Hostname: page-component-6b989bf9dc-476zt Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-04-13T17:29:34.145Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

From Shocks to Waves: Hegemonic Transitions and Democratization in the Twentieth Century

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  27 June 2014

Get access


What causes democratic waves? This article puts forward a theory of institutional waves that focuses on the effects of systemic transformations. It argues that abrupt shifts in the distribution of power among leading states create unique and powerful incentives for sweeping domestic reforms. A variety of statistical tests reveals strong support for the idea that shifts in hegemonic power have shaped waves of democracy, fascism, and communism in the twentieth century, independent of domestic factors or horizontal diffusion. These “hegemonic shocks” produce windows of opportunity for external regime imposition, enable rising powers to rapidly expand networks of trade and patronage, and inspire imitators by credibly revealing hidden information about relative regime effectiveness to foreign audiences. I outline these mechanisms of coercion, influence, and emulation that connect shocks to waves, empirically test their relationship, and illustrate the theory with two case studies—the wave of democratic transitions after World War I, and the fascist wave of the late interwar period. In sum, democracy in the twentieth century cannot be fully understood without examining the effects of hegemonic shocks.

Research Article
Copyright © The IO Foundation 2014 

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Auden, W.H. 1940. Another Time: Poems. New York: Random House.Google Scholar
Bader, Julia, Grävingholt, Jörn, and Kästner, Antje. 2010. Would Autocracies Promote Autocracy? A Political Economy Perspective on Regime-Type Export in Regional Neighborhoods. Contemporary Politics 16 (1):81100.Google Scholar
Barbieri, Katherine, and Keshk, Omar. 2012. Correlates of War Project Trade Data Set Codebook, Version 3.0. Available at <>. Accessed 5 February 2014..+Accessed+5+February+2014.>Google Scholar
Barro, Robert J. 1999. Determinants of Democracy. Journal of Political Economy 107 (S6):158–83.Google Scholar
Bearce, David H., and Tirone, Daniel C.. 2010. Foreign Aid Effectiveness and the Strategic Goals of Donor Governments. Journal of Politics 72 (3):837–51.Google Scholar
Berman, Sheri. 2006. The Primacy of Politics: Social Democracy and the Making of Europe's Twentieth Century. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Bermeo, Nancy. 1997. Getting Mad or Going Mad? Citizens, Scarcity and the Breakdown of Democracy in Interwar Europe. Working Paper 97.06. Irvine: Center for the Study of Democracy, University of California–Irvine.Google Scholar
Bernstein, William J. 2008. A Splendid Exchange: How Trade Shaped the World. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press.Google Scholar
Bethell, Leslie, and Roxborough, Ian. 1992. Latin America Between the Second World War and the Cold War, 1944–1948. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Boix, Carles. 2011. Democracy, Development, and the International System. American Political Science Review 105 (4):809–28.Google Scholar
Boix, Carles, Miller, Michael K., and Rosato, Sebastian. 2013. A Complete Dataset of Political Regimes, 1800–2007. Comparative Political Studies 46 (12):1523–54.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Brambor, Thomas, Clark, William Roberts, and Golder, Matt. 2006. Understanding Interaction Models: Improving Empirical Analyses. Political Analysis 14:6382.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Brands, Hal. 2010. Latin America's Cold War. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
Bremmer, Ian. 2009. State Capitalism Comes of Age: The End of the Free Market? Foreign Affairs 88 (3):4055.Google Scholar
Brinks, Daniel, and Coppedge, Michael. 2006. Diffusion Is No Illusion: Neighbor Emulation in the Third Wave of Democracy. Comparative Political Studies 39 (4):463–89.Google Scholar
Bryce, James. 1921. Modern Democracies, Vol. 1. New York: Macmillan.Google Scholar
