The Third Wave of Democratization

The Third Wave of Democratization

"The Third Wave: Democratization in the Late Twentieth Century" is a 1991 book by Samuel P. Huntington which outlines the significance of a third wave of democratization to describe the global trend that has seen more than 60 countries experience democratic transitions since 1974.



Five main causative factors are outlined for the Third Wave:
*Loss of legitimacy of authoritarian regimes
*Economic change- there is a correlation between wealth and democracy
*Catholic church- changes brought about by Vatican II emphasized individual rights
*Regional Contingency Factor (Snowball effect)- also known as demonstrational effects, happens when success of democracy in one country causes other countries to democratize
*External factors- efforts to spread democracy mostly from European institution and the United States

The above are rather superficial actors, which have ignored the structural change of the international system. The Cold War international system, which had separated nation states into two confrontational camps proved to be unrealistic to sustain in the face of the popularization of the information and communication technologies (ICT)and the emergence of a global system.

Before the Soviet Union collapse, Gorbachev enjoyed a high popularity with his reforms, perestroika and glasnost.

The correlation between wealth and demcracy had totally broken down at the climax of the Cold War in the 1970s, when the Reagan administration had triggered an arm-race and star-war with the ex-Soviet Union and even worse, there was an Oil Crisis in 1973. Military over-stretch had created the famous 'twin deficits' of the american economy. The US basically depended on loans to survive since the early 1980s. Under similar pressure on the Soviet camp, the Cold War international system proved to be unsustainable, which urged a rapprochment between the Soviet and the US, starting with a series of talks and sucessful signing of a series of treaties limiting the production of nuclear weapons. The collapse of the Soviet Union did occur one decade after the Open Door Policy of China, which had brought about one whole decade of double economic growth although the wealth of a communist China did link up with democracy, precisely speaking, the integration of the Chinese economy with the global capitalist economy. But, the Soviet Union did not collapse after its integration into the global capitalist economy. The integration had taken place after the collapse. So, it is a myth that liberal democracy had won the Cold War. There is apparently alternative perspectives, one of which widely accepted perspectives is that the global force spearheaded by the global economic force and global development of the ICT which had made national boundry irrelevant, which had also made a commanded economy and totalitarian regime unsustainable.

The collapse of the Cold War System might better be viewed in a larger context of the changing global structure with the above just a very narrow vision of the big context.


*Transformation - A top-down (elite-controlled) change from within government (as postulated by the theoreticians of the Modernization theory some 30 years ago).
*Transplacement - Negotiated reform of regime and government.
*Replacement - Regime breakdown (ruptura) and the collapse of authoritarianism.


*Internal factors paramount - Especially important is role of elites and the ensuing split in the regime.



*Transitional problems (institution-building)
*Contextual problems.
*Systemic problems (performance of new regime) Consolidation after "two-turnover test" (Huntington 1991)


Huntington believed in the importance of individual agents in the transition to democracy: “democracies are created not by causes but by causers” (Huntington 1991:107). To Huntington the transition was based on elite choice, perception, beliefs and actions, while subsequent consolidation was based on elite pacts and consensus.


eparation of political analysis from socio-economic environment

*Poverty, social exclusion and inequality
*Accusations of democracy without citizenship/ of disempowerment
*Role of IFIs

Relationship between structure and agent, institutions and process

*Overemphasis on agency rather than structure (See Rueschemeyer, Stephens and Stephens 1992)

Dichotomy between authoritarianism and democracy

*Enclaves of authoritarian power?

Ideological Bias

*Ethnocentric - "the United States is the premier democratic country of the modern world" and the “major promoter of democratization” (Huntington 1991:30 & 6)
*Endorsement of limited model of market democracy
*Lack of ecological validity in theory, as ethnocentrism means interpretation of third world is bias also.

Lack of analysis of external factors

General view - Contributory but insufficient condition for democratization US - “the major promoter of democratization” (Huntington 1991:6) or “much more effective at destabilizing democracies than at stabilizing popularly elected rulers” (Borón 1995:213)iii

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