George Modelski










                   Democratization is one of the fundamental forces shaping to-day’s world [1].   In the century now passing it has transformed the world’s make up from one that was minority to one that is now becoming majority-democratic.   Not only has it in recent years registered startling and seemingly sudden gains in what used to be the Soviet Union and the lands dominated by it in East Europe and Asia but it has also registered steady advances in South and East Asia.   What is more, a set of common institutions is coming to harmonize activities among democracies:  among the members of the European Union,  in transatlantic organizations such as NATO, and among the countries of OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) found on four continents.   These are the tips of a wide range of cooperative arrangements that increasingly obtain in the political realm, in the economy (based upon a wide acceptance of free markets and freer trade) and in matters of exchange of information, in media, and the cultural realm more generally.   A global democratic community may not be in place as yet but it is no longer utopian to think it attainable within some long, but possibly foreseeable time span.



                   The democratic lineage is an answer to the question:   where does democracy come from as a global phenomenon, and where might it be going.   It puts the question not in terms of individual countries, at is habitually done, but in relation to what is in fact a global process, that is a process whose potential if not always actual reach is world-wide, and whose repercussions are world-wide even if its actual reach to-day is not.  


          The democratic lineage asserts that present-day democracies whose number now reaches close to one hundred, descend in a special sense from the experience of a more limited group o societies.   The concept is a device for representing the line of societies that certainly over the past millennium has shaped what has more recently come to be recognized as the process of democratization, and a line that might extend even further into the past than is conventionally recognized.   For the line of democratic descent has deep roots that it is well to acknowledge, and that over the centuries have served as the lines of transmission for certain essential traits of cultural inheritance:   via records of democratic experience embodied in books, inscriptions, or learning practices, or in works of art and architecture by means of which elements of a democratic heritage have been handed down right to the present.   This is not the property of any single country or movement but it is also limited to a set of societies.


                   Standard world histories, or accounts of the sources of democracy do not answer well these bold but fundamental questions.   A salutary case in point is Lord Acton’s project for a ‘history of liberty’ that was intended as the crowning achievement of his work as a historian at the University of Cambridge, but that was never in fact written (1a).   All that we have from this “prophet of liberalism” (as he was known) are two lectures on “The History of Freedom”, in antiquity, and in Christianity (1877,1948).   They offer good leads to some of the matters of interest to us, but the subject as a whole has eluded a comprehensive treatment.   Samuel Finer’s recent three volume study (1997) is a history of states over the entire time span of recorded history in comparative fashion;   it is comprehensive, thorough and world-spanning in coverage, but the author’s  predilection is for empires and their functions and he views the city-state polity, the source of major innovations, as “a dead-end” (ib.:p.9).   He does not stress linkages over time , and denies any intention to portray an evolutionary development of the state.


                   The source of our own questions is evolutionary theory, that for Darwinian biology at least portrays all forms of life as descending, with modifications, from a common source.   Twentieth-century genetics that not only uncovered the structure of the cell and decoded the DNA but is also on its way to mapping the entire human genome, has substantiated this claim to an astonishing degree.   We need not make the same claim for social organization, but we might be able to establish for some areas of cultural inheritance similar lines of “descent with modifications”.   The term “meme” has been introduced into these discussions by Richard Dawkins, a term that suggests that culture is “encoded in distinct particles” (Boyd and Richelson 1984:37) but is also intended to establish an analogy between genes and memes.    Without pushing such an analogy too far it is possible to say that social organization is affected by cultural inheritance (as well as by the gene pool that it stands for), and that such inheritance may, in turn, be transmitted further.   We shall assume forthwith that the democratic lineage is the line along which cultural artifacts such as books, and the ideas embodied in them (memes) are transmitted.   They may or may not all be descending from a common source, but their relationship over time is surely worth examining.



Conceptualizing the democratic lineage


                   Let us propose that the democratic lineage is the product if an evolutionary process:  one whereby the global community is formed.   That is, we expect that at the global level, too, increases in interaction levels would be accompanied by the creation of forms of social solidarity and long-term cooperation, and that these forms would tend to undergo change.   For evolution -  self-actuating paradigm change - is, in the first place, a process of change over time and, secondly, change that betrays a certain formal-logical directionality, that of a learning process,   We would not  expect global community to be formed in one instant but rather by passing along-the lineage through a series of transitions, at each of these points incipient changes in this form of social organization being subject to sustained selective pressures.


