Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

The Autocratic Legacy of Early Statehood


This article documents that precolonial state development was an impediment to the development of democracy outside Europe, because indigenous state institutions constrained the European colonial endeavor and limited the diffusion of European institutions and ideas. Some countries were strong enough to resist colonization; others had enough state infrastructure that the colonizers would rule through existing institutions. Neither group therefore experienced institutional transplantation or European settlement. Less developed states, in contrast, were easier to colonize and were often colonized with institutional transplantation and an influx of settlers carrying ideals of parliamentarism. Using OLS and IV estimation, I present statistical evidence of an autocratic legacy of early statehood and document the proposed causal channel for a large sample of non-European countries. The conclusion is robust to different samples, different democracy indices, an array of exogenous controls, and several alternative theories of the causes and correlates of democracy.

Corresponding author
Jacob Gerner Hariri is a Ph.D. fellow, Department of Political Science, University of Copenhagen, Øster Farimagsgade 5, DK-1353 Copenhagen K, Denmark (
Linked references
Hide All

This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

Daron Acemoglu , Simon Johnson , and James A. Robinson . 2001. “The Colonial Origins of Comparative Development: An Empirical Investigation.” American Economic Review 91 (5): 13691401.

Daron Acemoglu , Simon Johnson , James A. Robinson , and Pierre Yared . 2008. “Income and Democracy.” American Economic Review 98 (3): 808–42.

Alberto Alesina , Arnaud Devleeschauwer , William Easterly , Sercio Kurlat , and Romain Wacziarg . 2003. “Fractionalization.” Journal of Economic Growth 8: 155–94.

Robert H. Bates , and Donald Lien 1985. “A Note on Taxation, Development and Representative Government.” Politics and Society 14: 5370.

Michael Balter . 2007. “Seeking Agriculture's Ancient Roots.” Science 316 (5833): 1830–35.

Eva. Bellin 2004. “The Robustness of Authoritarianism in the Middle East: Exceptionalism in Comparative Perspective.” Comparative Politics 36 (2): 139–57.

Bruce Berman . 1984. “Structure and Process in the Bureaucratic States of Colonial Africa.” Development and Change 15: 161202.

Valerie Bunce . 2000. “Comparative Democratization: Big and Bounded Generalizations.” Comparative Political Studies 33: 703–34.

Steve Bruce . 2006. “Did Protestantism Create Democracy?Democratization 11 (4): 320.

Giovanni Capoccia , and Daniel Ziblatt 2010. “The Historical Turn in Democratization Studies: A New Research Agenda for Europe and Beyond.” Comparative Political Studies 43 (8/9): 931–68.

Areendam Chanda , and Louis Putterman 2005. “State Effectiveness, Economic Growth, and the Age of States”. In States and Development: Historical Antecedents of Stagnation and Advance, eds. M. Lange and D. Rueschemeyer. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 6991.

Areendam Chanda , and Louis Putterman 2007. “Early Starts, Reversals, and Catch-up in the Process of Economic Development.” Scandinavian Journal of Economics 109 (2): 387413.

Jose Antonio Cheibub , Jennifer Gandhi , and James Raymond Vreeland 2009. “Democracy and Dictatorship Revisited.” Public Choice 143 (1/2): 67101.

Elisabeth Gilmore , Niels Petter Gleditsch , Päivi Lujala , and Jan Ketil Rod 2005. “Conflict Diamonds: A New Dataset.” Conflict Management and Peace Science 22: 257–72.

Robert E. Hall , and Charles I. Jones . 1999. “Why Do Some Countries Produce So Much More Output per Worker than Others?Quarterly Journal of Economics 114 (1): 83–116.

Jack P. Greene 2007. “Traditions of Consensual Governance in the Construction of State Authority in the Early Modern Empires in America.” In Realities of Representation: State Building in Early Modern Europe and European America. ed. M. Jansson . New York: Palgrave MacMillan:171–86.

Samuel Huntington . 1993. “The Clash of Civilizations?Foreign Affairs 72 (3): 2249.

Marius B. Jansen 2000. The Making of Modern Japan. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Matthew Lange . 2004. “British Colonial Legacies and Political Development.” World Development 32 (6): 905–22.

Matthew Lange . 2005. “British Colonial State Legacies and Development Trajectories: A Statistical Analysis of Direct and Indirect Rule.” In States and Development: Historical Antecedents of Stagnation and Advance. eds. M. Lange and D. Rueschemeyer. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 117–39.

Nathan Nunn , and Diego Puga . 2012. “Ruggedness: The Blessing of Bad Geography.” Review of Economics and Statistics 94 (1): 2036.

Ola Olsson . 2009. “On the Democratic Legacy of Colonialism.” Journal of Comparative Economics 37: 534–51.

Ola Olsson , and Douglas A. Hibbs Jr. 2005. “Biogeography and Long-run Economic Development.” European Economic Review 49: 909–38.

Dani Rodrik , Arvind Subramanian , and Francesco Trebbi . 2004. “Institutions Rule: The Primacy of Institutions over Geography and Integration in Economic Development.” Journal of Economic Growth 9: 131–65.

Geoffrey V. Scammell 1989. The First Imperial Age: European Overseas Expansion c. 1400–1715. New York: Routledge.

Dan Slater . 2003. “Iron Cage in an Iron Fist: Authoritarian Institutions and the Personalization of Power in Malaysia.” Comparative Politics 36 (1): 81101.

Kathleen Thelen , and Sven Steinmo . 1992. “Historical Institutionalism in Comparative Politics”. In Structuring Politics: Historical Institutionalism in Comparative Analysis, eds. S. Steinmo , K. Thelen , and F. Longstreth . Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1–32.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

American Political Science Review
  • ISSN: 0003-0554
  • EISSN: 1537-5943
  • URL: /core/journals/american-political-science-review
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score