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Democratic Waves in Historical Perspective

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For over two centuries, the evolution of democracy has been marked by repeated democratic waves. Yet these cross-border bursts of revolution and reform have varied widely in their origins, intensity, and success rates. How do we compare cascades of regime change, and what lessons do they offer about the spread of democracy? I lay out a historical framework of democratic waves that focuses on recurring causal mechanisms across time. Thirteen democratic waves are categorized according to two dimensions: 1) the origins of external influence, located in either vertical hegemonic transformations or in horizontal cross-border linkages; 2) the strength of external influence, taking the form of contagion when outside forces dominate and emulation when domestic focal points shape the timing of contention. This approach allows for more meaningful comparisons between these important, recurring, yet seemingly incomparable democratic waves. More generally, it suggests that the global history of democracy cannot be reduced to the sum of its national trajectories.
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Democratic Waves in Historical
Perspective
Seva Gunitsky
For over two centuries, the evolution of democracy has been marked by repeated democratic waves. Yet these cross-border bursts
of revolution and reform have varied widely in their origins, intensity, and success rates. How do we compare cascades of regime
change, and what lessons do they offer about the spread of democracy? I lay out a historical framework of democratic waves that
focuses on recurring causal mechanisms across time. Thirteen democratic waves are categorized according to two dimensions: 1)
the origins of external inuence, located in either vertical hegemonic transformations or in horizontal cross-border linkages; 2) the
strength of external inuence, taking the form of contagion when outside forces dominate and emulation when domestic focal points
shape the timing of contention. This approach allows for more meaningful comparisons between these important, recurring, yet
seemingly incomparable democratic waves. More generally, it suggests that the global history of democracy cannot be reduced to the
sum of its national trajectories.
Tunisians had mass demonstrations and Syrians were like,
Hmm, interesting.And then Egypt started. People were like,
Resign already!And then Mubarak resigned. We thought,
Holy shit. We have power.
Syrian organizer, 2013
1
When France sneezes Europe catches a cold.
Klemens von Metternich, 1830
2
For all its unique triumphs and disappointments, the
Arab Spring was only the latest in a long series of
democratic waves. Starting with the Atlantic Wave
of the late eighteenth century, the global spread of
democracy has been dened by intense, far-reaching,
often unsuccessful cascades of revolution and reform. In
recent decades, the Color Revolutions and the 1989 wave
stand out as two prominent examples, but these bursts of
unrest have been a feature of global regime evolution
since the beginning of modern democracy.
Yet democratic waves vary immensely in their origins,
reach, and success rates. A royal court escapes to
Brazil days before Napoleons invasion; a restless crowd
jingles their keys in Wenceslas Square; a man immolates
himself in a small Tunisian town. All parts of sweeping
cross-border waves of contention and reform, but what do
they have in common otherwise? How do we meaningfully
compare democratic waves, and what do they tell us about
the evolution of democracy?
Despite their differences, democratic waves share re-
curring patterns that point toward theories of regime
diffusion. Here I lay out a conceptual framework for
examining democratic waves across time, organized along
two central dimensions. The rst focuses on the origins of
external inuencesvertical in cases of waves created by
geopolitical shifts, horizontal in waves driven by of
neighborhood linkages. The second focuses on the
strength of external inuences in shaping the waves
timingcontagion in short sweeping waves that override
domestic constraints, emulation in protracted waves where
domestic factors act as focal points for mobilization. The
interaction of these categories yields a four-part typology of
democratic waves, each with its own dynamics and causal
mechanisms.
This approach, I argue, allows for more meaningful
comparisons between these crucial episodes of political
contention. It can help clarify, for instance, why neither
the 1989 Revolutions nor the Color Revolutions are
tting comparisons for the Arab Spring, despite the
claims of some hopeful observers, and why the 1848
Spring of Nations instead offers the closest historical
parallel.
3
More generally, the prevalence of waves highlights the
key role of the international system in shaping domestic
Seva Gunitsky is Associate Professor of Political Science at
the University of Toronto (s.gunitsky@utoronto.ca) He is
the author of Aftershocks: Great Powers and Domestic
Reforms in the Twentieth Century (Princeton University
Press, 2017). He thanks Mark Beissinger, Michael
Bernhard,SarahBush,SusanHyde,RobertKeohane,Janice
Stein, Lucan Way, Kurt Weyland, Andreas Wimmer, and
the Perspectives reviewers for helpful comments and
suggestions.
634 Perspectives on Politics
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institutions. Rather than ad hoc anomalies to be brack-
eted out of comparative analysis, waves are a persistent
element of democratization itself. As a result, theories of
democratization that focus only on internal factors risk
ignoring key determinants of regime change. The evolu-
tion of global democracy cannot be reduced to the sum of
its national trajectories.
The rst key distinction focuses on the role of
hegemonic transformations in the international system.
Some of the biggest democratic waves of the past century
have been the results of hegemonic shiftsmoments of
abrupt rise and fall of great powers that stem from major
wars, economic crises, or imperial collapses. The short-
lived but intense wave of European democratization after
the Great War, for instance, stemmed directly from the
destruction of European empires and the victory of
democratic great powers. In fact, both World Wars and,
more recently, the Soviet collapse, led to intense if often
fragile waves of democratization. In the latter case, the
collapse of Soviet power created space for a massive wave of
reforms directly linked to the material and ideological
consequences of bipolaritys sudden demise.
Moments of abrupt rise and decline of leading states,
in other words, create waves of domestic reforms that
sweep across national borders and deeply alter the paths
of state development. Other great power conicts, like
the Napoleonic Wars or the Russo-Japanese War, like-
wise create opportunities for bursts of unrest by tempo-
rarily undermining major imperial centers. Russias
unexpected defeat in 1905, for example, led to the rst
mass uprising in the nations historya revolution that
created a cascade of unrest on Russias imperial periphery
and beyond.
Vertically-driven democratic waves therefore stem
from abrupt shifts at the top of the international order.
They originate from sudden disruptions to the structure
of global hegemony, whose effects propagate through the
international system and create powerful if temporary
opportunities for domestic reform. Abrupt hegemonic
transitions are the catalysts and the distinguishing marks
of vertical waves.
But not all waves are linked to hegemonic transforma-
tions. Some instead begin as local sparks of revolt,
spreading via cross-border ties and neighborhood conta-
gion. These cascades are often driven by shared grievances,
cultural commonalities, and thick communication linkages
that allow protests to sweep across borders. The 1848
Spring of Nations, the Color Revolutions, and the Arab
Spring are all examples of horizontal waves in which linked
episodes of contention were forged through local ties rather
than great power transformations.
4
Horizontal democratic
waves still rely on external forces but are unrelated to
broader shifts in the structure of global hegemony.
The second distinctioncontagion versus emulation
focuses on the relative strength of external factors in shaping
the timing and duration of waves. In contagion-driven waves,
intense external forces temporarily overwhelm domestic
constraints. The result is a rapid burst of contentionas in
the European revolutionary waves of the early nineteenth
century, which spread across the continent in months or
even weeks.
5
The Spring of Nations, for instance, spread like
a dynamic pulse and electried Europewrites Rapport, with
revolutions engulng the continent within a month.
In emulation-driven waves, by contrast, domestic
factors remain crucial in shaping the timing of national
reforms. The wave unfolds slowly, with external linkages
reliant on propitious domestic opportunities. Such waves
stretch out over many years rather than monthsas was
the case, for instance, in the Color Revolutions or the
Atlantic wave.
While the average contagion-driven wave lasts three
years, the average emulation-driven wave unfolds over
more than thirteen years. In these cases, cross-border
linkages continue to play an important role, as later
attempts draw upon earlier precedents for learning,
support, and inspiration. Here emulation shapes the
character of the wave, but the timing of its transitions
is mediated by local crises, constraints, and windows of
opportunity. Rigged domestic elections, for example,
served as key focal points for protest mobilization in
the Color Revolutions.
