Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 February 2021
Chapter 2 systematically presents the book’s theoretical approach. After acknowledging the contribution of various causal factors to democratic breakdown during the interwar years, it highlights the fundamental role of the double deterrent effect. Because established elites saw both revolutionary Communism and its most potent antidote, counterrevolutionary fascism, as serious dangers, they used their preponderant power capabilities to impose conservative authoritarianism as a safeguard in many countries. These threat perceptions and dictatorial reactions were driven by basic mechanisms of cognitive psychology. With their deviation from standard rationality, heuristic shortcuts and asymmetrical loss aversion gave rise to striking misperceptions and overreactions, which help account for the proliferation of autocracy and the horrendous, “unnecessary” bloodletting of the 1920s and 1930s.