A tide of democratic change is sweeping the world, not only in the once-monolithic communist regions but also in a wave that started in Mediterranean Europe in the mid-1970s and spread to Latin America, Asia, Africa and, even, South Africa.

Remarkably, the current demise of communism and the movement toward democracy have come not in the aftermath of destructive war but in an unprecedented half-century of global peace. Indeed they come at a time when the Cold War has ended, regional conflicts from Central America to Southeast Asia have abated, and Europe, the very powder keg of global wars from the late eighteenth to the mid-twentieth centuries, has moved into a historic process of economic and political unification.

Why is all this happening? Why have communist and Third World dictatorships embarked upon their various moves toward democracy?

Factors specific to each country are obvious: an ailing or aging dictator in Lisbon or East Berlin, economic setbacks in Brazil and economic successes in South Korea, Catholic priests providing safety for regime opponents in El Salvador and Poland, the insistence of a Soviet leader on fundamental restructuring at home and abroad. Taken separately, such stimuli for change toward democracy might seem no more than fortunate happenstances. Is there a broader pattern?

Looking back, three times in modern history the world has seen efforts to replace oppressive rule with popular government. The American War of Independence, followed by the French Revolution, set off proclamations of free republics in Europe and across Latin America; but then came Napoleon's military dictatorship, traditional monarchies were restored, and the new states of Latin America soon succumbed to caudillismo or other forms of feudal or military rule.

A century later, Woodrow Wilson sought to make the world safe for democracy; the empires of Russia, Germany, Austria-Hungary and Ottoman Turkey fell, but again the gains for nascent democracy in the successor states proved precarious.

The Allied victory in the Second World War removed the threats of Nazi tyranny and Japanese military conquest. American occupation policies in West Germany and Japan made a major contribution to the global spread of democracy. Colonies of European powers in Asia and Africa moved toward independence, but few of them developed any democratic traditions. Indigenous revolutions in China (1949) and the Third World (Vietnam, 1954; Cuba, 1959; Ethiopia, Angola and Mozambique, 1975; Nicaragua, 1979) seemed to elevate communism into a global alternative to democracy. And in response, the West's Cold War policies encouraged the buildup of military establishments from Turkey to the Philippines and South Korea.

A search for patterns in the recent transitions toward democracy may help suggest what is to be done this time to improve the chances for nurturing and sustaining democratic change.


Democracy is a process of choice and orderly change that allows for resolution of the very dilemmas that have proved fatal to numerous dictatorships.

President Mikhail Gorbachev's commitment to glasnost and perestroika and his rejection of the Brezhnev Doctrine of military intervention in Eastern Europe were clearly motivated by his calculation that the Soviet Union could not continue to carry the triple burden of (a) being a leading superpower in military and space technology, (b) presenting communism as a worldwide option by subsidizing wars throughout the Third World and continuing its own unwinnable war in Afghanistan, and (c) satisfying the expectations of its own people for better standards of living.

Elsewhere the immediate circumstances that toppled authoritarian regimes in recent years have varied widely, though even the specific factors in various countries make a pattern of sorts. As a dictatorship becomes more centralized and personal, the government becomes increasingly repressive, important information often fails to reach top officials, and alternatives for orderly succession become scarcer. Illness, old age or death of dictators thus were a major factor in the transformation of Portugal (1968-76), Tunisia (1987) and Paraguay (1989).[1] The approaching senility of Erich Honecker hastened the demise of communism in East Germany, and the fact that Deng Xiaoping and most of his inner circle are in their seventies or eighties reinforces the expectation of further changes in China.

Lost wars have been another notable factor in the demise of many dictatorial, particularly military, regimes. Portugal's dictatorship was undermined by its inability to put down the anticolonial rebellions in Angola and Mozambique. In Greece the junta's plans to depose President Makarios of Cyprus by military coup provoked the Turkish invasion of the island and the fall of the junta in Athens (1974). The loss of the Falkland Islands/Malvinas war in 1982 led directly to the exit of the Argentine military dictatorship the following year.

