The Legacies of Liberalism
Path Dependence and Political Regimes in Central AmericaBook - 2001
Despite their many similarities, Central American countries during the twentieth century were characterized by remarkably different political regimes. In a comparative analysis of Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Honduras, and Nicaragua, James Mahoney argues that these political differences were legacies of the nineteenth-century liberal reform period. Presenting a theory of "path dependence," Mahoney shows how choices made at crucial turning points in Central American history established certain directions of change and foreclosed others to shape long-term development.
By the middle of the twentieth century, three types of political regimes characterized the five nations considered in this study: military-authoritarian (Guatemala, El Salvador), liberal democratic (Costa Rica), and traditional dictatorial (Honduras, Nicaragua). As Mahoney shows, each type is the end point of choices regarding state and agrarian development made by these countries early in the nineteenth century. Applying his conclusions to present-day attempts at market creation in a neoliberal era, Mahoney warns that overzealous pursuit of market creation can have severely negative long-term political consequences.
The Legacies of Liberalism presents new insight into the role of leadership in political development, the place of domestic politics in the analysis of foreign intervention, and the role of the state in the creation of early capitalism. The book offers a general theoretical framework that will be of broad interest to scholars of comparative politics and political development, and its overall argument will stir debate among historians of particular Central American countries.