Preface and Acknowledgments
n his Alexis de Tocqueville reflected on the
of France’s February revolution of 1848. The July
Monarchy—brought to power by the insurrection of 1830—
had fallen ‘‘without a struggle, not under the victor’s blows,
but before they were struck; and the victors were as astonished
at their success as the losers at their defeat’’ (1987: 62). In con-
templating how this unplanned and yet so decisive rebellion
had been ignited, Tocqueville asserted that chance, or rather the
simultaneous incidence of several contingent factors, played a
clear role. Yet, even as he noted that unfortunate events and
blundering leaders can do a regime great harm, he concluded
that factors such as the ‘‘senile imbecility’’ of a Louis-Philippe
are only ‘‘accidents that render the disease fatal.’’ Neither chance
nor personality alone could explain a revolution.
Tocqueville worried that revolutions are born of manifold
contingencies and thus nearly impossible to predict, a view
endorsed by many contemporary social scientists.∞ Yet leaving
chance and personality aside, it is clear that revolutions occur
only under particular conditions. Tocqueville posited that a
sudden rebellion might take place if an authoritarian regime
had grown insensitive to public grievances and accustomed
to compliance, thus mistaking coercion for consent. Rebellion
might become revolution if repression is ‘‘excessive at first,
then abandoned,’’ or if demoralization ‘‘paralyzes the resistance
even of those most interested in maintaining the power being
overthrown’’ (1987: 64). Above all, Tocqueville’s memoir urges
comparative and historical researchers to go beyond narrative
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