Peaceful Revolution

In a 1962 speech to the Alliance for Progress, John F. Kennedy declared,

Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.

Martin Luther King, Jr. quoted that line five years later in his speech to Clergy and Laymen Concerned about Vietnam, in which he denounced the U.S. involvement in the war and our support of the repressive regime of South Vietnam.

While both men had in mind physical violence (war) and government revolutions, I’ve been thinking about this in terms of Albert O. Hirschman’s ideas of Exit, Voice, and Loyalty. Institutions (and here I’m thinking especially of academia and churches) that don’t allow voice (internal expressions of unhappiness or disappointment) to shape their organizations will face much more violent upheavals instead, including mass exit or complete overturning of the status quo. Better to find ways to listen and adapt strategically (while many followers/participants are still loyal) than to insist on changelessness in an ever-changing world.

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