Guest Post: Violence, democratisation and civil liberties – The new Arab awakening in light of the experiences from the “third wave” of democratisation

By Matteo Cervellati, Piergiuseppe Fortunato, and Uwe Sunde. Cross posted from VoxEU.

The mass movement for democracy that has led to the exile of Ben Ali in Tunisia paved the way to a new awakening and raised many hopes in North Africa and the Middle East. This column reports on recent research on the historical experiences of countries that democratised during the “third wave”, to shed some light on the prospects for the future of the Arab region.

The mass movement that ousted Tunisia’s President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali was the first case in modern history in which an Arab leader was toppled by a popular uprising. This unprecedented event has triggered similar protests in neighbouring countries and led to the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, to turmoil in Bahrain, Algeria, and Yemen, and to an ongoing civil conflict in Libya.

The concept of a new “Arab awakening” as being the spread of democratic ideas has been evoked by Laurence Pope in The New York Times (2011)among others. But what are the chances of having truly democratic and inclusive societies in these countries? The historical evidence suggests that a key part of the answer may lie in the actual modes of regime change and, in particular, in the level of violence associated with the democratic transition.

Similar determinants but different paths to democracy

Tunisia’s “Jasmine revolution” and the upheaval in the other Arab countries have their roots in the growing discontent of the economically and politically disadvantaged segments of the population. In particular the fast population growth has led to widespread frustration among the young generations, with youth unemployment rates approaching 30% in many countries of the region.
These tensions have been reinforced by the recent global economic crisis and the economic difficulties throughout the region. In a Vox column just over two years ago, Ciccone (2009) reported research suggesting that a negative income shock of 5% raises the likelihood of civil conflict by 15 percentage points. In the case of the Arab countries, the short-term economic downturn was also coupled with sharply rising food prices that have seriously threatened food security.

Despite sharing similar structural determinants of discontent, it is already apparent that the (attempted) regime transitions are taking very different paths in different countries. While in some cases the mass movements have succeeded in opening up the possibility for a rapid and peaceful regime change, in others the path towards democracy is faced with stronger resistance by parts of the ruling elites and appears longer, more uncertain, and stained with blood.1 Will these different transition modes make a difference for the features of the emerging democracies?

Assessing the impact of the transition scenario

Recent academic research suggests that, unfortunately, this may well be the case.
Samuel Huntingdon (1993) provides an analysis of regime transitions during, what he calls, the “third wave” of democratisation. He concludes that violent uprisings are less likely to lead to a regime change and, if it the shift does take place, they may lead to worse democracies. In a 2007 paper (Cervellati et al. 2007), we develop a theory of endogenous democratisation that analyses the determinants of different transition scenarios and their consequences for the features of emerging democracies.

This theory predicts that transitions to democracy under a broad consensus in the population foster the establishment of democracies with good institutional quality, because the individual behaviour can be coordinated along the transition process. In more recent work Cervellati et al. (2011) broaden this view by investigating the incentives of the different social groups to engage in violence, and by studying the role of openly violent conflict during the democratisation process for the features of the emerging democracies. The institutional quality of democracy being determined endogenously, the theory predicts that violent transitions to democracy are less likely to lead to “good quality democracies” with large protection of economic and political liberties. The results also suggest that a minimum consensus among the population is required for the emergence of a well-functioning democracy and that peaceful transitions are more likely if the economic interests of the population are fairly aligned. This is the case if, e.g., the lootable (natural) resources are not a major factor of the economy, and if economic power is not concentrated among very small oligarchic elites.

The prediction that the level of violence which characterises the regime transition may persistently affect the future prospects of democracy is consistent with the empirical evidence from the “third wave” of democratisation over the period 1970-2003. Using information about civil conflicts of different types and intensity from the Peace Research Institute in Oslo (Harbom and Wallensteen 2010) and information on the level of violence during democratisation provided by Freedom House (2005), we estimate the effect of violence during transition on the quality of the emerging democracy in terms of civil liberties.Extending the empirical strategy of Papaioannou and Siourounis (see their 2008 Vox column) considering the differential effects of violent and non-violent transitions and applying it to civil liberties, we are able to look at within-country variation in the timing of democratic transitions.

The comparison of civil liberties in countries that experience a peaceful democratisation or a violent transition to democracy to countries that do not experience a change in their political system reveals that the peaceful route leads to a substantially, and persistently, larger improvement in civil liberties.

Figure 1 illustrates this finding by plotting the evolution of average civil liberties before and after a permanent democratisation.2 Lower levels of the index depicted in the graph imply better civil liberties. The plot distinguishes between countries with a violent transition to democracy and countries in which the transition to democracy was peaceful. While the overall pattern in both groups is similar, there is a clear difference in the level of civil liberties after the transition. After a non-violent democratisation, civil liberties are about one index point better than the world average, corresponding to an improvement of about 1.5 index points.3 Countries with violent transition experience a much less pronounced improvement. The effect of violence during the transition does not vanish during the decade after the transition.

Figure 1. Violent and peaceful transitions to democracy

Screen shot 2011-03-26 at 2.18.25 AM

These findings are robust when conditioning on a rich set of control variables and emerge consistently throughout different specifications, and when conflict incidence in a particular year or lagged institutional quality are added as additional controls. In terms of the determinants of democratisation scenario, the evidence also suggests that higher inequality before the transition is associated with a significantly larger likelihood of violent civil conflicts during the regime change. These results complement previous research that predicts and documents significant interactions between inequality and political freedom for the quality of democracies (Cervellati et al, 2008 and Sunde et al, 2008).


Our research investigates the determinants and consequences of democratic transitions. The results suggest that peaceful transitions to democracy lead to democracies with better average protection of property rights and civil liberties as compared to democracies that emerge after violent conflicts. The evidence from the “third wave” of democratisation also suggests that countries that rely less on natural resources and have lower inequality are more likely to experience nonviolent democratic transitions. Concerning the prospects of the new Arab awakening, it is by now clear that the regime shifts will follow different transition paths in different countries. Taking the experience from the third wave of democratisation seriously, the prospects for the countries currently involved in the most violent conflicts do not look as bright.

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  1. Salviati

    The “research” here is so fundamentally flawed, that its difficult to know where to begin. Lets start with the Civil Liberties Index, which is from Freedom House. Freedom House receives 80% of their budget from the US government, and its should come as no surprise that the US is persistently rated a “1”, “Most Free”. Despite the fact that we have by far the largest number of prisoners in the world, most of whom should be classified as political prisoners as a result of our class/race biased drug laws. Despite the fact that the right of assembly effectively does not exist. You need to obtain permits from the local military (police) in order to assemble protests. It is a one party state, rife with party intimidation. There is no equal access clause in electoral debates. There is not a vibrant labor movement. Workers have no rights in most of the country, some of which have their rights outside of work impinged on by their employers. The list goes on and on.
    Consider America’s allies, like Israel which had a “2” since 2005. Israel currently holds the highest number of official political prisoners in the world. It has the longest military occupations in modern history and rules 3 million people who literally have no rights, while 20% of its population of 7 million live as second class citizens.

    Now Cuba, them bastards who had the nerve to liberate their nation through violence, from American scoundrels, they are a “7”. Worse, than Egypt under Mubarak “5”, Saudi Arabia “6”, Tunisia “5”, Bahrain “5”, Jordan “4”. Or take them other bastards, the Vietnamese, who also had the nerve to liberate their country from Uncle Sam. They were a “7” till they allowed US corporations to move in a produce cheap goods (1999), then they got downgraded to a “6”, now they are a “5”.

    My favorite has to be Afghanistan. Under the Taliban, they were definitely a “7”. But after America moved in and liberated them from tyranny, they are now a “5”. I am sure the Cubans are really jealous of them Afghanis.