                   The  motor of this evolutionary process is the search for what might be called a “nicer world”:   not the world of the dark ages that saw many parts of Eurasia, and China and Europe in particular, succumb to the rule of nomadic intruders, and lose sight, and even memory, of its earlier heritage and its classics;  nor even the world of the ancients that was marked by brutality, and dearth of cooperation.   In that search for a “nicer world” a variety of cooperative innovations might be tried out, and many of these would fail.   But others would ultimately succeed and serve as the basis for cumulative change.


                   We would expect such search to find cooperative expression in a pair of major societies, or in a societal complex that might be called the models of their age, in that one might be the established one, and the other the newly innovating one.   These might be the societies of the Italian Renaissance, centered on the major cities of Genoa, Venice, Florence and Milan.   Or it might be the British of the Georgian age  that in tandem with the Dutch served as the model of social and political organization to such thinkers as Montesquieu or Voltaire.   Such societies might be regarded as the meeting ground, or nexus, for a multitude of cooperative efforts, economic, political, social and religious,  From such a soil we would expect to spring innovation in such arrangements: e.g. new forms of commercial organization and republican arrangements in the Italian case; or say effective parliamentary institutions in the British case.


                   Each such model society might be thought of as emerging in competition with another set of societies, in a manner that bears ideological elaboration.   In Italian practice, the role of republics was contrasted with the rule of princes, and was generally thought to be inimical to imperial and monarchical arrangements.   British practice of constitutional government contrasted sharply with absolutist aspirations of its continental competitors.   In a basic sense, and over time, such competing visions of the social order were subjected to repeated and strong competitive pressures.   These pressures included economic competition, political conflict up to and including global war, and ideological contests for the allegiance of social movements and sections of national and world opinion.  


          All in all, the democratic lineage extends over a prolonged period because the process of changing world-wide social organization is a huge one.   We might conceive of it as consisting of two stages:   the first one of laying out the necessary base of democratic development, and the second one of democratic diffusion and dissemination.   In the first, the nucleus of future change is put together, and in the second, the clustering around the nucleus occurs at a rate that is slow at first but then gathers increasing speed.   Each of these could be millennial-scale projects.


                   In the account that follows, we shall distinguish, in the modern period  (that is, for the millennium now passing), first the four stages of the base-laying process:  these are the Chinese and the Italian Renaissance;  the European Reformation, and Britain’s Liberal age.   We shall then portray the contemporary experience as opening the stage of diffusion of the democratic experiment via democratization.   But before outlining the modern record, we need to comment briefly on the pre-modern heritage. [2]



Early experiments


                   We are. of course, well aware of the classical Greek experience with democracy, but we need not suppose that it was the only relevant, or even earliest such case on the historical record that is now thought to commence in the fourth century BC, that is roughly from the beginning of civilization and in an urban context.


                   The earliest, lightly documented case is probably that of Sumer, sometimes known as the ‘cradle or civilization’ or as ‘the heartland  of cities’.    Students of that early civilization, found in southern Mesopotamia at the head of to-day’s Persian Gulf, believe that there is evidence, principally written and literary, in the form of myths and epics, for arguing that something that may be called “primitive democracy” may have operated in that early system of city-states say between -3400 and -2500.   According to Thorkild Jacobsen (1956:102), the principal exponent of that thesis, in that “primitive” case, ultimate political authority resided in a general assembly of citizens of a city  (maybe a score or so of such units in the population range of 10-20,000), and major decisions would be made with the consent of citizens.   This pattern might have extended  to the entire area of Sumer (with Nippur as its ceremonial center) but in time it turned into “primitive monarchies” based mainly on force and ultimately led to the creation of the first “primitive empires”, those of Akkad (after 2300), and then of the Third Dynasty of Ur (to 2004).    Jacobsen attributes the displacement of this primitive form of democracy to the unsuitability of direct democratic institutions to rule over wide areas or several cities, and to the success of the monarchical forms based on the household of the ruler that, he argues, were extensible in space to a higher degree (ib.:118-9).   J.N. Postgate (1992:80) an archaeologist,  describes the Jacobsen thesis as “one of the most influential contributions to Mesopotamian history”;  S.E. Finer (1997:131-2), a political scientist,  is critical of it.



