Weber Through the Back Door: Protestant Competition, Elite Power Dispersion and the Global Spread of Democracy

46 Pages Posted: 19 Jul 2010 Last revised: 21 Sep 2010

Robert D. Woodberry

University of Texas at Austin

Date Written: 2010

Abstract

This article explores Protestantism’s inadvertent, historic role in dispersing elite power and spurring democracy. Economic and political elites typically hoard resources and perpetuate class distinction. Conversionary Protestants undermined this social reproduction because they wanted everyone to read the Bible in their own language, decide individually what to believe, and create religious organizations outside state control. Thus, they consistently initiated mass education, mass printing and civil society and spurred competitors to copy. Resultant power dispersion altered elite incentives and increased the probability of stable democratic transitions.

I test my historical arguments statistically via the spread of Protestant and Catholic missionaries. Protestant missions account for about half the variation in non-European democracy and remove the influence of variables that dominate current research. These findings challenge scholars to reformulate theories about cultural vs. structure, and about the rise of democracy.

Keywords: Democracy, Weber, Christian missions, education, printing, civil society, colonialism

Suggested Citation

Woodberry, Robert D., Weber Through the Back Door: Protestant Competition, Elite Power Dispersion and the Global Spread of Democracy (2010). APSA 2010 Annual Meeting Paper. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1644124

Robert D. Woodberry (Contact Author)

University of Texas at Austin ( email )

Austin, TX 78712
United States

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