It is a commonplace claim of Western political discourse that capitalist development and democracy go hand in hand. Cross-national statistical research on political democracy supports this claim. By contrast, comparative historical studies carried out within a political economy approach argue that economic development was and is compatible with multiple political forms.
The authors offer a fresh and persuasive resolution to the controversy arising out of these contrasting traditions. Focusing on advanced industrial countries, Latin America, and the Caribbean, they find that the rise and persistence of democracy cannot be explained either by an overall structural correspondence between capitalism and democracy or by the role of the bourgeoisie as the agent of democratic reform. Rather, capitalist development is associated with democracy because it transforms the class structure, enlarging the working and middle classes, facilitating their self-organization, and thus making it more difficult for elites to exclude them. Simultaneously, development weakens the landed upper class, democracy's most consistent opponent.
The relationship of capitalist development to democracy, however, is not mechanical. As the authors show, it depends on a complex interplay of three clusters of power: the balance of power among social classes, power relations between the state and society, and transnational structures of economic and political power. Looking to the future, the book concludes with some reflections on current prospects for the development of stable democracy in Latin America and Eastern Europe.
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John D. Stephens is the Gerhard E. Lenski, Jr. Distinguished Professor of Political Science and Sociology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
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