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Regime Change and Revolutionary Entrepreneurs


I study how a revolutionary vanguard might use violence to mobilize a mass public. The mechanism is informational—the vanguard uses violence to manipulate population member's beliefs about the level of antigovernment sentiment in society. The model has multiple equilibria, one equilibrium in which there may be revolution and another in which there is certain not to be. In the former, structural factors influence expected mobilization, whereas in the latter they do not. Hence, the model is consistent with structural factors influencing the likelihood of revolution in some societies but not others, offering a partial defense of structural accounts from common critiques. The model also challenges standard arguments about the role of revolutionary vanguards. The model is consistent with vanguard violence facilitating mobilization and even sparking spontaneous uprisings. However, it also predicts selection effects—an active vanguard emerges only in societies that are already coordinated on a participatory equilibrium. Hence, a correlation between vanguard activity and mass mobilization may not constitute evidence for the causal efficacy of vanguards—be it through creating focal points, providing selective incentives, or communicating information.

Corresponding author
Ethan Bueno de Mesquita is Associate Professor, Harris School of Public Policy Studies, University of Chicago, 1155 East 60th Street, Suite 108, Chicago, IL 60637 (
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James DeNardo . 1985. Power in Numbers: The Political Strategy of Protest and Rebellion. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Mark Irving Lichbach . 1995. The Rebel's Dilemma. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Theda Skocpol . 1979. States and Social Revolutions: A Comparative Analysis of France, Russia, and China. New York: Cambridge University Press.

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American Political Science Review
  • ISSN: 0003-0554
  • EISSN: 1537-5943
  • URL: /core/journals/american-political-science-review
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