SciELO - Scientific Electronic Library Online

vol.57 issue4 author indexsubject indexarticles search
Home Pagealphabetic serial listing  

Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
Print version ISSN 0041-4751


VAN DER WALT, Bennie J. Revolution or reformation? The possible relevance of Guillaume Groen van Prinsterer's (1801-1876) reflections for today. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2017, vol.57, n.4, pp.1057-1076. ISSN 2224-7912.

A new global spirit of radical, revolutionary change is characterizing our contemporary world. It is, for instance, evident in revolutionary wars against oppressive dictatorial governments, the attacks the world over by ISIS and other radical Islamic groups. Concerned thinkers are asking two basic questions. Firstly, what are the deepest source, character and implications of a revolutionary view of societal change? Secondly, is there an alternative to revolution? Can a Christian reformational approach perhaps be an option in our multireligious world? In this article Unbelief and revolution, a book which was published in 1847, a year ahead of Karel Marx's revolutionary Communist manifesto (1848), will serve as a guide for reflection. 170 Years ago its writer, Guillaume Groen van Prinsterer (1801-1876), the intellectual leader of the Dutch Reveille in the Netherlands, was confronted with similar questions, albeit in a different context. As few people in South Africa are still acquainted with Guillaume's ideas (nothing about his life and work is available in Afrikaans with only a few overseas sources in English), this essay may therefore also serve as a first introduction to South African readers. It develops as follows. Apart from a motivation for this study, the first part indicates the original and the secondary sources (mostly in Dutch) available. The second main section briefly sketches the cultural-philosophical, religious and political context as background for Guillaume's reflections. Section three explains his own Christian-historical or anti-revolutionary approach to the revolutionary temper of his time. According to his perspective the revolutions of his time were the result of a rejection of the Christian belief in God, his revelation and ordinances. He therefore sees a clear antithesis between secular-revolutionary solutions and the biblically based idea of reform. By way of a review of Unbelief and revolution the fourth main part follows the development of his hypothesis, providing a detailed description of revolution's basic characteristics, its consequences when applied to society (especially politics), as well as five stages during which it usually progresses. The last (fifth) part indicates the possible relevance of his ideas for the present. The question is posed whether the idea of reform does not boil down to repristination, conservatism and a condonation of the status quo. It is indicated that neither he, nor subsequent-likeminded reformational thinkers accepted the dilemma between a reactionary, contra-revolutionary stance (regarded as conservative) and a revolutionary approach (viewed as progressive). Finally, a distinction between structure and direction proves to be a helpful way of distinguishing between revolution and reformation, confirming reformation as perhaps a better choice for social renewal. Since it advocates structural and confessional pluralism, it may also ensure justice in a multireligious world.

Keywords : Anti-revolutionary approach; Aufklärung [Enlightenment philosophy]; Christian-historical approach; democracy [relationship between citizens and government in a state]; French Revolution (1779); Ongeloof en revolutie" [Unbelief and revolution" (1847, 1868)]; philosophy; rationalism; reformation; Reveille [the Dutch of about 1815-1865]; revival; revolution; Groen van Prinsterer; Guillaume (1801-1876).

        · abstract in Afrikaans     · text in Afrikaans     · Afrikaans ( pdf )


Creative Commons License All the contents of this journal, except where otherwise noted, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License