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Factional conflict and militant nationalism in democratizing states : a reassessment of Mansfield and Snyder’s "Democratization and the Danger of War" Birch, Derek Andrew

Abstract

Edward Mansfield and Jack Snyder argue that democratizing states typically go through a "rocky transition period, where democratic control over foreign policy is partial, where mass politics mixes in a volatile way with authoritarian elite politics, and where democratization suffers reversals." In this phase, states become "more aggressive and war-prone, not less, and they do fight wars with democratic states."1 Their theory is, however, based on a deterministic conception of democratization which emphasizes material "preconditions" rather than political actions; contains flawed assumptions about the role of nationalism in the state formation process; and is not generalizable in the manner which they claim. A n approach to democratization which examines the political dynamics among the individuals and groups involved reveals a number of insights not contained in Mansfield and Snyder's analysis which challenge their conclusions about nationalism and war. Taking these political dynamics into account the democratic transition on Taiwan reveals how, even in a tense and highly militarized security environment, rather than forcing politicians to play the "nationalist card" in order to illicit popular support, democratization actually weakened the power and influence of extreme nationalist factions on both the Chinese nationalist (reunification) and Taiwanese nationalist (independence) sides of the political spectrum. This phenomenon eventually caused a broad consensus to emerge on issues of independence and national identity, to which all major parties now adhere. Contrary to Mansfield and Snyder's theory, the process of democratization on Taiwan directly corresponded with an increase in both the authority and the legitimacy o f the central government as well as an increase in the predictability of relations with the Chinese mainland. A similar pattern can likely be detected in other states, a situation which strongly calls into question the applicability of Mansfield and Snyder's theory to contemporary democratic transitions.

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