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  • Print publication year: 2005
  • Online publication date: September 2012



In essence, we are witnessing a unique experiment – whether one person with absolute power can run a country as enormous as Russia all by himself.

– Mikhail Rostovskii and Aleksandr Budberg (in Moskovskii Komsomolets, March 2, 2004)

In his celebrated article penned in the late 1960s, Dankwart Rustow (1970) left a stamp on thinking about regime change in the late twentieth century. Rustow claimed that socioeconomic and cultural “prerequisites” for democratization might not be prerequisites at all. He held that the factors that made for the incremental emergence of democracy in the First World in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries may be very different from those that facilitate democratization elsewhere. In light of the empirical evidence of the past several decades, many scholars have embraced Rustow's claim. It is easy to forget, however, that Rustow considered one generation the normal time frame for democratization. Many of us have come to think of democratization as something that happens on short order. This view is not necessarily naive; democratization can happen overnight. In Lithuania and Chile, the overthrow of dictatorship and the inauguration of a robust open regime occurred in a few short years. But these cases are atypical. The failure of democratization to take place rapidly does not necessarily spell the failure of democracy in general. Revisiting Rustow reminds us that twenty years, rather than just one or two, may be the proper interval for framing our expectations.

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