This book is about the major revolutions which have punctuated the history of Western society from the sixteenth century to recent times. Western society in this context is essentially European society with the significant addition of America, where revolution grew out of European expansion and a European political culture. The establishment and subsequent evolution of the United States is instructive both for the similarities to and divergences from the European experience as well as the way they have been intertwined. Since the collapse of the Communist regimes in 1989-90 pressures on Western Europe to adopt a more American model of social and economic organisation have increased. No doubt it would have been possible to have extended the range of revolutions to others with a European aspect to them; but ‘the West’ as conceived here makes historical sense, as does the view that it was the source of particular revolutionary traditions; such a focus also lends itself to a book which is manageable and coherent.
A similar pragmatism has governed the selection of the revolutions for each of the following chapters. In all but two instances they were chosen simply because they have been commonly regarded as revolutions by a substantial part of historical opinion. The remaining two - the fascist revolutions in Germany and Italy and the demise of the Soviet Union - have not yet perhaps been as fully incorporated into the conventional historiography of European revolutions, but nowadays no serious consideration of this subject could ignore them. Overall the list of revolutions selected is highly disparate. It embraces national revolutions against foreign domination, the upper-class revolution which installed William of Orange as King of England in 1688, the so-called ‘failed’ revolutions of 1848, revolutions of the Left and the Right as well as the ‘top-down’ revolution in Eastern Europe in 1989-91.
Given the varied nature of the revolutions under consideration and the individual interpretations of the writers, there is no uniform pattern to the following chapters. But, with differing degrees of emphasis, they address a number of key themes in order to illustrate and assess the causes, processes and outcomes of revolutionary movements. Placing each revolution in its