Polarization and Legitimacy in Latin America

Paul E. Sigmunda1

PAUL E. SIGMUND is a Professor of Politics at Princeton University and author of Models of Political Change in Latin America (N.Y.: Praeger, 1970), The Overthrow of Allende and the Politics of Chile (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1978), and the forthcoming Liberation Theology at the Crossroads: Democracy or Revolution?


This article examines the trends of democratic transformation in Latin America, focusing on the notion that transitions there occurred despite the absence of the accepted cultural and economic preconditions for democracy. Radical leftist guerrilla movements historically inspired by Castro and the Dependencia politics that infiltrated the continent in the 1950s and 1960s were challenged by rightist military doctrines based on the national duty to protect the country and install order. This ideological polarization served as the ultimate impetus for moderation in policies on the continent. Sigmund is optimistic that the new consensus of conservatives, liberals, Catholics, and Marxists has made prospects for democracy in the region more positive now than at any time in history.