The Rise and Fall of Democracy/ Regime Change

A black and white portrait of Samuel Adams.

Samuel Adams. (Image courtesy of Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Detroit Publishing Company Collection. Reproduction number LC-D416-256 DLC (b&w glass neg.))


MIT Course Number

17.508 / 17.507

As Taught In

Spring 2002


Undergraduate / Graduate

Cite This Course

Course Description

Course Features

Course Description

Coups, civil wars, revolutions, and peaceful transitions are the "real stuff" of political science. They show us why politics matters, and they highlight the consequences of political choices in times of institutional crisis. This course will help you understand why democracies emerge and why they die, from ancient times to the recent wave of democratization in Southern Europe, Eastern Europe, and the developing world.

Few things are more dramatic than the collapse of a political system, whether through violent conflict or the peaceful negotiation of new political institutions. Explaining why regimes break down, why new ones emerge, and how these new regimes are consolidated are among the most important questions in political science. Not surprisingly, regime change has obsessed scholars for centuries, from Aristotle to Machiavelli to Marx to current theorists of democratization.

You will review several broad explanations for regime change before turning to more detailed examination of some of history's most famous and theoretically interesting political transitions: the collapse of the Weimar Republic in Germany; democratic breakdown, the consolidation of military dictatorship, and re-democratization in Chile; the breakdown of British colonial rule in the Massachussets Bay Colony; and protracted political transition in Mexico. There will be shorter discussions of democratization in Spain, South Africa, and South Korea; as well as democratic collapse in Brazil, Austria, and Italy.

Related Content

Chappell Lawson. 17.508 The Rise and Fall of Democracy/ Regime Change. Spring 2002. Massachusetts Institute of Technology: MIT OpenCourseWare, License: Creative Commons BY-NC-SA.

For more information about using these materials and the Creative Commons license, see our Terms of Use.