    The data is garbage. Garbage in, Garbage Out.

    1. Parvaneh Ferhadi

      I absolutely agree with you.
      The focus on property rights is a bit telling, isn’t it. Obviously a strong guarantee of property rights is what makes a good democracy. It’s not difficult to understand what philosophy is behind that one.

      The authors also state:
      «This theory predicts that transitions to democracy under a broad consensus in the population foster the establishment of democracies»

      That makes it sound as if the problem of establishing a democracy was solely dependent on a consensus within the (general) population. This is nonsense, of course. The decisive factor here is the reaction of the ruling class to demands for change.
      In Tunisia and Egypt, the ruling class reacted by ditching the figurehead, apart from that, the fundamentals haven’t changed.
      In Egypt, for example, a law was decreed criminaling all protests, demonstrations, sit-ins, etc if the ‘affect they could affect the economy’. This is hardly a step forward in civil rights, but does apparently guarantee property rights. Thus it is – after the authors’ definition – a successful ‘revolution’ even though nothing has changed, apart from the name of the figurehead.

      It’s way to early to conclude if Tunisia and Egypt were successful at all in terms of bringing about a change towards more democratic structures. Only time will tell.

    2. Richard Kline

      So Salviati, I agree with the assessments behind your concerns with the particular rating methodology, and could raise many other methodological points some of which appear in my own comment below. That said, the conclusions of the study in the broad brush are not garbage. Nor do I think that methodological considerations alone are the most potent to raise since societal costs of armed revolt and institutional weaknesses of broad nonviolent agitation matter a great deal to the kind of outcome people actually have to live. I speak more to that below.

      1. DownSouth


        We have to separate means from ends here. Is it OK to use a pile of lies and disinformation and gross simplifications to arrive at an appropriate conclusion?

        If nothing else, the “study” is so ham-fisted as to be rendered useless. Completely ignored is what Jonathan Schell explores so thoroughly in The Unconquerable World:

        In the French Revolution, as in the English and the American, the stage of overthrow was nearly bloodless; but the stage of foundation was bloody—-establishing a pattern that was to be repeated in more than one revolution thereafter, and never with more fearful consequences than in the Russian Revolution of 1917. (Let us here recall, too, that the foundation of the independent Indian state was violent. It precipitated the partition of India and Pakistan, which cost almost a million lives.)

        The Bolsheviks seized power in October, 1917, through direct action in St. Petersburg, the capital of Russia. Their proclaimed goal was to relieve the desperate poverty and humiliation of the workers and peasants of Russia by overthrowing the czarist regime and establishing communism—-all as a prelude to a wider revolution that would bring communism to the rest of Europe and, in the not-too-distant future, the world. Little, if any, blood was shed in the revolution, although the Bolsheviks were quite prepared to shed it. However, having seized state power without violence, they instantly began, like the French revolutionaries, to defend and consolidate it with extreme violence, directed against not only their adversaries from the overthrown Provisional Government and the former czarist regime but also their fellow socialists. The Jacobin regime of Maximilien Robespierre ruled by terror for little more than a year, then was overthrown in the reaction of Thermidor, in 1794. The regime founded by Lenin in 1917 did not meet its Thermidor for seventy-four years.

        I find the “study” to be not only chock full of lies, disinformation and propagandistic talking points, but so bereft of the subtleties and details that true students of revolution concern themselves with that it renders the “study” worthless, at best.

        1. Richard Kline

          So Down, it wasn’t a study of revolution, though, it was a comparative study of the aftermath of violent changes of power. Not the criteria for ‘violent’ and ‘democratic’ are stacked to be sure. But do your own survey if you don’t like theirs—I have—and one reaches categorically similar conclusions: societies which have experienced a genuinely violent transition suffer significantly from the costs. Often suffer in ways that are poorly captured in this study, but suffer. Societies which have undergone nonviolent changes suffer a great deal less. They often change less, and moreover what they get is the inception of a gradual change in many cases rather than the implementation of a discrete change. And do any study you wish and I conclude you will find that rapid, discrete changes are often brutal in their impact on some parts of a society, often undeserving of such brutality.

          Those are historical observations behind the scope of this particular comparative study, but those conclusions inform my response to it. As you can see, I didn’t make my reply to the prima facie presentation of the paper, but rather took the paper as the starting point for my own remarks. They were a means to my end, so to speak.

          If you have a perspective that armed revolution produces a superior societal effect, Down, I suggest that you push that forward. That’s not a study I’m eager to pursue, and I’m doubtful, as you see, that a fair reading of the facts will support that view.

          1. Parvaneh Ferhadi

            «Societies which have experienced a genuinely violent transition suffer significantly from the costs»

            Neither the U.S., the UK nor Israel – just to name a few – can be said to have been very peaceful creations, millions of people have died in the process and yet they are usually touted as example democracies everyone should strive to emulate.
            Makes me think that the study is flawed, to put it mildly.

          2. DownSouth


            What is the goal here? The built-in assumption of the authors is that it is “democracy” a la James Madison, Woodrow Wilson, Walter Lippmann, Edward Bernays, George Bush and Barak Obama.

            Or in other words, it is the cheap knock-off of democracy, the polyarchy that the neoliberals and neoconservatives are peddling.

            I am certainly not advocating the use of violence, nor am I asserting that better outcomes are achieved with violence than with nonviolence.

            However, it is a logical fallacy to assume that if the means are pure that the ends are pure. Both the means and the ends must be pure.

          3. DownSouth


            The other subtlety on which the authors completely abdicate is on the very difficult question of defining exactly what “violence” is, or conversely what “non-violence” is.

            Is non-violence what the early Gandhi advocated while he was still heavily under the influence of Tolstoy—-soul-force or truth-force which is complete non-coercive? Or is non-violence what the mature Gandhi embraced, the various forms of non-cooperation which include boycotts, civil disobedience and strikes, which are highly coercive?

            It’s not an idle question. In today’s “Links” there’s an article, “Collective Bargaining for Homeowners: Heroism or Terrorism? My Exclusive Interview with Steven Lerner” by Dylan Ratigan. Lerner is suggesting “that a large number of homeowners stop paying their mortgage until the banks agree to negotiate and modify loans.” A young Gandhi would have undoubtedly not approved of such non-cooperation. A more mature Gandhi would have applauded it. Congressman Jason Chaffetz charges that Lerner’s threats “clearly constitute domestic terrorism.”

            The authors are silent on the issue of what constitutes violence and non-violence. What is one to make of the authors’ silence on such a consequential question?

          4. Richard Kline

            So Down, ‘what is the goal’ is the larger point exactly. What is the goal of those engaged in agitation for change? It isn’t always liberal democracy by any means, not least because that may not be readily attainable in their contexts, and may never have been in effect in their particular societies. I don’t accept the authors’ implicit contention that that is the intended end-state of protests or should be a standard formulation by which the historical instances are compared. If, for instance, the goal was to remove a particularly hideous despot, then it’s not necessarily to evaluate the action subsequently on the degree of ‘democracy’, liberal or otherwise, which resulted in the immediate aftermath of an action. This is why an arbitrary scale is an imperfect measure, _without necessarily being an inaccurate measure_. The authors of the study might be perfectly correct in concluding that less liberal democracy has followed from armed changes or regime, without that being the point of the actions, really.

            But your statement that “both the ends and means must be pure” simply doesn’t engage with reality as we are forced to live it. Even if ones own actions are “pure” by that standard, the situations presented to us may not be independent of our own intent. I’m not advocating ‘by any means necessary,’ myself; specifically, I oppose that concept. But Down, there you are on the street in the moment, and it’s do or die. You are welcome to die pure, but myself I can’t say to those there in the moment that that is the only acceptable course. Sheep die pure, my friend, and wolves live fat. ‘Purity’ is a prescription to hide in the closet facing ones navel in prayer, a just decision up to a point in that ones own hands are clean. While those next door innocent of any crime are dragged away to torture and execution? You want them to die pure so that the conscience of the one in the closet is undisturbed?

