Oct 7th 2014

Why Revolutions Fail

by Ian Hughes

Ian Hughes is trained in psychoanalysis. In the area of political science, he co-authored a study on the effectiveness of democracy in Ireland. He graduated with a PhD in atomic physics from Queen’s University in Belfast, and worked in some of the top research laboratories in Europe and the United States. These included JET, the nuclear fusion research facility, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the United States.

In his 2018 book Disordered Minds: How Dangerous Personalities are Destroying Democracy, he brought together his experience in science, psychology and political science to demonstrate that a small proportion of people with dangerous personality disorders are responsible for most of the violence and greed that scars our world. The book explored how demonstrably dangerous individuals, namely psychopaths and those with narcissistic and paranoid personality disorders, can so easily gain power, attract widespread followings and lead societies towards calamity. He is also contributing author to the 2019 book “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 37 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President.”

He is also a Senior Research Fellow at the Marine and Renewable Energy Ireland (MaREI) Centre, Environmental Research Institute, University College Cork. His work at MaREI is aimed at helping to establish a common understanding among decision-makers across government of the challenges and opportunities associated with system transitions for sustainability and the policy responses which can enable the system changes needed to address climate change.

During Richard Nixon’s visit to Beijing in 1972, the Chinese premier, Zhou Enlai, was asked about the impact of the French Revolution. He famously replied that he thought it was too early to say. Although it appears that Zhou may have misunderstood the question, it was as one diplomat remarked, a misunderstanding that was ‘too delicious to invite correction’.

As is well known, the French revolution, like the Chinese revolution in which Zhou played a leading role, resulted in a prolonged period of death and destruction. Here are 8 reasons why revolutions often fail.

1. All uprisings begin with multiple and often contradictory aims.

The sight of hundreds of thousands of citizens taking to the streets in protest against injustice inspires a sense of unity of purpose amongst those taking part. In reality such unity of purpose seldom exists. In the Arab uprisings, for example, protestors were united in calling for the overthrow of corrupt leaders, but differed widely on issues as fundamental as democracy versus a single party state, secular versus religious government, and the status of women. Such divisions characterise most mass demonstrations that presage revolution.

2. In every uprising there are ample opportunities for extremists to exploit public anger to further their own aims.

Within populations that have experienced decades of oppression and injustice, there is a natural well of anger and hatred against the former oppressor. Leaders can either stoke this anger or seek to dissipate it in the service of compromise. Violent revolutionaries such as Lenin chose the former path. Leaders such as Nelson Mandela chose the second. Unfortunately, hot-headed revolutionaries are much more common than consensus builders.

3. Decisions taken early on by those in power can shape the conflict for decades to come.

The Troubles in Northern Ireland began as a peaceful civil rights movement in which Catholics demanded equal rights with Protestants within Northern Ireland. The violence directed at peaceful demonstrators, followed by the introduction of detention without trial aimed mainly at Catholics, empowered those who insisted that a united Ireland was the only solution, and shaped the conflict for decades to come. A similar dynamic is playing out in Bahrain, where the government reacted violently against peaceful protestors during the Arab Spring, and still denounces those striving for peaceful change as sectarian Shia terrorists.

4. Extremists on all sides often join forces to eliminate moderates.

Moderates are those who are able to rise above the ‘them and us’ characterisation of the conflict and are willing to seek a compromise solution. Moderates may have broad appeal across the entire population and therefore pose a threat to the power base of extremists on all sides. Extremists therefore often collaborate to eliminate moderates.

This dynamic was clear in the aftermath of the Iranian Revolution, for example, when Marxists and communists sided with religious fundamentalists to eliminate democrats and secularists. When that was accomplished, the religious fundamentalists then turned on the Marxists and communists in an effort to marginalise them and secure power alone. [1]

5. The outbreak of violence empowers extremists and further marginalises moderates.

As Hannah Arendt noted, violence changes the world, but the most probable change is a more violent world. The outbreak of violence empowers extremists. For this reason, extremists will often initiate violence. Amidst the chaos, those to whom violence comes easily then come to the fore. From their newfound positions of authority they recruit others and organise the brutalisation of their fellow fighters.

Violence also sucks in many former bystanders – both those whose relatives or friends have been killed, and those who empathise with the suffering of their community. Justice and empathy can both play a role in recruiting normal people to violence.

