Intellectuals Role In The American Revolution

Intellectuals Role In The American Revolution

Tori Nuariza Sutanto


The success and failure of a Nation can be determined by their historical process” (Prof. Djoko Suryo)

            That it is a quote from Prof. Djoko Suryo, a prominent Indonesian Historian in which I have ever been followed on a seminar. Intelligence to read age signs or zeitgeist, futuristic vision and orientation, adaptive determination, integrity and commitment were one of important aspects of the social change and reform formula. Social engineering can not be succeeded without an understanding of social dynamics, culture and historical experience. In addition, historical actor and historical agent plays an important and vital role on that process, at least that what I have been taught from Prof. Djoko Suryo, who in this way to have that academic arguments analyzying ‘French Revolution’ and ‘Industrial Revolution’. Daniel Dhakidae, Cendekiawan dan Kekuasaan (2003), stated that intellectuals can make a thing that is never imagined before. This paper would like to expose the role of intellectuals in the American Revolution, how the intellectuals can be historical agents and actors to force radical change. This paper objective is on the intellectuals role, the framing of revolution, and its outcome. I realize that the American Revolution is an old topic that has been academic discourses, debates, and discussions, but this paper is trying to open up a different perspective to see the American revolution. This paper will also describe the trend of interpretations on the American revolution by some scholars, in an attempt to be more understand this revolution.

Who is Intellectual

            Intellectual has been an interesting topic of discussion on the university  college, institute, in which sometimes there is simplification of intellectuals definition o,r a calling to the people who study in university, university product. I here did not agree with that general simplification or assumption, Dhakidae (2003), stated that Russia in the period of Czar, pointed them on the term  ‘Intellegentia’, people who sent to study on the western world, with a particular purpose to master the basic of western civilization, that next have to come back to apply their expertise and ability on the Russian political administration desk. Therefore, ‘Bolshevik Revolution’ in Soviet Union, then produce a word of Bolshevik groups of intellectuals in which they are the actors of the  Russian Revolution to create coup d e’tat to the Nicholas Tsar,  Lenin and Leon Trotsky which are,  the actor of intellectuals. Dhakidae (2003) describe a term movement intellectuals, intellectual who emerges from a social change that a respond toward oppression and unjust and unfair situation. For the classic intellectual movement based on class struggle,  Antonio Gramsci gave a name ‘organic intellectual’, people who articulates world-view, interest, aim, and certain class ability, in which the product of the articulation called, ‘ideology’ (Dhakidae, 2003 :11-12). Organic intellectuals, live and struggle with society, empowering and do liberation,   demanding their rights, creating a better situation for them, developing their critical consciousness, (Fakih, 2002). Dr. Ali Shariati, Tugas Cendekiawan Muslim (1994), has a particular term for intellectual, called ‘roushan fikr which they are the enlightened intellectuals that has particular consciousness and ideological duty to make a mass consciousness on a way to revolution. Organic intellectuals become a reference of Marxist revolution while Ali Shariati has been succeeded to be a roushan fikr, that he was the Islamic Iran Revolution (1979) architect. The fact that intellectuals attach themselves to various parts of political spectrum reinforces the view that they are a social stratum shopping for a historical agent and commited only one class alliance (Gouldner, 2009). Furthermore, Piere Bourdieau (1982), stated that intellectuals contribution can be measured on how intellectual combines symbolic, cultural, social and economic modals in which they play important role. In concluding, intellectuals is much more a relational pattern, which intellectual activates hard on the symbolic struggles individual and collectively, in fact intellectual produces an overwhelming action to many sectors on the society. They were not an imaginary community, as they possessed a political dimension (Dhakidae, 2003 :12-15). For instance, Bolshevik – Russian Revolution, The Mont-Pelerin Society –Neoliberalism, Shariati-Islamic Iran Revolution, and etc.


Supporting Elements and Framing of the  American Revolution

            Robert H. Walker, in his writing entitled Reform and Social Change in U.S (1992), proposed a theory of social change that compatible historically with the dynamics of United States of America. modes I (politico-economic reforms) the example is on the early pre-U.S Independence “Taxation Without Representation is Tyranny” “. This model applies five stages : random protest -> structured protest -> random remedy -> structured remedy -> institutionalization. Most of politico-economic isssues follow the standard of cycle arising in protest against ‘suffrage restrictions’, ‘political corruption’, or extremes poverty or wealth. The actors were political parties, labor union, and large associations. The form of expression will be held  conventions, platforms, campaign, organization meeting and political oratory. Then, it held boy-cots, strikes, gallots, sit-in and etc in term of models of reforms. At least, looking from the Walker thesis of mode social change, chronologically what factors emerge the ‘protest’ stage I. The roots of revolution can be seen at the very beginning of eighteenth century, that chaotic political situation occurred as a consequence of the clash between colonial assembly and the British colonial governor.  The clash and the implementation of colonial political sytem  created an awareness of the colonial people, that American Colonies and British had different interest and goal. The new colonial system applied by British to prevent and persist their colonial land, unite the different political interest and distribute administration cost to the United Kingdom (UK). To create a balance on their cost, British government implement high taxes on certain commodity and trading regulation ; Sugar Act (1764), Stamp Act (1765), Towsend Revenue Act (1767), Declaratory Act(1766), Tea Act (1773), Coercive Intolerable Act (1774), Boston Port Bill (1774), Massachussets Government Act(1774), Quartering Act(1774), Quebec Act (1774). From Rebellion to Resistance, colonial people protest, demonstrate and demanding their rights to the Assembly and Parliament. One of the famous historic event were Boston Massacre (1770) and Boston Tea Party (1773).


