Subversion is an overturning or uprooting. The word is present in all languages of Latin origin, originally applying to such diverse events as the military defeat of a city.
As early as the fourteenth century it was being used in the English language with reference to laws and in the fifteenth century came to be used with respect to the realm. This is the origin of its modern use, which refers to attempts to overthrow structures of authority, including the state. In this respect, it has taken over from ‘sedition’ as the name for illicit rebellion, though the connotations of the two words are rather different, sedition suggesting overt attacks on institutions, subversion something much more surreptitious, such as eroding the basis of belief in the status quo or setting people against each other.
Subversive activity is the lending of aid, comfort, and moral support to individuals, groups, or organizations that advocate the overthrow of incumbent governments by force and violence. All willful acts that are intended to be detrimental to the best interests of the government and that do not fall into the categories of treason, sedition, sabotage, or espionage are placed in the category of subversive activity.
Recent writers, in the post-modern and post-structuralist traditions have prescribed a very broad form of subversion. It is not, directly, the realm which should be subverted in their view, but the predominant cultural forces, such as patriarchy, individualism, and scientific rationalism. This broadening of the target of subversion owes much to the ideas of Antonio Gramsci, who stressed that communist revolution required the erosion of the particular form of ‘cultural hegemony’ in any society.