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In political science, a revolution (Latin: revolutio, "a turn around") is a fundamental and relatively sudden change in political power and political organization which occurs when the population revolts against the government, typically due to perceived oppression (political, social, economic) or political incompetence. [1] In book V of the Politics , the Ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle (384–322 BC) described two types of political revolution:

Latin Indo-European language of the Italic family

Latin is a classical language belonging to the Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. The Latin alphabet is derived from the Etruscan and Greek alphabets and ultimately from the Phoenician alphabet.

<i>Politics</i> (Aristotle) work of political philosophy by Aristotle

Politics is a work of political philosophy by Aristotle, a 4th-century BC Greek philosopher.

Aristotle philosopher in ancient Greece

Aristotle was a Greek philosopher during the Classical period in Ancient Greece, the founder of the Lyceum and the Peripatetic school of philosophy and Aristotelian tradition. Along with his teacher Plato, he has been called the "Father of Western Philosophy". His writings cover many subjects – including physics, biology, zoology, metaphysics, logic, ethics, aesthetics, poetry, theatre, music, rhetoric, psychology, linguistics, economics, politics and government. Aristotle provided a complex synthesis of the various philosophies existing prior to him, and it was above all from his teachings that the West inherited its intellectual lexicon, as well as problems and methods of inquiry. As a result, his philosophy has exerted a unique influence on almost every form of knowledge in the West and it continues to be a subject of contemporary philosophical discussion.


  1. Complete change from one constitution to another
  2. Modification of an existing constitution. [2]

Revolutions have occurred through human history and vary widely in terms of methods, duration and motivating ideology. Their results include major changes in culture, economy and socio-political institutions, usually in response to perceived overwhelming autocracy or plutocracy.

An ideology is a collection of normative beliefs and values that an individual or group holds for other than purely epistemic reasons. In other words, these rely on basic assumptions about reality that may or may not have any factual basis. The term is especially used to describe systems of ideas and ideals which form the basis of economic or political theories and resultant policies. In these there are tenuous causal links between policies and outcomes owing to the large numbers of variables available, so that many key assumptions have to be made. In political science the term is used in a descriptive sense to refer to political belief systems

An autocracy is a system of government in which a single person exercises lordship over a polity. The decisions of this autocrat are subject to neither external legal restraints nor regularized mechanisms of popular control. Absolute monarchies and dictatorships are the main modern-day forms of autocracy.

A plutocracy or plutarchy is a society that is ruled or controlled by people of great wealth or income. The first known use of the term in English dates from 1631. Unlike systems such as democracy, capitalism, socialism or anarchism, plutocracy is not rooted in an established political philosophy. Plutocracy is linked to the term dynastic wealth. The concept of plutocracy may be advocated by the wealthy classes of a society in an indirect or surreptitious fashion since the term itself is almost always used in a pejorative sense.

Scholarly debates about what does and does not constitute a revolution center on several issues. Early studies of revolutions primarily analyzed events in European history from a psychological perspective, but more modern examinations include global events and incorporate perspectives from several social sciences, including sociology and political science. Several generations of scholarly thought on revolutions have generated many competing theories and contributed much to the current understanding of this complex phenomenon.

Sociology Scientific study of human society and its origins, development, organizations, and institutions

Sociology is the study of society, patterns of social relationships, social interaction and culture of everyday life using the principles of psychology neuroscience and network science. It is a social science that uses various methods of empirical investigation and critical analysis to develop a body of knowledge about social order, acceptance, and change or social evolution. While some sociologists conduct research that may be applied directly to social policy and welfare, others focus primarily on refining the theoretical understanding of social processes. Subject matter ranges from the micro-sociology level of individual agency and interaction to the macro level of systems and the social structure.

Political science is a social science which deals with systems of governance, and the analysis of political activities, political thoughts, and political behavior.

Notable revolutions during later centuries include the creation of the United States through the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783), the French Revolution (1789–1799), the 1848 European Revolutions, the Russian Revolution in 1917, the Chinese Revolution of the 1940s, and the Cuban Revolution in 1959.