            Lucky Jani, a Murdoch University Doctoral student, People Power and Regime Change (2009), stated that to make people power became a common demand or protest in an attempt to regime change, the People power have to get moral platform, political demand such as fight authoritarian and corrupt regime, unjust government and etc. The framing of the issues on the popular topic play an important role to form identity, solidarity, and also political demand. This various important part has been done by some intellectuals in the American Revolution ; Benjamin Franklin (Join or Unite ; emerging the American Nationalism on the Pensylvannia Gazette newspaper), Samuel Adams (Committee of Respondence), and Thomas Paine (Common Sense). The Intellectuals became a solidarity maker and opinion leader of the revolution. “Taxation without representation is tyranny” is the slogan, The Government is best which governs least (Thomas Paine), Unite or Die (Benjamin Franklin). Framing the revolution, for instance Tritura (Tiga Tuntutan Rakyat) 1965 Indonesian Change, ‘New Politics’ PAD Thailand, RIO (Resignation-Impeachment-Ousted) Philippines (2001), “Gotov Je” (He-Milosevic- End), 99 % vs 1 % Occupying Movement , and etc.


            Concerning to the supporting elements in the revolution, according to Lucky Djani (2009), People power is a dynamic process that is booming as a consequence of previous action and event or momentum. The spread mechanism of people power influenced by some elements ; 1) Mobilization Structure 2) Brokerage and Boundary Activation 3) Instruments of the movement 4) Sertification or legitimation. First, Mobilization Structure, the winning of people power or social movement pointed on the ability to mobilize the masses with a common demand and share common experiences and feelings. This part has been done by Benjamin Franklin  with the use of mass media such as newspaper of Pensylvannia Gazzette (emerging of American Nationalism) and Thomas Paine – Common Sense, a political pamphlet that critizes the British Monarch, supports colonial rebellion and justifies starting a new government. This is important to form the opinion and solidarity, in the other next century,  Occupying Movement and Egyptian Revolution used Social media and internet networks.


Second, Brokerage and Boundary Activation, the spread of movement have to provoke many basis of groups ; student and civil organization, labor union, and etc. In the context of American Revolution, the effect of Stamp Act implementation forced the businessman, merchant-capitalist, journalist, lawyer, religious leaders, from North or South, East or West to protest and form anti-import association, later on Sons of Liberty formed as secret society to radically protest the stamp act by soft or hard way.


Third, Instrument of the movement, the use of action instrument that tolerated can be anticipated by the regime, so that it has to create strong feeling, moral platform to make people voluntarily joined. The innovative method has effective to make an identity, characteristics of the movement, such as the idea of Thoreau to actively breaking the laws- Civil Disobedience, embargo to not pay taxes, boycotts and sit-in of the public facilities such as Airport, High Way, Terminal, Station. American Revolution declared war after the constitutional congress gave support (Concord and Lexington War, and etc).


Fourth, Sertification or Legitimation, getting legitimation of the movement is important and crucial. For instance the use of yellow attribute as the symbol of Thailand Kingdom, or the participation of Cardinal Sin gave the message that this movement approved by the King or Church Authority.



The definition of Intellectuals have meaning and wider consequences, Intellectuals much more a framework design which the point on the discourse production, discourse debate, discourse change, and back to the new discourse formation. Intellectuals can create something that is never imagined before, if they can combine their symbolic, cultural, economic, social modals.

What has been afraid and threatened by imperialist or oppressor in the colonial period was not a gun but a thought way, like what has been said by Soewardi Soerjaningrat, Als ik eens Nederlander was, the power to create an idea of Nation, the ability to lead and form a Nation that has been afraid. The corrupt, greedy, and imperial government was afraid of the critical consciousness of the society.

In concluding, the Intellectuals attach themselves on the various part of the American Revolution. Thomas Paine –Common Sense (an argument of rebellion and independence), Benjamin Franklin with the idea of Nationalism, Samuel Adams – Boston Tea Party, Thomas Jefferson – Declaration of Independence, George Washington – lead the American Revolution, Alexander Hamilton-James Madison-John Jay- Federalist Papers, and etc. as Alvin Gouldner said, that Intellectuals is a director and historical agent, that the role of intellectual is primary on the historical process.


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Bourdieau, Pierre. (1990). In Other Words, Essays Towards a Reflexive Sociology. Polity Press

Dhakidae, Daniel. (2003). Cendekiawan dan Kekuasaan Dalam Negara Orde Baru. Jakarta : Gramedia Pustaka Utama

Fakih, Mansour. (2002). Jalan Lain : Manifesto Intelektual Organik. Yogyakarta : Pustaka Pelajar dan INSIST Press

Gouldner, Alvin. W. (2009). Prologue of Theory of Revolutionary Intellectuals. Telos, no. 26, Winter 1975-76, pp. 3-36

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Pontoh,  Coen Husain (PimRed), (2013). Neoliberalisme, Krisis, dan Perlawanan Rakyat, Indo Progress ; Jurnal Pergerakan Progresif, Edisi III Januari 2013. Jogjakarta : Resist Book

Shariati, Ali. (1994). Tugas Cendekiawan Muslim, Penerjemah : Amien Rais, Jakarta : Raja Grafindo Persada.

Walker, Robert (1992). In L. S. Luedtke (Ed.), Making america: The Society and Culture of the United States.Washington DC: United States Information Agency.



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