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Julian J. Rothbaum Distinguished Lecture

The Third Wave: Democratization in the Late Twentieth Century

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Between 1974 and 1990 more than thirty countries in southern Europe, Latin America, East Asia, and Eastern Europe shifted from authoritarian to democratic systems of government. This global democratic revolution is probably the most important political trend in the late twentieth century. In The Third Wave, Samuel P. Huntington analyzes the causes and nature of these democratic transitions, evaluates the prospects for stability of the new democracies, and explores the possibility of more countries becoming democratic. The recent transitions, he argues, are the third major wave of democratization in the modem world. Each of the two previous waves was followed by a reverse wave in which some countries shifted back to authoritarian government. Using concrete examples, empirical evidence, and insightful analysis, Huntington provides neither a theory nor a history of the third wave, but an explanation of why and how it occurred. Factors responsible for the democratic trend include the legitimacy dilemmas of authoritarian regimes; economic and social development; the changed role of the Catholic Church; the impact of the United States, the European Community, and the Soviet Union; and the "snowballing" change in one country stimulating change in others. Five key elite groups within and outside the nondemocratic regime played roles in shaping the various ways democratization occurred. Compromise was key to all democratizations, and elections and nonviolent tactics also were central. New democracies must deal with the "torturer problem" and the "praetorian problem" and attempt to develop democratic values and processes. Disillusionment with democracy, Huntington argues, is necessary to consolidating democracy. He concludes the book with an analysis of the political, economic, and cultural factors that will decide whether or not the third wave continues. Several "Guidelines for Democratizers" offer specific, practical suggestions for initiating and carrying out reform. Huntington's emphasis on practical application makes this book a valuable tool for anyone engaged in the democratization process. At this volatile time in history, Huntington's assessment of the processes of democratization is indispensable to understanding the future of democracy in the world.

384 pages, Paperback

First published December 31, 1991

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About the author

Samuel P. Huntington

51 books563 followers
Samuel Phillips Huntington was an American political scientist who gained prominence through his "Clash of Civilizations"(1993, 1996) thesis of a new post-Cold War world order. Previously, his academic reputation had rested on his analysis of the relationship between the military and the civil government, his investigation of coups d'etat and for his more recent analysis of threats posed to the U.S. by contemporary immigration.

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Displaying 1 - 23 of 23 reviews
Profile Image for Scott Patrick.
10 reviews2 followers
August 8, 2012
I should confess a distaste for Huntington to start. I thought "Political Order in Changing Societies" was crypto-fascist, with too much emphasis on the strength of institutions with too little attention paid to their purpose or responsiveness. And "Clash of Civilizations" was essentially racist absolutism, with as much intellectual rigor as a stand-up comedian's "white people do this, black people do that" act. Still, that doesn't mean "The Third Wave" is all bad. Huntington should get a lot of respect for trying to explain the undeniable transition toward the liberal democratic model that took place in the latter portion of the 20th century rather than trying to come up with silly "one size fits all" theories for predicting democratization (like Rostow's "take-off" theory).

Huntington's explanation boils down to failures by the authoritarian state versus the rise of non-state actors. Dictators, economically isolated and internally corrupt, fail to generate the funds necessary to supply goods to the people in order to "buy" their obedience through social services and other programs. Using force to quash dissent proves less effective as dissent grows widespread, fomenting armed resistance. In the meantime, non-state institutions varying from trade unions to religious groups provide services to the public, motivate social movements against the regime and contribute to the demise of the regime's claim to authority. Huntington offers a strong structural explanation for democratization.

