(This is a current page, from the Patterns of Power Edition 3 book contents. An archived copy of this page is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition03/6253.htm)
The term ‘revolution’ is used here to describe a complete and simultaneous change of economic, legal and political systems. A striking example was the French revolution in 1789, where the people stripped the power and wealth from the king and the aristocracy. Such a revolution is risky, as Edmund Burke foretold at that time in Reflections on the French Revolution:
“I should therefore suspend my congratulations on the new liberty of France, until I was informed how it had been combined with government; with public force; with the discipline and obedience of armies; with the collection of an effective and well-distributed revenue; with morality and religion; with the solidity of property; with peace and order; with civil and social manners. All these (in their way) are good things too; and, without them, liberty is not a benefit whilst it lasts, and is not likely to continue long. The effect of liberty to individuals is that they may do what they please: we ought to see what it will please them to do, before we risk congratulations, which may be soon turned into complaints.” (para. 13)
Several subsequent revisions were needed, to deal with some of the adverse consequences of that revolution.
Revolutions can rely on the charisma of a leader to carry them through but, as Max Weber pointed out in his lecture Politics as a Vocation, they lack stability until the necessary institutions are in place. And the impatience for change that brings about a revolution will continue until progress becomes visible.
There are many examples of dystopian revolutions in the 20th century, where the leaders felt that their ideas were so important that they could brook no opposition and the people suffered. A Time.com article on 14 Oct 2008, entitled Cambodian Khmer Rouge Killers Sentenced, reported that an estimated 1.5 million people had been killed in that example.