United States Federal republic in North America

The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States or America, is a country comprising 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories, and various possessions. At 3.8 million square miles, the United States is the world's third or fourth largest country by total area and is slightly smaller than the entire continent of Europe's 3.9 million square miles. With a population of more than 327 million people, the U.S. is the third most populous country. The capital is Washington, D.C., and the most populous city is New York City. Forty-eight states and the capital's federal district are contiguous in North America between Canada and Mexico. The State of Alaska is in the northwest corner of North America, bordered by Canada to the east and across the Bering Strait from Russia to the west. The State of Hawaii is an archipelago in the mid-Pacific Ocean. The U.S. territories are scattered about the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, stretching across nine official time zones. The extremely diverse geography, climate, and wildlife of the United States make it one of the world's 17 megadiverse countries.

American Revolutionary War War between Great Britain and the Thirteen Colonies, which won independence as the United States of America

The American Revolutionary War (1775–1783), also known as the American War of Independence, was an 18th-century war between Great Britain and its Thirteen Colonies which declared independence as the United States of America.

French Revolution Revolution in France, 1789 to 1798

The French Revolution was a period of far-reaching social and political upheaval in France and its colonies beginning in 1789. The Revolution overthrew the monarchy, established a republic, catalyzed violent periods of political turmoil, and finally culminated in a dictatorship under Napoleon who brought many of its principles to areas he conquered in Western Europe and beyond. Inspired by liberal and radical ideas, the Revolution profoundly altered the course of modern history, triggering the global decline of absolute monarchies while replacing them with republics and liberal democracies. Through the Revolutionary Wars, it unleashed a wave of global conflicts that extended from the Caribbean to the Middle East. Historians widely regard the Revolution as one of the most important events in human history.


The word "revolucion" is known in French from the 13th century, and "revolution" in English by the late fourteenth century, with regard to the revolving motion of celestial bodies. "Revolution" in the sense of representing abrupt change in a social order is attested by at least 1450. [3] [4] Political usage of the term had been well established by 1688 in the description of the replacement of James II with William III. This incident was termed the "Glorious Revolution". [5]

French language Romance language

French is a Romance language of the Indo-European family. It descended from the Vulgar Latin of the Roman Empire, as did all Romance languages. French evolved from Gallo-Romance, the spoken Latin in Gaul, and more specifically in Northern Gaul. Its closest relatives are the other langues d'oïl—languages historically spoken in northern France and in southern Belgium, which French (Francien) has largely supplanted. French was also influenced by native Celtic languages of Northern Roman Gaul like Gallia Belgica and by the (Germanic) Frankish language of the post-Roman Frankish invaders. Today, owing to France's past overseas expansion, there are numerous French-based creole languages, most notably Haitian Creole. A French-speaking person or nation may be referred to as Francophone in both English and French.

English language West Germanic language

English is a West Germanic language that was first spoken in early medieval England and eventually became a global lingua franca. It is named after the Angles, one of the Germanic tribes that migrated to the area of Great Britain that later took their name, as England. Both names derive from Anglia, a peninsula in the Baltic Sea. The language is closely related to Frisian and Low Saxon, and its vocabulary has been significantly influenced by other Germanic languages, particularly Norse, and to a greater extent by Latin and French.

The term social order can be used in two senses. In the first sense, it refers to a particular set or system of linked social structures, institutions, relations, customs, values and practices, which conserve, maintain and enforce certain patterns of relating and behaving. Examples are the ancient, the feudal, and the capitalist social order. In the second sense, social order is contrasted to social chaos or disorder and refers to a stable state of society in which the existing social structure is accepted and maintained by its members. The problem of order or Hobbesian problem, which is central to much of sociology, political science and political philosophy, is the question of how and why it is that social orders exist at all.


A Watt steam engine in Madrid. The development of the steam engine propelled the Industrial Revolution in Britain and the world. The steam engine was created to pump water from coal mines, enabling them to be deepened beyond groundwater levels. Maquina vapor Watt ETSIIM.jpg
A Watt steam engine in Madrid. The development of the steam engine propelled the Industrial Revolution in Britain and the world. The steam engine was created to pump water from coal mines, enabling them to be deepened beyond groundwater levels.

There are many different typologies of revolutions in social science and literature.

Alexis de Tocqueville differentiated between;

Political revolution

A political revolution, in the Trotskyist theory, is an upheaval in which the government is replaced, or the form of government altered, but in which property relations are predominantly left intact. The revolutions in France in 1830 and 1848 are often cited as political revolutions.

