The Third Wave

The Third Wave

by Samuel P. Huntington
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University of Oklahoma Press


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The Third Wave

Between 1974 and 1990 more than thirty countries in southern Europe, Latin America, East Asia, and Eastern Europe shifted from authoritarian to democratic systems of government. This global democratic revolution is probably the most important political trend in the late twentieth century. In The Third Wave, Samuel P. Huntington analyzes the causes and nature of these democratic transitions, evaluates the prospects for stability of the new democracies, and explores the possibility of more countries becoming democratic. The recent transitions, he argues, are the third major wave of democratization in the modem world. Each of the two previous waves was followed by a reverse wave in which some countries shifted back to authoritarian government. Using concrete examples, empirical evidence, and insightful analysis, Huntington provides neither a theory nor a history of the third wave, but an explanation of why and how it occurred.

Factors responsible for the democratic trend include the legitimacy dilemmas of authoritarian regimes; economic and social development; the changed role of the Catholic Church; the impact of the United States, the European Community, and the Soviet Union; and the "snowballing" phenomenon: change in one country stimulating change in others. Five key elite groups within and outside the nondemocratic regime played roles in shaping the various ways democratization occurred. Compromise was key to all democratizations, and elections and nonviolent tactics also were central. New democracies must deal with the "torturer problem" and the "praetorian problem" and attempt to develop democratic values and processes. Disillusionment with democracy, Huntington argues, is necessary to consolidating democracy. He concludes the book with an analysis of the political, economic, and cultural factors that will decide whether or not the third wave continues.

Several "Guidelines for Democratizers" offer specific, practical suggestions for initiating and carrying out reform. Huntington's emphasis on practical application makes this book a valuable tool for anyone engaged in the democratization process. At this volatile time in history, Huntington's assessment of the processes of democratization is indispensable to understanding the future of democracy in the world.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780806125169
Publisher: University of Oklahoma Press
Publication date: 03/28/1993
Series: Julian J. Rothbaum Distinguished Lecture Series
Pages: 366
Sales rank: 713,330
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Samuel P. Huntington (1927-2008) was the Albert J. Weatherhead III University Professor at Harvard and former chairman of the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies. He authored many books on comparative politics and military affairs and served as Coordinator of Security Planning for the National Security Council. He is a founder of the journal Foreign Policy and a former president of the American Political Science Association.

Read an Excerpt

The Third Wave

Democratization in the Late Twentieth Century

By Samuel P. Huntington


Copyright © 1939 Farrar & Rinehart, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8061-2516-9




THE THIRD WAVE OF DEMOCRATIZATION in the modern world began, implausibly and unwittingly, at twenty-five minutes after midnight, Thursday, April 25, 1974, in Lisbon, Portugal, when a radio station played the song "Grandola Vila Morena." That broadcast was the go-ahead signal for the military units in and around Lisbon to carry out the plans for a coup d'etat that had been carefully drawn up by the young officers leading the Movimento das Forcas Armadas (MFA). The coup was carried out efficiently and successfully, with only minor resistance from the security police. Military units occupied key ministries, broadcasting stations, the post office, airports, and telephone exchanges. By late morning, crowds were flooding the streets, cheering the soldiers, and placing carnations in the barrels of their rifles. By late afternoon the deposed dictator, Marcello Caetano, had surrendered to the new military leaders of Portugal. The next day he flew into exile. So died the dictatorship that had been born in a similar military coup in 1926 and led for over thirty-five years by an austere civilian, António Salazar, working in close collaboration with Portugal's soldiers.

The April 25 coup was an implausible beginning of a worldwide movement to democracy because coups d'etat more frequently overthrow democratic regimes than introduce them. It was an unwitting beginning because the installation of democracy, much less the triggering of a global democratic movement, was far from the minds of leaders of the coup. The death of the dictatorship did not ensure the birth of democracy. It did, however, unleash a huge array of popular, social, and political forces that had been effectively suppressed during the dictatorship. For eighteen months after the April coup, Portugal was in turmoil. The MFA officers split into competing conservative, moderate, and Marxist factions. The political parties covered an equally wide spectrum, from the hard-line Communist party on the left to fascist groups on the right. Six provisional governments succeeded each other, each exercising less authority than its predecessor. Coups and countercoups were attempted. Workers and peasants struck, demonstrated, and seized factories, farms, and media. Moderate parties won the national elections on the anniversary of the coup in 1975, but by the fall of that year civil war appeared possible between the conservative north and the radical south.

