Why did democracy become consolidated only in the twentieth century?
Luiz Carlos Bresser-Pereira
Texto para Discussão EESP/FGV 149, 2006.
Democracy became the preferred and consolidated form of government only in the twentieth century. It is not sufficient to explain this change solely by reference to rational motives, nor by detecting processes and leadership. A historical approach is required. The new historical fact that led to the change of preference from aristocratic rule to democracy is the capitalist revolution, which changed the manner of appropriating the economic surplus from violence to the market. This is the first necessary condition for democracy. The disappearance of the fear of expropriation, the rise of middle classes and the pressures of the poor or of the workers are the second, third and fourth new historical facts that opened the way for the transition from the liberal to the liberal-democratic regime. After these four conditions were fulfilled, the elites ceased to fear that they would be expropriated if universal suffrage was granted. Eventually, after the transition, the democratic regime became the rational choice for all classes. The theory presented here does not predict transitions, since countries often turn democratic without fully realized historical conditions, but it predicts democratic consolidation, since no country that has completed its capitalist revolution falls back into authoritarianism.