These two new additions to the rapidly growing literature on developing nations are quite different in style but cover much of the same territory. They also share at least one major theme: authoritarian regimes have not been very successful in their attempts to advance the social and economic development of technologically backward nations.
In Poor Countries and Authoritarian Rule, Maurice F. Neufeld develops this theme in the form of nine “historical propositions” which purportedly describe typical chronological stages of developing nations. The final proposition states that the events described in the previous propositions have helped to advance the rise of the authoritarian state, and that the authoritarian states did not advance industrial progress any more than other forms of government. Neufeld illustrates each proposition with case materials drawn from a variety of nations, including several in Latin America.
The main difficulty with Neufeld’s propositions is that they amount to little more than a chronological ordering of past events. Historians are likely to find his coverage of these events too superficial to be of lasting interest, and sociologists will not be very excited by propositions which are neither explanatory nor predictive.
In The Springtime of Freedom, William McCord offers refutation of what he feels is an increasingly accepted view that economic progress requires order and stability which in most developing countries can be achieved only under an authoritarian regime. Using China, Ghana, and Indonesia as illustrative eases, McCord provides convincing evidence that the “authoritarian solution” has not produced great economic gains. But, as the author frankly admits, the nonauthoritarian solutions—as represented by India and Bolivia—have not proved notably more successful in this regard. Although economic progress is not being rapidly realized in either case, McCord argues that the preservation of freedom makes nonauthoritarian approaches clearly preferable. He suggests further that nineteenth-century Europe offers models of nation-building that provide both bread and freedom. His case studies of Denmark, Holland, and Switzerland, however, do not convincingly demonstrate their utility as present-day guides, and the author concedes that “perhaps the most important lesson of this first springtime of freedom is the very paucity of generalizations which can be drawn from it” (p. 265). Although some of its facile interpretations and conclusions will be disputed, The Springtime of Freedom is a thoughtful, informative, and gracefully written contribution to the literature on developing nations.