The Difference between Secession and Revolution

There is often confusion between these two concepts. Secession and revolution, while similar are not the same. There are many people that call or have called secession, revolutions. Knowing the difference can color your perception of monumental events in history.

So what’s the difference

The easiest way to explain the difference is this: secession breaks away from the current government without destroying or taking it over. Revolution seeks to either destroy or take over the machinery of government. This difference may seem small but it is a crucial difference that should be understood. Independence movements that are truly secessions are often called revolutions.

Does this distinction actually matter

You may ask what difference this distinction makes? If it is thought about, it makes a massive difference. Knowing this provides a different perspective on events like the American Revolution, American Civil war, or the dissolution of the Soviet Union. This distinction allows you to see these events as they are, the people deciding how to be governed rather than passively accepting another’s authority.  This also changes the way one can and does view civil wars current and historical in nature.

And Your Point

Putting these various historical events into perspective you can see that the idea of secession is an American tradition, especially the early history of this country. It tends to be conservative in nature, meaning that it attempts to arrest usurpations and preserve the social order as it is or was before the usurpations. Secession is always political but can be used to protect the cultural aspect of a society or group of people. Secession can be bloodless, as in some of the former Soviet Bloc states or can be bloody like in the American Civil war and Revolution. In any case, secession is simply a way for the people to govern themselves rather than abolish the government they were under.

So what is Revolution?

I can not put it any better than renowned scholar Donald Livingston:

“It is not surprising, therefore, to find throughout critical literature acts of secession misdescribed as something else such as revolution or civil war. Let us briefly examine the difference between secession and revolution. Three conceptions of revolution have dominated modern political speech. The first derives from the Glorious Revolution of 1688. This is revolution as restoration, and its image is the turning of a wheel. According to eighteenth century whiggism, the Glorious Revolution was a bloodless restoration of a liberty loving Protestant regime from the attempted usurpations of the Catholic James II. The second form derives from John Locke. Here a sovereign people recall the powers they have delegated to a government that has violated its trust in protecting life, liberty, and property. The government is overthrown and a new government instituted. The third form has its source in the French Revolution and may be described as Jacobin revolution. Revolution in this sense is an attempt to totally transform an entire social and political order in accord with an egalitarian philosophical theory. In this sense Marxism is Jacobin revolution as are may other forms of contemporary political criticism. Gloria Steinem once said that to talk of reforms for women is one thing, to talk about the total transformation of society is feminism. So conceived, feminism is a species of Jacobin revolution. The same could be said of the egalitarian goal informing many actions of the Supreme Court from the 1950s down to the present. The Court has long since abandoned its traditional duty of interpreting the Constitution as law, and has usurped the role of being the most powerful social policy making body in the American federation.”

You can check out our previous post on Secession and what it is. This is 2nd in a multi-part series.

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