The Military as the Guardian of Constitutional Democracy


This Article challenges the prevailing and long-entrenched orthodoxy in constitutional theory that a constitutional role for the military in an emerging democracy necessarily hinders democratic progress. I argue that the ideal level of military involvement in a new democracy is not always zero and that certain militaries can play, and on multiple historical occasions have played, a democracy-promoting role in the initial phases of a transition from autocracy to constitutional democracy. The conventional constitutional theory, which assumes that all militaries are hegemonic and praetorian institutions that must be completely disconnected from the civilian realm, has restrained innovative thinking on this important and timely topic.

As the fourth wave of democratization sweeps across the Arab World, with attendant debates about the appropriate constitutional role for the military in post-authoritarian societies such as Egypt, this Article offers a timely theory of the democracy-promoting military. It argues that some militaries–which I call “interdependent” militaries–are capable of playing a democracy-promoting constitutional role in a post-authoritarian society because their self-interests often align with the conditions that James Madison and others have identified as conducive to the genesis of a constitutional democracy: institutional stability, political pluralism and national unity.

After theorizing the democracy-promoting role that a military can serve, the Article elaborates the theory through comparative case studies. It analyzes the democracy-promoting constitutional role that the militaries in Turkey and Portugal played following respective military coups in 1960 and 1974 that toppled authoritarian regimes and established democracies. The Article concludes by examining the implications of this theory for the transition process currently in progress in Egypt.