One of several different Marxist typologies [7] divides revolutions into;

Charles Tilly, a modern scholar of revolutions, differentiated between;

Mark Katz [10] identified six forms of revolution;

These categories are not mutually exclusive; the Russian revolution of 1917 began with urban revolution to depose the Czar, followed by rural revolution, followed by the Bolshevik coup in November. Katz also cross-classified revolutions as follows;

A further dimension to Katz's typology [12] is that revolutions are either against (anti-monarchy, anti-dictatorial, anti-communist, anti-democratic) or for (pro-fascism, communism, nationalism etc.).In the latter cases, a transition period is often necessary to decide on the direction taken.

Other types of revolution, created for other typologies, include the social revolutions; proletarian or communist revolutions (inspired by the ideas of Marxism that aims to replace capitalism with Communism); failed or abortive revolutions (revolutions that fail to secure power after temporary victories or large-scale mobilization); or violent vs. nonviolent revolutions.

The term revolution has also been used to denote great changes outside the political sphere. Such revolutions are usually recognized as having transformed in society, culture, philosophy, and technology much more than political systems; they are often known as social revolutions. [13] Some can be global, while others are limited to single countries. One of the classic examples of the usage of the word revolution in such context is the Industrial Revolution, or the Commercial Revolution. Note that such revolutions also fit the "slow revolution" definition of Tocqueville. [14] A similar example is the Digital Revolution.

Political and socioeconomic revolutions

Perhaps most often, the word "revolution" is employed to denote a change in social and political institutions. [15] [16] [17] Jeff Goodwin gives two definitions of a revolution. First, a broad one, including

any and all instances in which a state or a political regime is overthrown and thereby transformed by a popular movement in an irregular, extraconstitutional and/or violent fashion.

Second, a narrow one, in which

revolutions entail not only mass mobilization and regime change, but also more or less rapid and fundamental social, economic and/or cultural change, during or soon after the struggle for state power. [18]

Jack Goldstone defines a revolution as

an effort to transform the political institutions and the justifications for political authority in society, accompanied by formal or informal mass mobilization and non-institutionalized actions that undermine authorities. [19]

The storming of the Bastille, 14 July 1789 during the French Revolution. Prise de la Bastille.jpg
The storming of the Bastille, 14 July 1789 during the French Revolution.
George Washington, leader of the American Revolution. Portrait of George Washington-transparent.png
George Washington, leader of the American Revolution.
Vladimir Lenin, leader of the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. Lenin.WWI.JPG
Vladimir Lenin, leader of the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917.
Sun Yat-sen, leader of the Chinese Xinhai Revolution in 1911. Sunyatsen1.jpg
Sun Yat-sen, leader of the Chinese Xinhai Revolution in 1911.

Political and socioeconomic revolutions have been studied in many social sciences, particularly sociology, political sciences and history. Among the leading scholars in that area have been or are Crane Brinton, Charles Brockett, Farideh Farhi, John Foran, John Mason Hart, Samuel Huntington, Jack Goldstone, Jeff Goodwin, Ted Roberts Gurr, Fred Halliday, Chalmers Johnson, Tim McDaniel, Barrington Moore, Jeffery Paige, Vilfredo Pareto, Terence Ranger, Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, Theda Skocpol, James Scott, Eric Selbin, Charles Tilly, Ellen Kay Trimberger, Carlos Vistas, John Walton, Timothy Wickham-Crowley, and Eric Wolf. [20]

Scholars of revolutions, like Jack Goldstone, differentiate four current 'generations' of scholarly research dealing with revolutions. [19] The scholars of the first generation such as Gustave Le Bon, Charles A. Ellwood, or Pitirim Sorokin, were mainly descriptive in their approach, and their explanations of the phenomena of revolutions was usually related to social psychology, such as Le Bon's crowd psychology theory. [15]

Second generation theorists sought to develop detailed theories of why and when revolutions arise, grounded in more complex social behavior theories. They can be divided into three major approaches: psychological, sociological and political. [15]

The works of Ted Robert Gurr, Ivo K. Feierbrand, Rosalind L. Feierbrand, James A. Geschwender, David C. Schwartz, and Denton E. Morrison fall into the first category. They followed theories of cognitive psychology and frustration-aggression theory and saw the cause of revolution in the state of mind of the masses, and while they varied in their approach as to what exactly caused the people to revolt (e.g., modernization, recession, or discrimination), they agreed that the primary cause for revolution was the widespread frustration with socio-political situation. [15]