                   Acton does not mention Sumer, as knowledge of its institutions is basically the product of the 20th century.   He opens hisaccount of the “History of Freedom in Antiguity” with the Jews, and cites them as an “early example of limited monarchy and of the supremacy of the law” (1948:57); So does Finer (1997:238-275) in his discussion of the Jewish kingdoms (1025-587 BC), in the context of a system of city-states of the Levant, also citing Acton on this point.   This arouses interest on two grounds:  one, for the links with Sumer, and two, in respect of the Bible as an object of cultural transmission.


                   According to Genesis (chs.10,11) Abraham the Patriarch hailed from Ur, a major city of Sumer, and once an imperial capital.   Abraham is said to be a ninth-generation descendant of Noah, the hero of the flood story that has striking parallels in Sumerian literature.   Babel (Babylon) and Erech (Uruk) also figure prominently in this account.   What is therefore apparent is that Sumerian cultural influence, i.a. via its literature, might have been a factor in the formation of this part of the Old Testament.   On the other hand, the subsequent influence of the Bible on Christianity is unquestionably of great import.   During the Middle Ages in Europe  for instance  the Bible was “without doubt the most studied book”, and “a veritable thesaurus for any disputes over the nature of kingship” (Finer 1997:272).


                   The paradigmatic case of early democracy is, of course Athens, ca. 460 to 340,  in mainland Greece, and together with other Ionian polities that were at times associated with it in close alliance.   Here too we have a system of city-states, some of which were democratic, and in those cities ultimate power, including that over war and peace, resided in the general assembly of citizens.   This too, is direct democracy, and it did not survive the conquests of Alexander of Great, and fell under the rule of his successors, and then  (by -146) that of Rome then still a republic but armed with superior military power and soon turning into a great empire.   In contrast with Sumer, the Greek experience is superbly documented, and does truly represent the formative experience of political science.


                   The classics of the era, from Herodotus and Thucydides, through Plato and Aristotle, to Plutarch and Livy, are the essential trove of knowledge about these developments, and still provide the basic concepts for the discussion of democracy.   While mostly ignored in social practice. they were preserved through the centuries as cultural artifacts (sometimes via an Arabic version ) and became, after transmission and translation (after about 1200), part of the cultural assets of the Renaissance in Italy  and Europe more generally, up to and including the authors of the United States Constitution, and 19th century English gentlemen.   While therefore we have reason to believe that as a form of cultural inheritance the importance of early democracy to modern developments is easily shown, as direct linkage,  in the form of continuous lineage of practices it cannot be so easily demonstrated.   We might remark, though, upon the role of Alexandria as a center for the dissemination of Hellenic thought , especially under the Ptolemies (3rd to 1st conturies BC) and as a center where the Septuagint of the Old Testament was first translated from Aramaic into Greek, then to become part of the Christian canon.   Philo of Alexandria, wrote Acton (1948:78), was one of the writers whose views of society were “most advanced”.   He may have been the first to express the view that “a limited democracy … is the most perfect government, and will extend itself gradually  over all the world”.  


                   Contemporaneously with the Athenian experience, a system of city-states flourished in Northern India  in the urban setting of the Ganges valley after about 500 BC and had both monarchies (rajya) and non-monarchies (gana).   If we adopt the “short” chronology (Bechert and Gombrich 1984:41) according to which the death of Buddha may be dated to 386, the formative period of Buddhism in India might be seen to coincide with the peak of the democratic experience in Greece.   Unfortunately nothing is known about any possible interaction of these two centers of innovative activity, even though some might have occurred e.g. via Persia that had close contacts with Greeks but also ruled a rich Indian province.   [3]


                   The monarchies are better known because they dominate the attention of all, except Buddhist (Pali) accounts (Erdossy 1995:114ff).   The others (gana) [4] are documented principally in Buddhist sources, because their pattern of decision-making duplicated that of the monastic orders.   Instead of a hereditary ruler leaders were elected to a limited term by heads of families of a leading lineage, and an assembly of notables took all the major decisions.   “Although sometimes viewed as early manifestations of democratic institutions in India  writes George Erdossy,  “sober analysis suggests that their assemblies sustained a sharp cleavage between ruler and ruled”.  Within a fairly short period of maybe two centuries, a multitude of small states coalesced through conquest into 16 major states (attested in Buddhist and Jain sources) and by 321 one of them, Magadha, emerged as undisputed victor.


                   Of interest, therefore is the link between the gana  and Buddhism.   The latter emerged in a context of city-states, as a critique and a possible escape from the Hindu caste system.   The organization of the monastic orders that became the major feature of Buddhism had certain democratic features:  little if no hierarchy, autonomy of individual monks, and collective decisions on discipline.   After Buddha’s death, three major “councils” or “assemblies” reviewed the tenets of the faith, the last convened by Asoka ca.250 whose rule extended to most of India but did not last long.   After Asoka’s death Buddhism split initially into two tendencies, and after 300 AD mostly lost ground in India but acquired striking salience throughout Asia.   The more liberal Mahayana tendency spread via the by then well-established trade routes of Central Asia (along the Silk Roads) at first to China, and then to Korea , Japan and Tibet.  In another stream, following what we now call the spice routes, the somewhat stricter Theravada Buddhism reached out at first to Sri Lanka, and then to Southeast Asia, including Burma, Thailand, Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos and Champa.   Particularly interesting is the spread of monasteries, and of Pali literature, throughout these areas.   We might regard it as the cultural infrastructure of intra-Asian interactions in the first millenium AD.







Laying the base for democracy


                   It is a premise of this analysis that democracy emerges when conditions of society are ripe for it, that is when they favor rule-based long-term cooperation based on equality.   When do such conditions prevail?   We would expect them to be present in urbanized societies, characterized by diversity and openness,  favorable to trade, and offering basic security even while keeping the executive and the military arm under political control.   In short, societies that exhibit evolutionary potential.


                   As shown, such evolutionary democratic potential cannot be thought to be confined primarily to the “west”.   The Middle Eastern experience of ‘primitive democracy’ is suggestive  and so obviously is the Athenian.   The Buddhist influence on Asia that shows democratic potential, can hardly be ignored and remains significant to this day.   Furthermore, at the onset of the modern age, the most promising conditions for the rise of democracy might well have arisen in Sung China, a period that historians describe as one of Chinese Renaissance, but which might well be the last important occasion in the historical record for the playing out of Buddhist practices.


                   What we did have there were conditions indicative of evolutionary potential.   They included a civil society more populous (some 100 m.) hence more complex than that of Sumer or Greece (1-10 m).   significantly urbanized (up to 10 per cent), rising in prosperity, in part through growing internal and external trade, linked to international Buddhist networks, and having established, after a long interval of disruptions, a political framework of order.   The military chiefs lost power and the army while large was made subject to political control.   A bureaucracy well-schooled in the classics succeeded in lending a framework to what one scholar (Jacques Gernet) described as an emerging “learning society”.   Two proto-parties surfaced as means of debating rival approaches to political problems and influencing the central government:   Reformers, with an agenda designed to cope with society’s most urgent problems,  and Conservatives who espoused tradition, with neo-Confucianism as their banner.   They alternated in power but it was the latter who ultimately imposed their stamp upon the system in a way that remained palpable well into the 20th century.


                   The  Sung experiment  (960-1279) failed.   The protracted conflict with the invaders from the North, and the Mongol conquest [5] destroyed the potential for evolutionary change.    While engaged in sharp conflict in a system that included several other powerful states in East Asia (the title of a recent book on this subject reads CHINA AMONG EQUALS), the Sung continued to rely on tributary systems, failed to build alliances or lasting modes of cooperation with i.a. with the sinicized powers of the North, and toward the end engaged in generally disastrous strategies.    Their knowledge of conditions outside its own borders were inadequate, and their appetite for intelligence about its neighbors, minimal.   The Mongols left China (and much of the Moslem world) devastated, a source of massive epidemics, with its population in decline.   The Sung provide no direct link to subsequent developments in the West of Eurasia, but their innovations (and in particular Buddhist-led printing, and compass, for the Southern maritime routes, as well a gunpowder) have been recognized as among the foundations of modernity.   One wonders though if any residues of the Buddhist experience still remain.