The revolutionary upheaval in Portugal seemed, in many respects, to be a replay of 1917 Russia, with Caetano as Nicholas II, the April coup as the February Revolution, the dominant groups in the MFA as the Bolsheviks, similar widespread economic turmoil and popular upheaval, and even the equivalent of the Kornilov conspiracy in General Spinola's unsuccessful right-wing coup attempt in March 1975. The resemblance was not lost on acute observers. In September 1974 Mário Soares, foreign minister of the provisional government and leader of the Portuguese Socialist party, met with Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in Washington. Kissinger berated Soares and other moderates for not acting more decisively to head off a Marxist-Leninist dictatorship.

"You are a Kerensky.... I believe your sincerity, but you are naive," Kissinger told Soares.

"I certainly don't want to be a Kerensky," replied Soares.

"Neither did Kerensky," shot back Kissinger.

Portugal, however, turned out to be different from Russia. The Kerenskys won; democracy triumphed. Soares went on to become prime minister and later president. And the Lenin of the Portuguese revolution, the person who at the crucial moment deployed disciplined force to produce the political result he desired, was a taciturn prodemocracy colonel named António Ramalho Eanes who on November 25, 1975, crushed the radical leftist elements in the armed forces and ensured the future of democracy in Portugal.

The movement toward democracy in Portugal in 1974 and 1975 was dramatic but not unique. Less obvious democratic stirrings were occurring elsewhere. In 1973 in Brazil leaders of the outgoing government of Gen. Emílio Médici developed plans for political distensão or "decompression" and in 1974 Gen. Ernesto Geisel committed his new government to starting the process of political opening. In Spain Prime Minister Carlos Arias cautiously moved the Franco dictatorship in a liberalizing direction while the country awaited the death of the dictator. In Greece tensions were building up in the colonels' regime that led to its downfall in mid-1974 and, later that year, to the first democratically elected government in the new wave of transitions. During the following fifteen years this democratic wave became global in scope; about thirty countries shifted from authoritarianism to democracy, and at least a score of other countries were affected by the democratic wave.


The transitions to democracy between 1974 and 1990 are the subject of this book. The first step in dealing with this subject is to clarify the meaning of democracy and democratization as they are used in this book.

The concept of democracy as a form of government goes back to the Greek philosophers. Its modern usage, however, dates from the revolutionary upheavals in Western society at the end of the eighteenth century. In the mid-twentieth century three general approaches emerged in the debates over the meaning of democracy. As a form of government, democracy has been defined in terms of sources of authority for government, purposes served by government, and procedures for constituting government.

Serious problems of ambiguity and imprecision arise when democracy is defined in terms of either source of authority or purposes, and a procedural definition is used in this study. In other governmental systems people become leaders by reason of birth, lot, wealth, violence, cooptation, learning, appointment, or examination. The central procedure of democracy is the selection of leaders through competitive elections by the people they govern. The most important modern formulation of this concept of democracy was by Joseph Schumpeter in 1942. In his pathbreaking study, Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy, Schumpeter spelled out the deficiencies of what he termed the "classical theory of democracy," which defined democracy in terms of "the will of the people" (source) and "the common good" (purpose). Effectively demolishing these approaches to the subject, Schumpeter advanced what he labeled "another theory of democracy." The "democratic method," he said, "is that institutional arrangement for arriving at political decisions in which individuals acquire the power to decide by means of a competitive struggle for the people's vote."

