Revolution within the form is a subversive tactic that seeks surreptitiously to replace the form of old things or words with new and/or progressive meanings in order to bring about a contrary state of things that normally would not be accepted by society. Basically, the names of the old things are preserved, but their meanings have been altered. This can be applied to laws, forms of governments, traditional philosophy, art, and language. Just like camoflage on clothing obscures the wearer and is beneficial in military situations, so this method is quite successful because when another meaning is being hidden under an old thing, it becomes unperciptible to many and the new is easily adopted. It is only one of the many modalities of revolutionary strategy. Society is transformed without it ever being conscious of what is going on. It was first observed by Aristotle and the phrase, “revolution within the form”, was coined by an economic journalist named Garet Garrett who also wrote extensively using this concept.
Aristotle observed that “People do not easily change, but love their own ancient customs; and it is by small degrees only that one thing takes the place of another; so that the ancient laws will remain, while the power will be in the hands of those who have brought about a revolution in the state.”1
Niccolo Machiavelli also observed and promoted this idea: “He who desires or wishes to reform the condition of a city and wishes that it be accepted and that it be able to maintain itself to everyone’s satisfaction is forced to retain at least the shadow of ancient modes so that it might seem to the people that order has not changed—though, in fact, the new orders are completely alien to those of the past. For the universality of men feed as much on appearance as on reality: indeed, in many cases, they are moved more by the things which seem than by those which are….And this much should be observed by all who wish to eliminate an ancient way of life (un antico vivere) in a city and reduce it to a new and free way of life (ridurla a uno vivere nuovo e libero): one ought, since new things alter the minds of men, to see to it that these alterations retain as much as the ancient as possible; and if the magistrates change from those of old in number, authority, and term of office, they ought at least retain the name.2
Machiavelli did much to alter the context of the term classical republics and, as a humanist, promoted this ideology of humanism underneath the ancient term of republic. Prof. Paul A. Rahe, in his masterful study, Republics, Ancient and Modern, examines the change of this term by the Enlightenment writers and thinkers.
Garet Garrett heavily critical about the New Deal of President Roosevelt observed that the common (old) meaning of the U.S. Constitution was changed from a document that restricted government power over the individual, to one that endorsed and legitimated such power. His expose on the Roosevelt revolution of the American style of government was titled: The American Empire and has been quite influential among libertarians and conservative Americans.
Joe Sobran, a reactionary Catholic commentator, also observed the tactic: “The revolutionaries realize that their power depends on the illusion of continuity. The overturning of fundamental principles, the destruction of tradition, the creation of new powers; these must all be presented as mere ‘reforms’.?” 3
Adapted from the Wikinfo article, Revolution within the form, used under the GNU Free Documentation License.