                   By about 1200   Italy and areas surrounding it became the part of the world where conditions became most propitious for institutional development, just as they were improving in much of the rest of Europe, through town-building, rights gained by cities, and the emergence of a regional market system.   There was variety and openness;  cities such as at first Amalfi, and then Pisa, Genoa, and Venice  became prosperous centers of trade and western termini the silk roads;  others like Florence or Milan were strong in banking and manufacturing.   Just to the north of Italy, was the Swiss confederation that started, in 1291. with a nucleus of the three ‘forest’  cantons of Schwyz, Uri, and Unterwalden, all ruled by direct democracy, and that grew stronger around a Bern-Zurich axis, and reached 13 cantons by 1513.  


                   By contrast with China, these were all anti-imperial societies:  they asserted their independence against external encroachments of all kinds, and organized their life on a republican basis.   But they were also small, and afforded only slender basis for social experiments.   As in China somewhat earlier, we find here a Renaissance of learni ng and rediscovery of the classics.


                   The foremost and most lasting example of democratic potential in Renaissance Italy was probably Venice.   Claiming descent from Rome rather than from Athens, while affiliated for a while with Greek Byzantium, it was a spectacularly successful  republic with a constitution that mixed monarchical, aristocratic, and democratic elements.   What was not evident at this point was the formation of a nucleus of cooperation among at least some of the free cities.   Most of the republics were short-lived, and came to be ruled by tyrannical princes, and were to be enmeshed into short-term schemes of intrigue and conquest.  The humanists did not make it as a social movement. Genoa carried on a persistent feud with Venice, fighting several far-flung naval wars in the Mediterranean,  changed regimes frequently, and had trouble maintaining its independence.   After 1516, the Swiss turned in upon themselves.   Venice failed to work with republican Florence, and ultimately found herself isolated in the north-east corner of Italy, even as, being widely admired, its constitution came to be closely studied and imitated elsewhere in Europe, and in America.   After 1494,  France and Spain alone came to contend for the dominion over Italy.


                   At that time, the active zone, that is the world center of systemic innovation, was shifting from the Mediterranean to Atlantic Europe.   It was the Netherlands that, after Italy, became the other area of urban and industrial concentration, the focal point of major conflicts, the world market for a new system of global trade, and also the locus of new potential for social evolution.    Portugal and Spain prospered, as well as England, and their representative institutions were making headway.  


                   Representative institutions such as  estates -general and other  assemblies were an important achievement of the Middle Ages in Europe (though many succumbed in the age of absolutism).   According to Lord Acton (1948:85-86) the Spanish parliamentary system is “by a long interval”, the oldest in the world because it derived from the Councils of Toledo,  the eighteen assemblies of bishops, some abbots and prelates of the Catholic Church and members of the nobilitythat were held in the capital of Visigothic Spain between 400 and 702.   They were convoked by kings, often to seek the support of the Church.   Following the Moorish interval,   Alfonso IX , King of Leon and closest inheritor of the Visigothic realm, convened the first secular assembly in 1188;  in the other states of the Iberian peninsula  the Cortes were instituted in the early 13th century, including one in Portugal in 1211, that was expanded in 1254 [6].   Similar developments occurred i.a. in England, France and the Low Countries.   Jointly with the evolution of monastic communities, in particular those of the Benedictines, and later the Dominicans and the Franciscans, these supplied a crucial procedural potential for democratic change.  


