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Volume 55 / Social Sciences


DAVID W. DENT, Professor of Political Science, Towson State University

THE COMPLEXITY OF POLITICAL transformation and democratization are clearly the dominant subjects of political science research on Latin America, continuing a trend that started with HLAS 51. Yet, the struggle to understand political change in Latin America in the aftermath of the Cold War has not produced a consensus on the meaning and consequences of current democratic trends in the region. New and interesting topics of investigation are beginning to appear and add more insights into the democratization debate and efforts to understand the government and politics of the region. The following topics and works illustrate major trends in the literature.

Democratic Theory. Theoretical dimensions of the democratization debate center on a number of conceptual problems confronting scholars. In his "On the State, Democratization and some Conceptual Problems" (item bi 93024558), O'Donnell argues that democratization cannot be understood unless current legal/constitutional dimensions of the State are revised. Loveman's The constitution of tyranny (item bi 94004605) is also cognizant of the need for fundamental changes in the constitutional foundations of Latin American governments, arguing that regimes of exception that allow for the suspension of constitutional protections will continue to impede democratic development. Karl and Schmitter claim that the mode of transition from military-authoritarian rule is the key to determining whether democracy will take hold in Latin America, particularly when transitions are by political pacts (item bi 92015679). In The failure of presidential democracy, Linz and Valenzuela (item bi 94005750) argue that presidential democracies are more unstable than parliamentarism. This observation is challenged by Nohlem in "Presidencialismo vs. Parlamentarismo en América Latina" (item bi 93021803).

Political Economy: Democratic and Authoritarian Outcomes. Studies that emphasize political economy continue to influence the debate on regime characteristics and political outcomes. In Politician's dilemma (item bi 94004634), Geddes explores some of the ways in which politicians resolve the painful dilemma of using State resources to foster economic development. Remmer's empirical examination of the relationship between economic conditions and electoral stability breaks new ground in understanding liberal democracy and regime change (item bi 92015493). Moreover, in "The Political Economy of Elections in Latin America, 1980-1991" (item bi 94001742), Remmer also provides an excellent quantitative analysis of the impact of elections on macroeconomic performance using eight cases from Latin America.

Democratization. The issues and problems of democratization receive a great deal of attention in the literature on regime change. The best works on this subject include Mainwaring, O'Donnell and Valenzuela, Issues in democratic consolidation (item bi 94000993), and Remmer (item bi 94001790). Once again, Remmer makes an important point with her observation that the "current wave" of democratization is not the same as those studied in earlier periods. Skidmore's Television, politics, and the transition to democracy in Latin America (item bi 93023925) breaks new terrain in its examination of the role of television and electoral politics in the process of democratization.

Military and Democracy. Although the military as a political actor in Latin American politics does not receive the research attention it once did, a few valuable studies are still being carried out. Nunn's treatment of professional militarism (1964-89) is excellent (item bi 94000997), as is Farcau's The coup (item bi 94005426), an interesting examination of the essential ingredients of the coup process. By focusing on military autonomy, Pion-Berlin (item bi 94005163) refutes the common view that South America is experiencing another cycle in civil-military relations. Many analysts of the Latin American military are not ready to rule out the possibility of future coups in the region.

Ideological Trends and Political Groups. With the end of the Cold War, some scholars are beginning to ponder the impact of the world-wide collapse of communism on the Latin American left. The most valuable works in this category include Carr and Ellner, The Latin American left (item bi 93023926), a carefully crafted edited volume on the subject. The revival of populism, according to some Latin American scholars, is a sign that democratic consolidation has failed (item bi 94001892). In Latin America in the time of cholera (item bi 94000995), Petras and Morley offer a solid leftist critique of post-Cold War policies in the region, particularly the flaws in free markets and North-South cooperation.

Revolutions. The changing nature of Latin American politics has not eliminated the need to understand revolutionary change. Selbin's Modern Latin American revolutions (item bi 94002115) stands out as a valuable critique of structural theories of revolution stressing the importance of ideas, ideologies and revolutionaries in the process of revolutionary consolidation. Colburn's The vogue of revolution in poor countries (item bi 94015571) is an interesting and useful refutation of Marxist and modernization paradigms as explanations for socialist revolutions. In The state of revolution (item bi 94001992), Crahan and Smith examine why some revolutions succeed and some fail, stressing origins, trajectories, and outcomes.

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