The second group, composed of academics such as Chalmers Johnson, Neil Smelser, Bob Jessop, Mark Hart, Edward A. Tiryakian, and Mark Hagopian, followed in the footsteps of Talcott Parsons and the structural-functionalist theory in sociology; they saw society as a system in equilibrium between various resources, demands and subsystems (political, cultural, etc.). As in the psychological school, they differed in their definitions of what causes disequilibrium, but agreed that it is a state of a severe disequilibrium that is responsible for revolutions. [15]

Finally, the third group, which included writers such as Charles Tilly, Samuel P. Huntington, Peter Ammann, and Arthur L. Stinchcombe followed the path of political sciences and looked at pluralist theory and interest group conflict theory. Those theories see events as outcomes of a power struggle between competing interest groups. In such a model, revolutions happen when two or more groups cannot come to terms within a normal decision making process traditional for a given political system, and simultaneously have enough resources to employ force in pursuing their goals. [15]

The second generation theorists saw the development of the revolutions as a two-step process; first, some change results in the present situation being different from the past; second, the new situation creates an opportunity for a revolution to occur. In that situation, an event that in the past would not be sufficient to cause a revolution (e.g., a war, a riot, a bad harvest), now is sufficient; however, if authorities are aware of the danger, they can still prevent a revolution through reform or repression. [19]

Many such early studies of revolutions tended to concentrate on four classic cases: famous and uncontroversial examples that fit virtually all definitions of revolutions, such as the Glorious Revolution (1688), the French Revolution (1789–1799), the Russian Revolution of 1917, and the Chinese Revolution (also known as the Chinese Civil War) (1927–1949). [19] In his The Anatomy of Revolution, however, the Harvard historian Crane Brinton focused on the English Civil War, the American Revolution, the French Revolution, and the Russian Revolution. [21]

In time, scholars began to analyze hundreds of other events as revolutions (see List of revolutions and rebellions), and differences in definitions and approaches gave rise to new definitions and explanations. The theories of the second generation have been criticized for their limited geographical scope, difficulty in empirical verification, as well as that while they may explain some particular revolutions, they did not explain why revolutions did not occur in other societies in very similar situations. [19]

The criticism of the second generation led to the rise of a third generation of theories, with writers such as Theda Skocpol, Barrington Moore, Jeffrey Paige, and others expanding on the old Marxist class conflict approach, turning their attention to rural agrarian-state conflicts, state conflicts with autonomous elites, and the impact of interstate economic and military competition on domestic political change Particularly Skocpol's States and Social Revolutions became one of the most widely recognized works of the third generation; Skocpol defined revolution as "rapid, basic transformations of society's state and class structures [...] accompanied and in part carried through by class-based revolts from below", attributing revolutions to a conjunction of multiple conflicts involving state, elites and the lower classes. [19]

The fall of the Berlin Wall and most of the events of the Autumn of Nations in Europe, 1989, were sudden and peaceful. West and East Germans at the Brandenburg Gate in 1989.jpg
The fall of the Berlin Wall and most of the events of the Autumn of Nations in Europe, 1989, were sudden and peaceful.

From the late 1980s a new body of scholarly work began questioning the dominance of the third generation's theories. The old theories were also dealt a significant blow by new revolutionary events that could not be easily explain by them. The Iranian and Nicaraguan Revolutions of 1979, the 1986 People Power Revolution in the Philippines and the 1989 Autumn of Nations in Europe saw multi-class coalitions topple seemingly powerful regimes amidst popular demonstrations and mass strikes in nonviolent revolutions.

Defining revolutions as mostly European violent state versus people and class struggles conflicts was no longer sufficient. The study of revolutions thus evolved in three directions, firstly, some researchers were applying previous or updated structuralist theories of revolutions to events beyond the previously analyzed, mostly European conflicts. Secondly, scholars called for greater attention to conscious agency in the form of ideology and culture in shaping revolutionary mobilization and objectives. Third, analysts of both revolutions and social movements realized that those phenomena have much in common, and a new 'fourth generation' literature on contentious politics has developed that attempts to combine insights from the study of social movements and revolutions in hopes of understanding both phenomena. [19]