            The world simply doesn’t always give us ‘pure’ choices. To me, the goal is to defeat the wolves while killing as few of them as possible. And that may mean taking more casualties on your own side than out and out violence would require. What IS the goal; to stay pure or block harm and change injustice? Dying like pure sheep isn’t a goal I personally endorse, living like smart dogs takes planning and organization. And sometimes you have to bite back because its them or a lot of you. Good planning and good organization mean you hardly ever have to bite.

            Yes, Down, you tell me: what IS the goal?

          5. skippy

            Richard…scale and mass…eh. Too what, do we, assign a point in the fulcrum of political (economic man) and humanistic (belief, all are equal).

            Skippy…too many big fires me thinks, to hard too share, to many absolutes.

            PS…I blame crazzyman…thoughts potential gone si-fi, like the book where hes hunted down for altering the shared reality we live in cuz he has a bigger mental megaphone.

  2. psychohistorian

    Thanks for the analysis. I agree with it and your outlook for countries going through violent conflicts in transition like Libya.

    Is the analysis applicable to America? If so then it would seem that we don’t have a snowballs chance in hell of reacquainting ourselves with democracy. We have both our gun culture and high income inequality against us.

    Is the analysis applicable to world government? I am not sure that even if you could pull the plug on the US war machine that the rest of the world is not quite past the Enlightenment, yet…..unfortunately.

  3. Middle Seaman

    The previous comment is clearly political and not analytical. It is biased even on the facts. It is correct that the US has the largest prison population in existence, but claiming that all prisoners are political prisoners due to class warfare is wrong. Cultural reasons, puritanism, vengeance and primitive approach to punishment are the main reasons.

    I find the research lacking for different reasons. Figure 1, shows continuous lines while it clearly is based on discrete data. This is an attempt to generalize a few points pertaining to particular countries and transitions. It is not very clear why such generalization is feasible, meaningful and even correcrt.

    The post claims that “the theory predicts that violent transitions to democracy are less likely to lead to ‘good quality democracies’ with large protection of economic and political liberties.” This theory can be translated into saying that the more oppressive the regime is and more it is willing to use violence to stay in power, the less likely is the country to transition to democracy. I doubt whether there are enough countries going through transition to democracy to sustain such theory.

    As for the Arab world itself, there three major obstacles on the way to democracy in countries such as Tunis, Egypt and Yemen (Syria seems wavering too). First, none of those countries has much of a political infrastructure that is necessary for a democracy. Countries such as Yemen and Libya are tribal communities with likelihood of civil wars. Third, the Muslim Brotherhood is a major force in many Arab countries; it is politically mature, better organized and inherently anti-democratic.

    1. Salviati

      I did not say all prisoners. What I said is that most should be considered political prisoners because of how our laws are structured along class or racial lines. For instance Congress set forth different mandatory penalties for cocaine and crack cocaine, with significantly higher punishments for crack cocaine offenses. There is a 5-year minimum prison penalty for a first-time trafficking offense involving 5 grams or more of crack cocaine or 500 grams or more of powder cocaine. This is not an accident. Powder cocaine is primarily used by the wealthy, crack is a drug of the poor and besides that there really is not much difference between the two. Or consider the draconian Rockefeller drug laws which established 15 to life minimum sentences for possession of a quarter lb of pot. This stuff is insane. These laws stem from political ideology and it targets the poor, who have limited means for making a living or getting legal defense.

      If the reasons were “puritanism, vengeance and primitive approach to punishment are the main reasons”, then the prison rate would be fairly fixed. The prison rate has grown exponentially since the 1960’s.
      Wow, what a coincidence, but its clearly not political, right. Its such a coincidence that felons lose the right to vote in some states. Or that prisoners, convicted of felonies or misdemeanors are barred from voting in several states.

      As for the Arab World not having a “political infrastructure” for democracy, I’m curious, what political infrastructure are you requiring? They need a one party state of prostitutes masquerading as politicians? Or do they need a compliant media comprised of hunks and bimbos?
      You don’t know what democracy even means. If you lived in Saudi Arabia right now you would be singing the praises of King Abdullah.

    2. Parvaneh Ferhadi

      «Third, the Muslim Brotherhood is a major force in many Arab countries; it is politically mature, better organized and inherently anti-democratic.»

      Assuming that what you say is true that the MB is inherently anti-democratic, how come the U.S. government is ready to support government participation of the MB?
      In Daily Kos we read:
      « 10.17pm GMT: More from the State Department, with spokesman PJ Crowley suggesting that the US is reconciled to the Muslim Brotherhood being a part of whatever government replaces Mubarak’s regime.

      After urging the Muslim Brotherhood to respect democratic processes, Crowley acknowledged that its presence is “a fact of life in Egypt”.

      In addition, the new constitutional changes the Egyptians voted upon largely favour the two large parties, i.e. the National Democratic(!) Party, which is the ruling party, and the Muslim Brotherhood.
      Smaller parties will have a hard time organising themselves in time for the September elections and as a result, Egypt might end up with two dominating parties both fully supported by the U.S., who are both largely undemocratic.

      Somehow it figures. However, a revolution it ain’t.

    3. DownSouth

      Middle Seaman said:

      The previous comment is clearly political and not analytical. It is biased even on the facts. It is correct that the US has the largest prison population in existence, but claiming that all prisoners are political prisoners due to class warfare is wrong. Cultural reasons, puritanism, vengeance and primitive approach to punishment are the main reasons.

      Well I suppose the best defense is a good offense. But anyone who believes that the United States is a functional democracy is, and let me quite blunt here, delusional.

      And there is nothing more dysfunctional in the United States than the criminal justice system. The United States has a criminal justice system that would make even the most capable tin-pot dictator envious. We’re talking big time banana republic here.

      To comprehend just how disgusting Middle Seaman’s moral and intellectual reasoning is, we have to take a look at something Martin Luther King said:

      [M]an is neither innately good nor is he innately bad: he has potentialities for both…

      And so the nonviolent resister never lets this idea go, that there is something within human nature that can respond to goodness. So that a Jesus of Nazareth or a Mohandas Gandhi, can appeal to human beings and appeal to the element of goodness within them, and a Hitler can appeal to the element of evil within them.

      King was well aware that there are powerful factions in the United States who have taken the Hitler approach:

      It is unfortunate, indeed, that at this time the leadership of the white South stems from the closed-minded reactionaries. These persons gain prominence and power by the dissemination of false ideas, and by deliberately appealing to the deepest hate responses within the human mind.

      So yes, Middle Seaman is correct insofar as there do indeed exist “hate responses within the human mind”—-“puritanism, vengeance and primitive approach to punishment” as he calls them—-that the oligarchs can appeal to. (And by the way, these traits are hardly unique to Americans.) And of course the oligarchs do appeal to them, and on a very grand scale. Edward Bernays and Walter Lippmann were perhaps the two individuals most responsible for transforming these appeals into a science of sorts, as is discussed in the outstanding documentary, Psywars, which can be seen here.

      Speaking more specifically of American criminal justice, a thorough study of how the propaganda industry manipulates public opinion and appeals to “hate responses within the human mind” can be found in this study, OFF BALANCE:
      . The study found that:

      • Youth of color in California were more than eight times as likely to be incarcerated by adult courts as White youth for equally serious crimes.

      • Youth of color are treated more severely than White youth at each stage of the justice system, even when charged with the same offenses.

      • Although violent crime by youth in 1998 was at its lowest point in the 25-year history of the National Crime Victimization Survey, 62% of poll respondents felt that juvenile crime was on the increase.

      • More than 70 years ago Walter Lippmann wrote a now-classic work, “Public Opinion.” In that book he described the impossibility of knowing through direct experience everything that it was necessary to know to function as a citizen in our modern democracy. Instead, Lippmann explained, we depend on “pictures in our heads,” many of them delivered by the news media, to tell us about the world. Our decisions about how to behave and how to construct our society have to be based on those pictures, Lippmann believed, because the world was too vast to experience personally.

      • Overall, the studies taken together indicate that depictions of crime in the news are not reflective of either the rate of crime generally, the proportion of crime which is violent, the proportion of crime committed by people of color, or the proportion of crime committed by youth.

      • Furthermore, the studies show that crime is depicted as a series of distinct events unrelated to any broader context. Most studies that examine race and crime find that the proportion of crime committed by people of color (usually African Americans) is over-reported and that Black victims are under-represented.

      Why are America’s oligarchs so hell bent on misleading and keeping the American public misinformed about crime? There are a number of reasons besides the one King pointed out. As shortlist of these might include:

      • The promotion of irrationality to keep the public morally and intellectually confused.
      • The search for scapegoats to divert attention away from the crimes of the oligarchs.
      • The institutional interests of law enforcement agencies, prosecutors and jurists. More crime, or the perception of more crime, translates to bigger budgets and more power for the bureaucratic empire builders.
      • Growth and profits for the private prison and private security industry.
      • The creation of the appearance of law enforcement being “tough on crime,” while the oligarchs are allowed to conduct their criminal activities with impunity.
      • The justification, or at least the keeping in secret, of the use of the criminal justice system to punish political dissent.
      • The subordination of the traditional goals of the criminal justice system to the highly politicized imperatives of the national security state.

      1. DownSouth

        In the documentary film psywar the discussion of the scientific and technical revolution led by Lippmann and Bernays to use propaganda to destroy democracy begins at about minute 01:02:00

      2. Tao Jonesing


        Good stuff, as always.

        As to your “shortlist,” a lot of what is going on has nothing to do with conscious decision-making. Oligarchs are human beings who are subject to the very same limitations of the human psyche that the oligarchy often seeks to exploit. The difference is that oligarchs have the power to perpetuate their cognitive biases and prejudices at the societal level. Thus, the values of the oligarchy inevitably become the values of societal institutions, which shape reality to meet expectations (e.g., prejudices). Confirmation bias applied at the societal level becomes self-fulfilling prophecy.

        The rise of the mass media and the neoliberal vision of corporate central planning have made things infinitely worse, but the basic flaw in all human societies since time immemorial is they reflect and amplify human frailty.

    4. Richard Kline

      So Middle Seaman, the methodological shortcomings of the analysis in the post question the robustness of the conclusion, yes, without necessarily invalidating that conclusion. I take a more qualitative approach in my own remarks.

      Your assessment of ‘tribal societies,’ with Yemen and Libya as the examples, being compromised as a basis for democracies is more sweeping than accurate. One thing that tribal societies do demonstrate is a great deal of horse-trading to _avoid_ civil war. Traditional tribal societies tend to have a lot of feud but not necessarily a lot of civil war. You also appear to flatly discount the impact of urbanization upon both of those countries, and the institutional experience of international exchange and trade. If left to themselves, neither country is likely to have a strong central government, nor would Afghanistan. Civil war is certainly a possibility, and stretches to a probability if outside actors pick and choose who to fund and support. Your remarks on the Muslim Brotherhood strike me as simply prejudiced. The organization has participated in elections in multiple contexts. And yes, I know something about the Ikhwan more than I read in the papers.

      Will democracies in these countries look like ours? Perhaps not, nor should they necessarily.

  4. Richard Kline

    This study by Cervellati, Fortunato, and Sunde is valuable in that it actively quantifies results. It is unfortunate that the summary post from VoxEU does not clearly describe the criteria used in the study for determining that a change is ‘violent.’ Riots, for instance those in Tunisia, often have significant violence and fatalities against regime participants, for instance. Still, the difference between an armed rebellion and an unarmed mass uprising is fairly clear in most cases. Furthermore, limiting the study to instances in the 1973-2003 period is a serious methodological shortcoming aside from being too short a period to be confident of valid generalization. Notwithstanding three qualifications I’m going to suggest below to the clarity of the results presented by the authors however, and separate from other concerns with some of Samuel Huntington’s framing of social conflict models, I agree with the substance of the conclusions presented here: non-violent changes of regime are not simply more moral, they generate better outcomes. Better in the sense of more humane outcomes, but also better in the sense of outcomes with greater potential for ongoing societal change.

    A simple review of common conditions in armed changes of regime makes plain the undesirability of such a course where other programs of change are possible (and they nearly always but now always are). A successful resort to arms to achieve a political effect is an endorsement of armed action over mass resistance (occupy-and-switch off) or negotiation; those that have such success are likely to place somewhat lower value and/or confidence in the latter two modalities whether or not resort to arms is made again. Something like this could be argued as the case in Ireland in the first generation of independence from the UK. Ethiopia and Eritreia both fit this description presently as well. Where success comes from arms, the losses involved make reconciliation that much more difficult with adherents of the former regime, and moreover may dispose successful insurgents against such reconciliation since if successful they hold the gun and can unilaterally determine whether to reconcile or not in many cases. Armed rebellions are often economically devastating, halting normal economic functioning whether or not institutional authorities survive. Where institutional authorities also are or must be destroyed, it may take years, even a generation to restore the kind of civil order a functioning economy requires. Armed rebellions have a propensity to spill over into neighboring societies via refugee flight, safe havens, allied communities, economic disjunctions and so on. In consequence, armed struggles have a propensity to generalize or at least to drag in third party participants, with the resulting conflicting interests making resolution that much harder to achieve. Lebanon of the last generation is an instance of this.

    The worst aspects of armed regime changes from my perspective are the personal effects and situational selection all-or-nothing combat have on those who successfully achieve power in this way, regardless of their specific policies or goals. Hard men win at arms (and they are nearly all men); they risked their lives, many of them, had friends and associates killed, often savagely, and compromise and nuance are not characteristics which helped them succeed in the main, nor to which they are likely to turn as a matter of course subsequently. Moreover, waverers melt back or away when it’s necessary to put lives on the line to win, meaning those who come to the fore in armed struggles are disproportionately likely to be zealots of one kind or another; not partisans of compromise and reconciliation. This was the case in the English Civil War, for instance, which facilitated a permanent democratization of England, but led in the immediate term to dictatorship, and over the long-term to the export of colonial repression, beginning in Scotland and Ireland. This is also the case with Islamic jihadis of long-standing if tiny numbers from many of the societies now undergoing mass changes; men (and they are nearly all men) who justifiably resisted dictators and autocrats but whose zealotry justified extensive violence, and one can conclude an inability to govern or even function in democratic, pluralistic societies.

    Armed rebellion is folly where there are alternatives. I would certainly tell anyone who asked me to struggle without weapons. It is clearly a sign of political maturity that this seems well understood by those agitating for change in North Africa and Southwest Asia at present. Still, those in power don’t always make unarmed agitation possible but rather suicidal. The regime of the Gaddafiya in Libya is such a regime, and moreover having risen up there was no going back. Constituencies advocating for social justice and popular governance in Colombia have been exterminated by violence repeatedly for over a century; slaughtered by death squads repeatedly when attempting to function in putatively democratic elections over the last generation. Regardless of armed resistance being a high-cost choice with suboptimal outcomes, it is in some instances a forced choice, forced by the actions of murderous power. My point here is that every socio-historical circumstance has a unique context, and this has to be accounted for by outsiders evaluating their own response to actions and events. Blanket principles do not always hold meaningful interpretations.