6. Nationalism, religion, communism and ethnicity can all be used as tactics to increase the appeal of extremists.

Killing acquires a different meaning when it serves an ideological cause. From being a heinous crime, killing becomes an act of virtue. [2] A compelling ideology can mobilise mass support, disguise an extremist group’s true nature and intent, and serve to justify acts of mass violence. The more strongly the ideology resonates with the values and concerns of the population, the greater its value for extremists. Nationalism, religion, communism, ethnic identity – all can be used to urge followers to exact revenge by appealing to grand narratives of threat, humiliation and retaliation. [3]

7. Atrocities – acts of micro-genocide – are present in many violent conflicts, whereby killing is accompanied by the total dehumanisation of the ‘enemy’.

Genocide is not simply about killing. The perpetrators of genocide are also intent on dehumanising their victims before the final act of murder. [4] Mutilation, raping children in front of their parents, forcing mothers to kill their own children, prolonged acts of torture: such atrocities are designed to totally dehumanise the enemy. Almost all violent conflicts – not only genocides – contain such atrocities. These acts terrorise the opposition and further radicalise the opposing sides, feeding the spiral of brutality.

8. In this cycle of violence, psychopaths, people with paranoid personality disorder and people with narcissistic personality disorder – whose minds are structured for extremism – play catalytic roles in escalating and perpetuating conflict.

People can be violent by nature or by circumstance. Those impacted directly by violence may hit out violently in revenge. Others may take up arms to right a perceived injustice or out of empathy with those who are suffering. To say that ordinary people can commit acts of violence is to state the obvious.

The fact that ordinary people can kill should not blind us however to the leading role which people with psychopathic, narcissistic and paranoid personality disorders play in starting and sustaining violence. The fault line in violent conflicts does not run mainly between the West and Islam, say, or between communists and capitalists. The main fault line runs between the normal majority who are capable of empathy and compromise, and those with dangerous personality disorders whose minds are shaped for violence and extremism.

References

[1] Ali Gheissari and Vali Nasr, Democracy in Iran: History and the Quest for Liberty, Oxford University Press, 2006, page 95

[2] Mona Sue Weissmark, Justice Matters: Legacies of the Holocaust and World War II, Oxford University Press, 2004, page 11

[3] Evelin Lindner, Making Enemies: Humiliation and International Conflict, Praeger Security International, 2006, page xv

[4] Evelin Lindner, Making Enemies: Humiliation and International Conflict, Praeger Security International, 2006, page 8



Dr. Ian Hughes' blog DisorderedWorld can be found here.

You can also follow Ian on Twitter at @disorderedworld

Earlier article by Ian Hughes on Facts & Arts:


Dangerous Personality Disorders in Leading Positions – The Role of Religion

Published 11.08.2014
ISIS in Iraq is murdering Christians and Shia Muslims alike under the guise of a Holy War. Israel’s merciless bombardment of  Gaza has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of women and children- the youngest to be killed was ten days old, the...

Dangerous Personality Disorders in Leading Positions – DR Congo

Published 21.07.2014
The story of the Congo wars is one of state weakness and failure – the weakness and failure of Congo to defend its borders, impose law and order in its eastern provinces, and build the institutions of state necessary to improve the impoverished...

Psychopaths as Predators of the Poor

Published 25.05.2014
History is the story of the struggle of the psychologically normal majority of humanity to free ourselves from the tyranny of a psychologically disordered minority who are marked by their innate propensity for violence and greed. This minority...

Nelson Mandela and the Wisdom of Non-Psychopathic Leaders

Published 22.02.2014
Failure of leadership is arguably the greatest curse afflicting our world. Too many countries are cursed still by leaders who oppress their people, make a mockery of the institutions of government, and cling to power regardless of the cost in...

Dangerous Personality Disorder in a Leading Position: Mao

Published 22.02.2014
Ten years ago, on the one hundred and tenth anniversary of Mao’s birth, a group of dissidents wrote a letter entitled ‘An Appeal for the Removal of the Corpse of Mao Zedong from Beijing’. In it they wrote[1], ‘Mao instilled in people’s minds a...