Economic incentives have played an important role in many of the recent changes. The South African government of F. W. de Klerk moved to reconsider the apartheid policy in response to the growing hardships imposed by years of international economic sanctions. Conversely, Gorbachev and Deng each sought different ways to overcome decades of self-imposed isolation. The Soviet Union had more than held its own in the post-World War II competition in military and space technology; but communist countries had excluded themselves from most of the world's civilian markets, from efforts to satisfy expanding consumer needs, and from the international pattern of migration.

This policy of self-exclusion, symbolized by early decisions such as the refusal of East European countries to participate in the Marshall Plan and the building of the Berlin Wall, committed communist regimes to a sequel of undesirable choices. East Germany could stop the postwar mass exodus to the West, but could not prevent West German signals from being readily received on East German television screens. The resulting constant comparison of life-styles and economic levels forced the East Berlin government to be more repressive than other communist regimes, and increased the outflow of East German migrants as soon as neighboring communist nations relaxed their controls. For a brief period in 1989 a desperate East Germany even banned the import of Soviet newspapers, only to find a steady stream of copies of Pravda and Izvestia smuggled in from West Berlin.

Beijing found it difficult to be selective in the kinds of foreign contacts it wished to maintain. The Deng regime after 1979 had abandoned China's earlier policy of total isolation so as to catch up with Western advances in science and technology, but found to its dismay that students sent abroad to study computer engineering returned home to erect a statue of the "Goddess of Democracy" in Tiananmen Square.

Poland's communist regime under General Wojciech Jaruzelski, facing recurrent labor unrest and a high burden of international debt, had to choose between heavier repression or concessions to the opposition, and in the end preferred to shift the burden of responsibility for economic reform to Solidarity. Similarly, a cynical interpretation of the shift from military to civilian government in Latin American countries such as Brazil would suggest that the generals were content to run up astronomical foreign debts and let civilian successors worry about repayment.

In their economic performance, Third World dictatorships seem to be caught in a catch-22. If the economy declines under heavy burdens of rising prices, unemployment or foreign debt, the rulers will face growing opposition or violent unrest. If the economy expands with a thriving middle class and growing export sector, pressure mounts for political liberalization and change of regime. Thus the booming economy of South Korea under Park Chung Hee and Chun Doo Hwan gave rise to ever more insistent demonstrations for democracy. Chile's military ruler Augusto Pinochet, after presiding over a decade of relative prosperity, sought to strengthen and prolong his regime by allowing more leeway for opposition, only to see his presidential candidate overwhelmingly defeated in the free election of November 1989. In contrast, Taiwan under the successors to Chiang Kai-shek was one of the rare authoritarian regimes that avoided such upheavals by phasing in a steady program of political liberalization and, in December 1989, winning a solid legislative majority in free elections.

A major factor in hastening the transitions to democracy in the Mediterranean countries in the 1970s and 1980s was their desire to share in the higher living standards of the European Community, whose membership is open only to democracies.[2] Additionally, the capitalist democracies controlled the international financial institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, whose preference for lending to countries with more liberal regimes added to the human rights pressures of U.S. foreign policy since President Carter and of such organizations as Helsinki Watch and Amnesty International.

The Roman Catholic Church in Latin America and in countries such as the Philippines, Poland and Czechoslovakia has evolved into a consistent factor in favor of democracy. Totalitarian regimes typically suppress all secular associations not controlled by their own parties, but prove unwilling or unable to extend that same policy to religious organizations. Thus, churches can serve as privileged meeting places, priests can form a network of opposition information, and visits by the pope to South America or Eastern Europe can help to crystallize anti-regime sentiment.[3]

International sports events have made an incidental contribution to this growing democratic climate. During a 1985 hockey game between the United States and the Soviet Union in Prague, the Czech audience expressed its preference by shouting "Go! Go! U.S.A. Go! Go! U.S.A."[4] And a major consideration that prevented the South Korean military regime from suppressing the growing opposition movement in 1987 was the Seoul Olympics scheduled for the following year.


