Democracy in Latin America

Between Hope and Despair

Ignacio Walker
Translated by Krystin Krause, Holly Bird, and Scott Mainwaring

From the Helen Kellogg Institute for International Studies

In 2009, Ignacio Walker—scholar, politician, and one of Latin America’s leading public intellectuals—published La Democracia en America Latina. Now available in English, with a new prologue, and significantly revised and updated for an English-speaking audience, Democracy in Latin America: Between Hope and Despair contributes to the necessary and urgent task of exploring both the possibilities and difficulties of establishing a stable democracy in Latin America.

Walker argues that, throughout the past century, Latin American history has been marked by the search for responses or alternatives to the crisis of oligarchic rule and the struggle to replace the oligarchic order with a democratic one. After reviewing some of the principal theories of democracy based on an analysis of the interactions of political, economic, and social factors, Walker maintains that it is primarily the actors, institutions, and public policies—not structural determinants—that create progress or regression in Latin American democracy.

Democracy in Latin America is organized by eight themes: independence and the establishment of democracy; the economic shift from exports to import substitution; democratic breakdowns, transitions, and consolidation; the double transition to democracy and trade liberalization in the 1980s and 1990s; institutions, democratic governability, and neopopulism; presidentialism and parliamentarism; the “new social question”; and the need for democracy of institutions. Walker systematically addresses the abundant literature on democracy in Latin America, combining a scholarly perspective with real world experience that enhances the understanding of political and economic development in the region.

Ignacio Walker is a Chilean senior scholar of political science and a practicing politician. He is currently serving as a senator of the Republic of Chile and as president of the Christian Democratic Party.

“Ignacio Walker’s Democracy in Latin America: Between Hope and Despair draws in a critical fashion on the theories and concepts of social science to make an original argument about democracy in Latin America. His is the most balanced and comprehensive treatment of the topic currently available.” — Paul E. Sigmund, Princeton University

“This is a dialogue between politics and academia writes Walker in the very first line of his book. After reading it, I should add: a very fruitful dialogue, one politically passionate in its commitment to democracy and intellectually acute in its inquiry about the vicissitudes of representative government in Latin America. The dialogue revolves around a key question: Why Latin America still shows a marked ambiguity towards representative democracy? To answer this question, Walker examines critical economic and socialpolitical phenomena with two centuries of Latin American history in the backdrop. Being a well trained political scientist, a policy maker, and an active politician, a rare combination of attributes, Walker is not interested so much in the past as he is in the present and in the future. Democracy in Latin America: Between Hope and Despair is a book all people who recognize the importance of consolidating ‘authentic representative democracies’ in the region should read.” — Fernando Henrique Cardoso, President of Brazil (1995–2002)


“Walker’s study on the state of democracy in Latin America is brilliant, well argued and convincing. It is a must read for political scientists, sociologists, U.S. government officials and nongovernmental organization workers ‘on the ground’ who want to understand how things work in Latin America.” — America

“Walker combines the perspectives of college professor, political office holder, and on-site observer of the transition from democracy to dictatorship and back to democracy in his native country, Chile. . . . Highly recommended.” — Choice

“Offering much more hope than despair, these sophisticated reflections by a veteran Chilean scholar-politician—who currently serves in the country’s Senate—seem especially pertinent after the landslide electoral victory of Michelle Bachelet, who was recently reelected to the office of president after holding it before, from 2006 until 2010. Walker’s Christian Democratic Party will represent an integral part of Bachelet’s governing coalition. His book provides a powerful exegesis of Chile’s remarkable successes, emphasizing the importance of learning from painful mistakes and of responsible leadership.” — Foreign Affairs