The term coup d’état–French for stroke of the state–brings to mind coups staged by power-hungry generals who overthrow the existing regime, not to democratize, but to concentrate power in their own hands as dictators. We assume all coups look the same, smell the same, and present the same threats to democracy.
It’s a powerful, concise, and self-reinforcing idea. It’s also wrong.
In The Democratic Coup d’État, Ozan Varol advances a simple, yet controversial, argument: Sometimes, a democracy is established through a military coup. Covering 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, the book takes the reader on a gripping journey.
Connecting the dots between these neglected events, Varol weaves a balanced narrative that challenges everything we thought we knew about military coups. In so doing, he tackles several baffling questions: How can an event as undemocratic as a military coup lead to democracy? Why would imposing generals—armed with tanks and guns and all—voluntarily surrender power to civilian politicians? What distinguishes militaries that help build democracies from those that destroy them?
Varol’s arguments made headlines across the globe in major media outlets and were cited critically in a public speech by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Written for a general audience, this book will entertain, challenge, and provoke, but more importantly, serve as a reminder of the imperative to question the standard narratives about our world and engage with all ideas, no matter how controversial.