Further, social science research on revolution, primarily work in political science, has begun to move beyond individual or comparative case studies towards large-N empirical studies assessing the causes and implications of revolution. Initial studies generally rely on the Polity Project’s data on democratization. [22] Such analyses, like those by Enterline, [23] Maoz, [24] and Mansfield and Snyder, [25] identify revolutions based on regime changes indicated by a change in the country’s score on Polity’s autocracy to democracy scale. More recently, scholars like Jeff Colgan have argued that Polity, which measures the degree of democratic or autocratic authority in a state's governing institutions based on the openness of executive recruitment, constraints on executive authority, and political competition, is inadequate because it measures democratization, not revolution, and fails to account for regimes which come to power by revolution but fail to change the structure of the state and society sufficiently to yield a notable difference in Polity score. [26] Instead, Colgan offers a new data set on revolutionary leaders which identifies governments that "transform the existing social, political, and economic relationships of the state by overthrowing or rejecting the principal existing institutions of society." [27] This most recent data set has been employed to make empirically-based contributions to the literature on revolution by identifying links between revolution and the likelihood of international disputes.

Revolutions have also been approached from anthropological perspectives. Drawing on Victor Turner’s writings on ritual and performance, Bjorn Thomassen has argued that revolutions can be understood as "liminal" moments: modern political revolutions very much resemble rituals and can therefore be studied within a process approach. [28] This would imply not only a focus on political behavior "from below", but also to recognize moments where "high and low" are relativized, made irrelevant or subverted, and where the micro and macro levels fuse together in critical conjunctions.

Economist Douglass North argued that it is much easier for revolutionaries to alter formal political institutions such as laws and constitutions than to alter informal social conventions. According to North, inconsistencies between rapidly changing formal institutions and slow-changing informal ones can inhibit effective sociopolitical change. Because of this, the long-term effect of revolutionary political restructuring is often more moderate than the ostensible short-term effect. [29]

While revolutions encompass events ranging from the relatively peaceful revolutions that overthrew communist regimes to the violent Islamic revolution in Afghanistan, they exclude coups d'état, civil wars, revolts, and rebellions that make no effort to transform institutions or the justification for authority (such as Józef Piłsudski's May Coup of 1926 or the American Civil War), as well as peaceful transitions to democracy through institutional arrangements such as plebiscites and free elections, as in Spain after the death of Francisco Franco. [19]

See also

Lists of revolutions


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  1. The New Fontana Dictionary of Modern Thought Third Edition (1999), Allan Bullock and Stephen Trombley, Eds. pp. 754–46
  2. Aristotle, The Politics V. Accessed 2013/4/24
  3. OED vol Q-R p. 617 1979 Sense III states a usage "Alteration, change, mutation" from 1400 but lists it as "rare". "c. 1450, Lydg 1196 Secrees of Elementys the Revoluciuons, Chaung of tymes and Complexiouns." It's clear that the usage had been established by the early 15th century but only came into common use in the late 17th century in England.
  5. Richard Pipes, A Concise History of the Russian Revolution Archived 2011-05-11 at the Wayback Machine
  6. Roger Boesche, Tocqueville's Road Map: Methodology, Liberalism, Revolution, and Despotism, Lexington Books, 2006, ISBN   0-7391-1665-7, p.86
  7. ‹See Tfd› (in Polish) J. Topolski, "Rewolucje w dziejach nowożytnych i najnowszych (xvii-xx wiek)", Kwartalnik Historyczny, LXXXIII, 1976, 251-67
  8. Charles Tilly, ''European Revolutions, 1492-1992, Blackwell Publishing, 1995, ISBN   0-631-19903-9, Google Print, p.16
  9. Bernard Lewis Archived 2007-04-29 at the Wayback Machine , "Iran in History", Moshe Dayan Center, Tel Aviv University
  10. Mark N Katz, Revolutions and Revolutionary Waves, St Martin's Press, 1997, p4
  11. Mark N Katz, Revolutions and Revolutionary Waves, St Martin's Press, 1997, p13
  12. Mark N Katz, Revolutions and Revolutionary Waves, St Martin's Press, 1997, p12
  13. Irving E. Fang, A History of Mass Communication: Six Information Revolutions, Focal Press, 1997, ISBN   0-240-80254-3, p. xv
  14. Murray, Warwick E. Geographies of Globalization. Routledge, 2006, ISBN   0-415-31800-9. p.226
  15. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Jack Goldstone, "Theories of Revolutions: The Third Generation, World Politics 32, 1980:425-53
  16. John Foran, "Theories of Revolution Revisited: Toward a Fourth Generation", Sociological Theory 11, 1993:1-20
  17. Clifton B. Kroeber, "Theory and History of Revolution, Journal of World History 7.1, 1996: 21-40
  18. Goodwin, p.9.
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