                   The forces that reorganized Europe north of the Alps came together in the struggles of the European Reformation.   These involved, at first, Germany and then France, but from 1572 onward, by confronting the powerful King of Span, the Dutch Republic came to be seen as the focus of that struggle in defense of established rights of ‘estates” and of reformed religion against the centralizing powers of the absolutist state, and the reinvigorated church.   Its republicanism was somewhat ambiguous but it did provide for  a limited state and a clear division of powers between the now traditional representative bodies of the cities, provinces and the States-General, and the executive powers of commander-in-chief.   It also evolved in the direction of tolerance, and it showed the beginnings of a party-system, of Republicans and Orangists.   It was not a democracy but rather mostly an urban oligarchy but offered greater democratic potential, freedom, prosperity, and  civic order than its absolutist alternatives.


                   The Dutch Republic had ties both of solidarity and affinity to Venice.   Amsterdam was often referred to as the Venice of the North, and the republican experience was closely studied by Dutch humanists.   Both had powerful commercial and urban interests, and their close links overland, via the Rhine, and by sea, via the Straits of Gibraltar, were of long standing  As Dutch shipping entered the Mediterranean, after 1590, the links grew even closer.   When a reforming (and anti-Spanish) party of the “young” began to emerge about 1580, Venice entertained an alliance with the Dutch, and in 1617, (hired) Dutch and English ships and soldiers helped to defeat the forces of the Spanish viceroy in Naples, Ossuna.   But the influence of the ‘young” faded after 1630, and the “abortion of Venice’s embryonic party system signified stagnation” (Lane 1972:405).


                   Whereas a Venice-Netherlands linkage can definitely be identified, its strength was limited as compared with the bonds that existed and then strengthened between England, Scotland, and the nascent Dutch Republic [7].   Those bonds grew in the face of Spanish power that threatened not only to suppress the revolt in the Low Counties but also to restore a Catholic monarchy in England.   It came to be embodied in the mutual defense arrangements of 1584-5 that served for more than a generation as the nucleus of a system of alliances that confronted the Spanish world monarchy, and ultimately brought a settlement to the wars of religion,   The infrastructure of those alliances was provided by members of the Reformed Churches.




                   In retrospect, this might have been the decisive events of the base-laying process for it put in place a cooperative cluster around which all subsequent democratic developments revolved.   It soon led into another era of common action:  that which achieved the Glorious Revolution in 1689 and inaugurated Parliamentary Government in England.   The common front, this time was against Louis XIV of France who claimed absolute power and had defeated the last vestiges of French representative institutions (‘les parlements’), had expelled the Huguenots, and was set on supporting James II in a similar role in Britain.   The response to that threat was another Anglo-Dutch alliance, that of the “maritime powers”, that dominated much of world politics of the 18th century.


                   William of Orange, the Dutch Stadholder, assumed the English throne but fully respected the “sovereignty” of Parliament;   after his death a cabinet government developed on the basis of an increasingly more reliable party system, activated by regular elections.   This was, broadly, a “liberal” system that with the expansion of the franchise (and other developments, later in the 19th century) ultimately assumed a democratic character.   In the meantime, in areas of British settlement (but not in Spanish or French colonies) seeds were being planted for more democratic potential as colonial legislatures were set up, beginning with Virginia in 1619, and Massachussets from 1630 onward.   By 1700, every colony in America had an elective assembly, and most were self-governing.   The American Revolution was the decisive test of the age of absolutism in that it affirmed the independence of a young and powerful republic, and added a new component to the liberal nucleus.


                   The French Revolution of 1789, on the other hand, achieved no more than the Glorious event of 1689, that is the rejection of absolute rule and the reaffirmation of fundamental human rights, though at greater cost, and with less immediate success.   The struggle for democracy in France would continue throughout the 19th century, if not into the 20th.   But for those who (wrongly), and from a Euro-centric perspective would regard Britain’s progress as sui generis in European affairs, the dramatic events in France were a yet another clear signal that the age of absolutism was drawing to a close.





                   To summarize the argument thus far:  the laying of a base for democratic development was a protracted and uneven process extending over the best part of the past millennium.   It included an unsuccessful though not unimportant experiment in China;  the Renaissance experience with republicanism and representation;  the turmoil of the wars of religion, and the success of liberal institutions in Britain.   It is our argument that only in the third of those phases, with the coalescence of a Dutch-English nucleus was the foundation laid for the world-wide growth of democracy.


