Daniel Ziblatt, How did Europe democratize?” World Politics 58 (2006), pp. 311-338.

Main Argument: Ziblatt reviews four books (Boix, A&R, Tilly, Collier) that indicate that the advent of democracy in Europe in the late nineteenth century was not the exceptional and over-determined outgrowth of modernization as traditionally portrayed by comparative scholarship; Ziblatt sees the sequencing of democratic reforms as generating different coalitional dynamics and therefore encourages a focus on asynchronic regime change.


Method: This is a review of four books on comparative political transitions. Ziblatt adds his own guide to future research at the end.


Important Insight: The authors vary in the level of importance that they accord to the role of class-cooperation and elite politics; while Boix focuses on the need for a cross-class alliance, to what extent is the revolutionary overturning of existing political institutions and elites always conducive to democratization. This highlights the conflict we see through the entire week’s readings: to what extent does class matter both as an impetus of reform and as an agitator for revolution?



== Notes ==



Looks to address three problems using this work:

–     Shifting patterns of income inequality created an “opening” or opportunity for democratic reforms

–     Whether elites or the working class were the more decisive actors to take advantage of this “opening”

–     The process by which democracy is secured


Boix, Democracy And Redistribution

–     What creates reform: income inequality (Boix) (316)

–     the impact of the middle class on democratization

–     A cross-class alliance

–     It is only when the gap between the poor and the middle also shrinks that what Boix calls “universal suffrage” will be possible


Acemoglu & Robinson, Economic Origins

–     Assumptions: The rich in non-democracies always face the threat of revolution but the poor who possess a numerical majority cannot get everything they want (redistribution) because—and it is here where A&R innovatively diverge from Boix— the rich have three options: (1) policy concessions (immediate redistribution), (2) democracy, or (3) repression

–     Point out a relationship between economic development, inequality, and democratization (319); represents a u-curve

–     Improvements on Boix: First, their accounts improve upon the agentless structural functionalism implicit in modernization theory by reasserting the primacy of collective actors’ resources, preferences, and strategies. Second, rather than positing only two possible outcomes—democracy and repression—the outcome of partial democracy is introduced into the analysis


Collier, Paths Toward Democracy

–     Role of the working class in democratization

–     In the first wave of democratization, the working class played much less of a role than is normally assumed; in the “third wave” of democratization, the working class played a more important role

–     Collier identifies the coalitional underpinnings of democratic reform is a crucial area of research and represents an important move away from static analyses that only identify “conditions” of democratization


Tilly, Contention And Democracy

–     unconventional use of language

–     Looks for medium-term “causal mechanisms,” which when combined make democratization likely

–     To make a country democratic, fundamental societal changes are necessary (328)

–     To democratize, a government must do two things: dissolve pre-existing societal networks that provide protection (328)

–     Tilly argues that violence and contention in their various guises shatter societal structures that conspire against democratization


Commonality: regime change even in the important European historical cases so often held up as the paradigmatic models of successful “transitions” to democracy were messier and more ambiguous than typically thought (313)



Differences between A&R and Tilly:

–     A&R implicitly reject Tilly’s relational notion of causality— that outcomes are the unintentional by-products of social interaction (330)

–     A&R conceptualize the ideas of “violence,” “unrest,” and “revolution” differently than Tilly does

–     The most crucial difference between the two accounts centers around the question: to what extent is the revolutionary overturning of existing political institutions and elites always conducive to democratization


Ziblatt’s view:

–     If we look behind the label of “partial democracy,” we find a proposition that could give us the conceptual tools to more effectively ask and address questions about the causes of democratization

–     Promotes concept of asynchronic regime change which offers a different take on how we think about democratization for three interrelated reason (333)

–     Future empirical research thus might productively shift attention away from trying to explain dichotomously defined regime outcomes such as “democracy” or “authoritarianism” at one moment in time

–     We can see that the sequencing of democratic reforms might itself generate different coalitional dynamics

–     Rather than assuming that all the dimensions of a political regime are synchronized, we ought to focus on explaining asynchronic regime change


Critique: It is challenging to critique a review of other books, but I was cautious about Ziblatt’s agenda for future research that promotes the need to shift empirical research away from trying to explain dichotomously defined regime outcomes such as “democracy” or “authoritarianism” at one moment in time. The concept of transition, in its very nature, has an element of temporality to it. No transition happens in a day, and I do not see research in democratic transitions ignoring history, past attempts at transition or the build up to revolutionary times.