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Daniel Chirot

Mar 7, 2022

You Say You Want a Revolution?

Radical Idealism and Its Tragic Consequences

Princeton University Press 2020

Why have so many of the iconic revolutions of modern times ended in bloody tragedies? And what lessons can be drawn from these failures today, in a world where political extremism is on the rise and rational reform based on moderation and compromise often seems impossible to achieve? In You Say You Want a Revolution?: Radical Idealism and Its Tragic Consequences (Princeton University Press, 2020), Daniel Chirot examines a wide range of right- and left-wing revolutions around the world--from the late eighteenth century to today--to provide important new answers to these critical questions.

From the French Revolution of the eighteenth century to the Mexican, Russian, German, Chinese, anticolonial, and Iranian revolutions of the twentieth, Chirot finds that moderate solutions to serious social, economic, and political problems were overwhelmed by radical ideologies that promised simpler, drastic remedies. But not all revolutions had this outcome. The American Revolution didn't, although its failure to resolve the problem of slavery eventually led to the Civil War, and the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe was relatively peaceful, except in Yugoslavia. From Japan, North Korea, Vietnam, and Cambodia to Algeria, Angola, Haiti, and Romania, You Say You Want a Revolution? explains why violent radicalism, corruption, and the betrayal of ideals won in so many crucial cases, why it didn't in some others--and what the long-term prospects for major social change are if liberals can't deliver needed reforms.

Daniel Chirot is the Herbert J. Ellison Professor of Russian and Eurasian Studies at the University of Washington.

Caleb Zakarin is the Assistant Editor of the New Books Network (Twitter: @caleb_zakarin).

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Caleb Zakarin

Caleb Zakarin is the Assistant Editor of the New Books Network (Twitter: @caleb_zakarin).

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