The Spirit of Democracy The Struggle to Build Free Societies Throughout the World

Larry Diamond

St. Martin's Griffin



Trade Paperback

464 Pages



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In 1974, nearly three-quarters of all countries were dictatorships; today, more than half are democracies. Yet recent efforts to promote democracy have stumbled, and many democratic governments are faltering.
In The Spirit of Democracy, social scientist Larry Diamond examines how and why democracy progresses. He demonstrates that the desire for democracy runs deep, even in very poor countries, and that seemingly entrenched regimes like Iran and China could become democracies within a generation. He also dissects the causes of the “democratic recession” in critical states, including the crime-infested oligarchy in Russia and the strong-armed populism of Venezuela.
Diamond cautions that arrogance and inconsistency have undermined America’s aspirations to promote democracy. To spur a renewed democratic boom, he urges support of good governance—the rule of law, security, protection of individual rights, and shared economic prosperity—and free civic organizations to secure the spirit of democracy.


Praise for The Spirit of Democracy

"Diamond is a meticulous social scientist who, in Squandered Victory, took on the task of studying America’s bungled effort to bring democracy to Iraq. The Spirit of Democracy takes on the world, with Diamond leaping from Malawi to Singapore to Venezuela. He looks at countries that broke down after the post-1974 'third wave' of democracy and have yet to recover, not only obvious examples like corruption-ridden Nigeria, but also Nepal, Thailand and the Solomon Islands. He studies what he calls 'the pathology of personal rule' in Africa, along with the role of monarchy, populism and Islam in the Middle East. One might easily assume from such a discouraging survey that The Spirit of Democracy is a gigantic downer. In fact, Diamond is anything but pessimistic: he believes that most of the world, one way or another, can move toward democracy . . . The Spirit of Democracy asks whether democracy is something that can exist only in rich and educated countries, those with a strong middle class. Do all people actually want democracy, or do some—the Chinese perhaps—believe that a form of authoritarianism is the best way to run a country? To answer this question, Diamond examines the forces that contribute to democracy, from the internal influences that give rise to civil societies to the impact of peaceful outside pressures like diplomatic persuasion or, in some cases, economic sanctions. He highlights the work of the National Endowment for Democracy, founded in 1983 to promote democracy abroad, and the democratic assistance it successfully provided to Poland and Nicaragua. Diamond is at his best when he recounts how ordinary people affect the democratic process. He tells us, for instance, about Alejandro Toledo, the former Peruvian leader, who worked his way up from tending sheep and pigs as an 'Indian rebellious of poverty' to become an ambitious and idealistic president. Toledo's five-year term was not a success politically, but Diamond uses it as a lesson to indicate what might work in Latin America . . . [The Spirit of Democracy] offers well-grounded support to anyone who has questioned the long-held theory of Seymour Martin Lipset that the richer the country, the greater the chances of sustaining democracy. Third world countries are not destined to lurch from dictator to dictator, Diamond insists. Even places like Burundi and Sierra Leone, he points out, became democracies after the brutality and violence of bloody civil wars (although they are vulnerable to risk). Democracy may be a luxury, but it isn't a question of wealth. It all comes down to the energy and commitment of people. Indeed, the message of Diamond's book is summed up by its dedication to three icons of democracy: Gandhi, Vaclav Havel and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Diamond makes the hopeful prediction that even 'countries like Iran and China, which now seem so immune to the global democratic trend, stand a very good chance of becoming democratic in the next two to three decades.' 'And if China can democratize,' Diamond asks, 'why not the entire world?'"—Janine di Giovanni, The New York Times Book Review

"In 1974, over 75% of the world was covered with some form of autocracy—but three decades later, most of them have fallen apart and many of them are now Democracies. The Spirit of Democracy: The Struggle to Build Free Societies Throughout the World is an examination of the developing democracies of the world and views on how to further its growth. It also doesn't turn a blind eye to potentially sham democracies such as Russia's growing oligarchy, deep with corruption from organized crime. A thoroughly researched and informative account . . . intelligently composed [and] sure to provoke discussion, The Spirit of Democracy: The Struggle to Build Free Societies Throughout the World is highly recommended to political science collections."—The Midwest Book Review

“Diamond presents an ambitious book. He spans the globe, focusing chapters on whole continents and writing with an authoritative voice about a wide range of countries, from Russia and China to Fiji and Mauritius. And Diamond has an explanation for the current drawback of democratization: It’s a natural rebound from the ‘third wave of democratization’ that began in the mid-1970s. (The first began in the 1820s, the second in the 1920s). Each period is followed by a ‘reverse wave,’ where some of the gains are lost. But, as Diamond repeatingly argues in the book, the world is on the march to democracy . . . The book truly gets interesting when he transitions to specific countries and regions. Nigeria is a good example. It is rich in oil and other minerals. It had a vibrant economy and a high literacy rate. But since the British left, the country has been racked with numerous coups, subsequent military dictatorships, a devastating civil war, ethnic strife and paralyzing corruption. Infrastructure has crumbled into disrepair. Every Nigerian should be living a comfortable life; instead, Nigeria trails the rest of sub-Saharan Africa in life expectancy and per capita income. If democracy can’t work here, where can it work? Everywhere, Diamond argues—including Nigeria. He says the tide is turning against one-party and one-man rule Africa (using impoverished, landlocked Mali with its vibrant democracy as an example), and it appears inevitable that even Nigeria, the sick, rich giant of Africa, will be overwhelmed. Diamond uses the final chapters as a blueprint for democratization in undemocratic countries, stressing the need for essentials such as freedom of information laws to a vibrant presence of nongovernmental organizations. And recent events in unlikely places seem to support Diamond’s theory of the inevitability of democracy.”—Scott Fontaine, The News Tribune (Tacoma)

