Experts Comment on Transitions to Democracy

Given widespread protests against authoritarian regimes in the Middle East and North Africa and the toppling of presidents in Tunisia and Egypt, we asked several experts in the department to suggest readings on the topic of democratization and the uncertain transition from authoritarian to democratic regimes.

Prof. Peter Kingstone is particularly keen on Adam Przeworski’s Democracy and the Market:

“Przeworski does two things that provide fabulous guidance for thinking about problems of transition. First, it offers a soft game theory heuristic for thinking about the logic of transition dynamics. For simplicity’s sake, he divides societies among hard-line regime insiders defending the status quo, reformist elements within the regime who might be willing to cooperate with a transition process, moderate democratizers who might be willing to negotiate an exit with the regime, and radical democratizers who want to
throw the regime down. The simple heuristic logic he lays out helps you think through any transition dynamic — failed (such as Iran in 2009) or successful.

Second, he lays out the dynamics of post transition struggles over the new institutional rules. Once again, his simple logical discussion is an essential guide for thinking about the really difficult challenge of figuring out what the new regime should look like.”

Prof. Oksan Bayulgen suggested an array of readings that relate to many different angles of the process:

On definition of democracy:
Phillippe C. Schmitter and Terry Lynn Karl, “What Democracy Is And Is Not,” in Larry Diamond and Marc F. Plattner (eds.), The Global Resurgence of Democracy (John Hopkins University Press, 1996), pp. 49-62.

On challenges and problems of transition to democracy:
Guillermo O’Donnell and Philippe Schmitter, Transitions from Authoritarian
Rule: Tentative Conclusions about Uncertain Democracies
(Baltimore: Johns
Hopkins University Press, 1986).
J. Linz and A. Stepan, Problems of Democratic Transition and Consolidation:
Southern Europe, South America, and Post-Communist Europe
(Baltimore: Johns
Hopkins University Press, 1986).
Michael Bratton and Nicholas Van De Walle, Democratic Experiments in Africa:
Regime Transitions in Comparative Perspective
(Cambridge University Press,

On economic foundations of democratic transitions:
David L. Epstein et al, “Democratic Transitions,” American Journal of
Political Science
50:3 (July 2006): 551- 569.

On persistence of authoritarian and hybrid regimes:
F. Zakaria, “The Rise of Illiberal Democracy,” Foreign Affairs 76:6 (1997):
Thomas Carothers, “The End of the Transition Paradigm,” Journal of Democracy 13:1 (Jan, 2002): 5-21.
Jennifer Gandhi and Adam Przeworski, “Authoritarian Institutions and the
Survival of Autocrats,” Comparative Political Studies 40:11 (2007):

On the relationship between Islam and Democracy:
M. Steven Fish, “Islam and Authoritarianism,” World Politics 55:1 (October,
2002): 4-37.
Mark Tessler, “Islam and Democracy in the Middle East,” Comparative Politics
34:3 (2002): 337-355.

Finally, Prof. Matthew Singer looks ahead:

“Looking forward, the key question is what happens next. Pzeworski, Alvarez, Cheibub, and Limongi (Democracy and Development, 2000) argue that while dictators fall in all kinds of economic circumstances, the consolidation of democracy is much more likely to happen in rich countries. In the absence of wealth, key considerations will be the strength of civil society (Anirudh Krishna, “Enhancing Political Participation in Democracies: What is the Role of Social Capital?” Comparative Political Studies, 35 (4), 2002, pp. 437-60.), the depth of democratic values (Inglehart, Ronald F., and Christian Welzel, Modernization, cultural change, and democracy: the human development sequence, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005), and the competitiveness and fairness of initial elections (Nicolas Van de Walle “Elections Without Democracy: Africa’s Range of Regimes,” Journal of Democracy 13:2 (April 2002), pp. 66-80). This last area is one where previous experience shows that the international community can provide election monitoring and pro-democracy aid that actually helps strengthen democracy (S.E. Finkel, A. Perez-Linan, M.A. Seligson, and C.N. Tate, Deepening our Understanding of the Effects of U.S. Foreign Assistance on Democracy Building, 1990-2004, Final Report, January 31, 2008).”

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