The distinction between contagion and emulation is
thus essential for understanding the unfolding of the
Color Revolutions in the post-Soviet space, particularly
when comparing them with other recent waves like the
1989 Revolutions or the Arab Spring. In contagion-
driven diffusion the wave itself, rather than domestic
windows of opportunity, serves as an international focal
point for protest groups. But in processes of emulation-
driven waves, domestic opportunities continue to de-
termine the timing of each outbreak.
The interaction of these two categories yields a four-
fold typology of democratic waves, encompassing thirteen
distinct waves over the past two centuries (see table 1,
next page). I begin by dening democratic waves, explain
my case selection, then examine each of the subtypes in
more detail, and conclude with a case study of the little-
known Second Constitutional Wave of 19051912.
Defining Democratic Waves
Denitions of democratic waves remain scarce, since the
study of waves is a relatively new element of the
democracy literature. When Huntington popularized
the concept in 1991, he offered a denition that has
since become the default.
6
Namely, he dened demo-
cratic waves as a group of transitions from nondemo-
cratic to democratic regimes that occur within a specied
period of time and that signicantly outnumber tran-
sitions in the opposite directions during that period of
time.
7
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Huntingtonsdenition focuses on the most visible
element of waves: the temporal clustering of transitions.
8
But in emphasizing on clustering, the denition leaves out
another key elementthe presence of linkages among the
cases.
9
A burst of similarly-timed transitions could happen
for many reasons, such as parallel but independent
development within states. Simultaneous transitions are
thus not sufcient evidence of a wave unless there are
demonstrable links among those transitions.
10
The case of the Second Constitutional Wave, discussed
in more detail below, illustrates the difculty. Charles
Kurzman (2008) identies 19051912 as forming a tem-
poral cluster of (attempted) transitions from absolutist to
constitutional monarchies. This wave includes the coun-
tries of Russia and some of its dependencies (1905), Iran
(1906), the Ottoman Empire (1908), Portugal (1910),
and China (1912). Yet this period also saw a number of
regime transitions that were disconnected from the wave.
These included the peaceful reformist democratizations in
Austria (1907) and Sweden (1909), failed democracy
movements in Argentina (1905 and 1912), and several
populist anti-colonial uprisings in dependencies like
Indonesia (1908). Despite forming a part of the same
temporal cluster, these cases are excluded from the Second
Constitutional Wave because they were rooted in domestic
forces and lacked concrete links to the episodes above.
Idene a democratic wave as a temporally-bound
cluster of mass contention and regime change, with
linkages among the cases in that cluster.
11
In that sense,
democratic waves are a subtype of the broader phenom-
enon of democratic diffusion.
The linkages that bind individual cases into a wave can
take a variety of forms.
12
They can be material or geo-
political, as when a decline of a regional hegemon undercuts
its ability to sustain and support the regimes of its de-
pendencies (as in 1905). They can be informational, wherein
previous precedents reveal useful information about both the
hidden preferences of citizens and the chances of revolution-
ary success (as in 1989).
13
They can be socio-cultural, as in
the Arab Spring, where mass media and cultural ties between
the countries facilitated the spread of protest across borders.
They can be organizational or tactical, as in the Color
Revolutions, where protestors in previous cases like the
Bulldozer Revolution trained and supported protesters in
later cases like the Orange Revolution. Or they can be
ideological, wherein previous examples serve as inspiration
for subsequent attempts. The re that is burning in America
is more than able to set light to the whole of Europe, which is
full of fuel,wrote the Dutch statesman Van der Capellen at
the outset of the Atlantic Wave.
14
Whatever the nature of the links between domestic
episodes, their presence is a necessary component of
democratic cascades. The source and strength of these
linkages can deeply shape the dynamics and outcomes of
the wave. Thus in vertical diffusion, waves propagate through
relations of asymmetric power created by linkages between
great powers and other states; in horizontal diffusion, waves
propagate through linkages marked by regional connections
and neighborhood ties. In both cases, clustering and links
among cases indicate the operation of cross-border diffusion.
A related question remains: transitions to what?
Dening waves only by cases of successful transitions
(that is, instances where democracy was achieved and
consolidated) ignores the massive presence of failure
inherent in democratic waves. The spread of democratic
protest may not necessarily lead to a full democratic
transition, even if the protestors are united in their
democratic goals.
15
And as many scholars have noted,
the factors that lead to democratic transitions may be very
different from factors that shape democratic consolida-
tion.
16
While the outcomes of these episodes of mass
contention often fell far short of true democracy, my
interest here is not in diffusion as an outcome but diffusion
as a processthe means through which external ties and
domestic factors interact to forge attempts at institutional
change.
17
To that end, failures of transition must be
included as part of the dening feature of waves.
In all the cases examined below, from the Riers of
Batavia to the students in Tahrir Square, the many
aggressively sought greater political accountability from
Table 1
A typology of democratic waves
Contagion Emulation
Vertical The post-WWI wave (1919-1921)
The post-WWII wave (1945-1950)
The post-Soviet wave (1989-1994)
Latin American wars of independence (1809-1824)
The Second Constitutional Wave (1905-1912)
African wave of decolonization (1955-1968)
Horizontal
The First Constitutional wave (1820-1821)
The Romantic Nationalist wave (1830)
The Spring of Nations (1848)
The Arab Spring (2011)
The Atlantic wave (1776-1795)
The ‘Third’ wave (1974-1988)
Color Revolutions (2000-2007)
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the few. Yet most failed, or turned to tyrants soon after
succeeding (as in the African decolonization wave or the
Arab Spring). Many ostensibly democratic revolutions, as
Jacques Mallet du Pan noted, devour their own children.
But despite subsequent setbacks, cascades like the African
decolonization wave began as a series of transitions from
colonial monarchies to independent republics. The fact
that Egypt has been unable to consolidate the democratic
gains achieved in the early stages of the Arab Spring does
not negate the democratic character of the revolts that
overthrew Mubaraks regime.
Drawing upon a large secondary literature (see table 2), I
nd thirteen distinct instances of democratic waves. These
vary in speed and reach, but each features a temporally-
bound burst of democratic contention in which at least some
of the attempts led to institutional change. Many of these
attempts failed, and many of the successful transitions were
fragile or temporary. Nevertheless, each case comprised
a cluster of linked episodes of revolution and reform. Within
each cluster, linkages between cases were noticed by con-
temporary observers and elaborated upon by later histor-
ians.
18
Arguments could be made for the inclusion or
exclusion of particular states or even waves, but this list
forms a starting point for thinking about the universe of cases
of a relatively amorphous but important phenomenon.
19
As the table shows, Huntingtons classication of the
rst, longwave of democratization of 18281926 hides
a high level of variation. Some periods, such as the second
half of the nineteenth century, were characterized by
democratic stagnation, transitions driven by domestic
factors, or incremental changes that never led to an
identiable cross-border cascade. Other periods, however,
were marked by repeated bursts of linked transformations,
like the European revolutionary waves of the rst half of
the nineteenth century.
20
Many scholars from Huntington onward combine the
pre- and post-1989 wave under the single rubric of The
Third Wave.Aside from the issue of questionable
numbering, this term hides key variation in the spread of
democracy during this period. The two decades after 1974
were not a monolithic expansion of reforms linked by
common trends and forces. Until 1989, the Third Wave
was a series of regional waveletsthe rst in southern
Europe in the mid-1970s, the second in Latin America in
the early 1980s, and the third in Asia beginning in the
mid-1980s.
21
These regional cascades were driven by
common domestic conditions associated with social and
economic development. They were diverse in their timing,
in their underlying causes, and in the types of regimes they
were seeking to escape. With the exception of cultural ties
between Iberia and Latin America, there was little cross-
pollination among them. These transitions were amplied
and facilitated by neighborhood spillover and horizontal
linkages, rather than by any sudden changes in the global
geopolitical environment.
