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Power and TimeTemporalities in Conflict and the Making of History$
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Dan Edelstein, Stefanos Geroulanos, and Natasha Wheatley

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9780226481623

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2021

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226706016.001.0001

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Future Perfect: Political and Emotional Economies of Revolutionary Time

Future Perfect: Political and Emotional Economies of Revolutionary Time

(p.357) 14 Future Perfect: Political and Emotional Economies of Revolutionary Time
Power and Time

Dan Edelstein

University of Chicago Press

How do revolutionary regimes legitimize their rule, in the absence of free elections and a constitution? This essay analyzes how four revolutionary theorists (Robespierre, Marx, Sorel, and Lenin) relied on “future perfect” legitimation: they defended non-elected regimes in the present in the name of what they will have achieved at some point in the future. Legitimation, in this model, is “prospectively retrospective”; as with a bill of exchange, political credit is borrowed against future repayment (a metaphor explicitly adopted by Marx). If such currency is accepted by the subjects of the regime, however, it is because future expectations are the emotional coin of the realm in revolutionary societies. Revolutionary theorists, therefore, do not invent new methods of legitimation; rather, they shape and redirect a pre-existing economy of time that revolutions after 1789 are wont to produce.

Keywords:   political authority, revolution, legitimation, Maximilien Robespierre, Karl Marx, Georges Sorel, future, temporality

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