Public Choice

, Volume 61, Issue 1, pp 41–74 | Cite as

Sparks and prairie fires: A theory of unanticipated political revolution

  • Timur Kuran


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.


Public Finance Apparent Size Political Revolution Major Revolution Prairie Fire 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Akhavi, S. (1980). Religion and politics in contemporary Iran. Albany: State University of New York Press.Google Scholar
  2. Arendt, H. (1963/1965). On revolution. New York: Penguin Books.Google Scholar
  3. Arjomand, S.A. (1986). Iran's Islamic Revolution in comparative perspective. World Politics 38 (April): 383–414.Google Scholar
  4. Bakhash, S. (1984). The reign of the Ayatollahs: Iran and the Islamic Revolution. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  5. Buchanan, A. (1979). Revolutionary motivation and rationality. Philosophy and Public Affairs 9: 59–82.Google Scholar
  6. Chamberlin, W.H. (1935). The Russian Revolution 1917–1921, Vol. 1. New York: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  7. Cobb, R. (1969). A second identity: Essays on France and French history. London: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  8. Davies, J.C. (1962). Toward a theory of revolution. American Sociological Review 27: 5–19.Google Scholar
  9. DeNardo, J. (1985). Power in numbers: The political strategy of protest and rebellion. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  10. Easterlin, R.A. (1980). Birth and fortune: The impact of numbers on personal welfare. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  11. Elster, J. (1985). Making sense of Marx. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  12. Fischhoff, B. (1975). Hindsight ≠ foresight: The effect of outcome knowledge on judgment under uncertainty. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance 1 (3): 288–299.Google Scholar
  13. Fischhoff, B., and Beyth, R. (1975). ‘I knew it would happen’ — remembered probabilities of once-future things. Organizational Behavior and Human Performance 13: 1–16.Google Scholar
  14. Gardiner, P. (1952). The nature of historical explanation. London: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  15. Gurr, T.R. (1970). Why men rebel. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  16. Hegel, G.W.F. (1807/1949). The phenomenology of mind. J.B. Bailke, transl. London: George Allen & Unwin.Google Scholar
  17. Heikal, M. (1981/1982). Iran: The untold story. New York: Pantheon Books.Google Scholar
  18. Hoveyda, F. (1979/1980). The fall of the Shah. R. Liddell, transl. New York: Wyndham Books.Google Scholar
  19. Hume, D. (1741-42/1963). Essays: Moral, political, and literary. London: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  20. Kahneman, D., Slovic, P., and Tversky, A., Eds. (1982). Judgment under uncertainty: Heuristics and biases. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  21. Kuran, T. (1987a). Chameleon voters and public choice. Public Choice 53 (1): 53–78.Google Scholar
  22. Kuran, T. (1987b). Preference falsification, policy continuity and collective conservatism. Economic Journal 97 (September): 642–665.Google Scholar
  23. Kuran, T. (1988). The tenacious past: Theories of personal and collective conservatism. Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization 10 (September): 143–171.Google Scholar
  24. Lenin, V.I. (1902/1975). What is to be done? In R.C. Tucker (Ed.), The Lenin anthology, 12–114. New York: Norton.Google Scholar
  25. Malia, M. (1980). Comprendre la Révolution Russe. Paris: Editions du Seuil.Google Scholar
  26. Mao Tse-Tung (1930/1972). A single spark can start a prairie fire. In Selected military writings of Mao Tse-Tung, 65–76. Peking: Foreign Languages Press.Google Scholar
  27. Marx, K. (1859/1970). A contribution to the critique of political economy. New York: International Publishers.Google Scholar
  28. Marx, K. (1867–94/1967). Capital, 3 vols. New York: International Publishers.Google Scholar
  29. Medvedev, R.A. (1967/1973). Let history judge: The origins and consequences of Stalinism. C. Taylor, transl. New York: Vintage Books.Google Scholar
  30. Nisbett, R., and Ross., L. (1980). Human inference: Strategies and shortcomings of social judgment. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.Google Scholar
  31. Noelle-Neumann, E. (1980/1984). The spiral of silence. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  32. Olson, M. (1965/1971). The logic of collective action: Public goods and the theory of groups. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  33. Paléologue, M. (1924). An ambassador's memoirs. London: Doubleday.Google Scholar
  34. Popper, K.R. (1957/1961). The poverty of historicism. New York: Harper Torchbooks.Google Scholar
  35. Rogers, E.M. (1983). Diffusion of innovations, 3rd. ed. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  36. Schapiro, L. (1984). The Russian Revolutions of 1917: The origins of modern communism. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  37. Skocpol, T. (1979). States and social revolutions: A comparative analysis of France, Russia, and China. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  38. Snyder, D., and Tilly, C. (1972). Hardship and collective violence in France. American Sociological Review 37: 520–532.Google Scholar
  39. Taylor, S. (1982). The availability bias in social perception and interaction. In D. Kahneman, P. Slovic and A. Tversky (Eds.), Judgment under uncertainty: Heuristics and biases, 190–200. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  40. Tocqueville, A. de (1856/1955). The old régime and the French Revolution. S. Gilbert, transl. New York: Doubleday.Google Scholar
  41. Tullock, G. (1974). The social dilemma: The economics of war and revolution. Blacksburg, VA: University Publications.Google Scholar
  42. Tullock, G. (1987). Autocracy. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers.Google Scholar
  43. Tversky, A., and Kahneman, D. (1974). Judgment under uncertainty: Heuristics and biases. Science 185: 1124–1131.Google Scholar
  44. Uhlaner, C.J., and Grofman, B. (1986). The race may be close but my horse is going to win: Wish fulfillment in the 1980 presidential election. Political Behavior 8: 101–129.Google Scholar
  45. Walsh, W.B. (1975). The Petrograd garrison and the February Revolution of 1917. In R.F. Weigley (Ed.), New dimensions in military history: An anthology, 257–273. San Rafael, CA: Presidio Press.Google Scholar
  46. Walton, T. (1980). Economic development and revolutionary upheavals in Iran. Cambridge Journal of Economics 4: 271–292.Google Scholar
  47. Zagorin, P. (1973). Theories of revolution in contemporary historiography. Political Science Quarterly 88: 23–52.Google Scholar
  48. Zonis, M. (1983). Iran: A theory of revolution from accounts of the revolution. World Politics 35 (July): 586–606.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • Timur Kuran
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of EconomicsUniversity of Southern CaliforniaLos Angeles

Personalised recommendations