Consequences of Revolutions

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    The French Revolution of 1789 and the Russian Revolution of 1917 were both detrimental to liberty, while the peaceful revolution in East Germany in 1989 was clearly a good thing. Are there other examples of “good” revolutions? How do you assess the July Revolution of 1830 and the Revolutions of 1848? Is it true that violent revolutions tend to have bad consequences while peaceful revolutions are often beneficial?

    (On another note, in the resources section for Lecture 25, the link to the Communist Manifesto is missing.)

    Jason Jewell

    Usually with a revolution, I end up asking what the revolutionaries’ goals are. Sometimes the goal is to escape from an oppressive state (secession); this seems to fit what happened in East Germany, as well as what happened in the USSR a couple of years later. Those revolutions look pretty good to me.

    On the other hand, when the goal of the revolutionaries is to seize control of a state, things are much trickier. More often than not, even the revolutionaries talk a good game on freedom and the like, they do more damage than they heal because they wind up using violence against anyone who resists their seizure of power (not just the established government, but also regular people). And of course if the revolutionaries’ express goal is to create a political order that affords less liberty than the previous one, there’s nothing good about that.

    I don’t have strong feelings one way or the other about the July Revolution. The Revolutions of 1848, in general, were harmful. They alienated many elites with liberal inclinations. They also fueled socialist movements down the road. And of course they failed in their objectives.

    I hope this is helpful.

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