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Regime Collapse and Revolution

A Response to John Dunn

Hugo Slim

John Dunn’s provocative interview in Contention volume 5, issue 2 inspired an array of responses from the scholarly and practitioner communities. In the original interview, Dunn suggested that the era of modern revolutions has come to a close and that we are now witnessing a phenomenon better described as “regime collapse.” In this response to Dunn’s conception of revolution, Hugo Slim, an expert on non-international armed conflicts, challenges Dunn’s claims with examples of revolutionary liberation movements in Nepal, Uganda, Ethiopia, Rwanda, and Venezuela, as well as Islamist revolutionary movements in the Middle East.

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Modern Revolutions and Beyond

An Interview with John Dunn

Benjamin Abrams and John Dunn

John Dunn, FBA, is emeritus professor of political theory at King’s College, University of Cambridge. His work on revolution began in 1972 with the publication of his landmark volume, Modern Revolutions: An Introduction to the Analysis of a Political Phenomenon. A second edition was published in 1989, and the volume has since been translated into several foreign languages. Alongside revolution, Dunn’s thought has examined questions of regime collapse, reconstruction, the political trajectories of modern states, and the emergence and significance of democracy. His work lies at the intersection of history, political theory, and sociology. In the interview, Dunn offers a categorization of revolution as a distinctly bounded historical phenomenon that has not persisted into the twenty-first century. “The Epoch of Revolution,” he argues, begins with 1789 and had definitively ended by 1989. After the Epoch of Revolution, Dunn argues, we now confront a more enduring and generic phenomenon: regime collapse.

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The End of Revolution, and Its Means

Processual and Programmatic Approaches to Revolution in the Epoch of Revolution Debate

Benjamin Abrams

In Contention volume 5, issue 2, Benjamin Abrams interviewed the political theorist John Dunn on the topic of modern revolutions. In the interview, Dunn advanced the view that the “Epoch of Revolution” had ended by 1989 and that what many scholars called revolutions today were simply instances of regime collapse. The interview received a lot of attention from scholars and practitioners including Hugo Slim. Slim challenged Dunn’s concept of revolution in this issue, and Dunn responded defending his ideas. This article attempts to tease out the differences underlying the two scholars’ disagreement as to whether the Epoch of Revolution has truly passed. The article proposes that while processual approaches (such as Slim’s) conceive of revolution primarily as a political means, Dunn’s “programmatic” approach to revolution conceives of it as not only a means but also a political end. The article also considers the implications of Dunn’s theory of revolution, and the representative challenges of academic interviewing.

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John Dunn

Responding to Hugo Slim’s critique, John Dunn defends his notion of the “Epoch of Revolution.” The response advances that this protracted epoch was defined by the unique way in which the category of revolution itself defined key possibilities for collective political, social, and economic transformation. In doing so, Dunn argues, this category transformed the conditions of political action across a large part of the world. Dunn classifies Slim’s cases as instances of rebellion that, though significant and important, do not share the teleological character of revolution.