Bueno de Mesquita, Bruce, and Downs, George W.. 2006. Intervention and Democracy. International Organization 60 (3):627–49.Google Scholar
Correlates of War Project. 2008. State System Membership List, v2008.1.Google Scholar
Davies, Norman. 1996. Europe: A History. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Decalo, Samuel. 1992. The Process, Prospects, and Constraints of Democratization in Africa. African Affairs 91 (362):735.Google Scholar
de Grazia, Victoria. 2005. Irresistible Empire: America's Advance Through Twentieth-Century Europe. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
Dickstein, Morris. 2009. Dancing in the Dark: A Cultural History of the Great Depression. New York: Norton.Google Scholar
Diggins, John. 1966. Flirtation with Fascism: American Pragmatic Liberals and Mussolini's Italy. American Historical Review 71 (2):487506.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Djilas, Milovan. 1962. Conversations with Stalin. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World.Google Scholar
Dower, John. 1999. Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II. New York: Norton.Google Scholar
Dunning, Thad. 2004. Conditioning the Effects of Aid: Cold War Politics, Donor Credibility, and Democracy in Africa. International Organization 58 (2):409–23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Easterly, William, Satyanath, Shanker, and Berger, Daniel. 2008. Superpower Interventions and Their Consequences for Democracy: An Empirical Inquiry. National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper 13992. Available at <>. Accessed 15 May 2014.CrossRef.+Accessed+15+May+2014.>Google Scholar
Elkins, Zachary, and Simmons, Beth A.. 2005. On Waves, Clusters, and Diffusion: A Conceptual Framework. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 598:3351.Google Scholar
Elsenhans, Hartmut. 1991. The Great Depression of the 1930s and the Third World. International Studies 28 (3):273–90.Google Scholar
Fish, M. Steven. 2002. Islam and Authoritarianism. World Politics 55 (1):437.Google Scholar
Frieden, Jeffry A. 2006. Global Capitalism: Its Fall and Rise in the Twentieth Century. New York: Norton.Google Scholar
Furet, Francois. 1999. The Passing of an Illusion: The Idea of Communism in the Twentieth Century. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
Gat, Azar. 2007. The Return of Authoritarian Great Powers. Foreign Affairs 86 (4):5969.Google Scholar
Gates, Scott, Hegre, Hvard, Jones, Mark P., and Strand, Hvard. 2007. Democratic Waves? Global Patterns of Democratization, 1800–2000. Paper presented at the fifteenth annual meeting of the National Political Science Conference, January, Trondheim, Norway.Google Scholar
Giddings, Franklin H. 1917. The Bases of a Just and Enduring Peace. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 72:8388.Google Scholar
Gilpin, Robert. 1981. War and Change in World Politics. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Gleditsch, Kristian S., and Ward, Michael D.. 2006. Diffusion and the International Context of Democratization. International Organization 60 (4):911–33.Google Scholar
Götz, Norbert, and Patel, Kiran K.. 2006. Facing the Fascist Model: Discourse and the Construction of Labour Services in the USA and Sweden in the 1930s and 1940s. Journal of Contemporary History 41 (1):5773.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Gourevitch, Peter. 1978. The Second Image Reversed: The International Sources of Domestic Politics. International Organization 32 (4):881911.Google Scholar
Gourevitch, Peter. 1986. Politics in Hard Times: Comparative Responses to International Economic Crises. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
Greenhill, Brian. 2010. The Company You Keep: International Socialization and the Diffusion of Human Rights Norms. International Studies Quarterly 54 (1):127–45.Google Scholar
Hafner-Burton, Emilie M. 2005. Trading Human Rights: How Preferential Trade Agreements Influence Government Repression. International Organization 59 (3):593629.Google Scholar
Halper, Stefan A. 2010. The Beijing Consensus: How China's Authoritarian Model Will Dominate the Twenty-First Century. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
Hehn, Paul N. 2005. A Low Dishonest Decade: The Great Powers, Eastern Europe, and the Economic Origins of World War II, 1930–1941. New York: Continuum.Google Scholar
