed. For
workingmen, strikes became the chief form of protest.
They were often conducted, with or without a formal
organization, for purely bread-and-butter goals; orga-
nizations like the practical New Model Unions in
Britain might have no ideological motivation, but
strikes did teach workers that they needed organization
and could make doctrines of class warfare seem appro-
priate. Socialist and syndicalist leaders had growing
contacts with ordinary workers, and persuaded many
of them of the importance of ideas. From about 1900
strikes for ideological goals became more common;
even before, the leading labor organizations had been
ideologically inspired. Rioting, though at lower levels
than before the industrial revolution, precisely because
it was seldom appropriate for expressing large goals,
also came under the influence of ideas. Not only social-
ists but also nationalists and anti-Semites were able to
call forth riots by the later nineteenth century. Finally,
protest voting added a new dimension to lower-class
agitation and was surely open to ideological direction.

The growing connections between protest ideas and
protest movements developed partly because of the
growing experience of the lower classes and their
exposure to new conditions in the cities and in industry.
Rising literacy and new freedoms of the press and of
association obviously aided the process. But the vigor-
ous efforts of the propagandists themselves played a
vital role. Hence eastern and southern Europe, though
far behind the West in industry, literacy, and civil
rights, by the end of the nineteenth century matched
or surpassed the West in the extent and ideological
fervor of protest. Under the impact of agrarian social-
ism or of nationalism many east European peasants
gained real political awareness before their French or
German counterparts did. More generally, the various
ideas of protest moved the lower classes on the south-
ern and eastern fringes of Europe to a revolutionary
excitement. The same groups in the West in a com-
parable early stage of industrialization never achieved
such intensity because the link between ideas and
protest had not been completed. Here is a clear indica-
tion both of the importance of ideas in altering protest
patterns and of the problems in spreading protest ideas.

Beneath the broad patterns of modern protest
movements, the role as well as the specific content of
the leading ideologies varied greatly. The multiplicity
of protest ideas was itself an important new develop-
ment, and its products require a brief description in
terms of the history of protest. There was a fairly clear
chronological progression from one group of ideologies
to the next, in the nineteenth and early twentieth
centuries, though most of the significant ideologies had
been sketched by 1850, in the extraordinary exploration
of the social systems suggested by the Enlightenment
and the French Revolution. There was no necessary
connection between the birth of an ideology and a real
protest movement. Utopian socialism, for example, has
little importance in the history of European protest,
though it looms large in the evolution of social thought.
The Owenites in Britain briefly attracted a following;
Parisian artisans were aware of some slogans from
Louis Blanc's writings, but probably of little more.
Many utopian socialists spent more time appealing to
industrialists than to workers, but even those who went
to the factories found few supporters. Socially-radical,
lower-class protest had long existed, but it became
open to ideologies only in the late nineteenth century,
when it produced the second stage of modern protest

Liberalism and radicalism were the first significant
ideologies of protest, partly because both could appeal
to rising middle-class elements, capable of sensing and
expressing grievances, and yet not close the door to
lower-class participation. Liberals wanted specific re-
forms in law and the economy; furthermore, their
demands for parliaments and extensions of the suffrage
implied an overturning of the ruling class that could
be genuinely revolutionary. On the other hand, liber-
alism as a protest ideology had a number of crucial
weaknesses. Liberals disliked disorder and violence,
preferring evolutionary reform, partly because of their
ideas and partly because most of them were comfort-
able property-owners. Hence liberals started very few
violent protests; more often they were in the position
of countenancing a protest already under way and were


trying to pick up the pieces to their own benefit and
that of public order. Hence, liberal revolutions almost
always failed, for liberals lacked the toughness of spirit
and authoritarian stamp to carry them through.

Two other ideologies supplemented liberalism in the
first half of the nineteenth century, however, and gave
it more muscle. Radicalism—a vague designation for
a number of movements—preached more vigorous
methods, such as massive demonstrations. It drew into
its own organizations some elements of the most dis-
contented lower classes, particularly the artisans. And
in preaching democracy, with a hint often of social
reform, radicals sought far more sweeping change than
did liberals. From the Jacobins through the democrats
of 1848 (including the Chartists) radicals played a vital
role in political rioting and revolutions; if they lacked
a single or elaborate ideology, they were clearly moved
by ideas.

Political nationalism also spurred agitation, particu-
larly in areas under foreign rule. Nationalism did not
significantly touch the lower classes before the later
nineteenth century; but it could unite the upper classes,
including aristocrats, and move them to direct violence
as liberalism never could. This was the vital ingredient
of all those “revolutions” that were primarily patriotic
wars, from Belgium and Poland in 1830 to Italy and
Hungary in 1848.

The first set of radical ideologies had practically
burned itself out by 1848. Nationalism was to inspire
new protest at the end of the century, but this was
a distinct movement under a different nationalist ide-
ology. Only the nationalist wars of the 1860's, which
captured or transformed some of the motives and vio-
lence of social protest, served as a partial transition.
For liberals and many radicals, direct protest had
proved ineffective and sufficient gains had been won
to permit work through the existing order. Only a few
groups in the radical tradition, particularly in France
and Italy, were dissatisfied with the new parliamentary
system and turned to socialism to express their discon-
tent in voting, changing the nature of socialism some-
what in the process.

There were three clusters of protest ideologies from
the later nineteenth century onward: socialism-com-
munism, radical nationalism-fascism, and anarchism-
syndicalism—a trio considerably more diverse than
that of the earlier period. All, however, tried to
reach the masses directly. All carried a social message
which, with the partial exception of fascism, out-
weighed political demands. All preached violence at
least at some point, and all paid considerable attention
to the methods and organization of protest. All
reflected, then, the shift from the middle to the working
classes as the most numerous and persistent constituents
of a protest movement (though the fascists countered
by playing on new middle-class grievances) and the
related preeminence of social issues. All recognized the
difficulties of revolution against an industrial state;
hence the concern for tactics which ranged from
assassination through small-scale gang violence to gen-
eral strikes and protest voting. And, in fact, none of
the new protest ideologies produced a true revolution
in an industrial country, though they may be said to
have produced revolutionary change by other means.

Socialism most resembled the liberal-radical ideolo-
gies of previous decades, though it battled them in
theory. It was progressive, rational, and political. As
a result, like liberalism, it rather rapidly turned away
from protest to evolutionary reform. This process
dissatisfied the guardians of the revolutionary socialist
ideas and led to many divisions, including the com-
munist spin-off in the 1920's; but communism itself
underwent a similar process within twenty years, if not
in accepting piecemeal reforms alone, at least in
renouncing revolution in favor of political action.
Broadly speaking, three factors turned socialism and
ultimately communism from persistent protest even
when a theoretical commitment to agitation was
maintained. The constituency of the movement, pri-
marily the working classes, was interested in sweeping
rebellion only in the now rare years of economic
misery; ordinarily it expected limited but rapid gains
from the socialists. A minority wanted more, and so-
cialist theorists talked about the importance of the
minority as the vanguard of the proletariat; but they
could not resist recruiting a broader following, and
everywhere, this forced them to greater moderation,
by requiring pragmatic compromises in order to win
votes, and by opening the possibility of real if limited
power and achievement through parliamentary posi-
tion. The socialists' commitment to politics also dulled
the edge of protest. Finally, learning both from Marx
and from the necessities of resisting an initially hostile
society, socialists and later communists stressed strong
organizations. Initially designed as a basis for protest,
the organizations rapidly asserted their own impera-
tives, requiring administrators rather than idealists,
routine and accommodation rather than revolutionary
zeal; their very existence gave leaders and members
a stake in the existing order. Only where repression
inhibited the development of extensive organization
did socialism remain a revolutionary force in Europe.
Elsewhere the ideological impetus in socialism de-
clined, as it had earlier in liberalism, in part because
of the orientation of the original ideas themselves.

