The Social Origins of Democratic Collapse

The First Portuguese Republic in the Global Economy

Kathleen C. Schwartzman

An outstanding contribution to the growing literature in world-systems theory, Kathleen Schwartzman's study of the first Portuguese republic demonstrates the significant ways in which a nation's social and political structures are shaped by its position in the global economy.

In May 1926, a military coup ended Portugal's first turbulent, sixteen-year experiment with democracy. During that period no less than 45 prime ministers and an equal number of coalition cabinets failed to solve the nation's complex economic and political problems. Portugal and its far-reaching colonial empire exerted tremendous international influence during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Its subsequent decline as a sea power, military defeats, the gradual loss of its colonies, and an inability to compete with industrializing nations, however, left it stranded on the periphery of the world economy. Schwartzman shows how the collapse of the First Portuguese Republic resulted from its marginal place in the world economy, a highly fragmented domestic economy, the failure to forge a "social compromise" between classes, and the inability to create stable political coalitions.

“While cultural and political factors undoubtedly contributed to democratic instability, Schwartzman’s comprehensive analysis clearly shows the substantial relationship between the world political economy, Portugal's class structure, and the demise of the fledgling republic.

—American Political Science Review

“Makes important contributions both as an analysis of a particular historical case of democratic instability and as a bridge between two literatures (regime transitions and world-system theory) that have been disconnected for too long.

—American Journal of Sociology
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This study, which reframes national politics within the world-systems paradigm, enhances our understanding of why some democracies are more fragile than others and, thus, more vulnerable to authoritarian takeover. Equally significant, Schwartzman's theoretical contributions suggest important new directions for sociologists, political scientists, and economists using world-systems theory to examine developing nation states within the global economy.

About the Author

Kathleen C. Schwartzman is assistant professor of sociology at the University of Arizona.