His attempts to guess at which countries will emerge out of the democratization process as stable and promising democracies is where he falls short, however. He is correct that native democracy movements do better because they have better claims at legitimacy, but he lumps external factors into a vague "welcoming international environment" category that downplays the massive influence of the Washington Consensus and the political economy in determining just how much freedom Third World countries have to elect who they want and what policies they adopt. Huntington switches from structure to culture in the predictive part of the book, and "The Third Wave" is at its most noxious when he casts doubts upon democracy in places like Mongolia and Pakistan because democracy is somehow incompatible with Confucian and Islamic precepts. The enemy of democracy -- true rule by the people -- has been and always will be the campaign by elites, inside and outside a country, to defend their interests against the majority who would redistribute resources more equally. If cultural factors were truly a major variable in deciding who holds on to democracy, how does one explain the variance of democracy's survival in culturally similar places like Britain and Germany or Romania and Russia?

To be fair, Huntington did not have the benefit of a crystal ball. Yet, like too many scholars, he fell into the trap of looking at people based on nominal categories -- something that intellectuals have been doing since the time of "race science" and eugenics, if not before. If you can separate the bad from the good, "The Third Wave" is an interesting exploration of the conditions leading up to authoritarian breakdown and the rise of democratic movements -- but not much more than that.
Profile Image for Med.
61 reviews10 followers
April 21, 2018
یه نظر دارم و اونم اینه که اگه یه زمانی خواستین انقلاب کنین یا رییس جمهور بشین همین یه کتاب برای موفقیتتون کافیه و بس...فقط شب امتحانی حان من نخونینش...خوب بخونینش...حداقل مثل من سه بار
August 2, 2021
دموکراسی شدن در دهه هفتاد تا نود میلادی
در کتاب، و بویژه فصل آخر آن انگاره ی برخورد تمدن ها قابل ردیابی است وقتی از خطرات دو فرهنگ اسلام و کنفوسیوس میگوید.
December 21, 2018
While Huntington has no concerns about keeping his prose lively, I still found this book worth pushing through for the detailed analysis it presents. It’s also important to heed the caveats he offers at the beginning- this is intended to be an in-depth consideration of the conditions, processes, and results of the third “wave” of democratizations that happened in the second half of the 20th century. It is not intended as an authoritative text on all democratization everywhere, though of course you can’t help but draw general conclusions as you read it, which he also does more openly as the book progresses.

I read it shortly after finishing a book on the origins and early years of the Iraq war (“The Assassin’s Gate” by George Packer, highly recommended), and found that an interesting case to consider in light of the democratizations Huntington focuses on. “The Third Wave” is also a helpful perspective when the Atlantic and other media are running headlines like “Is Democracy Dying?” This book doesn’t answer that question, both because of its scope and temporal focus, but it certainly adds to the conversation.
Profile Image for Alexander Francis.
21 reviews14 followers
May 13, 2009
It turns out that my review was just for the "Clash Of Civilizations." I thought Samuel Huntington's insights on reasons for conflict in the future to be fairly unoriginal but then again if it is unoriginal it is most likely more accurate in political science. His theory helps explain some of the current conflicts such as those between the Arabs and Israelis or between Al-Qaeda and the United States but it runs into problems when we start to talk about local conflicts. The major conflicts may fall under this paradigm but the genocides in Darfur and Rwanda or the Russian invasion of Georgia occur within civilizations. His theory may play a part in future conflict but probably not a much bigger part than it has for centuries. A paradigm for world conflict must be much more complicated in order to cover more world conflicts. This could fall under the more general ethnic and cultural conflicts. I think the main purpose of his project was accomplished though, which was to start a conversation of what is the major paradigm for post-cold war conflict. When it comes to the book "The Third Wave" Huntington is very thorough and maps out the democratization waves very nicely. It is an important work to help anyone learn the best ways to turn their country from an Authoritarian regime do a democracy. This is a very understated work.
Profile Image for Nivan Bagchi.
40 reviews9 followers
December 11, 2021

Before Huntington polarised the world with his "Clash of Civilizations" thesis he seemed like a regular academic.

