Chronology of Modern Democracy

Five Different Views

Originally posted December 8, 1999; updated March 16, 2000 and September 23, 2003

Compiled by Steve Muhlberger, Nipissing University for the World History of Democracy site

It is often very difficult to find basic information about the history of democracy.   One issue is the chronology and extent of  democracy.   When did a certain country become a democracy?   How many democratic countries were there in a given year?

Such questions are not impossible to answer, but few general histories or reference works give a systematic overview of the chronology of modern democracy.   This section of the World History of Democracy site is an attempt to fill that lack.  I've included three chronologies published by scholars at the beginning of the 1990s, and a link to Freedom House's recent End of Century Survey.

The question that bedevils any attempt to such a chronology is, of course, what is a democracy?    For instance, did Great Britain become a "liberal democracy" after the Great Reform Bill of 1832, as Francis Fukuyama and Michael Doyle believe?   Or was it not a democracy until the decade of 1910-1919, as Tatu Vanhanen concludes?

Debates about the nature of democracy will never end, but there is no reason to throw up our hands.   Indeed, systematic comparisons between different political systems and societies are necessary if we are to understand and create democracies.   Chronology is one of several tools we can use to make those careful comparisons.

Since I hope to encourage rather than close off debate, I have included here not one but five different understandings of the chronology of modern democracy.   All are interesting and useful.    The reader is urged to put them up against each other and then ask more questions.   A good place to start is with the books which are the sources of the first three chronologies, and the more detailed explanations present at the two online chronologies.

1. The View of Francis Fukuyama

2. The View of Samuel P. Huntingdon

3. The View of Tatu Vanhanen

4. Freedom House's End of Century Survey (online)

5. Matthew White's Historical Atlas of the Twentieth Century (online)

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