The most powerful impetus to change in this era has been the global trend of intensifying communication and economic integration. Whereas democracies have thrived amid this flood of messages and goods, dictatorships had difficulty isolating themselves from it. In the past half century, the portion of the world's agricultural and industrial production traded across frontiers has grown at a steady and cumulative rate. Travel, communication and commerce have advanced from railroads and steamships to supersonic airplanes; from typewriters to computers, satellite television and fax machines; from local stock exchanges to global electronic trading of stocks and commodity futures. And whenever regulatory restrictions were maintained, competition from less regulated economic locations—from ship registries in Panama and Liberia to banking in Switzerland or the Cayman Islands and stock trading in Hong Kong—has added to the pressure for liberalization and global integration.

In this novel setting an economic measure such as the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries' tripling or quadrupling of world oil prices in 1973-74 and again in 1979 had instant global repercussions; the availability of money deposits from OPEC for global lending by Western banks further aggravated the debt crisis in the Third World. Another side effect of the economic revolution of the late twentieth century has been the steady pattern of migration of workers from poorer to richer countries, such as from the Mediterranean to Western Europe, from the Caribbean to North America, and from Egypt to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

Whatever the impetus for political change in Warsaw, Beijing or Santiago, there was little doubt about its direction. Neither communist nor military regimes managed to hold out any viable ideological alternative. Democratic constitutions have long been accepted globally—at least on paper; democracy was a major theme in the official pronouncements of both communist and military dictatorships. Third World juntas commonly have claimed to be offering temporary emergency regimes that will restore full democracy after overcoming the effects of economic crisis or political instability. Communism has presented itself as the ultimate version of democracy, purged of its bourgeois defects of class exploitation and nationality conflict; Third World communist regimes, with tautological insistence, called themselves "people's democracies." The worldwide revolution of technology, communications and travel therefore not only spread the awareness of democratic life-styles, but also helped expose this hypocrisy of "democracy" in communist and Third World countries. Thus, when communist regimes started tottering, four decades of their own Cold War propaganda left little doubt in the minds of the citizenry that capitalism and democracy were the logical alternative.

Authoritarian rulers often adopt limited moves toward liberalization so as to appease the opposition or strengthen the support for their own regimes, only to find that they have set off a process of change that cannot be halted. As soon as there is margin for disagreement, some leaders of the government's own party are sure to stake their political futures on criticism and further liberalization. And once such disagreements have arisen among the regime's military commanders, any reversion to a policy of repression may be difficult or impossible.

In South Korea the government of Chun Doo Hwan had long resisted the opposition's demand for direct presidential elections. But by mid-1987 Roh Tae Woo, whom Chun had designated as leader of his Democratic Justice Party, conceded that opposition demand—and Roh proceeded to win the first direct election later that year because of an unforeseen split between the two major opposition leaders.

Once the government offers its citizens half-free elections with a limited choice of candidates, the ensuing election campaign is sure to expand the previous agenda of public debate. Once the press is allowed even minimal freedom to report and compete for readership, enterprising journalists are sure to explore any latent issues of popular discontent and weak spots of government performance.

In Turkey the military had seized power in 1980 after years of parliamentary deadlock and mounting terrorism, but promised to restore democracy as soon as feasible. Their own plan of banning former politicians and sponsoring new government and opposition parties soon went awry, as Turkish voters opted for a third party, and former politicians went on "non-political" speaking tours.[5] By 1989 Turkey had returned to full democracy with a lively free press, intense partisan debate and maneuvering, but little of the political violence of the 1970s.

It was a division within the military that led to the downfall of Ferdinand Marcos' dictatorship in the Philippines (1965-86). Appeals from Jaime Cardinal Sin, mass defections from the pro-Marcos military forces, and the U.S. offer of exile for Marcos and his entourage secured Corazon Aquino's succession.

