How many revolutions have occurred in the history of the world? Are they all violent? As revolutions around the world continue to make front page news, we asked Jack Goldstone, author of Revolutions: A Very Short Introduction, to help us pull together a timeline of the revolutions that have shaped the world.
By Jack Goldstone
One of the biggest changes in the history of revolutions is the recent shift from revolutions being mainly violent events, marked by terror and civil war, to being the result of non-violent mass uprisings that force rulers from power and usher in new political systems. Since 1996, these non-violent or “color” revolutions, with death tolls in the dozens or hundreds instead of many thousands (or even far more), have become more common than violent ones.
What determines whether revolutions that start as protests continue and succeed peacefully, or turn bloody? It is mainly the reactions of state rulers, who may take a hint and leave, or decide to ratchet up repression and thus trigger a descent into violence. In Libya and Syria, it was the decisions by Moammar Qaddafi and Bashar al-Assad to turn their troops loose against peaceful protesters that led to the oppositions arming for civil war. Today we are seeing tense confrontations between rulers and peaceful crowds in two capitals: Bangkok (Thailand) and Kiev (Ukraine). Whether these rulers choose to compromise, flee, or fight will determine whether we will add new revolutions to our list, and whether they will go in the column of violent or non-violent ones.
Jack Goldstone is Virginia E. and John T. Hazel, Jr. Professor of Public Policy and Eminent Scholar, School of Public Policy, at George Mason University. He is the author of Revolutions: A Very Short Introduction and Revolution and Rebellion in the Early Modern World. He blogs on revolutions, the world economy, and international politics at New Population Bomb.
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