"For 25 years, beginning in the mid-1970s, an extraordinary wave of democratic transitions swept across southern Europe, Asia, Latin America, parts of Africa, and the former Soviet Union. But this so-called third wave of democratization came to an end with backlashes in Nigeria, Pakistan, Russia, Venezuela, and elsewhere. Diamond, a leading authority in the democracy-promotion movement, takes stock of these decades of democratic 'boom' and 'recession.' Part of his book explores the state of knowledge about the sources and obstacles to democratic transitions, emphasizing the critical role of political leadership and international support. Diamond demolishes the notion that democracy is a culture-bound Western artifact . . . The book is particularly good in focusing on the changing prospects of authoritarian governance. In backward and vulnerable parts of the world, the battle between authoritarians and democrats is not over ideas but rather over basic services and economic growth. Diamond is also eloquent in arguing that despite the recent blunders of American democracy promoters, there is still a role for the international community in helping societies that are struggling to be free."—John G. Ikenberry, Foreign Affairs

"East to read and well researched, The Spirit of Democracy offers an excellent synthesis view on some of the most vexing questions in the field of democracy studies."—Survival: Global Politics and Strategy

"Larry Diamond, one of the most preeminent students of democracy today, explains why [democracy] remains an achievable goal for most countries around the world, despite recent setbacks in places like Russia and Venezuela. The Spirit of Democracy is a worthwhile corrective to America's post-Iraq pessimism about the future of democratic ideals throughout the world."—Francis Fukuyama, author of America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power, and the Neoconservative Legacy

"No one has thought harder or more broadly about the past and future of democracy than Larry Diamond.  A passionate treatment, infused with optimism and eminently readable, The Spirit of Democracy is a must for anyone who cares about the toughest challenge of balancing national values and national interests."—Jessica Tuchman Mathews, president, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

“Around the world, the movement for democracy is in trouble—not merely because of the shrewdness of its enemies, but because of the ignorance and self-delusion of its friends. Luckily, Larry Diamond offers a path forward, full of his customary wisdom, tough-mindedness, and passion. With friends like him, the spirit of democracy will rise again.”—Peter Beinart, senior fellow, Council on Foreign Relations, and author of The Good Fight

“A neatly structured survey examines the prospects for universal democracy. Hoover Institution fellow Diamond has been passionately engaged in the global quest for freedom since his student days in the mid-1970s, when he traveled through despotic hotspots like Portugal, Thailand and Nigeria. He begins by establishing the ‘universal value’ of democracy—not just as a Western concept (though Asians and Muslims do have a stronger adherence to authority) or a luxury for a wealthy nation, but a state to which all aspire. Access to an electoral process, checks on authority, civil liberties and an independent judiciary are rights that everyone desires, Diamond avers. He tracks the ‘democratic boom’ since the mid-’70s from Portugal, Spain, and the Philippines to East Asia, South Africa and the Soviet Union. He also follows the recent ‘democratic recession’ in Pakistan and under Vladimir Putin in the Soviet Union. He examines the internal and external factors that drive and sustain a democracy, among them legitimacy, economic development, regional influence (e.g. the desire to join the European Union) and outside sanctions. The author isolates each problem area of the world and considers its uneasy progress toward democracy. Latin America, he says, is vexed by poverty, unemployment, inequality and the weakness and corruption of state social services and criminal justice systems. Africa is struggling to overcome the ‘dictators for life’ syndrome. The Middle East is unlikely to truly democratize ‘until there is a transformation in the regional security context.’ Finally, Diamond sets out his checklist for making democracy work, by establishing integrity and transparency in government. He doesn’t flinch from criticizing the U.S. government’s role in world affairs, and his view from a think-tank perch is wide-ranging and carefully considered, making this an especially effective work. A refreshingly evenhanded overview of democracy’s global prospects.”—Kirkus Reviews

"Political scientist Diamond, a leader in the field of democracy studies, provides a broad, authoritative survey of international trends and evolving academic thinking concerning the development and maintenance of democracies worldwide. Looking broadly at internal and external factors driving democratic movements, as well as the forces that sustain them once in place, Diamond argues democracy is not a Western anomaly, but a universal value. Diamond, who served as senior advisor to the Iraqi Coalition Provisional Authority, has witnessed democracy-building efforts at close range. The promotion of democracy in authoritarian regimes through either peaceful pressure or international interventions, Diamond believes, is rarely effective unless supported by outside assistance designed to strengthen internal civil societies. Democracy by force, he intones, has the poorest track record of all, and urges the U.S. and other established democracies to clean up their own houses, reasoning that 'It does little good to promote freedom abroad while it gradually slips away at home' . . . there's much to glean in this optimistic and carefully supported account."—Publishers Weekly

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Larry Diamond is the author of Squandered Victory and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. He has served as the co-editor of the widely respected Journal of Democracy since its founding in 1990. He lives in Stanford, California.

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  • Larry Diamond

  • Larry Diamond is the author of Squandered Victory and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. He has served as the co-editor of the widely respected Journal of Democracy since its founding in 1990. From January to April 2004, he served as a senior adviser to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad. He lives in Stanford, California.