Like many major revolutions in history, the East European Revolution
of 1989 caught its leaders, participants, victims, and observers by surprise.
This paper offers an explanation whose crucial feature is a distinction
between private and public preferences. By suppressing their antipathies
to the political status quo the East Europeans misled everyone, including
themselves, as to the possibility of a successful uprising. In effect,
they conferred on their privately despised governments an aura of invincibility.
Under the circumstances, public opposition was poised to grow explosively
if ever enough people lost their fear of exposing their private preferences.
The currently popular theories of revolution do not make clear why uprisings
are easily explained after the fact even if they were not anticipated.
The theory developed here fills this void. Among its predictions is that
political revolutions will unavoidably continue to catch the world by surprise.
American Economic Review, 81 (May 1991): 121-125.