2007 Woodrow Wilson Foundation Award 2007 Woodrow Wilson Foundation Award

For the best book published in the U.S. during the previous calendar year on government, politics, or international affairs.  The award is supported by the Woodrow Wilson Foundation.

Award Committee: William R. Keech, Carnegie Mellon University, Chair; Gary C. Cox, University of California, San Diego; and Richard Ned Lebow, Dartmouth College

Co-Recipients: Daron Acemoglu, Massachusetts Institute of Technology with James A. Robinson, Harvard University

Title: Economic Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy (Cambridge University Press, 2006)

Citation: In a unified and coherent framework, Acemoglu and Robinson provide an economic theory of the creation, consolidation and breakdown of democracy. Isolating one part of what they freely admit to be a larger and more complex whole, they focus on the rich minority’s fear of redistribution by the poor majority. In their model, moves to democratize a regime occur when the rich minority, facing a looming or latent threat of revolution, seeks to defuse that threat—and finds that only institutional reforms offer sufficiently credible improvements in the majority’s welfare to induce them to step back from the precipice. This spare analytic model generates predictions that map surprisingly well onto prominent features of democratization around the world—e.g., the especially strong opposition of landed elites to democratization; the strong correlation between income level and democracy; and the more debatable correlation between income inequality and democratization. 

One might describe Acemoglu and Robinson as articulating a pure “domestic threat” model of democratization, to go alongside earlier “international threat” models (e.g., Tilly, Bates, North and Weingast). Key to the international threat models of democratization is the notion that rulers need help from other domestic actors, in order to defend or expand the state’s boundaries. In these models, there are gains to be had (e.g., in the form of lower interest rates on sovereign debt), if domestic actors can better trust one another. Concessions that limit the power of the ruler and broaden the representative basis of the polity emerge as credible commitments to secure those gains. Acemoglu and Robinson focus, not on the possible efficiency gains, but instead on the redistributive consequences, that democratization might bring, in this sense falling closer to Dahl or Rueschemeyer, Stephens and Stephens. While the international threat models better help us understand the vaunted fighting ability of democracies or the existence of international waves of democratization, Acemoglu and Robinson provide a systematic compendium of how domestic elites’ fear of redistribution plays through the processes of democratization and either consolidation or breakdown. 

Forty years ago this year, the Wilson Prize was won by a book with a very similar title: Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy, by Barrington Moore, Jr. One finds echoes of Moore in the Acemoglu and Robinson book, such as a shared view of domestic polities as involving balances of power between competing groups or the positive role of the middle class and the negative role of a landed aristocracy in the emergence of democracy. The first has been and the latter will surely become a major landmark in the scholarship about regimes and regime change.

Co-Recipient: Stathis Kalyvas, Yale University

Title: The Logic of Violence in Civil War (Cambridge University Press, 2006)

Citation: Kalyvas poses four puzzles at the outset of his book. Why are civil wars particularly savage in comparison to foreign wars? Why is there such striking variation in violence within individual civil wars? Observers point to paired villages, seemingly identical in relevant ways, but one is victimized by massacres, often with internal participation, and the other untouched. Why do macrohistorical accounts explain the outcome of civil wars in terms preexisting popular loyalties, while allegiances and loyalties are almost invariably transformed during the course of such war? And finally, why is there such a disconnect between macrolevel causes of war and microlevel patterns of violence?

The author distinguishes and decouples civil violence from civil war. He offers a macro theory of “irregular war” and a microfoundational theory of violence. The theory of violence links the two because it is based on the interactions of actors at the central and local levels, and between combatants and non-combatants. Their interaction is shaped by the demands of irregular war, the logic of asymmetric information and the dynamics of local rivalries. In combination, they produce particular patterns of interaction and associated levels of civil violence. The author tests the theory in the Greek civil war (1944-1949). His data are drawn from archives in Britain and Greece and from interviews with former participants. In the conclusions, he examines some of the implications of his theory for the study of problems where national-local or center-periphery cleavages, and the interactions between actors on either side of these divides, are critical. 

The core of the theory of civil violence derives from the central proposition of Kalyvas’ theory of war: political actors maximize territorial control subject to the local military balance. Territorial control requires cooperation from local inhabitants, who may seek maximize certain benefits through cooperation. Most people prefer to collaborate with the side that can best guarantee their survival, irrespective of their sympathies. Collaboration is more difficult in areas of contested control, and in these zones conflicting actors see the benefits of using selective violence to consolidate their control and weaken that of their adversary. Selective violence requires private information, which is asymmetrically distributed among the principal contestants and local populations. The latter know who collaborators and defectors are, and can choose to reveal this information or not. Individuals want to denounce only when it is safe for them to do so, in situations that is where their victims cannot counter-denounce them. Thus, the higher degree of control an actor has in an area, the safer individuals feel and the more likely they are to denounce. Denunciation is most likely, not where control is most contested, but where violence is least needed to maintain that control. Strategic individuals will be least likely to get rid of their enemies in conditions where they are most safe in denouncing them. It is in the between areas, where control is partially effective, giving citizens some degree of protection, that denunciation, while somewhat less likely, will lead to the most violence.

The Logic of Violence in Civil War is impressive in its framing of the problem:  (separating civil violence from civil war) and in its construction of a theory that takes into account macro- and micro-level perspectives. It builds on their interaction, makes rich use of primary data, performs quantitative and qualitative analysis of that data, and brings awareness of the implications of the theory for a wider range of phenomena. The theory stands in sharp contrast to understandings of civil war and violence derived from both Thucydides and Hobbes that explain civil violence solely in terms of the anarchy created by civil war. It makes a substantial substantive contribution to our understanding of civil violence and of the importance of interactions between central authorities and local populations for understanding the behavior of both. We believe it will be extremely well-received by relevant research communities in comparative politics and international relations. It also has great relevance to historians of civil wars.