Hicks, Granville. 1946. The Spectre That Haunts the World. Harper's Magazine 192 (1153):536–42.Google Scholar
Hoare, Samuel. 1938. Telegram to the Foreign Office No. 103. British Documents on the Danubian Era. In The Shadow of the Swastika, by Vago, Bela, 249–51. Westmead, UK: Saxon House, 1975.Google Scholar
Hopkins, Ernest M. 1916. Democracy and Industry. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 65:5767.Google Scholar
Huntington, Samuel. 1991. The Third Wave: Democratization in the Late Twentieth Century. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.Google Scholar
Hyde, Susan D. 2011. International Dimensions of Elections. In The Dynamics of Democratization: Dictatorship, Development, and Diffusion, edited by Brown, Nathan J., 266–82. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
Ikenberry, G. John. 2000. After Victory: Institutions, Strategic Restraint, and the Rebuilding of Order After Major Wars. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
Ikenberry, G. John, and Kupchan, Charles A.. 1990. Socialization and Hegemonic Power. International Organization 44 (3):283315.Google Scholar
Jacoby, Wade. 2006. Inspiration, Coalition, and Substitution: External Influences on Postcommunist Transformations. World Politics 58 (4):623–51.Google Scholar
Janos, Andrew C. 1970. The One-Party State and Social Mobilization. In Authoritarian Politics in Modern Society: The Dynamics of Established One-Party Systems, edited by Huntington, Samuel and Moore, Clement, 204–36. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
Johnston, Alastair I. 2008. Social States: China in International Institutions, 1980–2000. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
Judt, Tony. 2005. Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945. New York: Penguin Press.Google Scholar
Karpat, Kemal H. 1959. Turkey's Politics: The Transition to a Multi-Party System. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
Kastellec, Jonathan P., and Leoni, Eduardo L.. 2007. Using Graphs Instead of Tables in Political Science. Perspectives on Politics 5 (4):755–71.Google Scholar
Kayser, Mark A. 2007. How Domestic Is Domestic Politics? Globalization and Elections. Annual Review of Political Science 10:341–62.Google Scholar
Kelley, Judith G. 2012. Monitoring Democracy: When International Election Observation Works, and Why It Often Fails. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
Kennedy, Paul. 1987. The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers: Economic Change and Military Conflict from 1500 to 2000. New York: Random House.Google Scholar
Kier, Elizabeth, and Krebs, Ronald, eds. 2010. In War's Wake: International Conflict and the Fate of Liberal Democracy. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Kundera, Milan. 1982 [1979]. The Book of Laughter and Forgetting. New York: Penguin Books.Google Scholar
Kurzman, Charles. 2008. Democracy Denied, 1905–1915: Intellectuals and the Fate of Democracy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
Lebow, Richard N. 2008. A Cultural Theory of International Relations. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Leeson, Peter T., and Dean, Andrea M.. 2009. The Democratic Domino Theory: An Empirical Investigation. American Journal of Political Science 53 (3):533–51.Google Scholar
Levitsky, Steven, and Way, Lucan A.. 2002. The Rise of Competitive Authoritarianism. Journal of Democracy 13 (2):5165.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Levitsky, Steven, and Way, Lucan A.. 2010. Competitive Authoritarianism: Hybrid Regimes After the Cold War. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Li, Quan, and Reuveny, Rafael. 2003. Economic Globalization and Democracy: An Empirical Analysis. British Journal of Political Science 33 (1):2954.Google Scholar
Loaeza, Soledad. 2009. Too Close for Conflict: Mexican Authoritarianism as a Response to US Power, 1944–1949. Paper presented at the 105th annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, September, Toronto, Canada.Google Scholar
