Volume 41, 1998
Hume on Revolution
David Hume offers a well conceived plan for the formation of government and its political workings. Furthermore, he grants that in special circumstances the citizens of a particular government may revolt. However, with respect to obedience and disloyalty, Hume gives no formal rules for revolution. We would like something more from Hume regarding revolution and, more specifically, what he considers justified revolution. Some authors, such as Richard H. Dees, find the basis for Hume’s account of justified revolution in his historical works. By connecting Hume’s historical writings with his political theory, we find a fuller account of revolution. Such an account, however, does not require him to give a rule or maxim prescribing revolution since such a rule or maxim would obviously go against his political theory as stated in the Treatise and his political essays. In sum, justified revolution for Hume centers around the established political practices and the principled causes held by factions. Unjustified revolutions, however, are denoted by lack of adherence to established practices and want of a genuine cause. They are, rather, motivated by speculative factions subject to fanaticism and enthusiasm which are the foundations of Hume’s political worries. These central tenets of Hume’s view of revolution are delineated within this paper.