Thursday, April 13, 2017

Seva Gunitsky's "Aftershocks"

Seva Gunitsky is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Toronto.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Aftershocks: Great Powers and Domestic Reforms in the Twentieth Century, and reported the following:
Page 99 takes us right into the conclusion of the first case study chapter – the intense but failed wave of democratization that followed World War I. For a brief moment, it appeared that democracy was the only viable alternative. Almost all the new states created (or resurrected, in Poland’s case) by the war adopted democratic institutions like parliaments, universal suffrage, and proportional representation:
Such widespread consensus on the attraction of democracy would not resurface until the Soviet collapse seven decades later. Democracy seemed to offer a path toward both domestic and international legitimacy, and for those rulers who saw little value in such trifles, it was a way to modernize, strengthen, and stabilize their own fragile new states and societies.
As I argue in the book, sweeping waves of democratization are closely linked to abrupt shifts in the structure of global power. Domestic theories of democratization cannot say much about these recurring and wide-ranging cascades of reform. Instead, the hegemonic shock that followed WWI proved to be the decisive factor, for both material and ideological reasons:
The alternatives appeared either moribund (in the case of monarchical absolutism) or volatile (in the case of communism). A fledgling communist regime had appeared in Russia after the country’s brief flirtation with liberal democracy, but it was the product of a war-born, minority-forged coup facing a bitter civil war and foreign invasions...
As with other abrupt hegemonic shocks of the twentieth century, the aftermath of the Great War produced powerful but ultimately short-lasting pressures for reforms. The initial systemic pressures that pushed for democratization soon faded away:
The flowering of democratic regimes on the European continent was a period of hope born from tragedy, a moment of crisis transformed into opportunity. This cascade of postwar reforms was intense, widespread, ambitious—and ultimately unsuccessful.
One of my basic arguments is that failure is actually “baked” into democratic waves from the start, since the same hegemonic forces that create institutional cascades also sow the seeds of their demise. Hegemonic shocks produce waves, but they also produce periods of ‘democratic overstretch’:
...Yet the fundamental premise of the Versailles treaty—the idea of democracy as the answer to the problems of modernity—was not solidified by the postwar settlement. It was, in retrospect, an ill-fated victory. ...The Soviet Union after 1923 and Germany after 1933— two states excluded from the negotiations at Versailles—would in time offer their own visions of the modern state.
So begins a century of shocks and waves – a struggle between competing superpowers and the institutional alternatives that they embodied. Hegemonic shocks became the culminations of that struggle, the critical junctures that catalyzed immense waves of domestic reforms.

And that’s the basic contention – the history of modern regime evolution, and especially democratization, cannot be understood fully without taking into account the consequences of these dramatic systemic transformations.
Learn more about Aftershocks at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue