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Crafting Counterrevolution: How Reactionaries Learned to Combat Change in 1848

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  04 August 2016

University of Texas at Austin
Kurt Weyland is Professor, Department of Government, University of Texas at Austin, Austin TX 78712 (


This article examines a neglected topic, the imposition of counterrevolution. Whereas revolution can sweep across whole regions like a tsunami, reaction tends to advance gradually, country by country. As these differences suggest, counterrevolution unfolds in a more deliberate and systematic fashion than revolution, which is fueled by the rash, ill-considered belief that the tsunami's trigger—the striking overthrow of a longstanding ruler by mass protest—is widely replicable. While reactionaries share this facile inference during the revolutionary upsurge, they engage in learning thereafter, rely less on problematic inferences, and resume more rational decision-making. Longstanding experience and practices of open debate and collective deliberation enable them to process information more thoroughly and calibrate their counterrevolutionary plans to domestic opportunities. Consequently, they succeed in reestablishing autocratic control step by step. By demonstrating how reactionaries recuperated their grasp of political reality during the upheavals of 1848, the article elucidates the differential patterns of rationality in politics.

Research Article
Copyright © American Political Science Association 2016 

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