Dangerous Personality Disorders in Leading Positions

Published 08.02.2014
Small proportion of people with dangerous personality disorders have dominated the psychologically normal majority of the population in every society on earth for most of human history. The conditions that prevailed the world over, until...



Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

May 7th 2021
EXTRACT: " Would the United States be prepared to risk a catastrophic war with the People’s Republic of China to protect the Republic of China, better known as Taiwan? "
May 5th 2021
EXTRACT: "Human history, ancient and contemporary, is replete with instances of genocide – that is, the effort to eradicate a people, erase their history, denigrate their culture, and destroy their physical presence. Many of these atrocities have been recognized by the victims and other nations who support them. But, with the notable exception of the German acknowledgment of the Holocaust, rarely have the perpetrators of these crimes accepted responsibility and offer recompense "
May 2nd 2021
EXTRACT: "The best way to defend liberal democracy is to practice it at home and abroad with the “courage and self-confidence” that Kennan touted at the dawn of the Cold War. This is also the best way to ensure the survival of our own conception of human freedom. And survive it will."
May 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – Sammy Roth at the LA Times/ Boiling Point Newsletter reports that California’s main power grid was powered for several hours last Saturday by 90% renewables. For just four seconds that day, the grid, which covers 4/5s of the state, reached 94.5% generation by green energy. California is the world’s fifth largest economy. The main grid does not cover Los Angeles County. On the other hand, these figures do not include the electricity generated by the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant, which is not counted as renewable but which is also very low-carbon."
Apr 23rd 2021
EXTRACT: "It is no accident that there has been an economic divergence in Central and Eastern Europe. Those countries that have joined the European Union have improved their economic governance, and GDP has begun to converge with Western Europe. Between 2014 and 2019, Hungary, Poland, and Romania grew at an annual average rate of 3.9%, 4.1%, and 4.7%, respectively. Meanwhile, Belarus and Ukraine experienced minimal growth during this period, and Russia’s economy expanded at an average annual rate of just 0.7%. Though Russia had a higher per capita GDP (in terms of purchasing power parity) than Croatia, Poland, Romania, and Turkey as recently as 2009, all of these countries have since overtaken it. Russians today are shocked to learn that they are worse off than Romanians and Turks. Among EU member states, only Bulgaria is still poorer than Russia. With its close proximity to the EU single market, Russia could have had higher growth if it had pursued sound economic policies. Instead,..... "
Apr 22nd 2021
EXTRACT: "As far as anyone can tell, the US military is not on the verge of an internal breakdown, let alone primed to stage a coup d’état. But few predicted anything like the US Capitol riot before protesters equipped with body armor, stun guns, and zip-ties breached the building. Before the US is blindsided again, its leaders must act resolutely to root out extremism in the military."
Apr 17th 2021
EXTRACT: "The new report on 2020 by the International Renewable Energy Agency reveals that the world’s renewable energy generation capacity increased by an astonishing 10.3% in 2020 despite the global economic slowdown during the coronavirus pandemic." .... "In 2020, the global net increase in renewables was 261 gigawatts (GW). That is the nameplate capacity of some 300 nuclear power plants! There are actually only 440 nuclear power plants in the whole world, with a generation capacity of 390 gigwatts. So let’s just underline this point. The world put in 2/3s as much renewable energy in one year as is produced by all the existing nuclear plants!"
Apr 16th 2021
EXTRACT: "When we examined the development of nations worldwide since 1820, we found that among rich Western countries like the United States, the Netherlands and France, improvements in income, education, safety and health tracked or even outpaced rising gross domestic product for over a century. But in the 1950s, even as economic growth accelerated after World War II, well-being in these countries lagged.
Apr 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "Some presidents indulge in the “Mount Rushmore syndrome” making an obvious effort to achieve greatness. Normally soft-spoken and apparently modest Biden is making his own bid for immortality."
Apr 9th 2021
EXTRACT: "New ways of thinking about the role of government are as important as new priorities. Many commentators have framed Biden’s infrastructure plan as a return to big government. But the package is spread over eight years, will raise public spending by only one percentage point of GDP, and is projected to pay for itself eventually. A boost in public investment in infrastructure, the green transition, and job creation is long overdue."
Apr 7th 2021
