Between Tyranny and Anarchy: A History of Democracy in Latin America, 1800-2006

Between Tyranny and Anarchy: A History of Democracy in Latin America, 1800-2006

Between Tyranny and Anarchy: A History of Democracy in Latin America, 1800-2006

Between Tyranny and Anarchy: A History of Democracy in Latin America, 1800-2006


Between Tyranny and Anarchy provides a unique comprehensive history and interpretation of efforts to establish democracies over two centuries in the major Latin American countries. Drake takes an unusual interdisciplinary approach, combining history and political science with an emphasis on political institutions. He argues that, without a thorough examination of the historical roots and causes of Latin American democracy, most general theories can not adequately explain its failures, successes, and forms.

Latin America offers an extraordinary laboratory for the study of democratic experiments. Alongside a well-deserved reputation for authoritarianism, it boasts one of the world's deepest, richest histories of democratic movements, ideas, and institutions. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the region's leading democracies did not lag very far behind the United States and Western Europe in making numerous advances. In comparison with those countries, though, Latin America's democratic history has been distinctive because of its fundamental dilemma: how to reconcile political systems theoretically committed to legal equality with societies divided by extreme socio-economic inequalities.


When I told people I was writing a history of democracy in Latin America, I encountered some skeptical reactions. One person joked, “Well, that will certainly be a short book.” Another asked, “Is there any such thing?”

This book is longer than they (or I) expected. It shows that those questions set too high a standard for Latin America compared to the rest of the world. As a countercurrent to a deserved reputation for almost five centuries of overwhelming authoritarianism, the region exhibits a protracted and profound history of struggles for democracy. True, the result is mainly a tale of thwarted aspirations and dashed dreams, but it is also a journey toward progress.

I was drawn to this topic by the tidal wave of democratization that took place from the late 1970s to the 2000s. Many people welcomed that tsunami in the aftermath of the previous harsh dictatorships. It showed that democracy could prosper in Latin America, that previous experiences with that political system may have been underestimated, that there should be significant antecedents for the present paradigm, and that if democratic institutions are so worthy of study now they must have been in the past. Indeed, most of the concerns about democracy in recent years are not new, but they are issues that have consumed the region ever since independence.

In the last two decades, a new generation of graduate students in political science also lured me into this subject. Trained in the discipline in the new institutionalism and rational choice theory, they asked me to help them study democratic institutions in contemporary Latin America. As a seasoned Latin Americanist, I of course warned them that this endeavor was a colossal waste of time. Any fool knew that democratic institutions in the region rarely functioned properly and seldom lasted long. However, as those rules and organizations increasingly survived and elicited compliance from the 1980s to the 2000s, I had to go along with my students' desires to probe such issues.

But then I ran into another problem. When the students discovered how political institutions functioned currently, they naturally asked me how that . . .

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