The Spirit of Democracy: The Struggle to Build Free Societies Throughout the World

In This Review

The Spirit of Democracy: The Struggle to Build Free Societies Throughout the World

By Larry Diamond
Times Books, 2008
464 pp. $28.00
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For 25 years, beginning in the mid-1970s, an extraordinary wave of democratic transitions swept across southern Europe, Asia, Latin America, parts of Africa, and the former Soviet Union. But this so-called third wave of democratization came to an end with backlashes in Nigeria, Pakistan, Russia, Venezuela, and elsewhere. Diamond, a leading authority in the democracy-promotion movement, takes stock of these decades of democratic "boom" and "recession." Part of his book explores the state of knowledge about the sources and obstacles to democratic transitions, emphasizing the critical role of political leadership and international support. Diamond demolishes the notion that democracy is a culture-bound Western artifact. He also resists, although less persuasively, the conventional scholarly view that democracy tends to follow -- and therefore must await -- economic modernization. The book is particularly good in focusing on the changing prospects of authoritarian governance. In backward and vulnerable parts of the world, the battle between authoritarians and democrats is not over ideas but rather over basic services and economic growth. Diamond is also eloquent in arguing that despite the recent blunders of American democracy promoters, there is still a role for the international community in helping societies that are struggling to be free.