The Sources of Democratic Consolidation

The Sources of Democratic Consolidation

The Sources of Democratic Consolidation

The Sources of Democratic Consolidation


Why did precarious and collapsed democracies in Europe develop into highly stable democracies? Gerard Alexander offers a rational choice theory of democratic consolidation in a survey of the breakdowns of and transitions to democratic institutions. Through an analysis of developments in Spain, Britain, France, Germany, and Italy, Alexander explores how key political sectors established the long-term commitment to democracy that distinguishes consolidated democracies. Alexander makes a highly accessible rationalist argument about the conditions under which such commitments emerge, arguing that powerful sectors abandon options for overthrowing democratic rules only when they predict low risks in democracy. The author's argument parallels established claims about the predictability essential to the development of modern capitalism. The Sources of Democratic Consolidation outlines Alexander's claim that a political precondition, rather than an economic or social precondition, exists for consolidated democracies. Drawing on interviews and archival research, the author links his argument to evidence from the five largest countries in Western Europe from the 1870s to the 1980s and also discusses the implications for the prospects for democratic consolidation in other regions. Political pacts, power-sharing, and institutional designs, he says, may help stabilize uncertain democracies, but they cannot create consolidation.


To the extent that beliefs do affect regimes, we shall want to know what factors determine beliefs.

ROBERT DAHL, Polyarchy, 1971

On July 13, 1936, José Calvo Sotelo, the prominent leader of a hard-right political party, was kidnapped and killed by left-wing members of the state security forces. This murder escalated tit-for-tat violence in Spain's interwar democracy and provoked outrage among conservatives. Four days after his body was found dumped in a cemetery, a military coup against the left- dominated government began in Spain's Moroccan territories and swiftly spread to peninsular garrisons. Senior military officers planned the uprising, and military personnel maintained a commanding position both on the Nationalist side of the civil war that ensued and in the authoritarian regime that won, led by Francisco Franco. But what might appear at first glance to have been a purely military operation was the product of a complex interaction between the military's coercive resources and the massive civilian sympathy on the right on which the coup's plotters counted heavily. The conspirators had been affected profoundly by the social isolation and collapse of a previous dictatorship in 1930 and putsch in 1932; by 1936 even military figures who longed for conservative authoritarian rule would not participate in a project that faced the united opposition of the country and thus ran a high risk of failing.

Consequently, in the run-up to the 1936 coup, plotters carefully sought a consensus within the military, which in turn was predicated on prudent officers' expectations of widespread backing among civilian rightists. Crucially, in the summer of 1936, officers in many parts of Spain detected enor-

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.