Presentation Title
The Tocqueville Paradox: When Does Reform Provoke Rebellion?
University of Wisconsin
Start Date
Start Time
End Time
296 Gibson


We analyze a model of reform and rebellion to explore Alexis de Tocqueville’s conjecture that reform provokes political unrest. Our theory emphasizes the role of local implementation in driving a wedge between citizens’ expectations and the reality of reform. When citizens’ grievances are driven more by disappointment in the implementation of reform than by dissatisfaction with its formal content, a more ambitious reform leads to greater concessions by local elites; nonetheless, the equilibrium probability of rebellion also increases. This tradeoff between reform and rebellion disappears when local elites can be held responsible to central authorities: when state capacity is high, reform unambiguously reduces rebellion. We illustrate our results with a discussion of Russia’s Emancipation Reform of 1861.


Scott Gehlbach is Professor of Political Science at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. A political economist and comparativist, Gehlbach’s work is motivated by the contemporary and historical experience of Russia, Ukraine, and other postcommunist states. He has made numerous contributions to the study of autocracy, economic reform, political connections, and other important topics in political economy. Known for employing a wide range of methods in his research, Gehlbach has contributed to graduate education through the widely used textbook Formal Models of Domestic Politics. He is the author of many articles in top journals, including the American Political Science Review, the American Journal of Political Science, and the Journal of Politics, as well as the award-winning monograph Representation Through Taxation: Revenue, Politics, and Development in Postcommunist States.

Gehlbach has at various times been affiliated with both the New Economic School and the Higher School of Economics in Moscow. His work has been supported by the National Science Foundation, two Fulbright-Hays Fellowships, and many other grants. At the University of Wisconsin, he has been honored for his contributions to the discipline through several awards, including most recently the Kellett Mid-Career Faculty Researcher Award. Among other contributions to the discipline, he serves as an associate editor of the Quarterly Journal of Political Science. Gehlbach received his Ph.D. in political science and economics from the University of California–Berkeley.