From Voting to Violence: Democratization and Nationalist Conflict

Jack L. Snyder, Author
Jack L. Snyder, Author W. W. Norton & Company $29.95 (382p) ISBN 978-0-393-04881-0
Reviewed on: 04/03/2000
Release date: 04/01/2000
Paperback - 384 pages - 978-0-393-97481-2
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In this acutely argued book, Columbia University political scientist Snyder challenges the American dogma that voting is a political panacea regardless of conditions or circumstances. Critically assessing American foreign policy in the 1990s, he argues that promoting free elections often produces serious conflict; he argues that where critical preconditions are not present (where there isn't, for instance, an adaptable ruling elite or institutions such as the rule of law and a free press), embracing the popular ballot often leads to the rise of a noxious nationalism, conflict and war: ""Democratization produces nationalism when powerful elites within a nation need to harness popular energies to the tasks of war and economic development"" yet ""want to avoid surrendering real political authority."" Snyder supports his theory with overwhelming evidence from a diverse array of historical situations--from revolutionary France to Nazi Germany, from Eastern Europe after the breakup of the Soviet Union to central Africa and central and southern Asia. His documentation suggests a pattern in ethnically divided authoritarian states: ethnic/nationalist conflict often bursts out just as efforts at democratization get underway. Drawing on his analysis, Snyder ""prescribes ways to make democratic transitions less dangerous."" The intellectual rigor of this important book distinguishes it from arguments driven by simple conservative longings for authoritarian rule; his analysis of the link between the initiation of democracy and resulting nationalism is far more convincing than the common reference to ""ancient hatreds"" as the source of conflict. Exceptionally well-organized and clearly written, Snyder's book provides a fresh look at the debate over the process of introducing democracy into formerly authoritarian countries. (Apr.)
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