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Kuyper on Revolution

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kuyper1From CLP‘s newly released Guidance for Christian Engagement in Government, the first-ever English translation of Abraham Kuyper’s Our Program:

What we oppose is “the Revolution,” by which we mean the political and social system embodied in the French Revolution… What we combat, on principle and without compromise, is the attempt to totally change how a person thinks and how he lives, to change his head and his heart, his home and his country—to create a state of affairs the very opposite of what has always been believed, cherished, and confessed, and so to lead us to a complete emancipation from the sovereign claims of Almighty God.

The French Revolution was the first and most brazen attempt of this kind. Thus, like Edmund Burke, we do not hesitate to focus our attack on this monstrous Revolution. To forestall any misunderstanding, I ask only of my readers, be they adherents or opponents, to bear in mind that the enduring power of an idea is different from its fleeting expression in that one event.

As an idea, the Revolution turns everything topsy-turvy, such that what was at the bottom rises to the top and what was at the very top now moves to the bottom. In this way it severs the ties that bind us to God and his Word, in order to subject both to human criticism. Once you undermine the family by replacing it with self-chosen (often sinful) relationships, once you embrace a whole new set of ideas, rearrange your notions of morality, allow your heart to follow a new direction—once you do this the Encyclopedists will be followed by the Jacobins, the theory by the practice, because “the new humanity” requires a new world. What the philosophers, whose guilt is greater, did to your minds and hearts with pen and compass and scalpel (and would like even more boldly to do to your children) will be carried out by the heroes of the barricades with dagger, torch, and crowbar.

Yet “it is not enough to know what you are against,” as Kuyper immediately notes thereafter. “To wage war with prospects of victory, our people needed to become aware of the sacred stronghold for the sake of which we entered the fray.”

More on that later. Or, if the above quote has sufficiently whetted your appetite, you can grab the whole thing here.

Joseph Sunde is an associate editor and writer for the Acton Institute. His work has appeared in venues such as The Federalist, First Things, The City, The Christian Post, The Stream, Charisma News, Juicy Ecumenism, Ethika Politika, Made to Flourish, and the Center for Faith and Work. Joseph resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota with his wife and four children.


  • More than one side can be wrong at a time. I believe that my fellow Reformed Theologian, Abraham Kuyper, was wrong about the French Revolution. I also believe that the direction of the French Revolution was also wrong.

    I believe Kuyper was wrong because he had the wrong reasons. The relationships, which Kuyper defended, and the status quo he stood up for were structurally unsound and dynamically toxic. Kuyper was defending an elite-centered gov’t because its tradition was somehow sanctified and put on a pedestal.

    I believe that the revolutionists were wrong because of their resorting to violence and thus excluded the monarchy and their loyalists, and that they had more commitment from the people for revolution than what they were replacing the monarchy with. As a result, they ended up replacing one elite-centered gov’t with another. So the revolution ushered in a gov’t that had the same structural flaws and thus were prone to the same overreach as the monarchy they overthrew.

    There are lessons for both sides here. For those elites who have control power the warning is not to push and exploit people so far that their rage becomes uncontrollable. For Christians, the lesson is not to associate the Gospel with the exploitation practiced by the elites lest Christianity is thrown out with the tyrants. For revolutionaries the warning is to build support for the new as you are building support for the revolution. In addition, include everybody in the new even those who used their power to victimize people. The difference here is that those who did abuse powers will now be put in equal standing with everybody else. For Christians it is imperative to use their participation to direct any revolution to include enemies in the new creation and to pursue change nonviolently.