17.508 The Rise and Fall of Democracy/ Regime Change

Spring 2002

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.))

Course Highlights

This course features a list of suggested paper topics for the essay assignment.

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.

Instructions for Citation

Professors at other institutions are welcome to use these materials, in whole or in part, for teaching purposes.

Use of the materials should be cited as follows: Chappell Lawson, MIT OpenCourseWare (http://ocw.mit.edu/index.html) course materials for 17.508 (The Rise and Fall of Democracy / Regime Change, Spring 2002), Massachusetts Institute of Technology, downloaded on [Insert Date].

Technical Requirements

Special software is required to use some of the files in this course: .xls.

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Prof. Chappell Lawson

Course Meeting Times

Two sessions / week
1.5 hours / session


Undergraduate / Graduate