Unlike the Spring of Nations or the Arab Spring, the
Third Wave before 1989 was a case of delayed horizontal
diffusion. As such, it bore little relation to the explosion
of 1989. It was then that the Third Wave was supplanted
by what could be called the Post-Soviet Wave, a global
burst of democracy forged by vertical contagion.
22
What happened in Moscow was ... of such decisive
importance,writes Brown, that we should see the
post-1989 transitions as representing a discrete political
phenomenon.
23
Classifying Democratic Waves
Given this denition and set of cases, how do we think
about comparing and contrasting democratic waves? Here
I seek to move beyond a vague focus on democratic
diffusionto examine the essential recurring attributes and
causal mechanisms driving the waves.
Vertical versus Horizontal Waves
The rst major distinction among waves can be found in
the role played by the global system. Namely, we can
distinguish waves stemming from major disruptions to
the international system (vertical waves) from those that
are unrelated to any broader global transformations
(horizontal waves). In vertical waves, major wars or
imperial collapses trigger dramatic cascades of institu-
tional reforms by changing the material or ideological
opportunities for reform and rebellion. In the nineteenth
century, for example, the Napoleonic Wars (namely, the
outcome of the Peninsular War) loosened Spains hold on
South America, provoking the Latin Wars of Indepen-
dence.
24
Nearly a century later, the outcome of another
war among great powersthe 1905 Russo-Japanese war
weakened the Russian Empire and kicked off another
cascade of reforms (the Second Constitutional Wave)
around the imperial borderlands and beyond.
The major geopolitical upheavals of the twentieth
centurythe two World Wars and the Soviet Collapse
each produced powerful, globe-spanning waves of
democratic reform.
25
The immediate aftermath of World
War I saw a surge of democratization in countries forged
from the ruins of collapsed empires. Between 1918 and
1922, over a dozen newly-created European states adopted
independent parliaments, civil liberties, and universal
suffrage. Semi-democracies like Britain and Belgium
expanded voting rights to previously excluded groups like
women and working-class men.
26
The post-World War I wave was directly linked to the
hegemonic transition that accompanied the wars out-
come. The defeat of autocratic monarchs by democratic
states created both material and ideological opportunities
for the spread of democratic institutions, so that by1920
twenty-six out of twenty-eight European states were
democracies.
27
Similarly, the years after World War II
saw the democratization of Western Europe and Japan,
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Table 2
Democratic waves since the eighteenth century
Case Year(s) Region Participants Sources
1. The Atlantic
Wave
1776-1798 The “Atlantic World”: North
America and parts of Europe.
United States (1776); Ireland
(1778); Switzerland (1782);
France (1789); Haiti (1791);
Poland (1791); Batavia (1795),
Ireland (1798)
Palmer 1964; Bayly 2004; Klooster
2009; Polasky (2015)
2. Latin American
Wars of
Independence
1809-1824 Latin America Bolivia (1809); Gran Colombia
(1811, 1821); Cartagena (1812);
Argentina (1819); Chile (1820);
United Provinces of Central
America, Peru, Venezuela,
Ecuador, Chile, Paraguay (1821);
Brazil (1822); Mexico (1824)
Lynch 1986; Bethell 1995; Langley
1996; Centen
˜o 2002
3. The First
Constitutional Wave
1820-1821 Southern/“peripheral” Europe. Spain (1820), Portugal (1820). Sicily
(1820), Naples (1820), Sardinia
(1821); Piedmont (1821), Greece
(1821)
Adelman 2006; Bessel et al. 2010;
Dakin 1973
4. The Romantic-
Nationalist Wave
1830-1831 Central/Western Europe. France (1830), Poland (1830),
Switzerland (1830), parts of Italy,
Belgium (1831), Brazil (1831)
Hobsbawm 1962; Pinkney 1973;
Evans 2000
5. The Spring of Nations 1848 Central/Western Europe. France, parts of Germany and Italy,
Walachia, Belgium, Holland,
Sweden, Switzerland
Robertson 1952; Jones 1981;
Sperber 1991; Weyland 2009
6. The Second
Constitutional Wave
1905-1912 non-regional Russian Empire (1905, incl. Finland,
Poland, Lodz, Estonia, Latvia);
Iran (1906), Ottoman Empire
(1908), Portugal (1910), China
(1912)
Spector 1962; Price 1974; Sohrabi
1995; Kuzman 2008
7. The post-WWI Wave 1919-1922 Eastern/Central Europe Russia, Austria, Czechoslovakia,
Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Germany,
Finland, Latvia, Estonia,
Lithuania, Poland, Greece,
Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia,
Britain, Belgium, Sweden, Italy,
Portugal, Romania, Spain
Manela 2007; Rothschild 1974; Linz
and Stepan 1978; Bermeo 2003
(continued)
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Table 2
Democratic waves since the eighteenth century (continued)
Case Year(s) Region Participants Sources
8. The post-WWII Wave 1945-1950 Western Europe/Japan; Latin
America (to 1948)
France, Germany, Italy, Austria,
Luxembourg, Belgium, Denmark,
Norway, Finland, Japan;
Argentina (1946), Bolivia (1947),
Brazil (1946), Costa Rica (1948),
Ecuador (1948), Guatemala
(1945), Honduras (1949); Peru
(1945); Venezuela (1946)
Judt 2006; Duignan and Gann 1999;
de Grazia 2005; Bethell and
Roxborough 1992
9. The African
Decolonization Wave
1956-1968 Sub-Saharan Africa Approximately forty states in sub-
Saharan Africa, from the Republic
of Sudan (1956) to the Republic of
Equatorial Guinea (1968)
Darwin 1998; Cooper 1996; Holland
1995; Betts 1991
10. The Modernization Wave
(the ‘Third’ Wave)
1974-1988 Several regional wavelets: Southern
Europe, Latin America, Asia
Greece (1974), Portugal (1974),
Spain (1975), Argentina (1983),
Brazil (1985), Chile (1989),
Philippines (1986), Pakistan
(1988), South Korea (1988),
Taiwan (1988)
Huntington 1991; Whitehead 1996;
Karl 1990; Linz and Stepan 1996
11. The Post-Soviet Wave 1989-1994 Eastern Europe and Former Soviet
Republics (1989-91); Africa
(1989-1994)
Poland, Hungary, East Germany,
Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria,
Romania (1989); former Soviet
republics (1989-91); sub-Saharan
Africa (1989-1994)
Clapham 1996; Levitsky and Way
2010; McFaul 2002
12. The Color Revolutions 2000-2007 Eastern Europe and Former Soviet
Republics
Croatia and Serbia (2000), Georgia
(2003), Ukraine (2004),
Kyrgyzstan (2005), Belarus
(2005, 2006), Azerbaijan (2005),
Armenia (2007)
Beissinger 2007; Way 2008; Bunce
and Wolchik 2011, Grigoryan
2016
13. The Arab Spring 2011-2012 Middle East\North Africa Tunisia, Algeria, Jordan, Egypt,
Oman, Yemen, Lebanon, Saudi
Arabia, Sudan, Bahrain, Libya,
Morocco, Iraq, Syria
Lynch 2013; Zartman 2015;
Reynolds, Brownlee, and
Massoud 2015
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and a brief resurgence of democracy in South America
a period that Huntington dubbed the Second waveof
democratization.
28
The post-1945 decline of European
colonial powers likewise contributed to their abrupt
abandonment of African dependencies, leading to an
intense (though brief and ultimately unsuccessful) wave
of African democratization in the 1950s and 60s, as these
new states shifted from colonial monarchies to indepen-
dent republics. Finally, the collapse of the Soviet system in
19891991 led to a profound wave of democratic revolu-
tions in Eastern Europe, as well as a partially successful
surge of democracy in the developing world, particularly in
sub-Saharan Africa.
