What Made the Third Wave Possible? Historical Contingency and Meta-Politics in the Genesis of Worldwide Democratization Articles uri icon

publication date

  • July 2018

start page

  • 607

end page

  • 626


  • 4


  • 50

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0010-4159

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 2151-6227


  • This article revisits the question of what made the Third Wave of democratization possible, emphasizing the contribution of developments that strengthened mutual toleration between political adversaries. Questioning the view that policy moderation was required for democracy's advance, the article argues that significant elements of historical contingency and a meta-political broadening of the space for fundamental economic change contributed significantly to the wave's inauguration and initial spread. Building on a review of two major new books—each of which recasts existing theoretical and substantive debates in important ways—this article suggests that the relationship between the worldwide advance of democracy and the global diffusion of neo-liberal approaches to economic management was historically contingent and essentially unrelated to the causal basis for the great democratic wave. The article outlines how the social revolution that inaugurated the global wave of democratization in Portugal in 1974 may have shifted implicit assumptions underpinning the mindset of political actors elsewhere, thereby contributing to the spread of mutual toleration between actors divided over their economic preferences.