Anarchism and syndicalism, hostile to any kind of
extensive organization from the state down, avoided
the perils of bureaucracy, but at the price of effective


action. Theirs were the most radical protest doctrines
developed in the modern era, for they rejected the
whole direction of industrial society, and often urged
individual and collective violence virtually for its own
sake. They appealed particularly to artisans and peas-
ants in areas where industrialization was just beginning
to take hold; Andalusian anarchism was in fact the first
non-Christian ideological current involved in rural
protest. Neither anarchism nor syndicalism had a long
life outside Spain, for they could not marshal enough
force to accompany their goals. The glorification of
violence lived on in fascism, however, which also
picked up many of the vague currents of late nine-
teenth-century nationalist protest. Ideas of racial pu-
rity, national strength, authoritarian leadership, and
social harmony, directed against both capitalism and
the labor movement, had already spurred unrest before
World War I. Until the 1890's, sporadic rioting was
the most tangible result of these ideas but thereafter
tentative approaches were made toward the protest
methods of the fascists themselves: organized but
selective violence by special shock troops combined
with protest voting. Anti-Semites in Germany and
Austria developed the latter while the Action française
stressed the former. It remained for the fascists and
Nazis to combine the methods. Fascism must be ranked
as one of the most effective of all protest ideologies,
for it attracted many groups that prided themselves
on their respectability and had hitherto shunned any
form of protest. It did this with a deliberately vague
set of ideas that combined a radical attack on modern
society from ethics to economics, a high level of emo-
tion, and unprecedented attention to tactics and to

Growing diversity of protest ideas and the groups
to which they appealed, increasing radicalism, and
explicit focus on the act of protest itself, until the
ultimate absurdity of fascism in which ideas scarcely
veiled the quest for power—these elements could pro-
vide a dramatic ending to an essay on ideas and protest,
but it would be an inaccurate one. A number of prob-
lems must still be raised, not the least of which is the
question of what has happened since the salad days
of the second generation of modern protest ideologies
just described. This relates to more basic questions
about the historic role and novelty of modern protest

A description of modern protest ideologies, following
comments on Christianity in protest, inevitably sug-
gests sharp differences between modern and pre-
modern situations. Recent students of protest have
noted a break, sometime during the nineteenth century,
between modern and pre-modern (or industrial and
pre-industrial) protest that is clearly linked to the
ideological change. Protest turns to demands for new
rights instead of claims for past ones, a reflection of
the idea of progress; forms of protest change, as from
riots to strikes, due among other things to the new
attention to protest tactics and organizations. Appeal-
ing as a division into modern and pre-modern may be,
however, it must be challenged at this point, above
all, because it takes the content of modern protest
ideologies too literally. The actual relationship of
ideologies to protest changed, but less rapidly, com-
pletely, or obviously than the ideologies themselves.

There was a lag between the new ideas and popular
attitudes. Christianity continued to express protest
directly. Conversions to a more rigorous religion
reflected intense social grievance at least through the
nineteenth century; one need only cite the spread of
Methodism among the British lower classes or the
adhesion of several million Russian peasants to the Old
Believers. In these cases religion expressed discontent
but deflected or delayed active protest. But in the
mid-nineteenth century, the Lazzarretti in Italy re-
vived the gospels' social message for direct protest,
while peasant rioters in southern Italy and southern
Spain clearly thought in terms of Christian justice,
although this moved them to attack the Church among
other things. The lower-class religions were ultimately
a major source of British socialism. Beyond these direct
connections, many ostensibly secular protest move-
ments maintained or developed a significant religious
tone. Early in the nineteenth century many liberal or
radical groups and many labor organizations claimed
religious inspiration and conducted elaborate, church-
like rituals. In southern Italy the leaders of the
Carbonari were convinced liberals or democrats, but
many ordinary members were drawn primarily by the
secret rites; and the whole organization claimed
derivation from Jesus Christ.

The transition from “religious” to “modern” protest
was not sudden, but it is true that appeals to religious
inspiration and mystical rituals faded as the new protest
ideologies gained greater hold. More important for
interpretive purposes are the similar characteristics of
Christian and modern ideologies in protest. The
similarities exist for two reasons. First, the attitudes
of the constituents of modern protest movements were
not completely transformed. Many protesters, like the
avid German artisan-socialists of the 1890's who really
hoped for a return to an older economy, did not take
their ideologies at face value; they sought, in their
protest movements, traditional as well as novel satis-
factions. The conversion of workers from Christianity
to socialism or communism was a genuine change, but
it was also a transference of durable sentiments: hope
for a glorious if remote future, desire for authoritative


doctrine and guidance, and so on. Hence the most
rigorous socialism or communism often spread in tra-
ditionally religious areas.