In suppressing the June 1989 demonstrations in Tiananmen Square, the Chinese hard-liners had to rely on army units from remote parts of the country. A similar dilemma of military indiscipline might be faced in the Soviet Union if Gorbachev or a hard-line successor were to attempt to repress the forces unleashed by glasnost and the growing assertions of separatism.


In assessing the prospects ahead, it is essential to note that the demise of an authoritarian or totalitarian regime in no way guarantees the instant advent of democracy. Russia's revolutionaries of February 1917 sought to replace tsarist autocracy with constitutional government, and soon found themselves under Leninist party dictatorship.

In more recent times, there have been bitter reminders that the outcome of the global democratic revolution remains far from assured: the victory of fundamentalism following the 1979 downfall of Iran's shah; the cruel repression of pro-democracy demonstrations in Beijing; growing unrest in the Soviet Union; and the many earlier failures of democratization in Latin America. In Romania the less-than-free elections of May 1990 merely replaced one communist regime with another under a different name, inaugurating a new phase of violent confrontation. In Latin America newly elected governments are grappling with the deep-seated economic problems that have confounded military and civilian governments before them.

Recent events thus pose, with renewed urgency, the questions that political philosophers and social scientists have addressed since Rousseau and de Tocqueville: "What conditions make democracy possible and what conditions make it thrive?"[6] Indeed the recent global wave of transitions or attempted transitions to democracy amount to a unique laboratory experiment to test any hypothesis suggested by the historical growth of democracy in Western countries and earlier attempts at transition in the Third World.

One such hypothesis is that an unquestioned sense of national and territorial identity is a highly favorable precondition. Democracy means government by the people; but, as a British political scientist observed, "the people cannot decide until somebody decides who are the people."[7] History shows that such decisions have commonly been imposed by force or devised by diplomacy, and confirmed by the evolution of governmental institutions and social relationships within those borders.[8]

In most of northern and western Europe, national boundaries were established in the monarchic wars of the thirteenth through the seventeenth centuries, and within those boundaries political regimes were gradually broadened from monarchic to aristocratic to democratic. By contrast Italy and Germany did not resolve their problems of territorial identity until the mid-nineteenth century—and their attempts at parliamentary democracy quickly succumbed to fascism.

The peaceful democratic evolution in countries such as Australia and New Zealand benefited from their insular boundaries, and also the aspirations for freedom and equality of their lower-class immigrant populations. Israel had undergone a similar, but far more rapid, development within its 1948 boundaries; but when that earlier territorial identity was thrown into question by the occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem after 1967, disagreements and deadlock within the Jewish population, and martial law and violent unrest in the occupied Palestinian territories, severely hampered that earlier democratic evolution. By forcing two nations to coexist in violent conflict, the post-1967 de facto borders have prevented any wholesome democratic evolution for Israelis and Palestinians alike.

While territorial identity and national homogeneity clearly are favorable preconditions for democracy, there are exceptional countries, such as Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Canada, India and Singapore, where democracy has evolved despite profound linguistic or religious divisions. The key factor in such countries typically has been a decentralization of many administrative functions, including education, to more homogeneous subunits—a pattern that Arend Lijphart has described as one of "consociational democracy."[9] It is noteworthy that the de Klerk government has sent missions to Canada, the Netherlands and Belgium in order to study the possibility of adapting such institutions to South Africa in a post-apartheid era.

The colonial boundaries inherited by tropical Africa have created few states with linguistic unity or even linguistic majorities; and amid this scarcity of clear territorial-national identities it is no coincidence that Africa is the region where progress toward democracy has remained most precarious. Only in a few countries, such as Botswana and Nigeria (after the bitter experience of the civil war of 1967-70), has something resembling a "consociational" pattern been adopted.