    Concerning the finding in the study of Cervellati et. al. discussed in the post, there is a serious shortcoming with the clarity of results. I suspect that this may be evaluated in the control factors mentioned by the authors, but it’s too important to pass over. Armed revolts often are in fact pursued by arms because of physical insecurity, either from the prior regime, from counter-revolutionary uprising or insurgency, or outside intervention. The ‘less democratic’ nature of the situations at less than ten years on often is directly correlated to such ongoing physical insecurity or outright attack. (This is separate from the salient issue that event-plus-ten years is simply too short a time frame for the outcome of a regime change to be certain, let alone certain conclusions drawn.) Consider three cases alone: Mozambique, Nicaragua, and Iran. The former two would certainly qualify as regime changes with armed uprisings, where both faced highly destructive counter-revolutionary insurgencies backed by outside powers which themselves constantly threatened direct intervention. Despite this, neither were severely repressive internally compared to many successful armed revolutionary factions, and both countries, having committed to democratizing trajectories from the outset made such transitions subsequently. Iran would qualify as an unarmed transition, and it is often forgotten now that that unarmed uprising was broad based, with many secular participants. Once Iran faced an extremely dangerous military invasion, zealots willing to fight gained the upper hand and crushed other factions.

    My point here is that the driving factor of undemocratic outcomes was armed attack more than the modality of armed or unarmed insurrection. Or compare two liberal uprisings in the 1700s, in Sweden and France. In Sweden, an armed coup overthrew an absolute monarchical despot, while in France an essentially unarmed rebellion gained control of an absolute monarchical despot. In Sweden, there was no armed outside intervention or counter-revolution, and the outcome was essentially democratic, an eventual constitutional monarchy. In France, there was armed outside intervention actively supporting armed internal counter-revolution. The result was factional Terror, followed by military despotism.

    Nothing guarantees that any faction, regardless of goals, which gains power through armed action will subsequently put away those arms and tolerate a pluralistic society of democratic norms. But what all but guarantees that such arms will not be put away is armed resistance internally and/or armed invasion externally. I suspect that if this study is re-evaluated by those conditions, a strong correlation with continuing armed violence will be found amongst those post-armed revolt societies, which would call into question the source and meaning of their assigned less democratic outcomes.

    Apart from the democratic character or less than perfect reflection thereof of societies at change plus ten years, there is a further issue which has to enter the discussion. That is the completeness and long-term success of the revolutionary change. This is something which has go be gauged in terms of means and goals. Killing few and including most is the humanly preferable outcome of change; of change, if change is achieved as opposed to disturbance or simple strife. Something not evaluated in this particular study is the degree of success in removing prior regimes. This is not merely a hypothetical desiderata since repressive systems are based on particular constituencies, values, and resource bases, which often will reconstitute themselves given time and the latitude to do so. When change occurs meaningfully at all. In this regard, one aspect of armed revolutions that does weigh in their favor independent of their costs is that they do tend to permanently disperse the bases of prior repression. It was not a certainty that Stalinism would follow from the success of the Russian Revolution, but that Revolution did completely overthrow the prior governing aristocracy. While the Mexican Revolution could scarcely be described as other than compromised, the military ceased to be the decisive powerbase there as nowhere else in Latin America of the time, and has never staged a coup since. Monarchy and its quasi-caste basis in Nepal is permanently discredited by the success of armed revolution there. Whether the repressive constituency which is the object of popular revolt is so inimical to civil society that its dispersion is imperative is a very difficult question to judge, certainly by any outsider. In Libya, the Gaddafiya have proven themselves to be such an inimical faction. In Arabia, NO change is going to be possible where the princes of Saud retain any political or economic power; change there, however it comes, will only proceed without them. They well understand this, and when the time comes (likely very soon) so will those who remove them. This argument is not by any means a call for extermination, or an endorsement of armed revolt. But the permanence of success is something which has to be included in the picture, and in doing so the consequences of subsequent failure for popular agitators of course enters calculations of means. Pluralistic democracy is a blessed state (it is said), but if you are dead or your family or comrades are rounded up and shot if you lose the endeavor ceases to be philosophical; objective preferences yield to subjective necessities.

    In tandem to the potentially greater permanence of change from violent revolutions one has to weigh the reality that nonviolent revolutions often fall well short of broad change, both in the short term—change plus ten years—and over the generation and more to follow. Consider the nonviolent toppling of the Marcos regime in the Philippines. When popular agitation made the country ungovernable, the military overthrew him. However, the system wasn’t changed. Quasi-feudal oligarchs economically intertwined with foreign powers in tandem with the military set themselves up a new government which remains largely in place. Yes, the immediate repression of the Marcos regime itself was ended, but the system was perpetuated. The toppling of Suharto in Indonesia is nearly identical. Egypt faces exactly this matrix of potentials now: Mubarak has been toppled and the secret police greatly degraded, but the system under the surface is largely intact. It may reconstitute itself; there may be a gradual generation long democratization as in Turkey; there may be a culminating popular transformation. This will become clear over the next eighteen months or so, no one should think ‘it is over’ in Egypt; it’s only begun.

    In unarmed revolutions, much depends on what is designated as the goal of the main push. If it is ‘removal of X’ or ‘an end to Y,’ that can often be achieved. What is often not achieved is the disempowering of the prior regime faction if they are indigenous to a society (as opposed to an occupying or colonial regime which withdraws). Whether popular coalitions in such circumstances have the weight or unity to change institutions or resist counter-revolutionary power grabs is unique to each situation but the fundamental risk. Consider the Republic of Georgia in that light, where an aging despot was toppled only to have a slicker and more repressive version of the same type sweep aside democratization with outside aid. This is something which the time period of the study cited here does not well-capture, that there are cases of the failure of democratization from nonviolent agitation due to the lack of staying power of soft power. Whether it is better to have 15% of change in your own generation and 55% of change in the generation following as opposed to 70% of change in half a generation at a very stiff cost in lives and reduced liberties is the Devil’s own choice. I hope that I never have to make it, and I can say I would only make it if a regime held a gun to my head in the very literal sense. In gauging the worth of violent as opposed to nonviolent agitation for change, though, we shouldn’t pretend that this kind of calculations is nonexistent or meaningless. This kind of calculation is life or death for those in the midst, and often has to be committed to in a matter of days at the crux, prior plans notwithstanding if they were made at all.

    The study of Cervellati et. al. matters for those of us on the outside of an uprising in evaluating who we might wish to support and how. For those on the inside, though, their choices narrow once the guns open fire. This is why, to me, the strongest condemnation has to be laid upon governing authorities who elect to enforce power by gross military force, massacre, reprisals, deaths squads, and more severely criminal action. Institutions can outlast and outmaneuver masses where masses are wrong or confused, so the obligation is on authority to use soft power and persuasion to endure. That is what didn’t make it into the study: choices of modality are often not at the discretion of popular forces given the greater advantages of state authorities. The obligation to maintain security is not negligible, but that said the obligation to refrain from armed repression weighs more heavily on authority than populace in my view. This isn’t an academic perspective on popular agigation; some might call that a ‘democratic’ perspective.

    1. DownSouth

      Richard Kline said: “This study…is valuable in that it actively quantifies results.”

      What results? “Democracy” as defined by Woodrow Wilson, Walter Lippmann, Edward Bernays, George Bush and Barak Obama?

      If that is the holy grail of democracy, which according to the authors of this study it clearly is (as pointed out by Salviati above), you can count me out.

      The neoliberals and neoconservatives can take the shoddy brand of “democracy” they’re peddling and cram it up where the sun don’t shine.

