The cultural evolution of democracy: Saltational changes in a political regime landscape

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Transitions to democracy are most often considered the outcome of historical modernization processes. Socio-economic changes, such as increases in per capita GNP, education levels, urbanization and communication, have traditionally been found to be correlates or 'requisites' of democratic reform. However, transition times and the number of reform steps have not been studied comprehensively. Here we show that historically, transitions to democracy have mainly occurred through rapid leaps rather than slow and incremental transition steps, with a median time from autocracy to democracy of 2.4 years, and overnight in the reverse direction. Our results show that autocracy and democracy have acted as peaks in an evolutionary landscape of possible modes of institutional arrangements. Only scarcely have there been slow incremental transitions. We discuss our results in relation to the application of phylogenetic comparative methods in cultural evolution and point out that the evolving unit in this system is the institutional arrangement, not the individual country which is instead better regarded as the 'host' for the political system. © 2011 Lindenfors et al.




Lindenfors, P., Jansson, F., & Sandberg, M. (2011). The cultural evolution of democracy: Saltational changes in a political regime landscape. PLoS ONE, 6(11).

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