Change Caused by Revolutions, Coups & Wars

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  • 0:10 Means of political change
  • 0:53 Revolution
  • 2:05 Coups
  • 3:22 Wars
  • 4:34 Lesson summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught history, and has an MA in Islamic law/finance. He has since founded his own financial advice firm, Newton Analytical.

While we'd love to think that politicians and diplomats are always able to reach peaceful solutions to political unrest, that has not always been the case. In this lesson, we look at how wars, revolutions, and coups cause political change.

Change Through Other Means

We humans like to think of ourselves as a civilized bunch when it comes to getting the attention of the government. We hear many stories about the wise king who listened to the needs of his people, or the benevolent princess who made sure to take care of her friends - even if they were only mice.

In our own lives, we also like to think that we can easily gain the ear of those in power. We have e-mail addresses, phone numbers, and social media accounts for politicians from the president to the local dogcatcher. We like to think that if we only speak up about what upsets us, those in power will change it.

But the simple fact of the matter is that, throughout history, much political change has come about through significantly less peaceful means. Here, we're going to look at three of those methods, namely revolutions, coups, and wars.


In the worst situations of strife between a government and the people, a whole new approach is needed. These times of dramatically applying an entire new method or plan of government are known as revolutions, and each revolution can be remarkably different from another.

For Americans, the most familiar revolution is definitely the American Revolution, during which Americans turned away from the British monarchy to establish an independent republic. This American Revolution started the Revolutionary War. Similar events took place in France in 1789, when the monarchy was abandoned for a republic, albeit one that soon became an Empire. In 1917, the monarchy of Russia was overthrown in favor of a socialist, and later, communist, government.

These examples all featured some element of violence, but a revolution does not necessarily have to be violent. After all, the Glorious Revolution of 1688 in England, during which William of Orange became King of England, was bloodless, yet changed the course of English history. William's predecessor had friendly ties with the Roman Catholic Church, and Parliament saw this as unacceptable. As a result, they invited William to challenge the king for the throne.


In many ways, the Glorious Revolution was almost as much of a coup as it was a revolution. A coup is 'a sudden and illegal seizing of power.' Unlike a revolution, coups often involve only a small group of people. If a revolution chops down a tree with an axe, then a coup chops it down with a laser. What keeps the Glorious Revolution from being a coup was the simple fact that, since Parliament allowed it, it wasn't illegal.

As a result of their illegal nature, coups are widely frowned upon by other countries, yet they do happen. By far, the most famous coup of the last few decades was the movement led by Fidel Castro in Cuba to overthrow the pro-American government there. However, despite the fact that they are often unpopular abroad, some coups do find assistance from other countries. For example, the United States financed a coup against Iran in 1953, largely because the Prime Minister of Iran at the time, Mohammad Mossadegh, had taken a hard line against foreign companies.

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