This Article addresses the mystery of why some countries appear to become democracies seamlessly while others face insurmountable obstacles. While acknowledging the importance of civil society to democratization at the time of transition, this Article argues that broad historical civil society movements, even if devoid of immediate political impact, also facilitate the passage to democracy at a later date.
This Article takes a comparative look at the constitutional, labor, and women’s movements in Japan, Iraq, and Iran, from the nineteenth century to the present. It demonstrates that the resilience of Japanese civil society from 1868 onward secured the country’s successful transition to democracy after World War II, while Iraq’s history of weak civic activism makes it harder for Iraqis today to embrace democratic tenets. The Article also proposes that the potency of past civil society movements in Iran mirrors Japan’s experience much more closely than Iraq’s, suggesting that, despite weak representative institutions, Iran is ripe for transition to democratic government under the stewardship of domestic civic forces.