29
All of these episodes of vertical waves were driven by
abrupt changes in the hierarchy of leading powers,
forging incentives and opportunities for bursts of domes-
tic transformation. I categorize these waves as vertical
since they stem from top-down geopolitical shifts pro-
duced by changes in the hierarchy of great powers. Many
of the transitions produced by these waves ended in failure,
experiencing partial or total rollbackbut in the short
term, they generated strong incentives for the cross-border
spread of democratic institutions.
Horizontal waves, on the other hand, occur in the
absence of geopolitical shifts and are unmoored from any
broader transformations of the international order. In-
stead, they unfold through shared horizontal networks
and regional effects. In these cases, a spark of revolt in
one country crosses national borders and spreads to
neighbors or states with similar grievances and internal
dynamics. The process then becomes self-reinforcingas
more countries experience upheaval, opposition leaders
and embittered masses elsewhere update their beliefs about
the possibility of success, or simply become inspired by the
efforts of others, and join in the wavea process that
occurred, most recently and dramatically, in the Arab
Spring. Unlike the wave that followed the aftermath of
World War I, for example, democratic diffusion in the
Atlantic Wave or the Color Revolutions was not driven by
major hegemonic shocks or geopolitical transformations.
While vertical waves are the result of changes in the
structure of the international system, horizontal waves are
instead rooted in the shared linkages that create channels
for institutional spillover. The distinction between hor-
izontal and vertical diffusion was well captured by Max
Weber: If at the beginning of a shower a number of
people on the street put up their umbrellas at the same
time,he writes, this would not ordinarily be a case of
[social] action, but rather of all reacting in the same way to
the like need of protection from the rain.
30
In cases of
vertical diffusion, an exogenous shock creates a wave of
transitions by shifting the institutional preferences and
incentives of many domestic actors simultaneously. Or, as
Lucan Way puts it, the 1989 revolutions were not the
product of a domino effect, in which revolution in one
country triggered regional spillover.
31
Rather, the revolu-
tions were made possible by the abandonment of the
Brezhnev doctrine inside the USSR, producing a major
shift in the geopolitical structure of the region. Instead of
a horizontal process in which a single domino set off
a democratic cascade, the dominoes fell because the table
itself was beginning to shake.
One critique of this distinction is that vertical diffusion
of democracy does not constitute truediffusion if we
take the latter to mean a process that lacks organized
coercion. Elkins, for example, denes diffusion as a process
of uncoordinated interdependence, uncoordinated in the
sense that a countrys decision to democratize is not
imposed by another.
32
Three responses are possible; rst
and most generally, my goal is not to dene diffusion but
to examine the causes of democratic waves. To the extent
that vertical inuences like global shocks can lead to waves,
they will be included as part of the analysis even if we
remain agnostic about their precise labeling.
Second, a number of diffusion studies include both
vertical and horizontal elements in their analysis. Sim-
mons et. al, for example, include coercionand pro-
motionas two intrinsically vertical mechanisms of
diffusion, in which asymmetries of power drive cross-
border change, while Gilardi notes that a signicant
portion of the literature considers coercion integral to
diffusion.
33
(Elsewhere, Elkins notes that the trans-
mission of policies across vertical as opposed to horizontal
networks is a common theme in the diffusion litera-
ture.)
34
Third, coercion from aboveis only one element of
vertical diffusion, and often the least important element.
In the wake of hegemonic transitions some countries have
found democracy imposed upon them by a victorious
hegemon, as was the case of Germany and Japan after
World War II. Yet both empirical and historical studies
show that forced impositions form only a small proportion
of reforms that follow systemic transitions.
35
In most cases,
the countries that democratized after these systemic trans-
formations did so either due to self-interest (to ingratiate
itself with the rising hegemon or to secure its aid and
patronage) or because they felt that the crisis credibly
demonstrated that democracy offered the more appealing
path forward. The regime diffusion that accompanies
vertical shocks is thus driven less by brute force and
more by indirect hegemonic inducement and voluntary
imitation.
Another possible objection is that vertical shocks still
show traces of horizontal linkages. In the 1989 revolu-
tions, for instance, Soviet reforms served as the crucial
geopolitical trigger, but the process was reinforced when
the regions pro-democracy movements observed the
successes of their peers and were inspired to follow suit.
36
To come back to Webers example: some people may open
their umbrellas because they feel the rain, and others may
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do so because they see people opening their umbrellas. The
dominos may fall because the table is shaking, but they
may also knock each other down in the process.
A vertical geopolitical shock can thus start a democratic
wave that also moves through horizontal diffusion, as in
1989. In this case, however, vertical forces still acted as
a necessary pre-requisite for any subsequent contagion. As
Thomas Risse argues, the new thinking in foreign policy
and the renunciation of the Brezhnev doctrine enabled the
peaceful revolutions in Eastern Europe in the rst place.
37
And according to Perry Anderson, nothing fundamental
could change in Eastern Europe so long as the Red Army
remained ready to re. Everything was possible once
fundamental change started in Russia itself.
38
The fact
that dissident groups had pushed for reforms long before
1989 only underscores the importance of the USSR, since
these groups could do little to actually realize their
demands until a realignment in Soviet policy. The
political opportunities that triggered these upheavals in
the East,argues Sidney Tarrow, became widely un-
derstood only after Gorbachevs well-publicized refusal to
use military force.These revolutions, he concludes, were
set off by a radically new international opportunity
structure.And as Hale concludes, archival research
now makes clear we must consider Mikhail Gorbachevs
USSR as a common cause of similar democratizing events
in East Europe.
39
The presence of an abrupt hegemonic transition is the
unique marker of vertical waves, and what makes them
easily distinguishable from horizontal waves. Even where
vertical diffusion creates the conditions for horizontal
linkages, the process is fundamentally different from
waves driven by only by horizontal diffusion. Vertical
diffusion creates immensely powerful incentives for bursts
of democratization, because the tectonic realignment of
global hierarchies inuences institutional opportunities in
many countries at once.
It is not simply that vertical waves are byproducts of
systemic forces, since these may also be important in
horizontal waves. A sudden spike in global food prices,
for example, probably contributed to the breakout of
protests in the Arab Spring.
40
Rather, the argument here is
that a specic kind of systemic volatility, in the form of
abrupt hegemonic transitions, creates unique conditions
for a particular type of democratic wave.
Contagion and Emulation in Democratic Waves
The second key distinction among waves resides in the
role played by domestic factors namely, in whether the
timing of transitions in a wave is mediated by domestic
circumstances. In contagion-driven waves, the spread of
contention overrides domestic inuences, and the timing
of national breakouts is often unrelated to internal
causes.
41
Democratization in one country increases the
immediate likelihood of democratization in other states,
producing diffusion that rapidly sweeps across borders in
a matter of months or even weeks, as was the case in 1848
or 1989. This is the so-called epidemiological, quasi-
mechanistic model of diffusion as commonly conceived
in social science.
By contrast, during the Color Revolutions, the timing
of each subsequent upheaval was driven by awed
elections, which served as domestic focal points for the
coordinated mobilization of opposition groups.
42
Starting
with the Bulldozer Revolution in Serbia in 2000, a number
of countries in the post-Soviet space experienced a series of
mass upheavals. In each case, the revolution followed an
election widely seen as rigged in favor of the incumbents.
As observers noted at the time, these revolutions consti-
tuted a common wave linked by shared attributes
participation by youth groups, mass mobilization, non-
violence, and ties with the West. Yet the outbreak of one
color revolution did not inuence the timing of other
outbreaks. Instead, the timing was mediated by the
interaction of external linkages with domestic opportuni-
ties presented by contested elections.
As a result, while contagion-driven waves spread over-
months or even weeks, emulation-driven diffusion is
a much more protracted processas in the Atlantic wave,
the Second Constitutional Wave, or the Color Revolu-
tions, which unfolded over a number of years.