For some while after World War II a debate went on between those determined, in the classical vein, to define democracy by source or purpose, and the growing number of theorists adhering to a procedural concept of democracy in the Schumpeterian mode. By the 1970s the debate was over, and Schumpeter had won. Theorists increasingly drew distinctions between rationalistic, utopian, idealistic definitions of democracy, on the one hand, and empirical, descriptive, institutional, and procedural definitions, on the other, and concluded that only the latter type of definition provided the analytical precision and empirical referents that make the concept a useful one. Sweeping discussions of democracy in terms of normative theory sharply declined, at least in American scholarly discussions, and were replaced by efforts to understand the nature of democratic institutions, how they function, and the reasons why they develop and collapse. The prevailing effort was to make democracy less of a "hurrah" word and more of a commonsense word.

Following in the Schumpeterian tradition, this study defines a twentieth-century political system as democratic to the extent that its most powerful collective decision makers are selected through fair, honest, and periodic elections in which candidates freely compete for votes and in which virtually all the adult population is eligible to vote. So defined, democracy involves the two dimensions—contestation and participation—that Robert Dahl saw as critical to his realistic democracy or polyarchy. It also implies the existence of those civil and political freedoms to speak, publish, assemble, and organize that are necessary to political debate and the conduct of electoral campaigns.

This procedural definition of democracy provides a number of benchmarks—grouped largely along Dahl's two dimensions—that make it possible to judge to what extent political systems are democratic, to compare systems, and to analyze whether systems are becoming more or less democratic. To the extent, for instance, that a political system denies voting participation to part of its society—as the South African system did to the 70 percent of its population that was black, as Switzerland did to the 50 percent of its population that was female, or as the United States did to the 10 percent of its population that were southern blacks—it is undemocratic. Similarly, a system is undemocratic to the extent that no opposition is permitted in elections, or that the opposition is curbed or harassed in what it can do, or that opposition newspapers are censored or closed down, or that votes are manipulated or miscounted. In any society, the sustained failure of the major opposition political party to win office necessarily raises questions concerning the degree of competition permitted by the system. In the late 1980s, the free-and-fair-elections criterion of democracy became more useful by the increasing observation of elections by international groups. By 1990 the point had been reached where the first election in a democratizing country would only be generally accepted as legitimate if it was observed by one or more reasonably competent and detached teams of international observers, and if the observers certified the election as meeting minimal standards of honesty and fairness.

The procedural approach to democracy accords with the commonsense uses of the term. We all know that military coups, censorship, rigged elections, coercion and harassment of the opposition, jailing of political opponents, and prohibition of political meetings are incompatible with democracy. We all know also that informed political observers can apply the procedural conditions of democracy to existing world political systems and rather easily come up with a list of those countries that are clearly democratic, those that are clearly not, and those that fall somewhere in between, and that with minor exceptions different observers will compose identical lists. We all know also that we can make and do make judgments as to how governments change over time and that no one would dispute the proposition that Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay were more democratic in 1986 than they were in 1976. Political regimes will never fit perfectly into intellectually defined boxes, and any system of classification has to accept the existence of ambiguous, borderline, and mixed cases. Historically, the Kuomintang (KMT) system on Taiwan, for instance, combined some elements of authoritarianism, democracy, and totalitarianism. In addition, governments that had democratic origins may end democracy by abolishing or severely limiting democratic procedures, as in Korea and Turkey in the late 1950s and in the Philippines in 1972. Yet with all its problems, the classification of regimes in terms of their degree of procedural democracy remains a relatively simple task.

If popular election of the top decision makers is the essence of democracy, then the critical point in the process of democratization is the replacement of a government that was not chosen this way by one that is selected in a free, open, and fair election. The overall process of democratization before and after that election, however, is usually complex and prolonged. It involves bringing about the end of the nondemocratic regime, the inauguration of the democratic regime, and then the consolidation of the democratic system. Liberalization, in contrast, is the partial opening of an authoritarian system short of choosing governmental leaders through freely competitive elections. Liberalizing authoritarian regimes may release political prisoners, open up some issues for public debate, loosen censorship, sponsor elections for offices that have little power, permit some renewal of civil society, and take other steps in a democratic direction, without submitting top decision makers to the electoral test. Liberalization may or may not lead to full-scale democratization.

Several additional points need to be made in defining democracy.

