Revolutions happen and quite often they have catastrophic results on the nation, from destroying and replacing the nation to splitting up the nation into parts. Usually the result of the revolution is pretty obvious by its leaders and battles, but what is not obvious is when it will occur.

What events are likely to spark a national revolution? When is it likely to happen? What are the "red flags"?

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    $\begingroup$ The CIA is actively pursuing this question, and has been for some time. When they find out the answer, no one will let you know. Maybe you should close this thread... $\endgroup$ – kingledion Oct 6 '16 at 23:41

"The Coming of the French Revolution", by Georges Lefebvre lays out what seems to be the common denominator of true revolutions: the growth of the Middle Class and their attempt to preserve their wealth and political power against attempts by either the "rich" (Aristocracy) or poor to seize their wealth and eliminate their political power.

Ancient Greek philosophers may not have seen it in quite the same way, but most seem to have been in agreement that a large and flourishing middle class was necessary for the stability and longevity of the Polis.

Historical revolutions like the "Glorious Revolution", the American Revolution, the French Revolution and so on all seem to have followed this pattern of a growing middle class seeking to gain or retain its political power (and there is a case to be made the Brexit, rise of populist/nationalist political parties in Europe and politicians like Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump in the United States are powered by an enraged middle class who are tired of seeing their political, social and economic concerns ignored by the political, bureaucratic and academic classes.

The biggest issue isn't so much that an enraged middle class can or cannot carry out a revolution (the organizational skills and numbers of middle class merchants, artisans and businessmen is a huge plus in that regard), but rather can the middle class hold on to the gains that they achieved from a revolution?

The answer, sadly, seems to be only with great difficulty. Many revolutions disintegrate after the overthrow of the ruling class as various factions begin fighting among each other (the French Revolution is perhaps the most well known case). Eventually, the chaos is quelled by the arrival of "the Man on the White Horse", who promises to bring stability and end the chaos.

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  • $\begingroup$ In France's case Napoleon certainly did bring order from chaos. Unfortunately he was provoked into wars by the counter-revolutionary forces. Though I wonder, does Lefebvre's analysis account for peasant revolutions; Russia, China? Or does he argue they're also preceded by a growth of a (smaller) middle class? $\endgroup$ – inappropriateCode Oct 7 '16 at 9:25
  • $\begingroup$ While its has been a while since I studied the book, Lefebvre discounts peasant revolts as "revolutions" because peasants don't seek to change the government so much as receive themselves of immediate suffering. The old lord is (hopefully) replaced by a somewhat more benevolent lord. Middle Class revolutions seek to change the power structures to preserve the hegemony of the middle class. Russia's 1905 and 1917 Revolutions were organized and led by a relatively tiny middle class. $\endgroup$ – Thucydides Oct 7 '16 at 13:48

The answer by Thucydides mentions the middle class. There are more factors.

  • Can the masses afford bread? This guy on BBC compared bread price inflation during 1848 and the Arab Spring, the historical data is interesting.
  • The Russian revolution of 1917 and the German revolution of 1918 were triggered by the loss of a war and the hardship which followed. A lost war also affected Russia 1905.

A revolution needs to get people onto the streets. Hunger does it, as does the impression that the government is ineffective.

  • $\begingroup$ "the government is ineffective" wil not get anyone on the streets (at least not in numbers), so long as this ineffectivity does not hinder the "well-being" (whatever that may be in any given situation) of a sufficiently large part of societey. $\endgroup$ – Burki Oct 7 '16 at 10:24
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    $\begingroup$ "Any society is only three square meals away from revolution" as the hard-to-attribute quote goes. $\endgroup$ – glenatron Oct 7 '16 at 13:02

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