In many cases traditionalism among ordinary partic-
ipants and within the forms if not the ideas of a protest
movement long reinforced each other. Beyond this,
ideas, whatever their content, must perform several
broadly common functions whenever they are success-
fully involved in a protest movement. Whether Chris-
tian or secular, they must vigorously condemn the
existing order; more people will be drawn to them on
this basis than on any other. They must at least suggest
dramatic tactics for overthrowing the existing system;
and of course Marxism like Christianity adds a sugges-
tion of inevitability as well, merely by replacing the
hand of God with the hand of history. The protest
ideology must offer some promise of a more perfect
future society. To be successful, it must appeal to a
variety of social groups and personality types. It needs
to attract people willing to engage in violence, at least
when particularly aroused. It must inspire a leadership
willing to make sacrifices for the cause. Leaders of the
modern protest ideologies displayed not only a fervor
similar to that of dissident Christians, but frequently
a comparable moral strictness, a desire for purity in
their own lives and in society at large. Protest ideolo-
gies reflect and promote such moral sense; successful
modern revolutions, like major religious revolts, have
as a result invariably gone through a period of moral
rigor. But protest ideologies must be sufficiently inclu-
sive, indeed sufficiently vague, to enlist supporters
whose interests are practical and immediate. The need
to balance an ultimate vision with practical reforms
has increased with the secularization of popular atti-
tudes, for nothing has replaced religion as a widespread
inducement to hold out for a more perfect future.

The characteristics of protest ideology have not
completely changed; it is possible to offer a very broad
definition of its role regardless of time or place. The
needs and possibly the personality types of protest
leaders retain important common elements. So do the
varied demands of ordinary followers upon a protest
ideology. Socialism has often been termed a modern
religion, though we must repeat that, like Christianity,
institutional socialism is not necessarily a protest ideol-
ogy. The religious analogy holds for other protest ideas
as well.

The most successful of modern protest ideologies
helped reduce direct, and particularly violent, protest;
this was one of their most basic, if unexpected, contri-
butions to the character of industrial as opposed to
pre-industrial society. Their advocates helped wean the
common people from the traditional, largely sponta-
neous forms of agitation, replacing them with strikes
and political action that depend upon formal leader-
ship. As the leadership became bureaucratic and turned
from the ideological impulse, the followers could only
follow; apart from sporadic wildcat action they too
had learned that strength lay in organization. At the
same time, of course, strikes and political action won
important gains. Finally, socialism and particularly
communism created something of a separate world, in
which the most discontented could find comfort even
when the total society still seemed hostile.

The combination of doctrine, ritual, diversified group
activities, and material benefits within the socialist or
communist organization limited the sense of isolation
on which popular protest traditionally depended. The
analogy with the Christianity of the common people
is again obvious. The ideas that remake the popular
mentality may begin as a protest but they cannot stop
there; they must provide their own satisfactions, for
a protest stance is too difficult to maintain over long
periods of time.

Indeed, the currents of protest developed in the later
nineteenth century and amplified in the early twentieth
have not found successors. Syndicalism failed, fascism
was defeated by war, socialism and communism express
protest but in a limited and controlled form. We may
in the later twentieth century be witnessing a new
wave of protest, the ideological and other dimensions
of which are still unclear; but it is not certain that
the most durable of the older ideologies, now institu-
tionalized, can yet be shaken.

It may be, then, that the period of direct protest
stemming in part from the ideas derived from the
Enlightenment will turn out, in a broad historical per-
spective, to have been surprisingly short. Certainly, one
of the most decisive and novel results of the modern
protest ideologies—one which contemporary student
unrest falls far short of overturning—has been to en-
courage adaptation to modern, industrial society, not
necessarily to its precise form at any given time, but
to its broad principles. Liberals, radicals, and socialists
believed in a progress that was consistent with the
advance of industrial life. They helped teach the
benefits of material improvements. They urged
acceptance of technical change. The labor movements
particularly stressed the importance of discipline,
temperance, even family morality. They increased their
own effectiveness as a result, by improving the stability
of their constituents, but at the same time they helped
train an efficient modern work force and reduced the
multitude of individual resistances to industrial society,
ranging from idling on the job to theft and sabotage,
that suggested far more fundamental hostility to
modernity than the dictates of reason could counte-
nance. New expectations were aroused—again one of


the truly novel if painfully slow products of modern
protest movements—particularly the desire for new
levels of material well-being that was foreign to the
collective traditions of the common people, but these
expectations have been manageable within the frame-
work of industrial society.