First, the definition of democracy in terms of elections is a minimal definition. To some people democracy has or should have much more sweeping and idealistic connotations. To them, "true democracy" means liberté, egalité, fraternité, effective citizen control over policy, responsible government, honesty and openness in politics, informed and rational deliberation, equal participation and power, and various other civic virtues. These are, for the most part, good things and people can, if they wish, define democracy in these terms. Doing so, however, raises all the problems that come up with the definitions of democracy by source or by purpose. Fuzzy norms do not yield useful analysis. Elections, open, free, and fair, are the essence of democracy, the inescapable sine qua non. Governments produced by elections may be inefficient, corrupt, shortsighted, irresponsible, dominated by special interests, and incapable of adopting policies demanded by the public good. These qualities may make such governments undesirable but they do not make them undemocratic. Democracy is one public virtue, not the only one, and the relation of democracy to other public virtues and vices can only be understood if democracy is clearly distinguished from other characteristics of political systems.

Second, conceivably a society could choose its political leaders through democratic means, but these political leaders might not exercise real power. They may be simply the fronts or puppets of some other group. To the extent that the most powerful collective decision makers are not chosen through elections, the political system is not democratic. Implicit in the concept of democracy, however, are limitations on power. In democracies elected decision makers do not exercise total power. They share power with other groups in society. If those democratically elected decision makers become, however, simply a facade for the exercise of much greater power by a nondemocratically chosen group, then clearly that political system is not democratic. Legitimate questions may be raised, for instance, as to whether the elected governments in Japan in the late 1920s and in Guatemala in the late 1980s were sufficiently dominated by their military as not to be truly democratic. It is also, however, easy for critics of a government, whether from the left or the right, to allege that the elected officials are simply the "tools" of some other group or that they exercise their authority only on the sufferance of and within severe constraints set by some other group. Such allegations are often made, and they may be true. But they should not be judged to be true until they have been demonstrated to be true. That may be difficult, but it is not impossible.

A third issue concerns the fragility or stability of a democratic political system. One could incorporate into a definition of democracy a concept of stability or institutionalization. This typically refers to the degree to which the political system may be expected to remain in existence. Stability is a central dimension in the analysis of any political system. A political system may, however, be more or less democratic and more or less stable. Systems that may be appropriately classified as equally democratic may differ greatly in their stability. Thus, in its survey of freedom in the world published at the beginning of 1984, Freedom House quite reasonably classified both New Zealand and Nigeria as "free." When that judgment was made, freedom may well have been no less in the latter than it was in the former. It was, however, much less stable: a military coup on New Year's Day 1984 effectively ended Nigerian democracy. Democratic and non-democratic systems may be created but they may or may not endure. The stability of a system differs from the nature of the system.

Fourth, there is the issue of whether to treat democracy and nondemocracy as a dichotomous or continuous variable. Many analysts have preferred the latter approach and have developed measures of democracy combining indicators of fairness of elections, restrictions on political parties, freedom of the press, and other criteria. This approach is useful for some purposes, such as identifying variations in the degree of democracy among countries (United States, Sweden, France, Japan) that would normally be considered to be democratic or variations in the degree of authoritarianism in nondemocratic countries. It does, however, pose many problems, such as the weighting of indicators. A dichotomous approach better serves the purpose of this study because our concern is with the transition from a nondemocratic regime to a democratic one. Democracy has, moreover, been defined in this study by a single, relatively clear and widely accepted criterion. Even when analysts use somewhat different measures, their judgments as to which political systems are democratic and which are not correlate to an extremely high degree. This study will, consequently, treat democracy as a dichotomous variable, recognizing that there will be some be-twixt-and-between cases (e.g., Greece, 1915–36; Thailand, 1980–; Senegal, 1974–) that may be appropriately classified "semidemocracies."


Excerpted from The Third Wave by Samuel P. Huntington. Copyright © 1939 Farrar & Rinehart, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Foreword, by Carl B. Albert,
1. What?,
2. Why?,
3. How? Processes of Democratization,
4. How? Characteristics of Democratization,
5. How Long?,
6. Whither?,

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