The Arabic-speaking world in the postcolonial era found itself divided into more than 20 countries, from Morocco and Mauritania to Somalia and Oman—a circumstance that discouraged the development of democracy and instead fostered fantasies of wider unification under military leadership from Egypt's Gamal Abd al-Nasser to Libya's Muammar al-Qaddafi, Syria's Hafez al-Assad and Iraq's Saddam Hussein.

It would seem doubtful that ethnically divided countries such as the Soviet Union or Yugoslavia can proceed toward democratization until their problems of national identity are resolved. Recent guerrilla wars in countries such as the Philippines, Peru and Nicaragua, although often clad in ideology, have been largely based on ethnic differences. Even in Czechoslovakia, the recent communist demise gave rise to symbolic conflicts, such as the Slovaks' insistence on hyphenating "Czecho-Slovakia."

One of Gorbachev's most challenging tasks has been the need to conceive a more genuinely federal future for what otherwise is sure to become the "Soviet Disunion." Soviet Russia is the only colonial empire that survived the decolonization of the mid-twentieth century; as soon as glasnost and perestroika gave rise to free expression and genuine electoral alternatives, national conflict (as in the Transcaucasus and Central Asia) and secessionist aspirations (as in the Baltic states) came to the fore. Such nationality conflicts are aggravated by memories of the Stalinist policy of forced resettlement of entire ethnic groups—in glaring contrast to the official fiction of the Soviet Union as a voluntary confederation of equal nationalities.

The end of decades of repression by totalitarian bureaucracies brings out accumulated political frustrations and economic hardships. There is a widely felt need for group action—amid a vacuum of social organization and experienced leadership. In the resulting restlessness and confusion, people take out their resentments on those who seem "different"; hence the most reliable identifications prove to be those within linguistic or ethnic groups.

In sum, the breakdown of totalitarianism creates an unexpected level of tension and conflict. As long as some of these conflicts concern the identity of the future decision-making units, democratic evolution will be severely hampered. Certainly conflicts continue in established democracies—indeed the very method of political decision-making by voting among rival candidates and parties puts a premium on expressing latent conflicts. But the democratic way is to settle those conflicts by discussion, and that process is facilitated when the citizens speak, literally, the same language.


In the typical Western country it was the growing strength of the lower classes in the wake of the Industrial Revolution that forced the ultimate transfer of power from oligarchic to democratic regimes. In Western Europe in the nineteenth century (and indeed in England in 1640-88 and in the United States in the Jacksonian and Civil War periods) the major choice was between achieving broader political participation by peaceful compromise or by violent upheavals. Either way, the process was one of gradual evolution: universal and equal suffrage (even for males) was not achieved in most Western countries until the late nineteenth or early twentieth centuries.

The typical Western country thus went through a three-phase process of democratization: a preparatory phase of organization of competing parties amid deep-seated and unresolved class conflict; a decision phase when major compromises on political participation and procedures were adopted; and a habituation phase when politicians and citizens at large came to accept these procedures.[10]

In contrast to this phased, if mostly unplanned, historical process in the West, recent developments in Eastern Europe have reversed the preparatory and decision phases. There is unquestioned agreement, at least in the abstract, that democracy must be the government of the future, but no prolonged experience of struggle and compromise to prepare for effective democratic decision-making. The very experience of seeing regimes such as Latin American military dictatorships and now East European communism come and go is likely to beget cynicism and hence a lack of positive involvement. If to this is added economic hardship—due to drastic anti-inflationary measures in Latin America or fast-track transitions to capitalism in Eastern Europe—cynicism may become tinged with despair.

Whereas most Latin American countries have had earlier experience with democratic government, more than forty years of communism in Eastern Europe and over seventy years in the Soviet Union have left a complete vacuum of relevant experience in the conduct of organized, competitive politics. In 1989 a Solidarity leader in the newly elected Polish parliament reported, "When we introduced the idea of discipline, everybody said no, that's the old communist system." And when Solidarity leader Lech Walesa, in preparation for his own presidential candidacy in mid-1990, stated, "Poland needs a president with an axe in his hand, a tough determined man, set in his ways," one of his critics noted sarcastically that axes seem more appropriate for woodcutters than political leaders.[11]

In East Germany the postcommunist vacuum was filled, at least temporarily, by an inrush of West German politicians and organizations; West Germans (including native East Germans returning from decades in the West) will clearly have a continuing role in building the necessary political and economic infrastructure in the eastern parts of the country. Poland, whatever the current altercations, is fortunate to have the experience of the Solidarity trade union as a political network that survived a decade of illegality and persecution. Hungary may benefit from its period of economic decentralization under the post-1956 communist regime. Czechoslovakia has a tradition of 20 years of successful democracy (1918-38) to draw upon—although few of today's Czech and Slovak adults have more than childhood memories of that period. By contrast, there are few such resources to be drawn upon in Romania, Bulgaria or Albania.

The most urgent political need throughout the newly proclaimed East European democracies clearly is for dismantling the communist apparatus of centralized control and replacing it with a nonpartisan bureaucracy and stable, competing party organizations. Equally daunting are the tasks of alleviating the long-standing economic frustrations of the populace, privatizing the economy in the absence of any recent patterns of private ownership, and developing a new system of social benefits along the West European or Swedish socialist models.

For new democracies in the Third World, the priority task is to establish civilian control over the armed forces. Throughout the Third World, there has been a glaring discrepancy between the armed forces' function of external defense and their domestic political activity. Aside from Argentina's abortive 1982 attack, which led to the Falkland Islands/Malvinas war, Latin American military forces have fought no external wars since the War of the Pacific (Chile, Bolivia, Peru) of 1879-84 and the Chaco War (Paraguay, Bolivia) of 1932-35. Similarly the massive flow of arms into the Middle East has produced few international effects but a prolonged Arab-Israeli stalemate; the destruction of Lebanon; and, after eight years of war and perhaps a million casualties, a shift in the de facto Iraq-Iran border by a few miles or yards here and there.

On the domestic scene, however, arms have been available throughout the Third World to overthrow elected civilian regimes or to fight bloody and inconclusive guerrilla wars against fellow citizens. By the 1970s military coups had displaced civilian governments in a majority of the countries of the Asian periphery, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America. And, of course, what drew the soldiers into the political arena was not their own strength but rather the weakness of the political system. As Hobbes observed in the aftermath of Britain's seventeenth-century civil war, to hold political authority is "to trump in card-playing, save that in matter of government, when nothing else is turned up, clubs are trump."[12]

By the late 1980s, most Third World military regimes had yielded to elected civilians, and regional conflicts and civil wars were on the verge of settlement. Third World leaders, Latin Americans in particular, thus might wish to look closely at the courageous example of Costa Rica, which in 1949 abolished its army, and where economic and educational achievements far outrank those of its Central American neighbors.[13]

Similarly the superpowers and other developed countries might make a signal contribution to world democracy by agreeing to phase out their arms exports to the Third World and converting their present arms industries to producing machinery needed for economic development in the new democracies. But since arms exports to the Third World are a highly competitive business, their conversion to civilian uses obviously should be coordinated not only between the Soviet Union and the United States, but also among other major arms-exporting countries such as France, Britain, West Germany and, perhaps, China, Brazil and Israel.

In countries such as Mexico, Brazil, Nigeria and the Philippines prolonged military or one-party rule has engendered a pattern of patronage and corruption throughout the economy—aggravated in countries such as Colombia by the de facto military enclaves established by drug lords. Third World countries that have moved from military or authoritarian rule to democracy, in addition to establishing civilian control over the military and developing a democratic party system, thus must put an end to endemic government corruption and (in countries such as Argentina) save their currency from four-digit inflation.

