Change of government

Different kinds of events may happen which affect the government of a state or even might bring it to an end. The most popular one is a revolution. A revolution is an unconstitutional method of bringing down the government and changing an entire system with a new system. A revolution is an all round change in the way of managing the polity. One of the characteristics of a revolution is that it involves violence, and it usually occurs suddenly.

Another attribute of a revolution is that it usually involves acceleration of the new order and discontinuity of the old one. A revolution is likened to a total change. In most cases, it normally occurs where the constitution has failed. A constitution can fail for any of the following two reasons:

  1. i.                     Either its provisions no longer meet the requirement of the circumstances of the day; or
  2. ii.                   Where the officials could not carry out the responsibilities given to them by the constitution in bringing about happiness to the people.

Hans Kelson posited that a revolution occurs where the legal order of a state is removed and replaced with a totally new order. If a group of individuals attempt to seize power by force and occasion a change in government and they succeed, it is a revolution in as much as they are able to compel obedience to the populace who once obeyed the old order.

The danger of Hans Kelson’s definition is that it does not qualify the character involved in occasioning a revolution. The effect of reticence in Hans Kelson’s jurisprudence is that takeover of government by the military is adjudged to be a revolutionary event.

But, a coup d’état is distinct from a revolution. The justification of a revolution (which is the mass movement of a people to change a particular order) is that it is carried out by the same people who conferred legitimacy on the order they seek to remove, so therefore it is their right to confer legitimacy on a new order if they so please.

On the other hand, a coup d’état may not be carried out by the general populace, but only by a handful of people. While a revolution is meant to annihilate an existing order and replace it with an entirely new one, the same cannot be said of a coup d’état. A coup does not seek to replace an existing order with a new one, but to change the operators of the existing order and replace them with new ones.

The American revolution of 1776 removed the old order of America being a colony of Britain and replaced it with an entirely new order of the American state. Whenever you apply the term revolution, you find out that it involves a permanent change of how things are done. For example, in France there was a monarchy before the revolution of 1789, which removed the monarchy and replaced it with a representative government. Also in Russia, the socialist revolution changed entirely the legal order in Russia.

The only similarity between a revolution and a coup d’état is that the change occurs unexpectedly. But, the revolution being an act of the people comes with its own legitimacy because those who had the power to constitute the former legal order are also those who are instituting the new one. But the same cannot be said of a coup d’état.

In conclusion, coup d’état is also an extra-constitutional activity but it is not a revolution, therefore they are not legitimate. At best, they are a government of necessity and legitimacy may be accorded to any legal activity they undertake, but not for their illegal activities. A government by a coup d’état is a usurpation of the powers of the people and so they are still responsible to the people.