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Radicals, Reformers, and Reactionaries: The Prisoner's Dilemma and the Collapse of Democracy in Latin America
Radicals, Reformers, and Reactionaries: The Prisoner's Dilemma and the Collapse of Democracy in Latin America
By Youssef Cohen
University Of Chicago Press, 1995, 186 pp
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While written with an academic audience in mind, this book is an important addition to the debate over the causes of democratic collapse in Latin America. Cohen, a professor of political science at New York University, rejects the deterministic explanations of the past two decades, which relegated human agency to the sidelines and gave a central place to economic, political, and social imperatives. The most common explanation held that democratic systems and the demands of reform in the 1960s and 1970s became incompatible with the requirements of capitalist development. To preserve growth, reform and democracy had to be suppressed. Examining Brazil and Chile, Cohen argues that structures certainly set constraints but always left alternatives. Thus, the key becomes explaining choice. Thwarted democratic reform, he says, was a clear case of the prisoner's dilemma: moderates knew the benefits of mutual agreement but could not trust each other, so they splintered, joining instead in extreme solutions. All this may seem highly esoteric, even obvious, but in the clientelistic realm of Latin American political science, such arguments come close to parricide and lead Cohen to take on most of the discipline's major figures. He hopes his book will help restore confidence in democracy since "implementing reforms within a democratic context may be a difficult balancing act, but it is possible." One former central participant in the intellectual tradition he takes to task will now surely agree with him -- Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso.