Democratization: Theory and Experience

By Laurence Whitehead | Go to book overview
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Introduction

Events, past and present . . . are the true, the only reliable teachers of political scientists . . . Once such an event [as the spontaneous uprising in Hungary] has happened, every policy, theory and forecast of future potentialities needs re-examination.

(Hannah Arendt)

In 1956 Hannah Arendt was reacting to the experience of the Hungarian uprising which signalled the bankruptcy of Soviet political theory. But the underlying truth is more general, and still applies even in the post-Soviet world. As this book goes to press the news in coming in of a massive terrorist attack on New York and Washington, DC. This is a very different script from the dramas of democratization discussed in Chapter 2 , but it may well prove a further confirmation of Arendt's thesis. This volume is concerned with theories of democratization, and the two-way interaction between theory and experience in this field. Here, too, events have repeatedly challenged the prevailing orthodoxies, and may continue to do so. Indeed, it was certain shocking and violent events of the early 1970s that first attracted the new field of comparative democratization studies. The turning-point was an act of great symbolic violence—the strafing of the Presidential Palace (the Moneda) in Santiago in September 1973. The ensuing collapse of Chile's venerable democracy marked something approaching the low point in the fortunes of this system of government, at least for my generation. Barely six months later a peaceful revolution in Lisbon launched Portugal onto a tortuous but ultimately highly successful transition from police state to modern democracy. Greece, Spain, and Peru followed shortly thereafter, and the comparative analysis of processes of democratization followed soon after.

At first this seemed like a marginal phenomenon, and a minor and limited area of scholarship. However, over the past twenty years the reality of democratization has been diffused across the globe penetrating into the most remote and improbable of locations. Who in the mid-1970s would even have dreamt of the democratization of Albania, of Cambodia, of South Africa, or of East Timor? Trailing behind this reality there has sprung up a mini-industry of

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