López-Córdova, J. Ernesto, and Meissner, Christopher M.. 2008. The Impact of International Trade on Democracy: A Long-Run Perspective. World Politics 60 (4):539–75.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Maddison, Angus. 2003. The World Economy: Historical Statistics. Paris: Development Centre of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.Google Scholar
Manela, Erez. 2007. The Wilsonian Moment: Self-Determination and the International Origins of Anticolonial Nationalism. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Mannheim, Karl. 1940. Man and Society in an Age of Reconstruction. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner, and Co.Google Scholar
Mansfield, Edward D., and Pevehouse, Jon C.. 2008. Democratization and the Varieties of International Organizations. Journal of Conflict Resolution 52(2):269–94.Google Scholar
Marinov, Nikolay. 2005. Do Economic Sanctions Destabilize Country Leaders? American Journal of Political Science 49 (3):564–76.Google Scholar
Markoff, John. 1996. Waves of Democracy: Social Movements and Political Change. Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press.Google Scholar
Mazower, Mark. 1998. Dark Continent: Europe's Twentieth Century. New York: Vintage Books.Google Scholar
Meernik, James, Krueger, Eric L., and Poe, Steven C.. 1998. Testing Models of US Foreign Policy: Foreign Aid During and After the Cold War. Journal of Politics 60 (1):6385.Google Scholar
Milner, Helen, and Mukherjee, Bumba. 2009. Democratization and Economic Globalization. Annual Review of Political Science 12:163–81.Google Scholar
Munck, Gerardo L. 1994. Review: Democratic Transitions in Comparative Perspective. Comparative Politics 26 (3):355–75.Google Scholar
Narizny, Kevin. 2012. Anglo-American Primacy and the Global Spread of Democracy: An International Genealogy. World Politics 64 (2):341–73.Google Scholar
O'Loughlin, John, Ward, Michael D., Lofdahl, Corey L., Cohen, Jordin S., Brown, David S., Reilly, David, Gleditsch, Kristian S., and Shin, Michael. 1998. The Diffusion of Democracy, 1946–1994. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 88 (3):545–74.Google Scholar
Olsson, Ola. 2009. On the Democratic Legacy of Colonialism. Journal of Comparative Economics 37(4): 534–51.Google Scholar
Oren, Ido. 2002. Our Enemies and US: America's Rivalries and the Making of Political Science. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press Google Scholar
Orwell, George. 1968 [1941]. The Lion and the Unicorn. The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters of George Orwell, Vol. 2. London: Secker and Warburg.Google Scholar
Owen, John M. 2002. The Foreign Imposition of Domestic Institutions. International Organization 56 (2):375409.Google Scholar
Owen, John M. 2010. The Clash of Ideas in World Politics: Transnational Networks, States, and Regime Change, 1510–2010. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
Palmer, R.R., Colton, Joel, and Kramer, Lloyd S.. 2002. A History of the Modern World, 9th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
Payne, Stanley G. 1995. A History of Fascism, 1914–1945. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.Google Scholar
Peic, Goran, and Reiter, Dan. 2011. Foreign-Imposed Regime Change, State Power and Civil War Onset, 1920–2000. British Journal of Political Science 41 (3):453–75.Google Scholar
Pevehouse, Jon C. 2005. Democracy From Above: Regional Organizations and Democratization. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Pickering, Jeffrey, and Peceny, Mark. 2006. Forging Democracy at Gunpoint. International Studies Quarterly 50 (3):539–59.Google Scholar
Polanyi, Karl. 2001 [1944]. The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time. Boston: Beacon Press.Google Scholar
Przeworski, Adam, Alvarez, Michael E., Cheibub, Jose Antonio, and Limongi, Fernando. 2000. Democracy and Development: Political Institutions and Well-Being in the World, 1950–1990. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Resende-Santos, João. 2007. Neorealism, States, and the Modern Army. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Rigobón, Roberto, and Rodrik, Dani. 2005. Rule of Law, Democracy, Openness, and Income. Economics of Transition 13 (3):533–64.Google Scholar
Rothschild, Joseph. 1974. East Central Europe Between the Two World Wars. Seattle: University of Washington Press.Google Scholar