While talking about the role of culture like Islam and Confuscianism in the prevelance of democracy, he writes, "There are limits of cultural obstacles-

First, similar cultural arguments have not held up in the past. As has been noted, at
one point many scholars argued that Catholicism was an obstacle to democracy.
Others, in the Weber tradition, argued that Catholic countries were unlikely to develop
economically in the same manner as Protestant countries. (But eventually the catholic church changed its stance and became a preserver of democracy)

Second, great historic cultural traditions, such as Islam and Confucianism, are highly
complex bodies of ideas, beliefs, doctrines, assumptions, writings, and behaviour
patterns. (Therfore one can easily cherry pick up one element of a culture and use it for justifying or not justifying a value like democracy)

Third, even if the culture of a country is at one point an obstacle to democracy, cultures historically are dynamic rather than passive."

These views really didn't catch up as his other views.
Profile Image for David.
559 reviews7 followers
August 3, 2022
舊書新提⋯another failed but world acclaimed lair who insists on western democratic system, just like failed Fukuyama mentioned: is the ultimate system for the Asian or Middle Easterners and the globe...
Globalist, Cabal...
有名Huntington 所提的文化衝突是必然⋯
導讀 第三波民主化
第一章 內容
第一節 第三波的開始
第二節 民主的含義
第三節 歷史上的民主化浪潮
第四節 民主化的問題
第二章 原因
第一節 波浪式運動探因
第二節 民主化波浪探因
第三節 第三波探因
第四節 合法統治權威的衰落和政績的困局
第五節 經濟發展與經濟危機
第六節 宗教變遷
第七節 外來勢力的新政策
第八節 示範效應或滾雪球
第九節 從肇因到肇端
第三章 方式--民主化的過程
第一節 威權政權
第二節 轉型過程
第三節 變革
第四節 置換
第五節 移轉
第四章 進行--民主化的特徵
第一節 第三波民主化的共同特徵
第二節 妥協、參與與適度交易
第三節 選舉結果:預料之外,還是情理之中
第四節 低度的暴力
第五章 持久
第一節 鞏固權力及其問題
第二節 用刑者的難題:法辦與懲治,還是寬恕與遺忘
第三節 執政官式的難題:三心兩意而又強大的軍方
第四節 情境問題、幻滅與威權懷舊
第五節 民主政治文化的培養
第六節 民主政治行為的制度化
第七節 有利於新民主國家鞏固的條件
第六章 走向
第一節 第三波肇因:持續、削弱還是有所變化?
第二節 第三波回潮?
第三節 進一步的民主化:障礙與機會
第四節 經濟發展與政治領導
Profile Image for F.
11 reviews1 follower
September 4, 2019
The author did not really understand some, if not all, of the countries he wrote about!

I lost interest in the book as soon as I read him claiming with certainty there were only 400-1000 deaths at Tiananmen Square Massacre! The actual number was believe to be much higher!

Another problem...

On page 300-304, he wrote “derivatives of Confuciusism in Taiwan, etc.” and he also said Taiwan had less Confucius influence compared to China.

This clearly shows he did not know anything about China and Taiwan.

Taiwan has successfully retained Chinese tradition, culture and ideology like confuciusim while China had pretty much destroyed it during cultural revolution.

Even HK has retained Chinese tradition/culture/ideology better.

If the author had basic facts wrong, I cannot be sure what else is wrong in the book! This is supposed to be a classic!
Profile Image for Kristine.
376 reviews23 followers
October 21, 2021
had to read this to prep for my comparative politics term paper and honestly wasn’t expecting much as this isn’t really my genre. for a book that’s just a solid block of political research, i found it surprisingly readable (not to say i didn’t skim some particularly long bits though...). all in all, not too shabby.
May 6, 2021
Granted, Huntington takes a rather anti-Latinx bent in his later work but this provides a comprehensive and educational perspective on the process of democratization and the fight against poverty. His perspective on this issue is formative in the process of furthering development knowledge
Profile Image for Luai Alrantisi.
28 reviews3 followers
November 2, 2018
كتاب رائع لوصفة انتقال ديمقراطي لأي بلد في العالم. غني بالمعلومات والمراجع، والتحليل.
175 reviews6 followers
March 21, 2016
Huntington appears to have rushed this book out to have something in the market as the Iron Curtain fell in the early 1990s. Poor editing has resulted in lists of countries, when a table would have conveyed the information more clearly. A fundamental limitation is that Huntington appears to adopt a (flawed) US model of democracy without exploring other models. The most interesting comments come in the last chapter with Huntington's observation that 'No Islamic country has sustained a fully democratic system for any length of time." If he had focused on the implications of these cultural differences he would have had a more interesting book; and perhaps one that would have been useful to US policy makers with their fatally flawed, oxymoronic, and Quixotic attempts to impose democracy on Afghanistan and Iraq.
Profile Image for Hossein.
50 reviews
September 9, 2007
This is not for the first time that religious passions and obscurantism has been used as an instrument of imperialist policy in the global power game. Religious obscurantism had played in the hands of the British imperialism particularly in its conspiracies hatched against the Ottoman Empire. It was also used as an instrument of imperial policy in India for the consolidation and defense of British Indian Empire. Some times they encouraged Jihad Islami( In Afghan and Palestine) and some time they undermined it, as in the case of Chechen.This is Third wave that they promise.USA support green flag against URRS and after fall of Sovite union green flag(Islamic resistance) get up agianst USA&Uk. In fact the childeren had been born by CIA has been gow up and would out of control??

7 reviews
February 23, 2008
Ah, Huntington. I guess it was inevitable that I wouldn't make it through a Master's in International Affairs without having to read this one. Interesting premise, but history has shown he's gotten it a little bit wrong.

I have some strong objections to his take on dealing with past human rights abuses in transitional phases. There just isn't good evidence to support his claim that you can't pursue peace unless you grant amnesty to perpetrators. Latin American cases have proven that you can, and often should, confront the past in the as many ways as possible including full prosecutions for those who committed human rights abuses.
Profile Image for Scott Goddard.
103 reviews2 followers
December 7, 2014
Though a little dated, this book by Samuel Huntington provides an systematic exposition of democratization as a process. Beginning with the underlying and casual causes, he identifies the lack of economic development (stating a specific threshold, known as the "transitional zone", at which democracy will emerge), a paucity of Protestantism and its concomitant values and ethos, and unforthcoming support and assistance from superpowers, namely either the US, EU, or Soviet Union. Then he goes on to explicate the reasons for democratization; how it can be consolidated; and what to anticipate in the future.
Profile Image for Dan Richter.
Author 15 books42 followers
March 5, 2015
Das Buch hat natürlich seine Flausen. Die hübsche Drei-Wellen-Theorie fällt zum Beispiel völlig in sich zusammen, wenn man das Wahlrecht der Frauen mit einbezieht. (Andererseits würde ich wohl auch als Frau lieber in einer Männerdemokratie als in einer Männerdespotie leben).
Das Bild ist der drei Wellen ist kräftig, wenn auch ein wenig teleologisch.
Im Nachhinein gefällt mir eigentlich der kochbuchartige (oder sollte man sagen macchiavellische?) Anhang - der praktische Ratgeber für Demokratisierer. Frage mich, ob die Araber bei ihren grünen Revolutionen ihn gelesen haben.
Profile Image for Steven Peterson.
Author 19 books281 followers
March 30, 2011
Samuel Huntington has authored many important works. This is one of those. He argues that the 20th century has seen three waves of democracy. More and more countries democratize--and then democracy recedes. Nonetheless, over time, the total number of democracies has grown. A useful work with an historical perspective.
Profile Image for Lars Sjöblom.
22 reviews1 follower
November 18, 2013
Perfect for political science nerds. However, many interesting facts about democratization and por-democracy revolutions
Profile Image for Andy W.
39 reviews1 follower
September 25, 2014
A brilliant classic of comparative government and democracy studies.
Displaying 1 - 23 of 23 reviews

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