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Defending Democracy

Reactions to Extremism in Interwar Europe

Giovanni Capoccia

Publication Year: 2005

How does a democracy deal with threats to its stability and continued existence when those threats come from political parties that play the democratic game? In Defending Democracy, political scientist Giovanni Capoccia studies key European nations between World Wars I and II which survived such democratic crises. A comprehensive and thoughtful historical analysis of the democracies of interwar Europe, Defending Democracy provides a unique perspective on the many lessons to be learned from their successes and failures. With this exclusively empirical investigative approach, Capoccia develops a methodology for analyzing contemporary democracies—such as Algeria, Turkey, Israel, and others—where similar political conditions are present. Given the rise of terrorism and the persistence of extremism in both established and new democracies today, continued research and dialogue on the defense of democracy are necessary for its preservation.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Tables and Figures

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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix

PART I: The Theoretical Framework

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1 Democratic Stability and Democratic Crisis

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pp. 3-26

Not all democracies that can break down actually do. This was true even for interwar Europe, where democracy faced one of its darkest moments. Yet comparative politics scholars interested in interwar Europe—and elsewhere— have traditionally asked why certain democracies collapsed. For several years, under the influence of important authors such as Alexander Gerschenkron, Seymour Martin Lipset...

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2 The Challenges: Antisystem Parties

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pp. 27-46

Virtually every interwar European democracy had to endure an extremist challenge to its legitimacy, but in some of the cases the nature of the challenge was such that it encouraged defection from the political center at the same time. The extremist challenge was different in each country, and each acted in a different political and institutional system. Conceptualizing those challenges as examples of ‘‘antisystem...

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3 The Defense: Strategies against Extremism

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pp. 47-67

What instruments are at the disposal of democratic incumbents to react to extremist challenges that threaten to take over the democratic system and turn it into something else? The existing empirical literature is not of great help in answering this question: while some country-studies on this topic exist, in general they pay little attention to comparability or cumulability of knowledge. Comparative analyses...

PART II: Case Studies

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4 Czechoslovakia

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pp. 71-107

Although several ideologically antisystem parties were active in the new democratic Czechoslovakia that rose from the ashes of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the main danger to the existence of the republic came from the polarization between the Czechoslovak majority and the large German-speaking Sudeten minority, especially after 1933, when a strong extreme right-wing party opposing the existence...

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5 Belgium

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pp. 108-137

In 1936–39, the Belgian democratic system had to confront its most turbulent years since World War I, its very existence put in danger by the conquest of almost a quarter of the seats in the lower chamber by three ideologically antisystem parties: Rex, the Vlaams Nationaal Verbond (VNV), and the Communist Party (PCB). Of these, the first two—Rex in particular—given their size, their aggressive political...

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6 Finland

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pp. 138-176

Finnish democracy, established with the independence of the country from Russia with the Constitution of 1919, survived not one but two serious anti-system threats during the interwar years. During the 1920s, the government met the Communist challenge, which was heavily backed by Soviet Russia, with strong repression. Although this strategy was enough to keep the Communists at bay, at the...

PART III: Comparative Perspectives

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7 Defense of Democracy: Actors and Strategies in Comparative Perspective

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pp. 179-220

Defending democracy from its internal enemies is more diffcult than any other form of government. To start with, democratic governments need to respect basic guarantees and rights, which substantially limits their space for maneuver: although civil and political rights were often, both de jure and de facto, restricted in the cases analyzed...

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8 Conclusion

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pp. 221-245

What are the implications of this study for our conception of regime change and persistence on the one hand and of the interaction between democracy and extremism on the other in interwar Europe as well as in other contexts? This chapter addresses these questions. In the first part, I discuss the empirical and theoretical...

Appendix A: Party Names and Translations

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pp. 247-248

Appendix B: Government Coalitions and Alignments in Presidential Elections

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pp. 249-255

Appendix C: Anti-extremist Legislation in Czechoslovakia, Finland, and Belgium

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pp. 256-264


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pp. 265-298


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pp. 299-324


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pp. 325-335

E-ISBN-13: 9780801893285
E-ISBN-10: 0801893283
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801887550
Print-ISBN-10: 0801887550

Page Count: 352
Illustrations: 3 line drawings
Publication Year: 2005