With his book, The Third Wave: Democratization in the Late Twentieth Century (1991), Samuel P. Huntington introduced us to the third wave of democracy which had been transforming the world since its inception in 1974, and sparked a firestorm of academic literature on why this particularly successful democratic wave had come about and remained for so long. He identifies five changes in the world that paved the way for the latest wave of transitions to democracy: 1) the deepening legitimacy problems of authoritarian governments unable to cope with economic failures; 2) the burgeoning economies of many countries, which have raised living standards, levels of education and urbanization, while also raising civic expectations and the ability to express them; 3) changes in religious institutions which have made them more prone to oppose governmental authoritarianism than defend the status quo; 4) the push to promote human rights and democracy by external actors such as the US, the USSR under Gorbachev, and the European Community; and 5) the "snowballing" or demonstration effects, enhanced by new international communications, of democratization in other countries.
These five changes that Huntington identifies become his five independent variables that bear influence on his dependent variable, democratization. Huntington feels it is important to clarify his dependant variable:
The dependant variable of this study is not democracy, but democratization. The purpose is to explain why some countries that were authoritarian became democratic in a particular period of time. The focus is on regime change, not regime existence... At the simplest level, democratization involves: (1) the end of an authoritarian regime; (2) the installation of a democratic regime; and (3) the consolidation of the democratic regime. Different and contradictory causes may be responsible for each of these three developments. (Third Wave 34-35)
For his sample of third wave nations Huntington studies the 31 nations that achieved democracy from 1974-1990, using case studies, comparative analysis and statistical research to analyze the relationship of the independent variables to the dependant variable.
In showing the relationship between the declining legitimacy of authoritarian regimes and their subsequent democratization, Huntington delves into the theoretical. He first discusses the basis of authority for the regimes in his sample, prior to their democratization. Countries that had had democracy in their past had an inherent problem with being in an authoritarian state, "In a sense, the body politic of their society had been infected with the democratic virus... Authoritarian rulers were thus impelled to justify their own regimes by democratic rhetoric..." (Third Wave 47). Democratic regimes have the ability to continually renew their authority through built in regime change i.e. elections. Some authoritarian countries could develop limited renewal through legislation. Two nations in the third wave sample fit this criterion: Mexico and Brazil. Since no president could succeed himself in either nation, they were both able to maintain a modicum of authority with this limited renewal system.
Mostly though, authoritarian regimes sought to justify their authority through performance, and this led them into what Huntington terms the "performance dilemma" (Third Wave 50). Whereas in a democracy the administration is subject to a performance standard, and can and will be replaced if it fails to perform to standard, in an authoritarian regime it is the system itself that is under the performance standard. Because of this, Huntington posits that, "the oil price hikes and their economic consequences deserve a significant portion of the credit for weakening authoritarianism in the 1970s and early 1980s" (Third Wave 51). In countries already democratized you saw incumbent political parties turned out of office after the 1979 oil price hikes, but authoritarian regimes could not simply hold elections to renew their legitimacy. With authoritarian regimes failing to perform economically and socially, people began to see democratic regimes as the only viable alternative.
Huntington's second independent variable, economic growth, is a measure that is easier to gauge empirically. He presents his data in an easy to follow table. He found that while the economic development of the third wave countries did run the range from poor to wealthy, "27 out of 31 countries that liberalized or democratized, however, were in the middle income range... and half had 1976 per capita GNPs between $1,000 and $3,000" (Third Wave 63). Huntington notes that it was not just wealth alone that spurred democracy. He shows us that of the 5 nations in the transition zone ($1,000-3,000 GNP range) that did not democratize or liberalize, 2 were oil exporting Arab states (Iran and Iraq). Further, the 3 nations above the transition zone that did not liberalize or democratize were all oil exporting Arab states (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Libya). He concludes that broad-based economic development will spur democracy, but not economic development based on the sale of oil or other natural resources.
