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Authoritarianism and the Elite Origins of Democracy
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This book argues that - in terms of institutional design, the allocation of power and privilege, and the lived experiences of citizens - democracy often does not restart the political game after displacing authoritarianism. Democratic institutions are frequently designed by the outgoing authoritarian regime to shield incumbent elites from the rule of law and give them an unfair advantage over politics and the economy after democratization. Authoritarianism and the Elite Origins of Democracy systematically documents and analyzes the constitutional tools that outgoing authoritarian elites use to accomplish these ends, such as electoral system design, legislative appointments, federalism, legal immunities, constitutional tribunal design, and supermajority thresholds for change. The study provides wide-ranging evidence for these claims using data that spans the globe and dates from 1800 to the present. Albertus and Menaldo also conduct detailed case studies of Chile and Sweden. In doing so, they explain why some democracies successfully overhaul their elite-biased constitutions for more egalitarian social contracts.


'In this important and original study Albertus and Menaldo help answer a critical question for comparative politics - why do democratic transitions so often fail to eliminate elite dominance of a country’s politics? Their conclusions will be of interest to a very wide range of scholars.'

David Stasavage - Julius Silver Professor, New York University

'Albertus and Menaldo offer an audacious set of claims supported with rigorous and rich comparative and historical research. Democracy’s success (or failure) depends not on the people but on the competition among elites. The origins of nearly all democracies are in elite bargains, renegotiations among elites are generally what sustain democracy, and the failure of elites to reach agreements is what dooms them. Thus, it should be no surprise that inequality is generally part and parcel of democratic polities and that authoritarianism is often a short step away. This exciting reinterpretation of the historical record offers a new perspective on the problems confronting contemporary governments.'

Margaret Levi - Sara Miller McCune Director, Stanford University

'For generations scholars have seen democratic transitions as triumphant moments of victory by the shackled masses. But what if old authoritarian elites are able to maintain many of their privileges and powers under democracy? In Albertus and Menaldo’s groundbreaking new work they show that outgoing elites are often able to ‘game’ democracy by structuring the transition and developing democratic institutions that continue to represent their interests. With this powerful new view of the origins and success of democracy, developed through a wide array of convincing historical and statistical analysis, the authors fundamentally reshape the way we think about elites and democracy.'

Ben Ansel - University of Oxford

'Authoritarianism and the Elite Origins of Democracy simultaneously takes aim at distributive understandings of democratic origins and those who argue that inequality stems from global capitalism. Amassing a powerful array of evidence across time and geographic space, Michael Albertus and Victor Menaldo show that elite-biased democracy both explains democratization under high inequality and the persistence and expansion of that inequality. I harbor no illusions that this book will end the debates over democracy’s origins and quality, but it greatly enriches and will invigorate them both.'

Benjamin Smith - University of Florida

'… Authoritarianism and the Elite Origins of Democracy is an outstanding book. It brings to light crucial elements of why democracy so often fails to fulfill its promises. The variety of methodological approaches enhances the book.'

Marie-Josée Lavallée Source: H-Socialisms

‘The book represents an important contribution to the study of democratization and opens new horizons for students of the quality of democracy as well as authoritarian regime survival.’

Jia Li Source: Democratization

‘… it is a contribution to several strands of literature, both theoretical and empirical … excellent book … an excellent contribution …’

Paul Dragos Aligica Source: Public Choice

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