Published online by Cambridge University Press: 15 December 2015
Historical institutionalism challenged older forms of comparative historical analysis by moving away from purely structural explanations of historical outcomes. Instead it posited that there were critical junctures in which actors chose between institutional alternatives, which in turn led to path dependence. I examine a phenomenon neglected both by historical institutionalism and older forms of historical analysis—chronic instability. Instead of institutional lock-in, some junctures lead to periods of instability in which a series of regimes replace each other in rapid succession. Three different causal mechanisms that routinely contribute to chronic instability—external shocks, changing configurations of actors, and disjuncture between the logic of change and mechanisms of reproduction—are explored in depth. The plausibility of the theory is illustrated by an examination of regime instability in Germany from the collapse of the Empire in 1918 through the founding of the Federal Republic in 1949.