Huntington's third independent variable has to do with the reforms of the Catholic Church under Pope John XXIII. At the second Vatican council Pope John XXIII called for a change in the church. He wanted to stress the need for social change in the world, and this required that bishops, priests and laity dedicate themselves to helping the poor. Regimes that had previously had their authority upheld by the church would now lose that leg that they were standing on. Huntington goes to great length in specific case studies where church leaders led the people in opposing their authoritarian rulers. These included: the Dominican Republic, Panama, Nicaragua, Chile, the Republic of Korea, and the Philippines (Third Wave 72-85). Huntington puts it second only to economic development as to which of his independent variables facilitated democratization the most.
The promotion of democracy by external actors focuses on the efforts of the European Community, the US, and the USSR that allowed less powerful nations the chance to develop fledgling democracies. When the European Community expanded in 1973 to include Great Briton, Ireland and Denmark non-member nations in Europe took notice and began to desire membership in this beneficial economic relationship. Membership required a democracy, and this did a lot to spur the democratization of Greece, Portugal and Spain. Once members, the partnerships formed in the community would keep these new democracies from sliding back to authoritarianism.
The US, for its part, was a champion of human rights in the late 1970s and 1980s. Huntington notes 5 means of democracy promotion that the US used during the third wave. First, many speeches were given by presidents and other top ranking officials in support of democracy and human rights, and the US actively promoted "democracy propaganda" with programs like Radio Free Europe, Voice of Liberty, and Radio Liberty. Second, congress made US aid contingent on the support of human rights by a given nation, leveling several sanctions and suspending aid in many cases. Third, a new breed of democracy pushing diplomats emerged in US embassies in countries with authoritarian regimes. Their lobbying was crucial to pushing authoritarian regimes in the right directions. Perhaps most importantly, the US funneled several million dollars through the CIA to democratic organizations in authoritarian countries (one was Solidarity in Poland), and sent developmental aid through the National Endowment for Democracy that supported fair elections in Chile and Nicaragua. Fifth, the US intervened militarily to support democratic movements in the Dominican Republic and Grenada, and sent military aid to fledgling democracies in the Philippines and El Salvador that had to fight Marxist insurgencies (Third Wave 93-94).
Interestingly enough, the Soviet Union provided the most impetus for change as an external actor during the third wave of democratization. According to Huntington, "Democratization in... Eastern Europe was the result of changes in Soviet Policy even more far reaching than those made in American policy in the 1970s" (Third Wave 98-99). Gorbachev supported the removal of old-guard communist leaders in Soviet nations, and while he may not have supported non-communist groups, he did allow for them to exist. He also provided for competitive elections of government officials. Much like the show of American power in Latin America helped spur democracy, the withdrawal of Soviet Power in Eastern Europe allowed for democracy to form.
Finally, Huntington tackles the snowballing effect of democratization, whereby democratization was made easier for countries in proximity or linked by history to nations already democratized or democratizing. After World War II the quality of global communications exploded. No longer could governments completely suppress what their people would see and hear. The cost to governments of trying to stifle unwanted messages was staggering, and there was little they could do to stop underground media from forming. When one authoritarian government fell, the largest effects were felt by the nations closest to it and the people of these nations who had been waiting for it to happen. The downfall of the Portuguese regime gave hope to the Spanish wanting to oust Franco. When they did achieve democracy in Spain it helped the many Latin American nations of the third wave. Solidarity's success in August 1989 in Poland was a match that started a forest fire in Eastern Europe: Hungary, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria and Romania all would democratize by the end of the year. It seemed that once one nation proved that democracy could succeed in a region, others were soon to follow.
Huntington's work was avant-garde in explaining the causes of late 20th century democratization, and suffers the failures and success of any such trail-blazing work. His work is very strong when it comes to historical research and theoretical analysis, but is lacking in rigorous statistical analysis when analyzing 4 of his 5 independent variables. Of course, this being the scholarly work that created the globalization paradigm as a means of viewing democratization, one must realize that it will be heavier on theory than on statistics. Clearly, this work of Huntington's is one of the most important of the last 25 years (perhaps surpassed only by his own The Clash of Civilizations?) and demands our respect. Huntington opened the door for any number of studies of globalization and democracy since 4 of his 5 independent variables can be viewed as part of the concept of globalization. Huntington, in fact, does not use the word `globalization' once in his text, but developed the concepts of it. Since his work of 1991, we have come to understand that the shrinking world he talked about was indeed globalization at work.