From the early nineteenth century (and particularly
in romanticism and its successor movements), a multi-
tude of theories and theorists started with an opposition
to rationalism and went on to oppose the whole tenor
of industrial life. They logically opposed liberalism and
socialism as well. In the ideas of a Nietzsche there was
protest far more basic than anything that developed
as a protest movement. Resistance to machines and
commercialism and the corruption of parliamentary
politics—that is, a popularized version of an anti-
industrial philosophy—had potential popular appeal.
In Luddism and similar movements there had been
spontaneous protest along these lines in early industry.
Yet with one exception no anti-industrial protest
movement developed in an industrialized nation; and
that exception, Nazism in Germany, when in power
promoted further industrialization and may have
opened the way for a more thorough acceptance of
its consequences among the German people.

Aside from this, the anti-industrial philosophies
failed to make that connection with a popular constit-
uency that produces a real protest movement. They
came too late for western Europe, where adaptation
to industrial society had considerably advanced. They
failed to make full connection with the Christian im-
pulse and so lost a huge potential following. In the
intensity of their alienation their advocates failed to
organize, for they rightly sensed that this would neces-
sitate some compromise; and they often scorned the
common people anyway, which a successful protest
ideology, dependent on numbers and violence that only
the common people can produce, cannot afford to do.
Yet this current of intellectual protest has continued
in many forms in the twentieth century, winning
largely intellectual converts. In the 1890's and again
in the 1960's it won masses of students, and this could
lead to outright rioting. Yet at least until the 1960's
this current of rejection of modernity separated its
advocates from the rest of society, including potential
rebels on other grounds. This is yet another reason that
the association of ideas and protest, so vigorous in the
nineteenth century, has declined in the twentieth. One
is tempted to add that successful protest ideas and their
advocates must swim with a broader tide of social

This leads, in conclusion, to a renewed emphasis on
the fragility of the link between formal ideas and
protest. The difficulty in judging the relationship lies
in the separate strands of causality involved. The de-
velopment of protest ideas, although not independent
of economic factors, rests primarily on the inter-
pretation of previous movements of ideas by intellec-
tuals, and on their concern with their own special status
in society. Popular protest depends in its goals as well
as in its timing on economic conditions above all. In
its most elaborate expressions it rebels against the
organization and even the guiding motives of the
economy, rather than against material hardship, but
it remains dependent on economic trends.

This means that most active protests, not only those
concerned with bread-and-butter issues, have done
without formal ideas. Some have generated their own,
as Luddism did, building on conceptions based on
tradition and natural justice. It means, at the other
extreme, that many protest ideologies have never
developed into protest movements. The failure of the
Populists in Russia provides a prime example of ideas
that failed to take hold despite widespread unrest. It
means, finally, that many protest movements do not
intend what the formal ideas involved seem to intend.

Syndicalism in France developed as an ideology for
quite good intellectual and political reasons, but most
of its working-class constituents, who were really rather
moderate, never followed its precepts, for they wanted
only its guidance in practical strike tactics; in other
words, the followers needed leaders, and the most
readily available leaders were syndicalist for good
cause, but the cause did not extend to the followers.
The movement ultimately had to turn from its ideol-
ogy, but not until after almost two decades of confusion
in which it is common, but almost completely
inaccurate, to call French workers syndicalist. German
liberalism briefly, in 1848, caught the attention of an
older middle class that actually wanted above all to
resist liberal trends. These, of course, are extreme ex-
amples. But other ideologies, more in tune with the
goals of their constituents, like anarchism in Spain or
socialism in Germany, still had to be modified to adapt
more completely. Hence a successful protest ideology
leads to quite diverse protest movements in different
regions, among different social groups, even among
different personality types. Socialism among stubborn
but practical miners, to use one example, was never
the same as socialism among more visionary textile

