November 17, 2017

Professor Ozan Varol Finds Military Coups May Serve as Gateways to Democracy

Ozan Varol researched the relationship between military coups and democratic beginnings, authoring a best selling book and opinions in the Wall St. Journal and Washington Post.

Constitutional law professor Ozan Varol is fascinated at how some democracies have their beginnings in a military coup and has authored a best selling book as well as editorials in national publications about this phenomenon.

Varol spent the past six years researching military coups that buck conventional wisdom: Instead of creating dictatorships, these coups topple them and create the foundations for democratic rule.

His research culminated in the book, The Democratic Coup d’État, by Oxford University Press. The book covers events from the Athenian Navy’s stance in 411 B.C. against a tyrannical home government, to coups in the American colonies that ousted corrupt British governors, to twentieth-century coups that toppled dictators and established democracy in countries as diverse as Guinea-Bissau, Portugal, and Colombia.

When Zimbabwe’s military stepped in to topple a long-ruling dictator this week, Varol wrote about the coup for the Wall Street Journal in a November 15 article, Zimbabwe’s Coup Could Provide an Opening for Democracy.  

He writes, A military coup itself is an undemocratic event. The military assumes power not through elections but by force or the threat of force. But sometimes a military coup can topple a dictatorship and make possible a transition that ends with the free and fair election of civilian leaders.”

Similarly, Venezuela’s slide toward authoritarian rule and fragile economic situation may trigger action from the military with the possibility of sparking a democratic transition, as he explains in an opinion for the Washington Post. Varol’s opinion and book was cited in a recent Newsweek story.

Professor Varol teaches in the areas of constitutional law, criminal law and procedure, comparative constitutional law, and Islamic law. You can follow his writing on his blog.