I realize that a phrase like "as bad or worse" is subjective. By what metric do we decide if a new regime is "better" or "worse" than an old one?

However, I want to know if this is a known area of research in historical revolutions. History seems to be full of cases where a horrible government that oppresses its people eventually gets overthrown by well-meaning rebels, but because those rebels are either incompetent, more malicious than their supporters thought, or simply very naive about the difficulty of running a state effectively, their replacement regime ends up being worse. Judging from what I have heard, my intuition is that regime-changing revolutions almost never get replaced with better regimes. But, of course, my intuition is very vulnerable to the availability heuristic. It would be nice if someone has tried to evaluate this objectively.

While I recognize the subjectivity of how "good" a state is, I think you can pick some metrics (such as homicide rate, rate of death from starvation, overall state wealth, etc) to judge what happened to a state post-revolution.

What proportion of regime-changing revolutions turned out better/worse than the regime it overthrew, by any metric? Additionally, is this an open question being researched by quantitative historians? If so, links to the most salient publications on the topic would be greatly appreciated.

  • Close to 98%. The only example I can find where what you describe did not happen is 1990 in central europe.
    – Bregalad
    Commented Apr 5, 2019 at 16:55
  • 4
    My sense is that this hasn't really been looked at systematically. It would be tough to prove causality and to define the appropriate time horizon. Here is a review of comparative studies of revolutions more generally. They seem to focus on the question of immediate success or failure vs. well-being of the population.
    – Brian Z
    Commented Apr 5, 2019 at 16:59
  • Maybe you can define the metric, and later on open other questions with other metrics, otherwise this question will be too broad. Besides, revolutions where population claims for independence instead of change of goverment not always end bad (India independence, USA independence), unless there is a division among independentist movements, because often, civil war follows an independence/overthrow.
    – Santiago
    Commented Apr 5, 2019 at 17:19
  • 2
    Different metrics would give diametrically opposed answers. Almost all revolutions give rise to a counterrevolution, which is pretty solid evidence that people are willing to put their lives on the line for both opinions. Were the Articles of Confederation better than Colonial status? If so, why did we have to over throw them for teh Constitution? How many different times did the French revolution play out? You could make a strong argument that the reason for revolution is that the maintenance of the status quo simply requires too much effort....
    – MCW
    Commented Apr 5, 2019 at 17:30
  • 1
    @Bregalad: Have you considered the US or Revolutionary France? The consequences of the latter two are still in full swing today by some arguments... Commented Apr 5, 2019 at 18:13


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