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What is a Revolution?

By Jacob Queen
Updated May 23, 2024
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The word "revolution" is used in many different contexts, but it is usually meant to describe an aggressive overthrow of a government structure or social construct or a massive sudden change in societal values. The thing that most sets these events apart is that the change is total. A revolution generally represents a complete turnaround from one way of doing things to another way that is usually diametrically opposite. Most are motivated by the common people deciding to use their advantage to overwhelm their own leadership.

In some societies, oppression can continue for hundreds of years before the people decide to act against it. On a fundamental level, many theorists believe that all governments actually serve at the pleasure of their people, even if it sometimes seems otherwise. When the people finally decide they've had enough, they usually have the power to topple dictators and poor leaders, and sometimes it is remarkably easy to do so. What triggers this isn't always obvious, but when it happens, it can sometimes be sudden and decisive.

Even when revolutionary attempts are unsuccessful, they can potentially lead to significant societal changes. When a group of people decide to make the push for significant change, sometimes the elite will make concessions in order to calm things down. These concessions can represent significant progress, even if they don't represent the total change required by a full revolution. Sometimes, societal change can happen gradually, as failed revolts incrementally push a society into a different direction, until eventually a total overthrow of the former lifestyle is achieved.

The Chinese Revolution and the French Revolution are some very important political examples, but many experts feel the most significant were actually changes in thought and ways of doing things. Examples would be the Italian Renaissance and the Industrial Revolution. These generally represented total massive changes in the way people lived.

People sometimes use the word in relation to technology, and sometimes a new technological device will represent a revolutionary change. A good example might be the invention of the computer or the development of the Internet. Inventions like these can have the power to drastically change a society just as much as any political upheaval. For example, the invention of the automobile changed society on almost every level, affecting many aspects of a person’s life.

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Discussion Comments

By anon267725 — On May 11, 2012

The answer to revolution is the people must start a community corporation. Households should share and get refunds for post-consumer material, like bottle, cans and plastic. Give families hope and reduce our carbon footprint.

By Kingfisher — On Mar 06, 2011

It continues to amaze me that some people think that Jesus Christ had a peaceful influence on the world. Have they not read a book? Gandhi would have kept India in a backward semi-feudal state had they followed his economic vision for the country.

By TrogJoe19 — On Jan 17, 2011

Political revolutions can be heroic or devastating depending on both which revolution we are talking about and whom we ask. They can free people and oppress them. Sometimes the grass is always greener on the other side, and people are unnecessarily murdered and hurt for the sake of a "better tomorrow" which fails to deliver. Revolution tends to be better when it is slower, and when it starts with good ideologies.

By Leonidas226 — On Jan 16, 2011


I think there is much more to the American Revolution than people being upset about being bossed around. There was the issue of religious freedom, for instance. America was founded to escape the religious tyranny of Britain, and Britain was again choosing to infringe upon American rights by the slight of taxation without representation.

By hangugeo112 — On Jan 14, 2011

The American Revolution was a fairly violent revolution which was nevertheless aimed at higher moral ideals and the formation of a new nation. There was a misperception on the part of the British that Americans were "rustics" and "uneducated." The American English took this as a slight and did not enjoy having Irish infantrymen boss them around.

By BigBloom — On Jan 11, 2011

The longest lasting and most effective revolutions are non-violent. The influence of Gandhi and Jesus Christ was a peaceful influence which has inspired billions and changed the world for the better over the course of millennia. The French Revolution and other violent head-chopping revolutions were not of the same nature. These were short-lived and caused negative effects in the long run, such as the eventual power-coup of Napoleon and his wild empire.

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