Ideologies, then, can never fully define or describe
a protest movement. The association became particu-
larly complex during the last two centuries, when ideas
were modernized more rapidly than popular attitudes
and intellectuals were moved, whether consciously or
not, by growing uncertainty about their social role.
Historians, ostensibly intellectuals and often committed


to the ideology they study, have too often looked at
the intellectual origins of a movement and its most
formal pronouncements and left their accounts at that.
They tend to neglect the variety of interests that the
ideology served, and its emotional impact upon its
followers. They can grossly exaggerate the importance
of ideas, like the historians who correctly note the
presence of syndicalist ideas in Britain after 1910 and
the rise of labor agitation, and therefore assume with-
out further examination that syndicalism had a wide-
spread audience. Or they can take ideological fervor
too literally. Again, the approach must be skeptical,
not through denial of the vital role of ideas in many
forms of protest, but through recognition of the com-
plexity involved. The future of the study of ideas and
protest lies in the admittedly difficult examination of
the actual contacts between ideas and those who use


There are few explicit studies of the relationship between
ideas and protest. The spread of ideas before three major
revolutions has been treated in the following: Christopher
Hill, Intellectual Origins of the English Revolution (Oxford
and New York, 1965); Daniel Mornet, Les origines intellec-
tuelles de la révolution française
(Paris, 1933); Avrahm
Yarmolinsky, Road to Revolution: A Century of Russian
(New York, 1959). Correctives to the temptation
to overstress the role of ideas in the first two revolutions
are: Michael Walzer, The Revolution of the Saints; A Study
in the Origins of Radical Politics
(Cambridge, Mass., 1965;
London, 1966) and Georges Lefebvre, The French Revolu-
2 vols. (New York, 1962-64). Two treatments of the
German Revolution of 1848 suggest the difficulties of
interpreting the role of ideas: Jacques Droz, Les révolu-
tions allemandes de 1848
(Paris, 1957) stresses ideological
factors in a careful assessment, while Theodore Hamerow,
Restoration, Revolution, Reaction; Economics and Politics
in Germany, 1815-1871
(Princeton, 1958) notes that the
formal ideas involved had little to do with the motives of
most participants in the revolution. Ernst Troeltsch, Social
Teaching of the Christian Churches,
2 vols. (London, 1950)
includes a comprehensive treatment of the relationship
between Christianity and protest, both before and after
Protestantism. For medieval protest and its heritage see also
Sylvia Thrupp, ed., Millennial Dreams in Action; Essays in
Comparative Study
(The Hague, 1962). Two studies which
provide vital insights into pre-industrial protest are: George
Rudé, The Crowd in History, 1730-1848 (New York, 1964),
and Eric Hobsbawm, Primitive Rebels; Studies in Archaic
Forms of Social Movement in the Nineteenth and Twentieth
(New York, 1957). Three books on protest leaders,
of quite different sorts, contribute to an understanding of
the role of ideas in modern protest: Elizabeth L. Eisenstein,
The First Professional Revolutionist: Filippo Michele
... (Cambridge, Mass., 1959); Eric Hobsbawm,
Labouring Men; Studies in the History of Labour (New York,
1965); James Joll, The Anarchists (New York, 1964). On the
labor movement significant books are: Asa Briggs, Chartist
(London, 1959); Guenther Roth, Social Democrats
in Imperial Germany; A Study in Working Class Isolation
and National Integration
(Totowa, N.J., 1963); Gerhard
Ritter, Die Arbeiterbewegung in wilhelminischen Reich
(Berlin, 1959). Harvey Mitchell and Peter N. Stearns,
Workers and Protest (Itasca, Ill., 1971) deals with the relation-
ship between ideas and the European labor movement, and
provides a convenient bibliography. Barrington Moore, So-
cial Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy; Lord and Peas-
ant in the Making of the Modern World
(Boston, 1966) is
perhaps the most useful single book on the conditions and
nature of modern protest, though more concerned with the
impact than the process of unrest; there is an extensive
bibliography. New and rather tentative efforts to generalize
about protest attribute little importance to formal ideas,
as opposed to economic conditions and aspirations: see
Ronald G. Ridker, “Discontent and Economic Growth,”
Economic Development and Cultural Change, 15 (1962-63),
1-15; Ted Gurr, The Conditions of Civil Violence; First Tests
of a Causal Model,
Center of International Studies Research
Monograph No. 28 (Princeton, 1967).


[See also Anarchism; Church as an Institution; Democracy;
Heresy; Ideology; Nationalism; Progress; Reformation; Rev-
; Skepticism; Socialism; Utopia.]