The strength of diffusion within a wave always
depends on the relative weight of external and domestic
factors. When linkages are weak, domestic conditions are
unpropitious, and the organizational capacity of incum-
bents (that is, their ability to pre-empt, co-opt, or
suppress protest) is high, the wave proceeds slowly, with
clear links among the cases but with their timing shaped
by domestic crises or focal points. When outside inu-
ences are powerful, and external linkages are strong, the
force of a democratic wave can overwhelm domestic
conditions and spread through a process of contagion.
(Even under these conditions, domestic factors remain
important, by shaping which countries are excluded from
the wave or buffeted from its consequences.)
In cases of contagion-driven waves, therefore, external
linkages are both necessary and in many cases sufcient
for driving waves of reform. In emulation-driven waves,
however, international factors become necessary but
insufcient for inspiring reforms in the absence of
favorable domestic conditions. In these cases, domestic
actors are sometimes able to inoculateagainst imme-
diate reforms, making the spread of democratization
contingent upon opportune moments. During the Arab
Spring, for example, both Russia and China employed
social media to promote negative narratives of Western-
sponsored destabilization and encourage nationalist
sentiment as a defense against these foreign encroach-
ments.
43
Such counter-diffusion tactics may blunt the
reach of transnational social movements that use
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communication to spread protest tactics and mobilize
supporters abroad.
A Typology of Democratic Waves
The causal dynamics, the timing, and the interaction of
external and domestic factors all operate in systematically
different ways across these two categories of diffusion.
The interaction of the two categorieshorizontal versus
vertical, and contagion versus emulationproduces the
four-fold typology of diffusion presented in gure 1.
By focusing on persistent features across cases, this
categorization highlights the contrasts and similarities
among historical episodes of diffusion. It demonstrates,
for instance, why neither the 1989 wave nor the Color
Revolutions are useful precedents for the Arab Spring.
44
Unlike in 1989, diffusion in the Arab Spring occurred in
Figure 1
Models of democratic waves
Note: Each circle is a country case; the timeline is compressed in cases of contagion, expanded in cases of emulation. The end result in each
case is a democratic cascade.
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the absence of a broader geopolitical shift. In the post-
Soviet wave, the abandonment of the Brezhnev doctrine
removed the major impediment to a democratic wave,
which encountered few obstacles in sweeping over the
region. The international environmentWestern aid
conditionality, democracy promotion by Europe and the
United States, and the prospects of EC membershipall
greatly bolstered both the appeal and the legitimacy of
democratic diffusion.
In the Arab Spring, however, the role of the in-
ternational environment has been either negative or
ambivalent.
45
The wave did not stem from the equivalent
of a Soviet collapse; on the contrary, regional powers like
Saudi Arabia assisted their autocratic peers in suppressing
protests. The United States, meanwhile, at times rein-
forced the wave by aiding popular uprisings, most notably
in the case of Libya. But in other cases like Bahrain or
Yemen, it vacillated about promoting regime change or
countering the suppression of protests.
46
The absence of
a hegemonic shock that produces systemic pressures for
democratization marks a clear distinction between vertical
and horizontal waves.
And unlike the Color Revolutions, the timing of
transitions in the Arab Spring was not conditional upon
domestic focal points. In post-Soviet states, opposition
leaders awaited the next awed election to coordinate
their protest efforts. No such waiting took place in the
Middle Eastafter the initial spark of revolt began in
Tunisia, the timing of subsequent revolutionary diffusion
across borders was rarely related to specic internal
triggers.
Instead, as the typology shows, the closest familiar
analogy to the Arab Spring is the 1848 Spring of Nations
both instances of horizontal contagion. The Spring of
Nations was not driven by geopolitical shifts and stemmed
instead from horizontal cross-border contagion. Its timing
was largely independent of domestic circumstances, lead-
ing it to spread throughout central Europe in a matter
of months.
47
As an instance of horizontal contagion, the
Spring of Nations was intense, swift, far-reaching, and
ultimately unsuccessful, defeated by the concerted efforts
of the regions autocratic rulers. At the same time, it left
a deep footprint on the subsequent evolution of European
states. Given these similarities, the Arab Spring is in-
creasingly likely to meet the same fate.
The Failures of Democratic Waves
Despite their underlying differences, what unites the vast
majority of waves is the presence of failurethe tendency
for democratic cascades to crest, collapse, and roll back.
This rollback can be total (as in the post-World War I
wave), or partial but persistent (as in the African wave
following the Soviet collapse).
Failure is therefore a key component of democratic
waves, as demonstrated most recently in the Arab Spring.
In fact, there is good reason to think that failure is built
into the very process that creates waves.
The impulses that drive democratic waves create
extremely powerful but temporary incentives for regime
change. In the short term, the euphoric and seemingly
immense possibility of revolutionary change produces
immense pressures for democratization. Countries with
strained class relations, ethnic tensions, low levels of
economic development, and no history of democracy
suddenly nd themselves swept up in the momentum of
a powerful wave. In their initial intensity, waves create
episodes of democratic overstretch”—the regime version
of a stock market bubble, in which cascading effects lead to
an articially inated number of transitions.
The strong but vaporous pressures that allow a wave to
spread also ensure that at least some of these transitions
take place in countries that lack domestic conditions
needed to sustain and consolidate democracy. As the
initial phase of the wave passes, and the difcult process
of democratic consolidation moves forward, domestic
constraints reassert themselves and contribute to the
failed consolidations that often follow waves.
48
Demo-
cratic transitions that occur within waves may be less likely
to succeed than transitions driven by domestic factors.
Most models of democratic diffusion focus on positive
feedbackthe spread of democratic contentionas the
driver of the process.
49
But the ubiquity of failure in waves
suggests that rollback is not simply a common side effect,
but an inherent component of the wave. Democratic
cascades may therefore be better understood as the
complex interplay of positive and negative feedback, rather
than the unilinear process of spreadingimplied by many
theories of democratic diffusion.
Moreover, different kinds of waves may be associated
with particular types of democratic failure. For example,
elite adaptation designed to stymie and co-opt protests
may be especially prevalent in waves driven by emulation,
for two reasons. First, emulation-based diffusion centers
around predictable domestic events like elections; and
second, it operates on a longer time scale than contagion-
based diffusion. Both factors allow autocratic rulers to
anticipate and co-opt for any potential rebellions. Learn-
ing from the fates of their peers allows autocratic elites to
update their beliefs about the best tactics for suppressing
protests.
50
It may be worth noting that since Kyrgyzstans
2005 Tulip Revolution, no electoral revolution until
Armenia in 2018 had succeeded in overturning an in-
cumbent regime, with failed attempts in Azerbaijan
(2005), Belarus (2006), Iran (2009), and Russia (2011).
Incumbent elites may have learned enough from the
failures of their peers to pre-empt most revolutions
centered around awed elections.
51
Theories of democratic consolidation have generally
overlooked its external dimensions, focusing instead on
the domestic origins of democratic rollback. Yet for
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countries that democratize in waves, such failure may be
built into the conditions that allowed the initial demo-
cratic transitions in the rst place.
This interplay of external and local forces can also help
shed light on the rise of hybrid regimes after the
Soviet collapse. These regimes experienced enormous
systemic pressures to democratize after 1991, but quickly
discovered the ckleness of these pressures once the initial
democratic euphoria wore off. Rulers soon found a way to
placate foreign donors and sideline the opposition while
maintaining a democratic façade. The rise of hybrid
regimes since the end of the Cold War can therefore be
viewed as the long-term interplay between the global
overstretch of the post-Soviet wave and local counterwave
dynamics that followed it.
Case Study: The Second
Constitutional Wave (1905–1912)
As a rarely-examined episode of democratic diffusion, the
Second Constitutional Wave offers an illustration of how
hegemonic disruptions, working through material and
ideological linkages, can create bursts of democratic
reform. This wave included Russia and several of its
imperial dependencies (1905), as well as Iran (1906), the
Ottoman Empire (1908), Portugal (1910), and China
(1912).
