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  • Democracy's Past and Future

When we informed friends and contributors that we were preparing the twentieth anniversary issue of the Journal of Democracy, their reactions tended to be very similar: "I can't believe that it's already been twenty years!" To us as well, the two decades since the inaugural issue of the Journal appeared in January 1990 seem to have flown by, but they certainly have not been uneventful. In the first place, death has taken from us four of the five core members around whom we built our Editorial Board—Octavio Paz, Seymour Martin Lipset, Samuel P. Huntington, and most recently Leszek Kolakowski, to whom a memorial tribute appears on pages 184–88 below; only Juan Linz is still with us. It is hard to imagine that worthy successors to this remarkable group are already on the scene, but perhaps we all have a tendency to undervalue those who are closer to being our contemporaries.

But if twenty years is a significant portion of the life of an individual, it is a mere moment in the march of history. Yet what a moment it has been! The period of our gestation and infancy alone held enough drama to fill a century. We began planning the founding of the Journal and fundraising for it in 1988, and we were able to open our offices in September of the following year. By that point, the annus mirabilis of 1989 had already witnessed the Roundtable negotiations and Solidarity's electoral victory in Poland—the latter on the very same day (June 4) on which the Chinese government sent its tanks into Tiananmen Square to crush the large-scale prodemocracy demonstrations that had transfixed the world for weeks. Just ahead lay the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia, and the violent demise of Ceauºescu in Romania. The featured articles in our first issue (which also included Juan Linz's much-debated essay on "The Perils of Presidentialism" and Leszek Kolakowski's prescient warnings about the "Uncertainties of a Democratic Age") covered the Chinese crackdown and the Soviet crackup.

We were also taught an early lesson in the unpredictability of political developments by an event of much less world-historical significance. Our very first issue contained an article about Panama's democratic opposition movement entitled "The Struggle Against Noriega." While it was in press, U.S. combat forces invaded the country and brought that particular struggle to a speedy close. The best we could manage was a brief Editors' Note inserted at the "bluelines" stage informing our readers why this particular article might seem a bit outdated.

Democratic change continued to proceed at a prodigious rate. In February 1990 South African president F.W. de Klerk released Nelson Mandela from prison and unbanned the African National Congress, setting in motion the process that would lead to the end of apartheid. [End Page 5] In that same month, a "sovereign national conference" was convened in Benin, initiating what would become an African wave of transitions to multiparty systems. Also in February, Violeta Chamorro was elected president of Nicaragua, defeating incumbent Daniel Ortega and bringing to an end (at least for a time) the rule of the Sandinistas. A month later, Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, who had lost his 1988 bid to stay in power by referendum, peacefully turned over power to democratically elected president Patricio Aylwin. Meanwhile, the Soviet crackup accelerated, and by the end of 1991 the USSR had disappeared, and with it the Cold War era.

Thus, by the time of the Journal's fifth-anniversary issue in January 1995, the international landscape had been utterly transformed. As we noted in our introduction to that issue, not only had the number of countries with democratically elected governments soared, but so had the international legitimacy of democracy, as reflected in the numerous endorsements that it had received from multilateral organizations. In introducing our inaugural issue in 1990, we had characterized pro-democratic intellectuals in many countries as "lonely and embattled," and democrats in the Third World as often feeling "beleaguered and isolated." In our fifth-anniversary issue, we acknowledged that this was no longer the case...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-3214
Print ISSN
1045-5736
Pages
pp. 5-8
Launched on MUSE
2010-01-21
Open Access
No
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