, Volume 61, Issue 1, pp 41-74

Sparks and prairie fires: A theory of unanticipated political revolution

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A feature shared by certain major revolutions is that they were not anticipated. Here is an explanation, which hinges on the observation that people who come to dislike their government are apt to hide their desire for change as long as the opposition seems weak. Because of this preference falsification, a government that appears unshakeable might see its support crumble following a slight surge in the opposition's apparent size, caused by events insignificant in and of themselves. Unlikely though the revolution may have appeared in foresight, it will in hindsight appear inevitable because its occurrence exposes a panoply of previously hidden conflicts.

For valuable discussions, I am grateful to Gary Dymski, Richard Easterlin, and especially Bruce Thompson, who provided some key references on the French and Russian Revolutions. I also benefited from comments by Berhanu Abegaz, Robert Higgs, Viktor Kipnis, Daniel Klein, Mustapha Nabli, Jeffrey Nugent, Everett Rogers, Gordon Tullock, and several participants at seminars at USC and UCLA. Under grant no. SES-8509234, my research was partially supported by the National Science Foundation of the United States. I presented the paper at the March 1988 meetings of the Public Choice Society, held in San Francisco.