The weakness of the political party structure in some Latin American countries is in part due to the fact that right-wing economic groups did not seriously support democratic parties, knowing that if the left needed to be counteracted they could rely on the military to mount another coup. Recently, however, there are some indications that after years of economic mismanagement by military establishments, businessmen in countries like Brazil and Uruguay, and perhaps Argentina and Peru, may be ready to involve themselves more seriously in democratic politics.

In building up their civilian democratic institutions, countries of Eastern Europe and the Third World will have to choose carefully among alternative constitutional and electoral systems. Centralized government may facilitate sweeping economic and political reforms, but carefully devised federal structures may alleviate ethnic and regional tensions. Presidential government brings with it the dangers of demagogic election campaigns and weak party organizations; it needs to be carefully balanced with such institutions as federalism and judicial independence.[14] Parliamentary government, on the other hand, can strengthen party responsibility, but it crucially depends on a respected and politically neutral head of state and a workable party system.

Among the major voting patterns, the Anglo-American system of plurality elections in single-member districts tends to foster stable two-party systems, but risks creating permanent regional minorities. By contrast, proportional representation of party lists makes for a proliferation of parties and recurrent parliamentary deadlocks, which threatened democracy in Weimar Germany in the 1920s and in Turkey in the 1970s, and paralyzed the political process in Greece and Israel in recent years.


Since most new democracies of the late twentieth century were established in the wake of major economic failures by the preceding communist or military regimes, one of the first needs is for economic advice, investment and aid, for which there is a well-established (and by now hummingly busy) network, such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, and private consultants. It would also be useful if some of the eminently successful newly industrialized countries such as South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore could provide similar advice. Of more direct political relevance are institutions such as the Konrad Adenauer and Friedrich Ebert foundations (affiliated respectively with West Germany's Christian and Social Democratic parties), which have been providing assistance for newly formed right- and left-of-center democratic parties in developing democracies. Following the June 1990 summit meeting in Washington and Camp David, White House Chief of Staff John Sununu agreed to travel to Moscow at President Gorbachev's request to provide expert advice on how to run a presidential office in a democracy. Generally the most useful service that the liberal democracies of Europe, the United States and Japan can provide to the world's struggling new democracies would seem to be the exchange of such technical information.

West European leaders, while proceeding with their own plans for closer economic and political integration, will also be engaged in growing economic and political contacts with Eastern Europe. And in the decades ahead an enlargement of the European Community to include other countries of Western and Eastern Europe (such as Sweden, Austria, Finland, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary) as associate and eventually full members may be expected. This European example of economic and political union since the 1950s could serve as a model for Latin American countries in strengthening their processes of economic recovery and transition to democracy through regional cooperation and integration.


James Bryce wisely noted in 1921 that "one road only has in the past led into democracy, viz., the wish to be rid of tangible evils."[15] Incipient democracies in former communist countries and the Third World must learn to deal forthrightly with their particular set of economic and political problems, and experienced liberal democracies should stand ready to provide needed advice.

What must be kept in mind in all these new contacts among private experts, government officials and international organizations is that democracy is a process of communication and an instrument of choice that offers alternative solutions to a given problem. Situations that confront rigid dictatorships with insoluble dilemmas thus allow democracies to show themselves at their best as mechanisms for change, specifically for orderly change among parties in power.

Thus democratic parties may have leaders subject to old age, illness or incompetence—but will be allowed to resolve such leadership crises while in opposition. Similarly, economic crises are bad for any government, democratic or dictatorial, but they give democratic voters an incentive to transfer power to the opposition. Thus the Great Depression replaced right-wing governments with the Labour Party in Britain, the Social Democrats in Sweden, and the Democrats and Roosevelt's New Deal in the United States. Democratic governments that take the country into a binge of uncontrolled inflation are likely to be defeated by an opposition party that promises sweeping reform.

Democracies not only can choose their governments, they also can learn from one another. And by helping to resolve the urgent economic and political problems of nascent democracies, the growing network of advice and technical assistance will further emphasize the global character of the current movement toward democracy.

