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Journal of Democracy 13.3 (2002) 5

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Debating the Transition Paradigm

When we decided to publish Thomas Carothers's article "The End of the Transition Paradigm" in the January 2002 issue of the Journal of Democracy, we expected that it would generate some controversy, but we underestimated how wide and intense the reaction to it would be. It has in fact provoked strong responses of varying kinds among both scholars and practitioners in the field of democracy promotion.

In mid-January, near the issue's publication date, our International Forum for Democratic Studies cosponsored with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (where Carothers serves as vice-president for studies) a luncheon meeting devoted to the topic of the transition paradigm. Moderated by Journal coeditor Marc F. Plattner, this event featured a presentation by Carothers and comments on his essay by Guillermo O'Donnell, an eminent scholar of democratic transitions, and Kenneth Wollack, president of the National Democratic Institute, one of the world's leading democracy-promotion organizations. The meeting attracted an unusually large audience of more than 120 people and sparked an extremely lively discussion that had to be cut off due to the limited time available.

In the succeeding months references to Carothers's essay began to crop up in new manuscripts submitted to the Journal and at conferences both in the United States and abroad. It was clear that the article had touched a nerve, but it was also apparent that it was being interpreted by different audiences in very different ways. All this convinced us that it would be useful for the Journal to publish some responses to Carothers, and at the same time to give him an opportunity to reply to his critics. Hence the set of brief essays that appears in the pages that follow.

In addition to Guillermo O'Donnell and Kenneth Wollack, who graciously agreed to revise their earlier comments for publication, we include responses from Ghia Nodia and Gerald Hyman. Nodia not only has contributed to theoretical discussion about transitions (see his "How Different Are Postcommunist Transitions?" in the October 1996 Journal of Democracy), but runs an NGO in Tbilisi that has been on the receiving end of democracy assistance. Hyman, himself a former scholar, is a highly respected democracy expert at USAID; since that agency is directly criticized by Carothers in his original essay, it seemed only fair to give one of its representatives a chance to respond. We believe that all four of the respondents have furnished thoughtful and interesting critiques, and that together with Carothers's eloquent reply they help illuminate the question of how useful the transition paradigm remains.


—The Editors