Democratization and Nationalist Conflict
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A scholarly thesis about the perils and difficulties involved in the transition from tyranny to participatory government.

Snyder (Political Science/Columbia) finds a correlation between a collapsing central authority (followed by a quickly emerging but immature democratization process) and the newly aroused ethnic conflicts that have sprung up in recent years. He suggests policies that would make such transitions safer, mainly by not rushing democratic political structures into place before the logical stages of progress have been achieved. Snyder also argues that a controlled media in the early phases of democratization may create national mythmaking, and that this may deter the development of democratic institutions (as was the case in Germany before WWI and WWII). He bases his theories upon the historical experiences of Germany, revolutionary France, Serbia, India, postcolonial Africa, and other nations with weak or nonexistent traditions of democratic government. Some of these nations’ democratic traditions were too weak to offset the powerful forces of ethnic nationalism that, once unleashed, brought violent conflicts against real or perceived enemies (as in Bosnia, Kosovo, Croatia, etc.). The refusal of discredited ruling parties to accept electoral defeat, combined with immoderate appeals to the old ethnic groups that were once held in check by a strong central government, will inevitably present a real and profound danger to peoples not used to democracy. In contrast, Snyder argues, civic identity and civic nationalization divided people the least after the fall of communism (as in Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Ukraine, etc.). He believes that the preconditions of democracy must be in place in order for it to develop sanely—and in order to avoid the ethnic nationalism of hate and civil war that can be driven by manipulating political leaders.

Snyder presents logical theories supported by historical studies that question the undue optimism of a rush to an immature liberal democracy at the tragic cost of bloody strife and loss of freedom. National leaders should take notice.

Pub Date: April 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-393-04881-0
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 2000


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