EXTRACT: " One can, and perhaps should, take the optimistic view that moral panics in the US blow over; reason will once again prevail. It could be that the Biden era will take the sting out of Trumpism, and the tolerance for which American intellectual life has often been admired will be reinvigorated. This might even happen while the noxious effects of American influence still rage in other countries. For the sake of America and the world, one can only hope it happens soon.  "
Mar 28th 2021
EXTRACT: "By refusing (despite having some good reasons) to end electoral gerrymandering, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., has directly enabled the paralyzing hyper-partisanship that reached its nadir during Donald Trump’s presidency. By striking down all limits on corporate spending on political campaigns in the infamous 2010 Citizens United decision, he has helped to entrench dark money in US politics. And by gutting the 1965 Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder, Roberts has facilitated the racist voter-suppression tactics now being pursued in many Republican-controlled states."
Mar 24th 2021
EXTRACT: "the UK’s tough choices accumulate, and the problems lurking around the corner look menacing. Britain will have to make the best of Brexit. But it will be a long, hard struggle, all the more so with an evasive fabulist in charge."
Mar 15th 2021
EXTRACT: "Over the years, the approach of most American policymakers toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been Israel-centric with near total disregard for the suffering endured by the Palestinian people. The architects of policy in successive US administrations have discussed the conflict as if the fate of only one party (Israel) really mattered. Israelis were treated as full human beings with hopes and fears, while Palestinians were reduced to a problem that needed to be solved so that Israelis could live in peace and security.  ..... It is not just that Israelis and Palestinians haven’t been viewed with an equal measure of concern. It’s worse than that. It appears that Palestinians were judged as less ​human than Israelis, and were, therefore, not entitled to make demands to have their rights recognized and protected."
Mar 8th 2021
EXTRACTS: "XThere’s a global shortage in semiconductors, and it’s becoming increasingly serious." ...... "The automotive sector has been worst affected by the drought, in an era where microchips now form the backbone of most cars. Ford is predicting a 20% slump in production and Tesla shut down its model 3 assembly line for two weeks. In the UK, Honda was forced to temporarily shut its plant as well." ..... " As much as 70% of the world’s semiconductors are manufactured by just two companies, Taiwan Semiconductor (TSMC) and Samsung."
Mar 5th 2021
EXTRACT: "Back in 1992, Lawrence H. Summers, then the chief economist at the World Bank, and I warned that pushing the US Federal Reserve’s annual inflation target down from 4% to 2% risked causing big problems. Not only was the 4% target not producing any discontent, but a 2% target would increase the risk of the Fed’s interest-rate policy hitting the zero lower bound. Our objections went unheeded. Fed Chair Alan Greenspan reduced the inflation target to 2%, and we have been paying for it ever since. I have long thought that many of our economic problems would go away if we could rejigger asset markets in such a way as to make a 5% federal funds rate consistent with full employment in the late stage of a business cycle."
Mar 2nd 2021
EXTRACT: "Under these conditions, the Fed is probably worried that markets will instantly crash if it takes away the punch bowl. And with the increase in public and private debt preventing the eventual monetary normalization, the likelihood of stagflation in the medium term – and a hard landing for asset markets and economies – continues to increase."
Mar 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Massive fiscal and monetary stimulus programs in the United States and other advanced economies are fueling a raging debate about whether higher inflation could be just around the corner. Ten-year US Treasury yields and mortgage rates are already climbing in anticipation that the US Federal Reserve – the de facto global central bank – will be forced to hike rates, potentially bursting asset-price bubbles around the world. But while markets are probably overstating short-term inflation risks for 2021, they do not yet fully appreciate the longer-term dangers."
Feb 28th 2021
EXTRACT: "To be sure, calls to “build back better” from the pandemic imply some awareness of the need for systemic change. But the transformation we need extends beyond constructing modern infrastructure or unlocking private investment in any one country. We need to re-orient – indeed, re-invent – global politics, so that countries can cooperate far more effectively in creating a better world."
Feb 23rd 2021
EXTRACT: "So, notwithstanding the predictable release of pent-up demand for consumer durables, face-to-face services show clear evidence – in terms of both consumer demand and employment – of permanent scarring. Consequently, with the snapback of pent-up demand for durables nearing its point of exhaustion, the recovery of the post-pandemic US economy is likely to fall well short of vaccine development’s “warp speed.” "