    2. john c. halasz

      So, Richard Kline, doesn’t your own analysis of the deleterious effects of outsider violent interference in popular revolts severely qualify, if not contradict, your own rather emotional and muddled support for the Libyan “no fly zone” intervention? My take is that the Libyan intervention, starting from “Sandblaster” Sarkozy and moving down the line, isn’t aimed at supporting the “Arab Spring”, but at diverting and containing it, in the face of much due embarassment. The key point is that any successful popular revolt, armed or not, must be “owned” by the people involved, if it is to generate “power” in the Arendtian sense. If Paris is worth a mass, maybe Libya is worth many shuhada.

      1. Richard Kline

        So john, several points; let’s start with those from your comment.

        The insurgency in Libya, in so far as one can determine from what is observable in the media, IS owned by those enacting it. They have come out in every city if you followed early reporting, and many other areas, at great risk. But the insurgents do not have the means to overcome artillery and armor. And let’s remember that we are only five weeks into this. Defeat means mass execution, large scale refugee flight, and likely ongoing guerrilla struggle for some time with ongoing costs. Those in the insurgency have made it plain that they are willing to accept the costs of armed uprising. They have also made it plain what kind of military action they want, and what they do not want, to the extent that they are in a position to form a common plan of action. This is not a situation where we have a cadre of exiles and/or a small internal faction calling for an outside invasion to do it for them. To the extent to which there has been time, the insurgents also have at least a general picture of the political end state they are advocating for; whether or not they can deliver on that should the regime be overthrown is certainly in play, but there is at least an expressed intent. In my view, the insurgents _have_ very much taken ownership of this action, and are continuously bearing as much of the costs and effort as are within their limited capabilities. More important, many on the side of the insurgency know many inside the regime: there are communications going back and forth. There were many desertions from the regime earlier, and I strongly expect that there will be many in the end stage of this revolt too, for the strongest ‘artillery’ of the insurgents are personal negotiations off the radar. Insofar as what can be assessed at this point, the program and goal of the Libyan insurgents is not a situation like Croatia’s securing outside intervention to push back the Serbs so that the Croats could ethnically cleanse the latter from disputed territory, which is what in fact happened in the endstage of the Yugoslavian Civil War. The Libyan insurgents represent conservatively 75% of the population, and would appear to have had 90% on their side before the Warfallah tribe ‘officially’ returned to allegiance since they live as close to Tripoli as Misurata and had no way to defend themselves. From my standpoint, the insurgency has done as much as is in their means to own their revolution, and tried to act with minimal violence but had that option taken away from them.

        As a second point, Sarkozy and many others calling for and participating in an intervention assuredly have their own agendas, yes. Calling for him and others to act is a fraught choice. But really, it is only secondarily relevant what his goals are, and in fact rather Eurocentric (or Americentric) to gauge the issue of an interventionary bombardment by what it does or does not mean to Sarkozy. What is the goal, john? The success of the Libyan insurgency, the complete repudiation of any government which uses internal massacre, and on a larger scale the ‘enhancement and advancement’ of the revolutionary change we are seeing amongst the peoples in that region. From my perspective, Sarko and the pilots on high are a means to an end. An unpure means, but the stakes are high, and show me another option. Yes, those interveners will likely look to get something in their tip jar for their efforts, and will assuredly bloviate half-truths and lunacies about why and what they are up to. It is bizarre to me that putative progressives and isolated conservatives view the intervention in terms of “What’s in it for Sarko/my type” as opposed to what’s in if for the Libyan insurgents or those in adjoining societies. Show me other, better choices for them, and we have a conversation. They don’t see them, and I don’t either; things move too quickly, as the always do in a crisis. Occupation in Libya by outside parties would be very, very bad—but everyone seems aware of this, most especially the Libyans. I don’t support any occupation, period. I also don’t care if Sarko gets good press or bad about it; I care about the result.

        Which brings me to the third point, which to me is the main point: This really isn’t about Libya. Anyone who doesn’t grasp that is in no position to weigh the actions involved. All the regimes across North Africa and Southwest Asia are functionally the same; the differences are surface, the commonalities are root. Those who rule are in every case socially isolated and kleptocratic minorities who seized power by coup at one point or another, and have held it by police state action backed up by the threat of direct military oppression ever since. Several have used military force to subdue popular agigation in the past; all of them are in principal prepared to do so: this is what their militaries are actually FOR, not to fight each other but to suppress theif domestic populations. Many of them will call for their militaries to use massive firepower, and some of those militaries will do so. For everyone of them who stay in power by those means, momentarily discomfited former elites in other places will take encouragement and arms to push for counter-revolution themselves. I don’t think that is an idle assessment, it is certain.

        The point is, how much violence can regimes like in Yemen, Arabia, Syria, Algeria, and Morocco get away with using? I stressed this before. And don’t discount the very real possibility of Israeli intervention in other states, either; not immediately, but that is a non-negligible possibility over the next three years or so while things are in flux. Every regime is watching each other and watching international reaction intensely. If anyone isn’t aware of this, they aren’t paying attention. When that international reaction is “Be nice, you’re giving me a headache,” the violence has repeatedly gone way, way up. When that reaction has been “You’re not just dead to me, you’re dead, full stop,” the violence has gone down. It is no coincidence that when muddled isolationists were blocking any meaningful international action, the Gaddafiya shell towns and launch armored assaults, the Saudis invade Bahrain and mandate massive live fire on demonstrators, and Saleh’s partisans open heavy fire on demonstrators in multiple cities. It’s no coincidence that after Libya’s air assests are incinerated, their forward armor is pulverized, and at least one of Gaddafi’s sons gets killed that the Syrians, despite their use of fire, are doing so mostly by the police, and in small numbers rather than with heavy weapons; that the mercenary army in Bahrain fires only tear gas this week; that Saleh’s side doesn’t shoot even one demonstrator, and only very briefly exchanges fire with a pro-change military unit. The intervention in Libya is really about making clear that any regime which opens mass fire on its population in this process is going to be dead to the world, period. And that any counter-revolutionary force which is thinking about pushing an armed coup of its own in, say, Egypt, or any other country subsequently will know that they will be absolutely opposed by the rest of their world, and have no future whatsoever for such an action.

        I’m not saying that all of this programmatic result of the Libyan bombardment is in the mind or intention of every state or political executive participating in that bombardment or broader action; surely it is not. But the _effect_ of the action is much as I just described. And clearly some of those intervening intend to achieve that effect. So I’ll ask again, what is the goal? If the wretched and compromised Barack Obama gets a little good press from people I don’t much care for anyway for this, I really don’t care, and anyone who’s primary goal is for everyone to think he or any other person of faction look bad doesn’t really _have_ any political goals as far as I can tell; they are about name-calling and theater rather than, well, GOALS. Changes for those in other places. And for those in the Near East to make change, they need the survivable space to make it. We here in the US, we could change our system if we really cared to get off our fat butts, put down own electronic pacifiers, and spend the half of a year it would take making it. But in the Near East, they have heavy weapons sitting a few miles away, and repressive regimes prepared to use them. If those heavy weapons aren’t used, then the populace can, and as we see will, make change. So if the goal is for that change to get the space to be made, those heavy weapons have to stay parked and dusty.

        This is why I have called for the heavy weapons being used by the Libyan regime to be destroyed. Because it’s necessary there, and essential in its message across the region. Yes, it’s a rotten situation that bloody and compromised neo-colonialists are the ones who’ve undertaken that. Do you john, or anyone else have another option to propose? I mean now; no, what I really mean is NOW. Because those weapons are rolling, and the time is now. Not for ‘What ifs’ or ‘I’m too good for thats’ but this is the time if there is to be a time. If your goal isn’t that these revolutions succeed, then by all means cavil. If your goal is that they do, then I suppose you’re grinding your teeth like me, and hoping that more of these regimes go quietly and soon into that good night.

