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The Paradox of “Warlord” Democracy: A Theoretical Investigation


Political theorists from Machiavelli to Huntington have denied the possibility of popular government arising out of the chaos of civil war, instead prescribing an intermediate stage of one-man rule by a Prince, Leviathan, or a military dictator. Based on recent empirical evidence of post-civil war democratization in El Salvador, Mozambique, and elsewhere, I show that democracy can arise directly from anarchy. Predatory warring factions choose the citizenry and democratic procedures over a Leviathan when (1) their economic interests depend on productive investment by the citizens, (2) citizens' political preferences ensure that power allocation will be less biased under democracy than under a Leviathan, and (3) there is an external agency (e.g., the United Nations) that mediates and supervises joint disarmament and state-building. Ultimately, I discuss the implications of this argument for the basic intuitions of classical political theory and contemporary social theory regarding democratization and authoritarianism.

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Associate Professor, Department of Politics and Economics, New York University, 726 Broadway, New York, NY 10003-1567 (
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