Schivelbusch, Wolfgang. 2006. Three New Deals: Reflections on Roosevelt's America, Mussolini's Italy, and Hitler's Germany, 1933–1939. New York: Henry Holt and Co.Google Scholar
Seigo, Nakano. 1995. The Need for a Totalitarian Japan. In Fascism, edited by Griffin, Roger, 239. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Seton-Watson, Hugh. 1979. The Age of Fascism and Its Legacy. In International Fascism: New Thoughts and New Approaches, edited by Mosse, George L., 357–76. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
Simensen, Jarle. 1999. Democracy and Globalization: 1989 and the “Third Wave.” Journal of World History 10 (2):391411.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Simmons, Beth A. 2009. Mobilizing for Human Rights: International Law in Domestic Politics. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Simmons, Beth A., Dobbin, Frank, and Garrett, Geoffrey. 2006. The International Diffusion of Liberalism: Introduction. International Organization 60 (4):781810.Google Scholar
Singer, J. David. 1987. Reconstructing the Correlates of War Dataset on Material Capabilities of States, 1816–1985. International Interactions 14 (2):115–32.Google Scholar
Smith, Peter H. 2005. Democracy in Latin America: Political Change in Comparative Perspective. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Smith, T. V. 1927. Review of “Democracy under Revision” by H.G. Wells. Social Service Review 1 (4):665–66.Google Scholar
Smith, Tony. 1994. America's Mission: The United States and the Worldwide Struggle for Democracy in the Twentieth Century. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
Snyder, Timothy. 2011. Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
Sontag, Raymond. 1971. A Broken World: 1919–1939. New York: Harper and Row.Google Scholar
Starr, Harvey. 1991. Democratic Dominoes: Diffusion Approaches to the Spread of Democracy in the International System. Journal of Conflict Resolution 35 (2):356–81.Google Scholar
Starr, Paul. 2010. Dodging a Bullet: Democracy's Gains in Modern War. In In War's Wake: International Conflict and the Fate of Liberal Democracy, edited by Krebs, Elizabeth Kierand Ronald, 5066. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Stern, Fritz. 1997. The New Democracies in Crisis in Interwar Europe. In Democracy's Victory and Crisis, edited by Hadenius, Axel, 1523. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Stokes, Gale. 1993. The Walls Came Tumbling Down: The Collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Stone, Albert E. Jr. 1960. Seward Collins and the American Review: Experiment in Pro-Fascism, 1933–37. American Quarterly 12 (1):319.Google Scholar
Strayer, Robert. 1998. Why Did the Soviet Union Collapse? Understanding Historical Change. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe.Google Scholar
Svolik, Milan. 2008. Authoritarian Reversals and Democratic Consolidation. American Political Science Review 102 (2):153–68.Google Scholar
Vinen, Richard. 2000. A History in Fragments: Europe in the Twentieth Century. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press.Google Scholar
Waltz, Kenneth N. 1979. Theory of International Politics. New York: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
Whitman, James Q. 1991. Of Corporatism, Fascism, and the New Deal. The American Journal of Comparative Law 39 (4):747–78.Google Scholar
Wohlforth, William C. 1999. The Stability of a Unipolar World. International Security 24 (1):541.Google Scholar
Wright, Joseph. 2009. How Foreign Aid Can Foster Democratization in Authoritarian Regimes. American Journal of Political Science 53 (3):552–71.Google Scholar
Supplementary material: PDF

Gunitsky Supplementary Material

Appendix 1

Download Gunitsky Supplementary Material(PDF)
PDF 74.9 KB
Supplementary material: PDF

Gunitsky Supplementary Material

Appendix 2

Download Gunitsky Supplementary Material(PDF)
PDF 608.1 KB
Supplementary material: PDF

Gunitsky Supplementary Material

Supplementary Material

Download Gunitsky Supplementary Material(PDF)
PDF 212.7 KB
Supplementary material: File

Gunitsky Supplementary Material

Supplementary Material

Download Gunitsky Supplementary Material(File)
File 13.4 MB