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Sources of Political Destabilization: Revolution, Terrorism & War

Instructor: Nate Sullivan

Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.

In this lesson we will learn about the forces that lead to political destabilization in the world. Specifically we will examine revolution, terrorism, and war. We will identify examples from history and explore the ways these forces impact political stability.

Political Stability vs. Political Instability

Citizens of the United States and other first world nations, like Canada, Germany, and the United Kingdom, are fortunate to live in politically stable conditions. These countries, and others like them, may experience degrees of social and political tension at times, but they aren't normally threatened with intense political destabilization in the form of major revolution, civil war, or widespread domestic terrorism. Yes, during election years there may be some disagreement over the candidates and the direction these nations should take, but it is not as if these nations are wobbling on the brink of survival.

Before we go any further, let's define this term. Political stability is basically the condition in which a state is able to function with durability and effectiveness. Let's think about the United States. The U.S. is politically stable. The U.S. government is not on the brink of collapse; the country is not faced with any major revolution that threatens its stability; there is no civil war raging. You get the idea. Sure, there are many Americans who are dissatisfied with the American government, and sure, there are small-scale protests from time to time, but the American government continues to function smoothly. Congress regularly meets just as it has for 200 years, and every four years there is a presidential election. This is in contrast to politically unstable nations that are subject to intense internal discord in the form of coups d'etat, civil war, revolution, or terrorism.

Sources of Political Instability: Revolution

So what causes a state to suffer from political destabilization? There are all kinds of sources. Let's examine a few of the major ones. Revolution, in the political context, is usually a mass movement organized at the grassroots level aimed at bringing about a profound change, usually in the form of a new government or ruler. Think about the French Revolution or the Russian Revolution. In both cases, the masses were unhappy with their leaders and demanded a change of government.

Not always, but often, revolutions tend to be liberal movements (in the sense of classical liberalism). They often replace a conservative government with one that is more liberal. Think about the French Revolution, which lasted between 1789-1799. King Louis XVI was a conservative ruler. He was king, and his government was an absolute monarchy. Through revolution, his government fell and was replaced by a republican government.

The French Revolution plunged the nation into ten years of bloodshed, chaos, and destruction.
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The French Revolution brought tremendous political destabilization to France. In the absence of a strong, central government, chaos and mass murder became commonplace. Thousands of innocent men and women were beheaded during a period known as the ''Reign of Terror''. The republican government went through numerous changes, and it was modified and replaced by subsequent republican governments. For ten years France was plagued by chaos. This political destabilization finally subsided when Napoleon Bonaparte came to power.

Sources of Political Instability: Terrorism

We usually think of terrorism in the context of modern Islamic extremism. However, throughout history, domestic terrorism has played an important role in bringing about political instability. Domestic terrorism involves acts of violence against one's own government with the aim of weakening or changing it. Probably the best example of terrorism in this context is the Irish Republican Army. The Irish Republican Army or IRA, was an Irish nationalist group who engaged in acts of terror against the United Kingdom in an attempt to force the independence of Ireland. This group has been involved in terrorist activity throughout a good part of the 20th century. Widespread internal terrorism can bring about political destabilization because it allows a government to be perceived as weak and incapable of defending itself. Not to mention, terrorist attacks can actually eliminate the people and buildings of a government. This is a powerful means of weakening a government.

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