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  • Clarifying Consolidation
  • Philippe Schmitter (bio)
Problems of Democratic Transition and Consolidation: Southern Europe, South America, and Post-Communist Europe. By Juan J. Linz and Alfred Stepan. Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996. 479pp.

The French have an expression that describes this book well: C’est une brique!To merit such an accolade, a tome must be not only large and heavy (running 479 pages and weighing over a pound in paperback, this one qualifies easily), but also intellectually comprehensive and challenging. This book aspires to cover both the transition to and the consolidation of democracy in no fewer than 15 contemporary countries stretching across three geocultural areas; I cannot imagine anyone disputing its claim to intellectual heft.

Yet many briqueswind up consigned to the ignominious task of holding open professors’ doors during office hours. These volumes are simply too long to be read carefully, and their best ideas often get lost amid the sheer mass of complex argumentation and erudition that they contain. Scholars buy them—when they can afford to—because they represent “milestones in the profession,” but they tend to be underutilized in proportion to the effort involved in producing them.

My hunch is that this briqueis destined for a more exalted fate. It will certainly be read with attention by all those who have been following the more than 50 recent cases of democratization around the world and wondering how they are going to turn out. If mine is any indication, the margins of the typical copy will be amply glossed with cryptic observations—accompanied frequently by exclamation points. Of [End Page 168]course, this prediction is easy for me to make, since the team of Linz and Stepan has already produced another highly successful briqueentitled The Breakdown of Democratic Regimes(Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978).

This latest joint effort is an improvement on the previous one for the simple reason that, rather than inviting a bunch of notables to contribute chapters on the countries that they know best, Linz and Stepan have had the temerity to take on this enormous task themselves. By far the largest portion of the book is taken up by 15 case studies of attempts at democratization in Southern Europe, South America, and postcommunist Europe. Moreover, the experiences within each of these regions are compared in three separate but related sets of “concluding reflections.”

These “analytico-descriptions” in themselves represent a major contribution. Eschewing the “stylized facts” selectively strung together by rational-choice theorists to make the best possible case for their deductive presuppositions, or the “quantitative simplifications” comprehensively gathered by number-crunchers to provide the best possible database for their inductive explorations, Linz and Stepan plow through an immense amount of raw and processed material (in several languages), order it loosely according to a broad set of interpretive categories, compile a rich narrative full of complex linkages and sequences, and then proceed to draw insightful conclusions. No doubt each of the cases will be critically examined and eventually somewhat modified by country experts, but the sheer magnitude of the information that the authors have synthesized should be enough to cause even the most specialized of observers to think about his or her case in a new way.

In this short review, I will forgo commenting on these case studies except for that of Portugal, the only one about which I can claim more expertise than the authors. I found that their 13-page treatment of this (in retrospect) highly unusual case touched on all the major points but one. They ignore almost completely the issue of the dissolution of Portugal’s overseas empire. This “exogenous” variable was, in my view, far more important for explaining the initial confusion and the subsequent role of provisional governments than were the domestic factors that Linz and Stepan stress. Also, I doubt that there was “a general crisis of the state” in Portugal (p. 119)—even during 1974–75. What was more significant in the long run—and absolutely crucial for the eventual consolidation of democracy—was a dramatic and long overdue change in national identity, from an Atlanticist conception based on empire to one rooted in membership in the European Community...