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  • The Surging Tide of Democracy
  • Dankwart A. Rustow (bio)
The Third Wave: Democratization in the Late Twentieth Century by Samuel P. Huntington. University of Oklahoma Press, 1991. 366 pp.

Books about democracy are multiplying on our shelves even faster than are new democracies on the world map. Samuel P. Huntington's latest work is surely the most remarkable recent addition to this literature: comprehensive in scope, profound in its historical and cultural insights, incisive in its political analysis, and strikingly suggestive in its practical advice to "democratizers."

Huntington's book is a more detailed, updated, and amply annotated version of the Julian J. Rothbaum Lectures he delivered at the University of Oklahoma during the fateful month of November 1989. As he explains briefly in his preface, the book represents a major shift of focus away from the stress on political order in his earlier major work, Political Order in Changing Societies (1968), and toward democratization as the predominant concern.

Huntington distinguishes three "waves" of democratization (p. 16). The "first, long wave" of 1828 to 1926 includes the United States since the presidency of Andrew Jackson; the democratization of Western Europe and of settler colonies from Australia to Canada and Chile; and the proclamation of democracy in Eastern and Central Europe alter 1918. The "second, short wave" of 1943 to 1962 takes in the rise of democracy in West Germany, Austria, Italy, Japan, and South Korea under Allied occupation during and after World War II, as well as in countries such as India, the Philippines, Israel, Nigeria, and Jamaica following decolonization. But Huntington sees each of these surges [End Page 119] giving way to a "reverse wave." The first of these lasted from 1922 to 1942, bringing Fascism to Italy, National Socialism to Germany, and Nazi conquest to much of Europe. The second (1958-75) saw soldiers displace civilian rulers throughout much of the Third World.

Huntington's "third wave" begins in 1974 as democracy comes to Portugal, Spain, and Greece; sweeps over Latin America and parts of Asia and Africa in the 1980s; and culminates with the collapse of communism in Europe. His assessment of future prospects is cautiously optimistic.

Since Huntington classifies broad historic trends, the overlapping of some "wave" and "reversal" dates is intentional. He emphasizes that the classification of a country as a democracy at a given time often leaves room for judgment—and so, of course, does distinguishing the possible causes of democratization as they interact in the real world. Huntington shows his own judgment on such questions to be well-informed and convincing.

A major chapter of the book is devoted to the five causes that Huntington sees as propelling recent transitions to democracy:

  1. 1. The legitimacy dilemma: a dictatorship may have been proclaimed to save the country from civil violence or acute economic crisis—only to find that "by achieving its purpose, it lost its purpose" (p. 55).

  2. 2. The unprecedented economic growth of recent decades, which has raised levels of education at home and of trade and communications abroad.

  3. 3. Religious changes, such as the recent spread of Christianity in South Korea (the two main political figures who challenged the military regime of the 1980s were Christians), and "striking changes in the doctrine and activities of the Catholic Church" since the 1960s (p. 45). Thus, Pope John Paul II travels to his native Poland and to Latin America speaking of the Church as the "guardian" of freedom and of human rights, and of democracy as part of the Gospel's "message" (p. 83f.). (Reflecting on this, one may wonder whether the spread of Christianity to South Korea and the Pope's travels really are major contributions to the "third wave." Or could it be that long-term Korean contacts with Americans were more important, and that the Catholic Church is trying to stem its own "reverse wave" of declining support by selecting its first non-Italian pope in centuries and identifying the church with a popular issue such as global democracy?)

  4. 4. The role of external actors, such as the European Community's policy of limiting new membership to democracies; the repercussions of Gorbachev's perestroika in Eastern Europe; and U.S. policies...