52
These countries were bound by concrete
linkagesin the form of organizational tactics, material
inuences, and ideological inspirationthrough which
earlier cases shaped the attributes, opportunities, and
expectations for later episodes of contention. The 1905
revolution, according to Steven Marks, had a worldwide
impact,forging opportunities for reform across Asia and
beyond.
53
And Kurzman argues that the revolution in-
augurated a global wave of democratic revolutionsand
gave an enormous boost to democracy movements
around the world.
54
The vertical element of this democratic wave was
Russias defeat in the 1905 Russo-Japanese war, which
acted as a temporary but real shock to the global hierarchy
of leading states. The war marked Japans ascent to the
small club of ofcial Great Powerswhile undermining
the Tsarist governments standing and precipitating the
1905 revolution.
55
The prosecution and outcome of the
war generated enough discontent to ignite the rst large-
scale uprisings in Russias history. Even the military, the
regimes most reliable ally, grew dissatised with the Tsars
unwillingness to undertake military reforms. Industrialists,
meanwhile, chafed at the massive growth of foreign debt
brought on by the expense of the war, while nationalists
grew increasingly furious over the incompetence displayed
over the course of the conict.
56
The Russian defeat thus
forged a broad anti-government coalition that succeeded
in mounting a powerful challenge to the Tsarist regime.
For hopeful democrats in Iran, the Ottoman Empire,
and the imperial peripheries, the war had temporarily
undermined the Empires ability to suppress regional
revolutionaries (as it had done so brutally in eastern
Europe in 1848) by displacing most of its armed forces
to the Far East. The temporary vacuum of power bolstered
revolutionary and protest movements in Russia and de-
pendencies like the Grand Duchy of Finland, Łódź,
Latvia, and the Governorate of Estonia. In Poland, the
countrys future leader Joseph Pilsudski took advantage of
the disruption to lead a failed revolution. For Iranian
reformers, the war offered hope that Russiasgrip on the
country could be loosened,reducing the threat of in-
tervention.
57
And indeed, the external inuence of Rus-
sian power was muted as the government recovered from
its recent military defeat and domestic unrest. Despite
a record of interference in Persian politics, and repeated
pleas from the beleaguered Shah, Nicholals II proved
unable to step in to prevent a revolt and the signing of
a constitution in 1906.
58
As in 1989, hegemonic decline and volatility left
Russia unable to suppress democratizing movements
around its borderlands, enabling a cascade of regime
reforms throughout the region.
59
Beyond the material
opportunities for reform in nations previously fearful of
Russian intervention, 1905 also claried an ideological
precedent. As John Foran puts it, the fact that the only
Asian constitutional state had defeated the major Western
nonconstitutional one further suggested the desirability of
constitutional forms of rule.
60
As Don Price argues, 1905
encouraged revolutionaries by showing how strong the
revolutionary movement was, even in the worlds most
powerful autocracy.
61
Like their counterparts in the Color Revolutions
a century later, the pro-democracy movements of this
wave drew upon earlier episodes for ideological inspira-
tion, and explicitly exchanged tactics and protest reper-
toires that shaped their anti-regime strategies. The
informational role of these linkages, and their creation
of demonstration effects, was especially important be-
cause of widespread preference falsication in the non-
democratic states of the wave. As a result, the 1905
revolution contributed substantially to the awakening of
nationalism and the development of constitutional gov-
ernmentin Asia.
62
It encouraged revolutionaries by
showing how strong the revolutionary movement was,
even in the worlds most powerful autocracy.
63
The
Young Turks, for instance, not only had their commit-
ment to constitutionalism reafrmed by the revolutions in
Russia and Iran, but also drew upon these precedents to
shift from their original approach of an elite revolution
from aboveto a more populist mobilization strategy.
64
In both material and ideological terms Russia served as
a keystone state in this wave, similar to the role played by
France in 1848. The pan-national and cross-class nature
of the 1905 revolution meant that it had a strong appeal,
both inside Russia and abroad, stronger in many respects
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than the October Revolution of 1917,which instead
emphasized the dictatorship of the proletariat spearheaded
by a select cadre.
65
In Iran, Russias revolution played an inordinate role
in placing revolution on the agenda.
66
An Iranian
prodemocracy newspaper exhorted its readers to adopt
the peoples of Russia as a model.
67
In Portugal, an
observer noted that events in Russia have echoed
throughout the world like a powerful recurrent cry.
68
In the Ottoman Empire, the Russian precedent both
opened the possibility for a more popularly based
movementand suggested concrete protest strategies
such as public refusals to pay taxes and the centrality of
revolutionary cadres and extra-legal groups.
69
The pro-
democracy newspaper Min-pao, argues Spector, offers the
best proof of the impact of the Russian Revolution of
1905on Chinese revolutionaries, as practically every
issue included articles, pictures, and references to events in
revolutionary Russia, including frequent admonitions to
the Chinese to prot by the Russian experience.
70
The
Chinese laborers working in Russia, like their Iranian
counterparts, were strongly inuencedby 1905. Upon
their return, they helped organize Russian-style political
strikes on the Chinese Eastern Railroad.
71
And according
to Price, Russias defeat eliminated the last powerful
argument for autocracy in China;ithad exposed Russias
backwardness and internal disarray and clearly demon-
strated that China must have a constitution.As a result, it
bolstered that strain in Chinese revolutionary thought
which conceived of revolution as a natural, sometimes
unavoidable category of modern progress toward universal
humanitarian goals.
72
After the initial vertical catalyst of (temporary) Russian
hegemonic decline, the wave also propagated through
horizontal diffusion, with linkages that extended beyond
Russia (see gure 2). For the Ottoman Empire, the Iranian
precedent established the viability of Islamic constitution-
alism, demonstrated the value of religious rhetoric, and
served as the ideal proof that a constitutional revolution
could be at once popular and bloodless.
73
In turn,
Chinese reformers drew upon the lessons of Iran and the
Ottoman Empire both as sources of inspiration and as
models of revolution. In the Chinese debate over the role
of monarchy, for example, the Turkish example power-
fully recommended itself for emulationby demonstrating
that the sultans removal was compatible with popular rule
by elite parties with the support of military forces.
74
These shared attributes and linkages separated the
countries of this wave from other democracy movements
of the same period. While the revolutionary movements
of the Constitutional Wave drew upon disparate domes-
tic grievances, and internal circumstances shaped the
timing of diffusion, its ideology and attributes were
shaped by common linkages, with Russias defeat as the
initiator of the wave. The geopolitical shock of the war
created a window of opportunity for rebellion, served to
reafrm the appeal and legitimacy of constitutionalism as
a path toward modernization, and facilitated the emula-
tion of successful protest strategies.
While rooted in a vertical disruption to the hierarchy
of great powers, the timing of the waves spread still relied
upon domestic circumstances. At the start of the twentieth
century, the linkages among pro-democracy movements
were still too frail, and their cultural contrasts too vast, to
diffuse with the speed and intensity associated with
contagion. As a result, the outbreak of later revolutions
was mediated by domestic opportunities.
Conclusion
As the persistence of waves makes clear, the international
system has played a key role in the evolution of domestic
regimes. Yet democratic waves resist easy comparisons.
They occur in vastly different regions and historical
contexts. They vary in speed, scope, intensity, and range
of outcomes. How do we compare these turbulent and
seemingly diverse democratic cascades?
I engage this question by laying out a conceptual
framework for analyzing democratic waves. The historical
Figure 2
The second constitutional wave, 1905–1912
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typology of waves is organized along two dimensions.
The rst contrasts horizontal waves driven by cross-
border linkages and neighbor ties (as in the Spring of
Nations) with vertical waves driven by shifts in global
hegemony (as in the post-Soviet wave).