                   We would therefore propose that , by the mid-19th century, the base-laying was complete, with the “base” now constituted by the United States and Britain.   By about 1850, (that was the year when California, the first Pacific state, joined the Union) the United States were overtaking Britain in population, and jointly, they constituted in that year a democratic nucleus of about four per cent of the world’s population. [8]   France was also turning in a liberal direction after 1831, but with Germany moved the other way after 1850.   The  POLITY 98  survey (Gurr and Jaggers 1999) rates both Britain and the United States, for 1840 and 1850  as democratic, but only quite recently so (Britain since the Reform Act of 1832).   Alexis de Tocqueville introduced DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA to the world in 1835.


                   In the century and a half since 1850, democracy has become significantly more widespread.   In 1910, on the eve of World War I, fifteen countries could be classified as institutionally democratic, and their inhabitants added up to a world “fraction democratic” of some 13 per cent of a population that had nearly doubled,  to not quite two billion.   At the end of the 20th century, the proportion of the planet’s peoples living in democracies has reached fifty per cent of a population that had trebled, to 6 billion.


                   In other words, since the mid-19th century, and from a small Anglo-American nucleus, the democratic lineage has become a major world phenomenon.   How do we explain this remarkable development?   The parsimonious explanation proposes that a process of diffusion from the British-American base has been in progress.   The diffusion is that of an innovative technology of cooperation and social organization that is in time displacing its less productive alternatives,  non-democratic social systems, absolutist or totalitarian, and obeying well-understood regularities of a process of substitution [9].   A test of that innovation-diffusion hypothesis on Polity II data (1837-1986) yielded a high r-square of 0.91, and allowed the prediction that world democracy would reach a level of 90 per cent by about 2100 (Modelski and Perry 1991).   A re-testing of that hypothesis on Polity IV data for 1850 to 2000 yields vitually identical conclusions (Modelski and Perry m/s).   The quantitative data on world democratization is consistent with the proposition that over the past century and a half democracy has diffused, in a logistic-type process, from an initial base of innovators, to a substantial proportion of world population (the early adopters), and might predictably continue diffusing (to the late adopters) over an equally long, that is, a prolonged period. 


                   This general proposition is also supported if we look at individual country data.   In 1910,  in addition to United States and Britain, a dozen or so other countries could be rated as institutionally democratic.   Of these, some would be regarded as direct products of diffusion of British practices, and in particular Australia and New Zealand, and also Canada and South Africa.   France, Belgium, Luxembourg. Norway, or Costa Rica, would also be susceptible to British example, though each would be doing so against the background of their own heritage.   Switzerland had her own long inheritance to draw upon against a tradition of close links with the Low Countries and Britain.   Spain and Greece were subject to liberal influences throughout the 19th century.


           More recently, important surges of democratization followed upon the close of World War I, World War II, and the Cold War.    In each case, the democratic nucleus was seen as emerging in the winning coalition of these conflicts, each of which might also be regarded as selection mechanisms for ’societal fitness’.     In 1919 and after,   Wilsonian self-determination was a key word, in East Central Europe in particular, and in 1920 the number of democracies rose from 15 in 1910 to 26.   After 1945,  American military government in Germany and Japan was of considerable impact, and the number of democracies reaches 30 in 1950, and 41 in 1960.   We are especially familiar with the most recent spread of democracies,  from 44 in 1980 to 84 in 1998.   But we must not ignore either the role of the Great Depression in between the two world wars, when the ranks of democracies thinned back to 15 in 1940.


                   In the big picture, we must bear in might that while the overall process has been one of diffusion, the direction of diffusion has been toward societies with higher democratic potential.   That is those with an inheritance of past democratic, or proto-democratic practices.   One case in point might be India, in relation to which British impact has been obvious, with parliamentary institutions starting in 1935.   But India still holds a residue of Buddhist influence and since independence the Congress Party, with Mahatma Gandhi and J. Nehru in the lead,  have been careful to bring back some of the cultural inheritance of that time, e.g. on the symbolic level, by incorporating the Buddhist wheel in the national flag, or more practically, by outlawing the caste system in the constitution.   Adrian Karatnycky observed in the 1998 Freedom House survey (1999:121) that “there is a significant number of Free countries among traditionally Buddhist societies, and societies in which Buddhism is widespread (Japan, Mongolia, Taiwan, and Thailand)”.   He also found that the great majority of countries rated Free was majority Christian by tradition or belief.



