The other day I got to thinking about political revolutions, especially about the “successful” ones, and a few of those that seemed successful for a while. From those that I know of and those I’ve studied, it occurred to me that the vast majority fall into two categories – those countries where the leader of the revolution became a despot, or something similar, and those where the revolution swallowed the early leaders, and more cases than not, where a dictatorship of sorts ensued. Now, of course, neither of these happened in the United States, which is why we tend, I suspect, not to look at revolutions in the terms I’ve laid out. And I’m not counting events in countries where the form of government changed gradually and relatively peacefully as revolutions.

Armed and violent revolutions tend to occur when large percentages of a county’s population are unhappy, angry, and feel that they have little or nothing to lose… and almost usually are fomented and led by those who belong to what might be called the educated-alienated or the marginalized middle class who have personal and/or economic grievances against the existing power structure.

Revolutions tend to fail when not enough people feel that disenfranchised and/or when the government has an overwhelming monopoly on force – and when the soldiers who constitute that force are loyal to the regime.

Some historians make a distinction between movements that seek to change who rules and those that seek to change the entire way in which a country is ruled, which might suggest that merely replacing a ruler is a coup and changing the governmental structure by force is a revolution.

Is a revolution possible here in the United States, with all the cries for secession, and the increasing acrimony between the two political parties? History has shown that almost all lands with any lasting history suffer either government evolution, revolution, or coups, if not all three. The United States has revolted against British Rule, suffered through a bloody civil war, and seen a gradual but massive change in the structure and power of government… and faith and support of Congress is at an all-time low, combined with a close to all-time low in public confidence in the financial sector. Interestingly enough, faith in the President, while lower than his average ratings, is nowhere near all-time lows for a President.

Is that enough dissatisfaction to spark a rebellion? It’s certainly enough for some people, but I have my doubts if it’s enough, at least so far, to support any massive change in U.S. government, meaning that the deadlocks will have to get worse before anything – constructive or destructive – happens.

3 thoughts on “Revolution”

  1. Sam says:

    This is somewhat tangential to your main point but I’ve often wondered whilst reading your books which if any of your protagonists would have sided with the American revolution against England. Particularly if doing so required defecting.

    Many of your protagonists seem to have little compunction about stamping out rebellions even when they have some sympathies for the rebels. Tending to believe that they are acting for the greater good.

    As a more recent example I was thinking about how Quaeryt sided with Bhayar over Rescalyn even though he thought Rescalyn might be a better leader.

    1. Jimjoy Wright in the Ecolitan series does in fact side with the rebels and defects to them. So does, in the end, Keir Roget in Haze, who also defects. Dorrin, in The Magic Engineer fights against both Recluce and the whites of Fairhaven. Justen in effect does defect to the druids and remains in Candar. Gerswin from The Forever Hero certainly is a rebel. Alucius from the Corean Chronicles is certainly cut from the same mold as the U.S. founding fathers. Quaeryt doesn’t support Rescalyn because he believes in the long run, Rescalyn would be a disaster for Lydar, although he initially thinks Rescalyn would be a stronger leader… until he learns more about Rescalyn’s methods.

  2. Darcherd says:

    I don’t think we’re anywhere close to a revolution or civil war in the U.S. The American Civil War (or War Between the States, depending on which side of the conflict one relates to now) was decades in the making – Jefferson foresaw it in the 1820’s in his famous “firebell in the night” remark, and the period from the 1820’s to 1860 was marked by politicians desperately trying to stitch up was was ultimately an unsolvable conflict, summarized by Lincoln’s remark to a Southern sympathizer, “You believe slavery is right and ought to be expanded; I believe it is wrong and ought to be constrained.” Ultimately, positions of diametric opposites like that were only solved by bloody war.

    Our situation today is rather the opposite: Rather than trying to stitch up a fundamental conflict, today our politicians are attempting to exaggerate existing – and rather minor – differences in political philosophy for their own political advantage. It was not so long ago that people were bemoaning the fact that both political parties were so similar that there was little to distinguish them, calling them “Republicrats”.

    Having genuine differences in political philosophy and in vision for where the country should be going is normally a valuable and useful thing to the extent that it fosters dialog, and allows voters to make a conscious choice over what they want our country to be and do. The only unfortunate thing is that due, I believe, to the distortions in our primary system that give party hardliners undue and unrepresentative influence, there is no longer any incentive to engage in dialog at all, nor even to compromise.

    But I just don’t see anywhere near the kind of tensions and acrimony, nor the kind of intemperate language that regularly filled political discourse in the decades leading up to the Civil War in our current political environment. We have a long way to go before a majority of people feel they have so little to lose that they are willing to take to the streets in armed revolution, or even in supporting a coup.

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