        What will replace them? Very likely something better, but no one can guarantee that. We know the devils we’ve got though, and the folks there are clear they mean to change them. To me, it’s put up or shut the hell up for those that want a better world.

        1. john c. halasz


          A belated response. We don’t know what exactly has and is transpiring within Libya. Yes, the were mass protests with some considerable defections that were, after likely some regrouping by the inner regime, were violently suppressed, resulting in likely hundreds, though not thousands of deaths, which then became an armed rebellion, effectively splitting the country into its two traditional halves. How Gaddafi has held on to power for over 40 years is itself something of a mystery: yes, torture and selective assassinations, huge oil rents to buy acquiescence, divide and rule manipulations of tribal politics, and, having come to power in a coup, designing the army and security apparatus primarily to prevent any coup attempts. But the regime didn’t stay in power without some basis of domestic support, collaboration and complicity, even if that has now overwhelmingly decayed, and the reorganization of power/transformation of regime is a bit unfathomable in its prospects right now. Yes, Gadddafi is a god-awful brute and nutcase, but he’s an indigenous and endogenous product of the country, besides which simply personalizing the conflict is an analytic mistake, (which is one Americans are especially prone to). The upshot is not that Gaddafi is especially strong, but rather that the rebels are simply even weaker. Likely he commands at core a praetorian guard of maybe 10,000 troops with some armor and artillery and nasty tactics, (though snipers and indiscriminate, but non-saturation bombardment by relatively limited and light artillery is scarcely a sure winning strategy for bloody urban warfare, but rather more just a murderous terror tactic, if the enemy is sufficiently organized and determined). The rebels are ostensibly commanded by a former interior minister, (which means himself a bad actor) with 8000 troops and some looted or captured weapons, including tanks and 2 jets, one of which the rebels themselves managed to shoot down. But, judging by reporting on Al Jazeera, Gaddafi might have operationally had a couple of dozen jets, which weren’t being used to much effect, (other than perhaps inhibiting the movement of rebel armor), and were not the decisive factor, which is to be decided on the ground. What the rebels clearly lack and need is tactical weapons training and tactical command organization, (i.e. NCOs and communications), as well as more armor, (which they might easily be able to obtain covertly from the Egyptians selling old Soviet tanks,- on credit no less).

          So even if it obvious that Gaddafi should well be gone and that the rebels implicitly have the vast support of the population, it doesn’t follow that the rebels represent an organized core expressing the popular will for regime change in a way that automatically “own” the revolution, while the military situation in its own indigenous terms looks bloody, but not hopeless in terms of the wanton massacre of thousands upon thousands, but rather looks more like a stalemate. But the calls for a “no fly zone” made no sense per se, as if those few jets were the crucial factor, but only makes sense as a “no drive zone” in active support of the rebels, which they might welcome in their desperation, but which also weakens their potential for independent legitimacy. And the latter is by no means a “humanitarian intervention”, but rather the application of massive and asymmetrical lethal force, i.e. and act of war. And acts of war are always political acts and never moral ones. So there is a considerable amount of unspeak involved in the intervention, (such as when the French declare that it aims to facilitate “dialogue”, exactly the King of Bahrains rejected offer).

          So what I said holds. The “no fly zone” serves to divert attention from what is going on elsewhere by way of popular repression, and distract from the embarrassments of Western complicity in propping up the Gaddafi (and other) tyranny, while containing and weakening the independent force and legitimation potential of the popular revolts. (Why did Sarko take the lead here? My guess a prime consideration was Algeria). The “signal” being sent by Western intervention is far more ambiguous, duplicitous in its differential handling of different situations and muddled in its means and ends than I think your allowing for in my humble analysis.

          And your general thrust that all these Arab regimes are basically alike, as oligarchical police states, (which is scarcely unique to the Arabs), is analytically weak. Saleh/Yemen is obviously not the same as Gaddafi/Libya. The presence or absence of oil rents obviously makes a huge difference, but there are significant differences in the histories and complexion of each situation. Most of these societies were, however, under nominal Turkish rule for some centuries, and my understanding is that the Turks collected their taxes, but left local governance largely in the hands of alliances of local notables. Hence the fissiparous, fractious, apparently “tribal” of the underlying socio-political structure of these societies, together with their only marginally “developing” status, tends to render authoritarian, repressive rule a delicate, (if often brutal) balancing act to maintain “stability”. And so the regimes might have quite different bases and degrees of support and “legitimacy”, in the face of rising popular discontent and demands.

          1. john c. halasz

            I forgot to add that I fully realize that you and I are just bleacher bums. Neither one of us has any power to decide or direct and significant influence on those who do, nor any direct involvement or anything but merely notional stakes.

    3. Nathanael

      And how would you analyze Portugal’s Carnation Revolution? It doesn’t fit ANY of the trends you identified, except for that of “not having an outside or inside violent counterrevolutionary force is good”.

      Perhaps, then, that is the only conclusion we can come to. If you can arrange before your revolution to completely eliminate or marginalize violent counterrevolutionary forces, you’ll have a better outcome.

      This sounds so dopey as to be unhelpful.

  5. Dan Duncan

    This post and the attendant commentary inspire a quote the learned and venerable Casey Kasem: “F*cking Ponderous, man. F*cking ponderous.”

    So let’s see…the premise is: “A society fares better after non-violent revolutions, as opposed to violent revolutions.”

    No way! You gotta be shitting me.

    Before getting too excited, though, let me ask: Of the violent revolutions…how many went “Straight Violent”? You know, where they just skipped that non-violent stuff.

    Or another way: How many of the violent revolutions first tried some sort of non-violent route, only to watch it fail….and only then did they resort to violence?

    If many of the violent over-throwers actually tried legitimate non-violent routes first, shouldn’t these examples actually be considered as “Non-Violent Revolutions which Failed”? Shouldn’t the result–ie still living under despotic rule– be a part of the Non-Violent Result? If so, then doesn’t this detract from the Non-Violent side of the ledger?

    Instead, you’re treating Violent Revolution vs. Non-Violent Revolution as if it’s strictly binary.

    This entire discussion is about as insightful (and meaningful) as saying: “Patients fare better when peaceful, non-surgical measures are employed to solve the problem, as opposed to violent, invasive surgical procedures.”

    The Cervellati, et al post is silly.

    1. DownSouth


      Due to your typical mental obtuseness, or a deliberate desire to confuse and mislead, you completely miss the intent of the “study.”

      The authors come to a conclusion with which few people would disagree. So the assumptions the authors used to come to that conclusion must also be true, no? Or so the authors would have us believe.

      The “study” is nothing but a framework upon which to hang propagandistic talking points, combined with an attempt to give those talking points an air of credibility by the promotion of a logical fallacy.

  6. Parvaneh Ferhadi

    But isn’t the phrase non-violent revolution a contradiction in terms anyway?
    Revolution is (in this context):
    1. (Government, Politics & Diplomacy) the overthrow or repudiation of a regime or political system by the governed
    2. (Government, Politics & Diplomacy) (in Marxist theory) the violent and historically necessary transition from one system of production in a society to the next, as from feudalism to capitalism

    The above I would call the classical meaning of revolutions. Hardly has there been any revolution in history that didn’t include some sort of violence.

    Of course, you can also take the following – in my view, watered down – definition of revolution:
    3. a far-reaching and drastic change, esp in ideas, methods, etc.

    However, that one doesn’t quite apply to the change in political/societal systems, it’s more suited for the science/technological field.

