Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Michael K. Miller's "Shock to the System"

Michael K. Miller is an Associate Professor of Political Science and International Affairs at George Washington University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Shock to the System: Coups, Elections, and War on the Road to Democratization, and reported the following:
Shock to the System is all about changing people’s ideas about how democratization happens. Page 99 comes in the middle of the third chapter on how major violent events like coups, civil wars, and assassinations precede democratization surprisingly often. Combined with their international counterparts (like loss in a foreign war), these violent “shocks” occur before nearly three in four democratic transitions since 1800.

Specifically, page 99 is near the beginning of the discussion of civil wars. Unfortunately, that beginning has one page of lit review and that page is number 99. Sometimes the roulette wheel lands on green. I give a brief idea of how previous scholars have connected civil wars and democratization:
At first glance, civil wars present an unlikely starting point for democratization given the extent of violence and difficulty of compromise in such polarized contexts. Yet several scholars argue that civil war can provide a democratic opening by creating a power balance between the state and rebels, or at least sufficiently threatening elites that they prefer conceding to democracy. From there, the warring parties can agree to a mutually satisfactory democratic bargain.
I proceed to mention several empirical findings showing that civil wars, at least in the right contexts, can increase the likelihood of democratization. In addition, I mention the large literature on “power-sharing,” political strategies prominent in post-civil war peace-building that try to limit the concentration of power and encourage prior combatants to buy into democracy.

The page 99 test nicely showcases a major theme of the book: power. My central argument is that violent shocks encourage democratization by disrupting autocratic regimes and leaving them insecure in power. As a result, giving in to democratization is less of a sacrifice and may even be a salvation. The same power logic explains the other major path to democratization, in which a ruling party voluntarily allows the transition because its leaders believe (correctly) that they will continue to compete and win power in democracy. Once again, the context limits the loss of power, smoothing along the transition.

Although it captures the logic, the content of page 99 is misleading as the book is not lit-review heavy. Most of this civil war section is on specific cases, with the most attention on Nicaragua’s transition after the Sandinista victory and the Philippines’ democratization during a brutal Communist rebellion. Later in the book, I confirm quantitatively that civil wars predict democratization, with the effect mostly limited to the aftermath of stalemates.
Follow Michael K. Miller on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue