The Tocqueville Paradox: When Does Reform Provoke Rebellion?
42 Pages Posted: 16 Jul 2018 Last revised: 5 Nov 2018
Date Written: November 4, 2018
We develop a model of reform and rebellion to explore Alexis de Tocqueville's conjecture that reform provokes political unrest. Our theory emphasizes that reform often must be implemented by local actors with a stake in the status quo. In this setting, the promise of reform represents an implicit contract against which subsequent implementation is measured: when implementation falls short of the promise, citizens are aggrieved and more likely to rebel. In equilibrium, when reform is predominantly under local control, a more ambitious reform encourages greater implementation; nonetheless, the equilibrium probability of rebellion also increases. We illustrate our argument with a discussion of Russia's Emancipation Reform of 1861.
Keywords: reform, rebellion, reference dependence, Imperial Russia
JEL Classification: D74, N13, P48
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation