The Edinburgh Companion to the History of Democracy

The Edinburgh Companion to the History of Democracy

The Edinburgh Companion to the History of Democracy

The Edinburgh Companion to the History of Democracy

Synopsis

Democracy has never been more popular. It is successfully practised today in many different ways by people across virtually every cultural, religious or socio-economic context. The 45 original essays collected in this companion suggest that the global popularity of democracy derives in part from its breadth and depth in the common history of human civilization. It sets a benchmark as the first collection on the history of democracy to present lesser known examples, such as those of ancient China, medieval Islam, colonial Africa or today's Burma, alongside more familiar cases like Athens, the English Parliament, the French Revolution and Women's Suffrage.

Excerpt

The twentieth century was a great success for democracy, but every victory was hard won. On the world stage, democracies had to fend off credible threats from various forms of fascism before 1945 and then communism until 1989. Inside each democracy, a myriad of civil society actors and peoples’ movements struggled for every gain of liberty, for every civil right and for an ever widening franchise. During the twentieth century, in countries all over the world, people took risks, pushed old laws and entrenched elites to their limits, and put their lives on the line in order to claim their sovereignty. In 1900, barely twenty counties would have qualified as a democracy even on the broadest criteria, and if we use universal suffrage as the measure the number would dwindle to but a handful. At the end of the Second World War, things were little better: universal suffrage had been achieved sporadically, but there were fewer than a dozen functional or provisional democracies. Since then the efficiency of democracy and its effectiveness in providing strong, stable government became more apparent and democratic experiments gradually succeeded. By the mid-1970s, the world had about 40 democracies, mostly in the West but also in Japan and India. In 1990, there were 76 electoral democracies, by 1995 that number had shot up to 117, and in 1999 it had reached 119 of the world’s 192 countries (Freedom in the World 1991, 1996, 2000). At the close of the twentieth century and for the first time in human history, the majority of the world’s population lived under one form or another of democracy.

This was great cause for celebration. Various pundits pointed to the end of the Cold War as the ultimate victory of the Western liberal model of democracy. In the most pronounced example, Francis Fukuyama declared that we were in fact witnessing the End of History; the death knell had rung on any credible alternative to democracy and the struggle of people everywhere towards liberty and justice was coming to a close (Fukuyama 1992). As the number of democracies continued to grow throughout the 1990s, such notions became increasingly popular. While some warned that there were still many threats to democracy and that there may yet be a ‘reverse wave’, most were enthusiastic that democracy had gone through a global resurgence (Diamond and Plattner 1996). As ‘Democracy’s Century’ wound down, humankind was said to be ‘rejecting oppression and opting for greater openness and freedom’; the battles and struggles of the twentieth century had been worthwhile, the Western liberal model of democracy had succeeded and the world could look forward to a new millennium of stability, prosperity and ‘the prospect of a more peaceful world’ (Democracy’s Century 1999: 2).

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