“I must make the important distinction between the rebel and the revolutionary,” says Dr. Rollo May, one of the most influential American existential psychologist among society, in an excerpt titled, “The Humanity of the Rebel” from his prominent book, Power and Innocence. Rollo May vividly highlights the enduring opposites of the rebel and the revolutionary amongst a society battling to protect conventional norms and traditions. As reasoning, optimistic human beings, many struggle to take the moral stand necessary against injustice in the world.
Humans, however, embody this central constituent to be aware of injustice and take necessary, primary action, in the form of “rudimentary anger.” This action against injustice evolves into two forms – the revolutionary and the rebel. May states that the revolutionary desires “external” change in politics, like overthrowing a government leader and replacing him/her. The rebel, however, has an everlasting persistence to break from the conventional views of society, to “oppose authority,” impacting people internally, whether emotions or mindsets, rather than push for physical, or visible change.
Revolutionaries have an underlying lust for power, while rebels share their power to benefit society and protect his/her logical and spiritual integrity; rebels desire to be a respected individual. Civilization, therefore, is defined by the actions and the shared power of the rebel that is sparked by rebellion like Prometheus. May further emphasizes that rebels are the key to the “first flower,” the survival of society for thousands of years because they shake the “rigid order of civilization;” rebels go against the status quo.
Rebels must battle consciousness, realizing the responsibility, and struggle to make difficult, worthwhile decisions. A rebel, however, struggles with the idea as God(s) as the one(s) who keep men conventional and in line; Gods are, however, at the same time human’s motivation for our long-term visions and desires. At the same time, rebels are being “martyred” throughout history, only then to realize the impact of their actions afterwards.
The rebel, although martyred by society, feed off of that same society’s language, concepts, and relationships, in order to then directly criticize it and seek reform. May explains this concept as a dialectic relationship, with reliant “poles” that change simultaneously. May quotes Camus with the line “I rebel- therefore we exist,” highlighting the idea of making this dialectic relationship, this society, into a community. May further states that this action taken against the mainstream’s norms can be productive with “dignity” or wasteful with protest against preferred organization. All humans, regardless of action, need a method to dream of revenge against a restraining society. It is only the rebel who takes the next step of action, and therefore synonymous with savior. For example, May focuses in on the artist as a rebel, capturing not just appearance by what the artist “sees” deep in the subject. This form of rebellion provides a new way of seeing nature and life, or as Alfred Adler says, “Artists teaches mankind to see.” Artists create new visions with the constantly changing time, developing their own community meanwhile.
Society can choose what to do with this rebel – buy or sell, or “enthrone” them. May believes artists define our new experiences and forms in the world around us. All rebels, however, have “inner” limits, being concerned with their own identity and the emotions of those around them. Rebels work towards their vision, swallowing their own pride if necessary, and also fight their compassion, having that desire to help those who suffer. These limits, along with good and evil, however, improve the visions of the rebel, instituting pattern and order to attempt to find meaning in the world and discover forgiveness. After reading Rollo May’s “The Humanity of the Rebel,” I was very intrigued by his work. I never really debated the difference between a rebel and a revolutionary, and thought they were more synonyms.
May, however, quickly disproves the similarities. May’s organization of his facts, personal opinions, and outside sources and quotes make for a very powerful, captivating piece of work. By outlining the stark differences in the revolutionary and the rebel’s goals from the very beginning, I was already focusing in on the rebel, understanding that their impact was more than just political change. As May continued explaining the qualities of a rebel, I focused in on civilization’s reliance on the rebel – May reemphasizes this idea numerous times, in numerous different forms. In order to survive as a society, humans rely on these few individuals who are willing to take the risks of breaking the norms of society. I was already captivated and accepting May’s idea of “shaking the order” of society because it is synonymous with what I learned in Holocaust class on heroism. Einstein said “The world is not dangerous because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.”
Therefore, people can take a moral stand, where one may sacrifice their body, but not their soul. This idea of persistence was emphasized by May when he said “I will be destroyed, rather than submit.” Yet, even after such drastic action, throughout history, society martyrs those who allowed society to survive and remain sane and energized in the first place. This idea bothered me deeply, understanding the history of fallen rebels that have truly remolded the norms of society that stood for hundreds of years. Likewise, I strongly agree with May’s point of withdrawal, in which a person can gain new perspectives, discover their inner-self, and prepare themselves for a successful future. From different stories throughout history, this has proven true. Among this society, withdrawing can be difficult, and I felt that when Rollo May acknowledges the idea of “today’s modern hero,” truly legitimized his work.
I began to evaluate his work and accept it, knowing he understood the world today, rather than just rebels and revolutionaries throughout history. Modern heroes have to work and struggle with super technology and modern communication in order to achieve a worthwhile rebellion, an element once non-existent in the past. Finally, although May’s idea of the artist as a rebel had many similarities, I feel that in a modernizing world of technology, the type of art would have a major effect on new discoveries and perspectives that allow people to see and understand the world. Ending with the idea of forgiveness among a world of both good and evil gives a sense of hope to this idea of the rebel, a person who will soon attempt to transcend society’s views today in order to secure the future for everybody else.