    1. DownSouth

      Speaking of the moral dimensions of the methods of nonviolence:

      • [The moralist] believes…that nothing but an extension of social intelligence and an increase in moral goodwill can offer society a permanent solution for its social problems. Yet the moralist may be as dangerous a guide as the political realist. He usually fails to recognise the elements of injustice and coercion which are present in any contemporary social peace. The coercive elements are covert, because dominant groups are able to avail themselves of the use of economic power, propaganda, the traditional processes of government, and other types of non-violent power. By failing to recognise the real character of these forms of coercion, the moralist places an unjustified moral onus upon advancing groups which use violent methods to disturb the peace maintained by subtler types of coercion. Nor is he likely to understand the desire to break the peace, because he does not fully recognise the injustices which it hides. They are not easily recognized, because they consist of inequalities, which history sanctifies and tradition justifies. Even the most rational moralist underestimates them, if he does not actually suffer from them. A too uncritical glorification of co-operation and mutuality therefore results in the acceptance of traditional injustices and the preference of the subtler types of coercion to the more overt types.

      An adequate political morality must do justice to the insights of both moralists and political realists.

      • The use of truth-force or soul-force in the purer and more exact meaning of those words, means an appeal to the reason and goodwill of an opponent in a social struggle. This may be regarded as a type of resistance, but it is not physical coercion.

      • Beginning with the idea that social injustice could be resisted by purely ethical, rational and emotional forces (truth-force and soul-force in the narrower sense of the term), he came finally to realise the necessity of some type of physical coercion upon the foes of his people’s freedom, as every political leader must. “In my humble opinion,” he declared, “the ordinary methods of agitation by way of petitions, deputations, and the like is no longer a remedy for moving to repentance a government so hopelessly indifferent to the welfare of it charge as the Government of India has proved to be.”

      • Gandhi is not less sincere or morally less admirable because considerations of political efficacy partly determine his policies and qualify the purity of the doctrine of “ahimsa” to which he is committed. The responsible leader of a political community is forced to use coercion to gain his ends. He may, as Mr. Gandhi, make every effort to keep his instrument under the dominion of his spiritual ideal; but he must use it, and it may be necessary at times to sacrifice a degree of moral purity for political effectiveness.

      • What Mr. Gandhi is really saying in these words is that even violence is justified if it proceeds from perfect moral goodwill. But he is equally insistent that non-violence is usually the better method of expressing goodwill. He is probably right on both accounts.
      ▬Reinhold Niebuhr, Moral Man & Immoral Society

      And speaking of the strategic dimensions of nonviolence, here’s Niebuhr again:

      Both the temper and the method of non-violence yield another very important advantage in social conflict. They rob the opponent of the moral conceit by which he identifies his interests with the peace and order of society. This is the most important of all the imponderable in a social struggle. It is the one which gives an entrenched and dominant group the clearest and the least justified advantage over those who are attacking the status quo. The latter are placed in the category of enemies of public order, of criminals and inciters to violence and the neutral community is invariably arrayed against them. The temper and method of non-violence destroys the plausibility of this moral conceit of the entrenched interests. If the non-violent campaign actually threatens and imperils existing arrangements the charge of treason and violence will be made against it none-the-less. But it will not confuse the neutral elements in a community so easily.

  7. dave

    Whether a revolution is peaceful or not largely depends on whether the dictator in charge starts slaughtering people or not. It has little to do with the protesters choices.

    1. DownSouth

      Well that’s certainly what the defenders of the war system believe, but it’s not exactly true, as Hannah Arendt points out in Crises of the Republic:

      In a contest of violence against violence the superiority of the government has always been absolute; but this superiority lasts only as long as the power structure of the government is intact—-that is, as long as commands are obeyed and the army or police forces are prepared to use their weapons. When this is no longer the case, the situation changes abruptly. Not only is the rebellion not put down, but the arms themselves change hands—-sometimes, as in the Hungarian revolution, within a few hours.


      No government exclusively based on the means of violence has ever existed. Even the totalitarian ruler, whose chief instrument of rule is torture, needs a power basis—-the secret police and its net of informers. Only the development of robot soldiers, which, as previously mentioned, would eliminate the human factor completely and, conceivably, permit one man with a push button to destroy whomever he pleased, could change this fundamental ascendancy of power over violence. Even the most despotic domination we know of, the rule of master over slaves, who always outnumbered him, did not rest on superior means of coercion as such, but on a superior organization of power—-that is, on the organized solidarity of the masters. Single men without others to support them never have enough power to use violence successfully.

  8. Memory

    Having taught this literature, I find it useful in a limited way as a basis for real-time analysis or prediction, but it is important to think about real political events with extreme caution and not to be blinded by a theoretical framework.

    The data used (Freedom House and PRI) both operationalize their variables in ways that could be contested and the data set contains transition countries that may be either internally incommeasurable or not directly applicable to the present cases. It is also questionable to impose the paradigm of “democratic transition” on the present cases, since it a.) assumes a telos in historical change that may not be justified (e.g. what is ‘democracy’ and how do we know that transitioning to it is what we are observing) and b.) it is unclear what the political intentions of the various groups are (e.g. is the present violence in Bahrain en ethno-religious civil conflict or a political movement in favor of liberal democracy?) or what kinds of institutional arrangements they might design if successful.

    Huntington analyzed cases from the 1970’s on in which the political opposition was relatively coherent and explicitly drew on western European liberal democratic models for their programs. They wanted to join the “international community” of liberal democratic states and in many cases the European community (capitalized or uncapitalized) for a variety of reasons related to political philosophy, practical desires for access and influence on government, and desires for material prosperity not offered by their regimes. I do not know enough about political opposition in the present Mediterranean and Gulf states to hazard a comparison between them and Portugal, Spain, or Greece – where the 3rd Wave started – or the Eastern Bloc countries where his transition models (replacement, transition, transplacement, etc.) were developed. One other note, he role of external actors were very different in the European 3rd Wave cases and the middle east today. The Soviet Bloc regimes were maintained by the military power of the Red Army. Transition was not a domestic phenomenon (if it were, 1953 Berlin, 1956 Budapest, and 1968 Prague would have been decisive), but a collapse of weak, corrupt regimes that had only survived based on direct, military support from an external power. I am not certain that the collapse of the hollow shells that remained once the Red Army was taken out of the political picture represents a valid basis from which to theorize about countries like Yemen, Syria, or Libya.

    So be careful when trying to apply the 3rd Wave theories to new situations. Even inasmuch as those theories are accurate for the countries they were designed to explain, that provides no guarantee of what real scientists call “external validity.”

    1. lambert strether

      And stupidly contaminated by violence, and not just against property, which now becomes the story. One of the very smart things the Egyptians did was develop a reputation for non-violence, which had great strategic value for them.

      1. dave

        Unless the army keeps doing whatever it feels like without Mubarak, which means all the peaceful protest in the world won’t amount to shit.

  9. rick moss


    Read “Common Sense 3.1” at ( www. )

    “Spread the News”

  10. skippy

    I dumb thee…”The Lateral Violence Post”

    Static historical analysis is, but, one data point ie: internal social dynamics at how many points in time, then one must layer thousands of years of liquid data ie: blood feud (tribalism, religious sect and elitist{generational DNA power hording}), all over layered by templates of influence (historical boundary redefinition), resource (climatic change induced / man made local), variable resource value with in a consumption need, phase of advancement and feeding it through resources, off set of degradation in the consumption of resources (inert and living), etc.

    Ergo you can not model humans, its a waste of time, discovery is historical and exists in the modelers framing only…barf…see statistical boy McNamara…win one battle and lose the future for it.

    Skippy…you either have educated societal consensus or law from above…who’s fault is it…the unwashed or…the law makers.

    1. skippy

      Addendum…a country’s or a populations machinations is hard to fit in one small head. Democracy is hard to achieve when others want your resources…cough…intercede in the conversation…eh.

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