Howard Handelman Toronto death

In chapter two of his book, The Challenge of Third World Development, Howard Handelman examines the democratization of much of what he describes as the lesser developed countries of the world. Titled, “The Explosion of Third World Democracy,” the chapter focuses on the dramatic ideological shifts that have occurred throughout most of the Third World, whereby authoritarian regimes have collapsed under the weight of popular aspirations for freedom and democracy. Defined as the “Third Wave” of democracy, this transitionary period began with a 1974 military revolt that overthrew the Portuguese dictatorship, with the trend continuing, evident in the 2011 uprisings known as the Arab Spring. The third wave has ushered in sweeping political changes throughout the world, resulting in a major ideological shift toward the doctrine of democracy. Advocates of democracy may view these events through an idealistic lens, attributing this phenomenon to the democratic principles of freedom and equality. I would argue that the impetus for change lies in a more complicated explanation.

While the benefits of a democratic government may have played a role in these occurrences, it appears more complex factors were instrumental in bringing about these changes. One such aspect would be the end of the cold war due to the collapse of the U.S.S.R. During this era, both the Soviets and U.S. engaged in a global chess game, with many nations throughout the world becoming the pawns of the two great powers, often unwillingly. Puppet governments were installed and maintained in both communist and democratic states, with the interests of these nations becoming secondary to those of their sponsor nation. The breakup of the U.S.S.R. ultimately led to the downfall of most of the authoritarian regimes that were allied with the former power. Without the economic aid and military might of the Soviet state, these leaders quickly became the target of the pent-up rage and resentment of a repressed populace. This resulted in a shift to the opposite end of the political spectrum and the espousal of a democratic form of government.

Another underlying factor, particularly in more recent times, would be that of advances in information and communication technology. Previously, the government could control the information entering and leaving a country, as well as control the communication networks within a state. The advent of the Internet, cell phones, satellite phones and the associated social media networks have seriously eroded the ability of the state to control and censor communications and the flow of information among its citizens. The ability to find sources of information outside the realm of state propaganda has increased the awareness of citizens in authoritarian states. The ability to communicate with outside networks that promote a democratic agenda was also a factor, as well as the ability to communicate within the state, unimpeded by government interference. The results were well-coordinated, cohesive citizen’s movements that succeeded in the deposing of tyrants. The successes of the uprisings of the Arab Spring provide evidence of the crucial role that technology played.

Thus, while the principles of democracy, such as freedom and equality, may indeed be the main drivers in determining the form of government a people will adopt, it is, in reality, a complex combination of many factors that eventually determines the end result.

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