First published in 1879 with the goal of preparing citizens for participation in the general elections, Kuyper’s stated purpose was twofold, as summarized by translator and editor Harry Van Dyke: “to serve antirevolutionaries as a guide for promotional activities and to prepare them for the formal establishment of an Anti-Revolutionary Party.”
As for what is meant by “anti-revolutionary” in this particular case, Kuyper lays the groundwork as follows:
Our movement’s first name, given its origin, is “antirevolutionary.” It took its rise from opposing something offensive, something that clashed with what is just and sacred. We are therefore at heart a militant party, unhappy with the status quo and ready to critique it, fight it, and change it.
What we oppose is “the Revolution,” by which we mean the political and social system embodied in the French Revolution. Contrary to what is imputed to us, we do not oppose each and every popular uprising. We recognize that national leaders are sometimes called upon to put an end to destructive tyrannies, and so we honor, for example, the Dutch Revolt against Spain, the Glorious Revolution under William III, the American war of independence from Britain, and our overthrow of the Napoleonic regime in 1813. Those events, after all, do not represent destruction but restoration, not the overthrow of a nation’s laws but their reaffirmation, and thus not a forsaking of God but a return to him.
Proceeding from this, he outlines the needed alternative (“what we wish to promote”). “With patience and deliberation,” Van Dyke explains, “in piecemeal steps, he developed…what the ‘antirevolutionary principle’ demands for the country’s constitutional arrangement and the various government departments.”
As Greg Forster notes in his resounding endorsement of the book, this particular work has been far too under-read and under-appreciated, and has much to contribute to our current conversations about Christian political engagement:
It is a scandal and a disgrace that we have all read Burke’s response to the French Revolution, but few in the English-speaking world have read the equally profound and equally consequential response of Abraham Kuyper—a response that has at least as much to say to twenty-first-century readers as Burke’s. It has been truly said that America never produced a really great political philosopher and has had to borrow them from Europe; Kuyper deserves a place beside Locke and Tocqueville as a titanic European intellect whose thought can help us understand the American experiment in religious liberty and constitutional democracy.
Thanks to this new translation, it’s about time we get moving. You can purchase the book here.