The second dimension contrasts emulation-driven and
contagion-driven waves. In cases of emulation, domestic
factors serve as key focal points shaping both the duration
of the wave and the timing of its transitions. The result is
long episodes of contention linked by common griev-
ances or tactics, yet reliant on domestic circumstances for
their spread (as in the Color Revolutions). In processes of
contagion, on the other hand, external linkages tempo-
rarily overwhelm domestic constraints to produce short,
intense waves (as in Arab Spring).
My goals here were three-fold: to offer a denition of
democratic waves, to identify a plausible universe of cases,
and to lay out a framework for comparing these episodes
across time. Instead of a single notion of democratic
diffusion, it may be better to think of varieties of democratic
diffusion,akin to the literature on varieties of capitalism.
This approach also highlights the key role of abrupt
hegemonic transitions as important if unreliable drivers of
democratic waves. Sudden shifts in the structure of
hegemonic power have produced some of the most
consequential regime cascades in modern history. In
some ways, the twentieth century can be imagined as
a series of hegemonic shocks and institutional waves. Yet
the links between systemic shifts and institutional waves
were not limited to democracy: German economic re-
covery in the 1930s led to the diffusion of fascist ideas
and institutions, and the Soviet victory in World War II
prompted a global communist wave that spread through
both force and admiration. Future hegemonic transitions,
including the decline of American dominance, are likely
to produce similar anti-democratic cascades, particularly
in case of a sudden U.S. decline.
As a rst cut at a broad topic, this approach offers some
venues for future research. Each of the waves, treated here
with inevitable brevity, would benet from case studies
that examine the strength and types of cross-country
linkages, and their effects on the timing and outcome of
regime change. The framework can also be applied to the
small but growing literature on autocratic waves, some of
which appear to be driven by similar dynamics.
75
Beyond the two distinctions emphasized here, there
may be other ways to categorize democratic wavesfor
instance, by looking at how major actors organize them-
selves, or the role of violent conict in the transition.
76
There is also more room for exploration of linkages among
the waves themselves. The Atlantic Wave, for instance,
also inuenced Latin American independence movements
of the early nineteenth century. Finally, the failures
inherent in democratic waves deserve more attention,
especially if different types of waves are more likely to
experience different rates of failure. If democratic rollback
is a naturalcomponent of waves, we should reconceptu-
alize democratic diffusion as a two-way interaction of
contention and resistance, rather than as the unidirec-
tional, quasi-mechanistic spread of revolt.
The looming presence of waves suggests that studies of
democratization cannot focus only on the local drivers of
revolts from below or elite concessions from above.
Episodes of mass political contention were often embed-
ded in broader transnational processes that involved
regional cross-border ties and global hegemonic rivalries.
More generally, examining the causes of democratic
waves is a reminder that global democratization is more
than the sum of its parts.
77
The spread of democracy
embodies multiple facets of a systemic phenomenon,
driven by cross-border linkages that cannot be reduced
to their individual components. Examining how democ-
racy spreads, in other words, can offer fundamental
insights into the nature of democracy itself.
Notes
1 Quoted in Pearlman 2017, 54.
2 Quoted in Kaplan 2014, 52.
3 Weyland 2012 likewise argues that the closest parallel
to 2011 is 1848, though he emphasizes the interaction
of cognitive heuristics and organizational capacity in
both waves. I focus instead on both cases as examples
of the horizontal contagionsubtype.
4 Which is not to say horizontal waves are necessarily
divorced from global factors more generally, as
discussed later.
5 Rapport 2008, 57.
6 See, e.g., Diamond 1996; Schwartzman 1998;
Plattner 2014; Houle, Kayser, and Xiang 2016.
7 Huntington 1991, 15.
8 Clustering can be temporal or spatio-temporal,
the latter involving a cluster of transitions within
a geographic region. While some waves (such as the
Arab Spring or the African wave of decolonization)
are spatio-temporal, others (like the Second
Constitutional Wave, or the post-Soviet Wave) are not
bound to a particular region.
9 Mainwaring and Aníbal Pérez-Liñán (2014,70)
provide an alternative denition of a wave which also
focuses on clustering: any historical period during
which there is a sustained and signicant increase in
the proportion of competitive regimes (democracies
and semi-democracies).
10 On this point see also Kurzman 1998.
11 These two elements (clustering and linkages) are
individually necessary and jointly sufcient. Not all
episodes of contention must be successful to be
included as part of a wave.
12 In the diffusion literature, these linkages are sometimes
described as various mechanisms of diffusion, such as
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coercion or competition. See, e.g., Simmons, Dobbin,
and Garrett 2006.
13 Kuran 1991; Lohmann 1994.
14 Quoted in Stapelbroek 2009:106.
15 Hale 2013. As Huntington notes, a wave also usually
involves liberalization or partial democratization in
systems that do not become fully democratic.Here I
adopt an inclusive denition that focuses on
democratization as the expansion of political
participation, even if the standards for participation
shift over time and remain essentially contested;
Huntington 1991, 15; Munck 2009; Gunitsky 2015.
16 Houle 2009; Linz and Stepan 1996; Przeworski et al.
1996, 2000; Rustow 1970.
17 On dening democratic diffusion as a process rather
than an outcome, see, e.g., Elkins and Simmons 2005
or Gilardi 2013, 454.
18 For example, describing the Atlantic Wave, Palmer
calls it a single revolutionary movementwith
similar objectives and principles; Palmer 1964, 6.
19 As Hale notes: Because the concept of regime change
cascade is only nascent in the literature, there has not
yet been an explicit attempt to determine a universe of
cases.While Huntingtons tripartite division has
become accepted in the literature, historical studies
suggest the presence of many more waves. Kurzman,
for example, identies eight episodes, though his
analysis stops before the Color Revolutions; Hale
2013, 334; Kurzman 1998.
20 In the historical literature, the First Constitutional
Wave and the Romantic-Nationalist Wave are
usually referred to as simply the waves of 1820 and
18301831, respectively.
21 Karl 1990; Whitehead 1996.
22 As McFaul (2002, 242) argues, the strong connections
linking transitions from communism constitute
a distinct Fourth Wave.. And Doorenspleet (2005)
likewise separates the post-1974 period into two
distinct waves, with 1989 as the cutoff.
23 Brown 2007, 21718. As he notes, the inuence of
previous wavelets on 1989 Eastern Europe was
either marginalin the case of Southern Europe or
non-existentin the case of Latin America.
Domestically as well, Eastern European democratiza-
tion proceeded from a vastly different starting point
than this earlier set of transitions, which did not have
to cope with the same near-total monopoly of a Party
over state, economy, and society; Dahrendorf 1990,
74.
24 Savelle 1974.
25 Gunitsky 2014, 2017.
26 Bryce 1921; Seton-Watson 1945; Mazower 1998.
27 Bermeo 2003, 21. Michael Mann puts the number at
27 out of 28. By contrast, on the eve of the war, notes
Norman Davies, continental Europe had only three
republican governmentsFrance, Portugal, and
Switzerland; Mann 2004, 3738; Davies 1996, 943.
28 Huntington 1991. After 1948, as the U.S. preferences
shifted from democracy to anti-Communism, the
wave swiftly rolled back.
29 In the decade after 1989, thirty-two African states held
free or mostly free founding elections, while over thirty
states undertook economic reforms; Palmer, Colton,
and Kramer 2002, 916. Only six African states
managed to retain a one-party system by 1993;
Ould-Mey 2006, 39.
30 Weber 1978, 23.
31 Way 2011.
32 Elkins 2008, 43.
33 Simmons, Dobbin, and Garrett 2006; Gilardi 2013,
454. In addition to coercionand promotion,
Simmons, Dobbin, and Garrett include competition
and emulationas common mechanisms of diffusion.
