The Stages of Revolution

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The Stages of Revolution

  • Josiah Wallingford

    Revolution is tricky business. The stages of revolution and how these stages are implemented are key to the results of the revolution. If gone wrong or manipulated it can result in a more tyrannical government than was thrown out. So, how does one conduct or participate in a revolution that ends with no government and a non-aggression principled population? Is the answer no government? Maybe there is a government which is run entirely on the non-aggression principle? Is this even possible?

    Crane Brinton wrote Anatomy of a Revolution in 1938.

    The Anatomy of Revolution outlines the “uniformities” of four major political revolutions: the English Revolution of the 1640s, the American, the French, and 1917 Russian Revolution. Brinton notes how the revolutions followed a life-cycle from the Old Order to a moderate regime to a radical regime, to Thermidorian reaction. (The name Thermidorian refers to 9 Thermidor Year II (27 July 1794), the date according to the French Revolutionary Calendar when Robespierre and other radical revolutionaries came under concerted attack in the National Convention.)

    Phase One—Preliminary Stage Symptoms (The Old Order)


    1. Economically weak – the government has deficits and must tax
    2. Politically weak – the government is ineffective and cannot enforce policy; inept ruler
    3. Intellectuals desert – reformers speak out against the government
    4. Class Antagonism – there is a conflict between the old regime and new forces


    Phase Two—First Stage Symptoms (Moderate Regime)


    1. Financial breakdown
    2. Symbolic actions/Dramatic events – rallying point against the old regime; government protests increase
    3. Role of force – the government cannot repress the rebellion
    4. Dual Sovereignty – there is a better organized and obeyed government
    5. Moderates Attain Power – e.g., make a new constitution; fight a war


    Phase Three—Crisis Stage Symptoms (Radical Regime)


    1. Radicals Take Control (coup d’etat) – small number of devoted, disciplined radicals govern
    2. War (civil and foreign)
    3. Centralization of Power in a Revolutionary Council Dominated by a Strong Man
    4. Terror and Virtue – forced conformity or punishment; gospel of revolution


    Phase Four—Recovery Stage Symptoms (Thermidorian Reaction)

    1. Slow, Uneven Return to Quieter Times – first convalescence from the fever of revolution
    2. Rule by a Tyrant
    3. Radicals Repressed; moderates gain amnesty
    4. Aggressive Nationalism

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