Deng's China for the moment is still excluding itself from this worldwide movement toward liberal democracy. National rivalries and conflicts of secession in the "Soviet Disunion" may pose a major danger to regional peace. And in many of the newly proclaimed democracies of Eastern Europe and the Third World, the road ahead is bound to be arduous and bumpy in many places. But there are no current equivalents of Napoleon, Hitler or Stalin to challenge the democratic movement in the name of any alternative principle.

The world, in what promises to be more than a half-century of global peace, has become safer for democracy than it was in 1945, 1917 or at any previous time. And that global character—and the cumulative effects that may be expected to flow from it—are clearly the most important assets of the current democratic revolution.

[1] Egypt would seem to be the only example of an authoritarian regime that managed two orderly successions—from Gamal Abd al-Nasser (1954-70) to Anwar al-Sadat (1970-81) and Hosni Mubarak. Another rare example of orderly change was that of Spain, where Franco's constitution had provided for the restoration of monarchy upon his death, and the new king, Juan Carlos, actively promoted the transition to democracy.

[2] Greece became a member in 1981, Spain and Portugal in 1986; Turkey, an associate member since 1964, submitted its application for full EC membership in 1987.

[3] This is in welcome contrast to the situation in Germany in 1933, when the votes of the Catholic Center Party provided Hitler with the crucial two-thirds margin in having his dictatorial emergency powers approved by the Reichstag.

[4] See William H. Luers, "Czechoslovakia: Road to Revolution," Foreign Affairs, Spring 1990, p. 83.

[5] See Dankwart A. Rustow, Turkey: America's Forgotten Ally, New York: Council on Foreign Relations, 1987, pp. 57-83.

[6] The phrasing is that of my article "Transitions to Democracy: Toward a Dynamic Model," Comparative Politics, April 1970, p. 337. For a fuller discussion of the problem of territorial-national identity, see also my book, A World of Nations: Problems of Political Modernization, Washington: Brookings Institution, 1967, ch. 2.

[7] Sir W. Ivor Jennings, The Approach to Self-Government, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1956, p. 56.

[8] As I pointed out in A World of Nations, "The plebiscites held in Europe after World War I [to determine the borders of Germany] are only apparent contradictions of this argument. If nations were to be constituted by plebiscites, the possible solutions would be so numerous and indeterminate as to make clear formulation of alternatives and any rational choice among them impossible"; op. cit., p. 59.

[9] See his Democracy in Plural Societies: A Comparative Evaluation, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1977.

[10] This three-phase model is elaborated in my article "Transitions to Democracy," op. cit., pp. 352-61.

[11] The New York Times, Oct. 10, 1989, quoting Bronislaw Geremek; and June 24, 1990, quoting Walesa.

[12] "A Dialogue . . . of the Common Laws," in William Molesworth, ed., English Works, London: J. Bohn, 1839-45, vol. 6, p. 122.

[13] Violeta Chamorro, as she prepared for her inauguration as the country's newly elected president, implied that Nicaragua might proceed in that same direction. It should be noted that, in the protracted Nicaraguan conflict, two of her four children were firmly committed to the Sandinista side, while the two others joined her in an equally firm commitment to the anti-Sandinistas. See The New York Times, Feb. 27, 1990.

[14] For a thoughtful argument in favor of parliamentary rather than presidential government, see Juan Linz, "The Perils of Presidentialism," Journal of Democracy, Winter 1990, pp. 51-70. He suggest that "the only presidential democracy with a long history of constitutional continuity is the United States"; p. 51.

[15] James Bryce, Modern Democracies, London: Macmillan, 1921, vol. 2, p. 602.

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  • DANKWART A. RUSTOW is Distinguished Professor of Political Science at the Graduate School of the City University of New York and Editor of Comparative Politics.
  • More By Dankwart A. Rustow