Closing comment


                   An examination of the empirical referents of the concept of democratic lineage shows it to have deep roots and wide ramifications.   The record shows considerable experimentation world-wide, and localization and success where conditions are most hospitable.   Though the contribution of Atlantic Europe is palpable, no particular locale has an exclusive claim on that lineage.


                   The democratic lineage traces not an expansion from a single center in an imperial manner but rather a process of experimentation in successive centers of innovation followed by clustering around a steadily changing nucleus of at least a pair of units  - all in a manner that accords well with Robert Axelrod’s (1984) model of the ‘evolution of cooperation’.  


                   The first cases that we noted, and in particular Sumer, Athens, the Sung reforms and the Venetian republic were all those failing or unable to build cooperative nuclei around which clustering could occur.   On the other hand, the Dutch-English collaborative cluster that did congeal around 1600 might be termed the decisive stage in the evolution of this lineage precisely for that reason.   This allowed for the cumulation of the gains of cooperation, and readied the ground for additional achievements on the basis of an expanding core, especially at times of transition, as afforded in the 20th century by the Anglo-American “special relationship”.   The European Community, itself a fine example of community building by nucleation, is rapidly becoming the other part of an evolving Euro-American kernel of the global democratic community to come. 






1.   Revision of paper presented at the  Fifth Biennial International ECSA Conference, Seattle, May 1997.


1a    “I chose never to manifest myself by imperfection  Henry James wrote in “The Madonna of the Future” (1873), and Acton is known to have taken this to heart.


2.   Our definition of democracy is the earliest classical one:   “equality under law” (Herodotus III:82).   This implies both citizenship and  equality in political participation, and a decision-criterion (one-man/woman-one vote) for law-like arrangements,  as well as free access to information (free press), and freedom of economic participation.  At higher levels of organization it also implies equality of states under the relevant federal or international law.  


3.    The definition quoted in Note 2 occurs in a debate about the relative merits of democracy, oligarchy, and monarchy, that Herodotus (III:79-82) claims to have occurred at the Persian court, at the time of the accession of Darius, in 522 BC.   Herodotus wrote about 460.


4.   Sometimes also rendered as ‘republics’;  D.P. Chattopadhyaya contests K.P.  Jayaswal’s earlier view that the “republics’ could be contrasted to monarchies and argues that they were tribal groups not yet absorbed into urban society ( in Allchin 1995:337).  


5.      The Mongol world empire, founded by Genghiz Khan in 1206, dominated Eurasia, and completed the conquest of Sung China in 1279.  It was a system  of absolute rule legitimated for a time  by an assembly of chiefs of all Mongol tribes (kuriltai) that continued to meet until 1260 when due to divisions in the ruling clan the empire effectively split into four parts, and then vanished almost completely 100 years later.


6.   For a discussion of Portugal’s democratic potential, and Portugal’s relationship to Venice, see Modelski 1999.


7.    We might also note their close links to some Swiss cantons.


8.    We rely in our ratings here  on the POLITY surveys of “Regime characteristics 1800-1998” (Gurr and Jaggers 1999;  see also Modelski and Perry 1991.


9.       This is not “diffusion-by-proximity” or contagion, based on geographical factors (as in Whitebread 1996:5) but innovation-diffusion, that is the spread via social linkages of practices on the basis of their superior performance.





Prepared for  Globalization, Integration, and Democratization in Europe,   Julie E. Smith and Fulvio Attina eds.








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-----   (1999)   “Enduring Rivalry in the Democratic Lineage:  The Venice-Portugal Case  at pp. 153-171 of W.R. Thompson ed.   GREAT POWER RIVALRIES,   Columbia:  University of South Carolina Press.


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----------------------   (2002)   “’Democratization in Long Perspective’ Revisited”  


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