Capitalist Development and Democracy.  Rueschemyer, Dietrich and Evelyne Huber Stephens and John D. Stephens.  University of Chicago Press, Chicago 1992.  387 pages.

Capitalist Development and Democracy by Rueschmyer, Stephans and Stephans is an ambitious work which seeks to advance a novel theory of democratic development through the context of comparing and combining two disparate methods of social science investigation,  comparative historical studies and quantitative cross-national studies.  Written for an academic, mostly post-graduate, audience this work transverses virtually all of the worlds geography as well as over 150 years of capitalist development to make its points.  Densely written with many detailed examples this work is a comprehensive look at a topic which has challenged political scientists and sociologist for many years; under what conditions is democracy likely to develop, and what conditions are needed to maintain it.

The first section of the book is an examination of an ongoing battle between two strands of political investigation, quantitative cross-national v. qualitative (historical case studies).  The authors goal is to “transcend the impasse [1]” that has resulted from quantitative studies generally favoring the long term promise of capitalist democratic development and the qualitative studies being pessimistic about developing democracies chances.  After this the authors launch into a series of long detailed historical case studies which are organized both geographically (“Latin America”) and functionally (“Advanced Capitalist Countries”) as well as by political/sociological family (“Variations within the English-speaking Caribbean”).  While each of these studies look at common factors such as transnational power structures the heart of their argument is always class interactions.  The authors closely examine the tried and true ground of working class vs. bourgeoisie class struggle, but often do so by providing less worked over examples.  The novel aspects of this work is its attention to the middle class.  In particular the authors look at the motivations of the middle class as a separate power locus that is sometimes in opposition to the bourgeoisie and sometimes in opposition to the working class.  Because the working class always follows its best interests in attempting to attaining power, and because they often make this attempt via democratic development (in fact the authors say democracy is all about power) while the bourgeoisie always follows its best interests in keeping power by opposing democracy, the middle class becomes the most important element in the struggle by providing the numbers and resources needed by each opposing faction to win the struggle.  The middle class is therefore in the position of deciding where their best deal lies.

The strengths of this work are its breadth of coverage and its abilities to show commonalities between widely different time frames and geographic locations which lend credence to the ideas being discussed.  Also, the authors do not shy away from examining head-on points which could be used to discredit their theories.  They present a novel framework for understanding democratic development which takes seriously the motivations of each major class in the societies under examination.  This is no small feat.

That is not to say there are not problems with this work.  Some segments of society are poorly defined, particularly the working class.  Comparisons between classes and societies are made over a period of more then 150 years, the ability to compare anything as complex as a social class over such a large time frame must be questioned.  The authors pay a lot of attention to class, but little attention to ideology.  Also, in some respects the work is poorly written.  Clearly this is a work done by committee.  Topic sentences are not clear, thesis statements are buried deep in the middle of long paragraphs (almost challenging graduate students to find them), and at times it seems that one author is taking a swipe at another. [2]

By any measure this is an important work that should be read by any student that is serious about mastering the field of Comparative Politics (if for no other reason then because your professors expect you to!)  It may also be interesting to those who study International Relations, Political Theory and Sociology.



[1] See page 3.

[2] For one example see the first paragraph on p. 273.