New at The Atlantic: The Democracy Report – The Atlantic

New at The Atlantic: The Democracy Report – The Atlantic

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When Portugal’s dictatorship was ousted in a 1974 bloodless coup, the Carnation Revolution, and through months of counter-coups and political turmoil, it wasn’t at all obvious that the country would ever become a democracy. After all, it had never been one before, and for most of the 20th century it had been subject to an authoritarian regime. Next door in Spain, Francisco Franco’s dictatorship endured in power. Journalists and academics throughout the West meanwhile assumed that the whole Iberian peninsula, along with most of Latin America, was unsuited for democracy on account of its Latin-Catholic culture. Similar ideas persisted about Asia’s and Africa’s supposed cultural incompatibility with democracy.
At the time of the Carnation Revolution, only 41 of the world’s then-existing 150 states were democracies, and most of these were also first-world, advanced-industrial economies. But after Portugal pulled off its transition to democracy in the mid-’70s, Greece and Spain soon followed, giving rise globally to what Samuel Huntington called the “third wave” of democratization: Civilian governments replaced military rule across Latin America, including Chile by 1989. Ferdinand Marcos’s dictatorship fell in the Philippines in ’86; a year later, military rule ended in South Korea, and martial law was lifted in Taiwan, beginning a ten-year democratic transition there. By 1990, between the fall of the Berlin wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union, most Eastern European countries were holding competitive elections. Also in 1990, when a watershed transition to democracy got underway in Benin — the same year Nelson Mandela was released from prison in Apartheid South Africa — there were just three democracies on the African continent; only seven years later, the majority of African states were holding competitive elections, too. Here and in other areas of the globe hit by the third wave, there’s been ideological resistance, endemic corruption, and daunting regression offsetting the advance of democracy. But of the almost 200 states in existence around the world today, 123 are democratic, and no form of government has anything close to the broad global legitimacy theirs does.



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