34 Elkins 2010, 9812.
35 Owen 2010; Narizny 2011.
36 The toppling of hard-line regimes in East Germany
and Bulgaria,argue Bratton and van de Walle (1997,
30), led both incumbent and opposition groups in
Czechoslovakia to recognize and act upon the
vulnerability of their own regimes.
37 Risse 1997, 184.
38 Anderson 1999.
39 Tarrow 1991, 17, emphasis original; Hale 2013, 342.
40 Sternberg 2012.
41 See, e.g., Rogers 1962.
42 See, e.g., Hale 2005; Way 2008; Kuntz and
Thompson 2009; Bunce and Wolchik 2011.
43 Koesel and Bunce 2013, 759.
44 For comparisons of the Arab Spring to 1989, see Head
2011. In such analogies the mythology of 1989,
argues Richardson-Little (2015, 151), creates a tragi-
cally awed model for reform and revolution.For
comparisons to the Color Revolutions, see Cheterian
2011.
45 Way 2011.
46 See, e.g., Ambrosio 2014.
47 Robertson 1952; Rapport 2009.
48 I examine the mechanisms of counter-diffusion in
more detail in Gunitsky 2017, ch.2.
49 Elkins, for example, denes diffusion as a process in
which a democratic transition in one country
increases the probability of transition in a neighboring
country.Discussing the diffusion of democracy,
Brinks and Coppedge focus on neighbor emulation,
dened as the process by which countries tend to
become more like their immediate geographic neigh-
bors over time; Elkins 2008, 42; Brinks and Cop-
pedge 2006, 464.
50 Gunitsky 2013. This dynamic manifested itself in the
Arab revolutions, where initial successes were followed
September 2018 |Vol. 16/No. 3 647
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by increasingly forceful efforts by autocrats to repress
the uprisings. As the Arab awakening has spread,
noted The Economist (2011, 11) in the early stages of
the wave, each leader has sought to save his skin by
being crueller than the last.Learning from recent
outcomes, dictators changed their strategies in line
with updated beliefs.
51 Moreover, until Armenia in 2018, the only successful
regime overthrows in the post-Soviet space since
2005Kyrgyzstan in 2010 and Ukraine in early
2014were not cases of electoral revolution.
52 Kurzman 2008; Sohrabi 2002; Spector 1962.
Kurzman also includes Mexicos 1911 revolution
among the cases, although here the connections are
more tenuous.
53 Marks 2003, 312.
54 Kurzman 2008, 4.
55 On Japan as a great power after 1905 see, for example,
Carr 2001, 1023, or Woodruff 2005, 77.
56 Hart 1987, 223.
57 Foran 1993, 114. The initial 1905 Iranian protest
broke out over tariffs levied to pay back Russian loans.
58 Spector 1962, 40.
59 Unlike the Soviet collapse, the geopolitical shift in
1905 proved temporary, by 1907 the Tsarist
government felt condent enough to intervene on
behalf of the Persian monarchy.
60 Foran 1991, 803.
61 Price 1974, 153.
62 Spector 1962, viii.
63 Price 1974, 153.
64 Sohrabi 2002.
65 Spector 1962, vii. The 1905 revolution marked
a turning point in Russian inuence upon Asia,he
argues, and contributed substantially to the
awakening of nationalism and the development of
constitutional governmentin the region.
66 Sohrabi 2011, 333.
67 Quoted in Spector 1962, 38.
68 Quoted in Kurzman 2008, 4.
69 Sohrabi 2002, 56.
70 Spector 1962, 86.
71 Ibid., 78.
72 Price 1974, 138, 154.
73 Sohrabi 2002, 58.
74 Karl 2002, 184. The lessons also reected what not to
emulate; as one Chinese newspaper noted in 1910, the
absence of clear goals and decisive revolutionary action
had hampered the Turkish transformation.
75 See, e.g., Ambrosio 2010 or Weyland 2017.
76 E.g., Weyland 2014.
77 As Pogge von Strandmann (2000, 8) argues, the
Spring of Nations was more than the summary of
revolutionary and counter-revolutionary events in
each country.
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... He defines the wave of democracy as "a group of transitions from nondemocratic to democratic regimes that occur within a specified period of time and that significantly outnumber transitions in the opposite direction during that period of time" (Huntington, 1991, p. 15). Gunitsky (2018b) dig deeper in this phenomenon and studied its occurrences in the past two centuries. He found out 13 waves of democracy in the history, started from the Atlantic wave of democracy (1776-1798) to the democratic wave of the Arab Spring (2011). ...
... It lasts years, not months or weeks like the contagious. An example of those waves is the Color revolutions (Gunitsky, 2018b). As we understand from the study of Gunitsky (2018b), a wave of democracy is an external factor of democratization per se. ...
... An example of those waves is the Color revolutions (Gunitsky, 2018b). As we understand from the study of Gunitsky (2018b), a wave of democracy is an external factor of democratization per se. And next we will present the schools of thought dealing with the impact of the democratic waves. ...
Thesis
Full-text available
The Arab Spring, as a democratic wave, contained democratic movements that succeeded in overthrowing their non-democratic regimes, such as Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya. In addition to other movements that failed to do so, such as Syria. This thesis investigates the impact of those successful movements on the Syrian case. We did that through comparing the events of the Syrian democratic movement with the events of the Tunisian, Egyptian and Libyan movements, to see if there is a relation, or an impact, between them. After that, we assessed the discovered impacts to get an overall evaluation of the impact of those movements on the case of Syria. We found many evidences show that the Syrian movement followed, or emulated, the other movements, in their approach, strategy and tactics. And because essential differences between Syria and those countries, that following, or emulation, did not lead to the same success, rather, it was one of the reasons for its failure. That gave us a conclusion that initiation of a democratic movement amid other movements, in time and space, will expose that movement to misdirecting impact that leads to its failure.
... Il identifie trois vagues importantes de démocratisation dans le monde moderne : premièrement, la vague longue : 1828-1926deuxième vague courte : 1943deuxième vague courte : -1962deuxième vague courte : et la troisième vague 1974deuxième vague courte : -1990deuxième vague courte : (Huntington, 1991. En 1989, une nouvelle vague de démocratisation a englobé les anciens pays communistes d'Europe de l'Est et les républiques post-soviétiques (Gunitsky, (2018). Une représentation graphique de la chronologie des importantes vagues de démocratisation dans le monde occidental moderne est présentée dans la partie inférieure de la figure 1. ...
... He identifies three important waves of democratization in the modern Western world: First, long wave: 1828-1926Second, short wave: 1943-1962and the Third Wave: 1974-1990(Huntington, 1991. In 1989 a new wave of democratization encompassed former communist countries of east Europe and post Soviet Republics (Gunitsky, 2018) A graphic representation of the timeline of the important waves of democratization in the modern Western world is shown in the lower part of figure 1. The first study programme for landscape architecture at graduate level was established at Harvard University in 1900. ...
... He identifies three important waves of democratization in the modern Western world: First, long wave: 1828-1926Second, short wave: 1943-1962and the Third Wave: 1974-1990(Huntington, 1991. In 1989 a new wave of democratization encompassed former communist countries of east Europe and post Soviet Republics (Gunitsky, 2018) A graphic representation of the timeline of the important waves of democratization in the modern Western world is shown in the lower part of figure 1. The first study programme for landscape architecture at graduate level was established at Harvard University in 1900. ...
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... Il identifie trois vagues importantes de démocratisation dans le monde moderne : premièrement, la vague longue : 1828-1926deuxième vague courte : 1943deuxième vague courte : -1962deuxième vague courte : et la troisième vague 1974deuxième vague courte : -1990deuxième vague courte : (Huntington, 1991. En 1989, une nouvelle vague de démocratisation a englobé les anciens pays communistes d'Europe de l'Est et les républiques post-soviétiques (Gunitsky, (2018). Une représentation graphique de la chronologie des importantes vagues de démocratisation dans le monde occidental moderne est présentée dans la partie inférieure de la figure 1. ...
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