Thinking about the rising power of multinational corporations over national governments, I've been debating with a friend on how the seemingly more and more obsolete democratic systems like in the US or most EU nations could be progressively shifting to a system that could reestablish the power of a small group of unelected people over the population, without any radical change from the current system.

Our discussion deadlocked as we found no example, in our knowledge of history, where any kind of political system formed out of democracy without any violence.

So the question is, has something like that ever happened?

  • "obsolete" because seemingly not able to handle the power of megacorperations.
    – jawo
    Apr 27, 2015 at 8:06
  • “Western democracy” itself is quite new and evolving so it's not like there is a whole lot of past experience to look back to.
    – Relaxed
    Apr 27, 2015 at 9:51
  • This is a matter of opinion, but personally I am also very worried about the increasing power that multinational corporations gets and the lowering power of the governments. The problem is that we need some proof that this is a threat to democracy.
    – Bregalad
    Apr 27, 2015 at 12:42
  • I’m voting to close this question because it is a better fit on history and isn't on topic here. Dec 17, 2021 at 14:59

3 Answers 3


That depends on your definition of democracy, not to mention of "no violence". As to the latter, to take an extreme case, if a new type of government comes to power, and in the course of it two drunks in a bar have an argument about whether the new government is better than the old and they throw a couple of punches, and that is the only violence, would you say that that means it failed the "no violence" test? I'd say absolute zero violence is probably almost impossible.

That said: Rome turned from a republic to a dictatorship with relatively little violence. Yes, there were a series of civil wars, but those wars took place under the republic. It's a common analysis to say that the people accepted the dictatorship because they believed a strong enough government could end the civil wars.

Western Europe and he US are drifting from democracies to rule by an unelected elite with very little violence.

Ancient Israel went from a rather libertarian society to a monarchy with no apparent violence. In that case the people generally favored it because they believed a king could better maintain a standing army to protect them from foreign invasion.

** Further thought **

The Roman Empire was probably a bad example. There was fighting by the Republicans under Brutus against the Imperialists under Augustus. Duh, forgetting my Shakespeare, even.

But a much better example hit me, an absolute classic example: Nazi Germany. Hitler came to power through free elections and political maneuvering. Then of course once in power he took steps to make it impossible for him to be voted out of power.

The Nazis did try to overthrow the government by force -- the "Beer Hall Putsch" -- but this failed. They then switched to using legal means.

  • 2
    Hitler did two coups. In the end, his SA murdered various political oponents. Would not call this non-violental.
    – jawo
    Apr 28, 2015 at 4:28
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    Can you provide sources for the claims about Israel, Rome and Europe/US?
    – mart
    Apr 28, 2015 at 11:37
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    @PointlessSpike I didn't say "unelected politicians": I said "unelected elite". To say, "all the people you are allowed to vote for are subject to popular vote" is a tautology, but doesn't answer the question, "who is really in charge?" In imperial Rome, the senators, consuls, tribunes, etc were all elected. But they had little real power: It was the emperor, who was not elected, who was in charge. In the U.S., the Supreme Court has the power to overturn any law or presidential order they don't like. They are the ultimate authority, and they are not elected.
    – Jay
    Apr 28, 2015 at 13:53
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    @PointlessSpike Exactly. I'm not saying the U.S. is a fascist dictatorship. Obviously not. But I think it is fair to say that we are moving in the direction of less individual freedom and more power in the hands of unelected people. And, to get back to the original question, this has happened without violence. It's not like the army was divided between those supporting Congress and those supporting the courts, and the court faction won a pitched battle. Rather, over the years the courts have assumed more power for themselves, and for whatever reason, Congress has meekly accepted this. Etc.
    – Jay
    Apr 28, 2015 at 14:17
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    What do you define as "undemocratic"? No country has true, direct democracy as far as I'm aware of. Apr 28, 2015 at 14:37

Since this question is a bit broad, it's hard to answer precisely. However, there is a couple of examples in my mind where more or less democratic systems evolved into either very flawed democracies or dictatorships, without any military intervention or any extremist groups overtaking the government.

  • Near the end of the USSR in the late 80s, Gorbachev launched his Gastnost program and started to allow opposition parties and freedom of speech. This included all the former soviet republics. It can be argued that even after the reforms USSR wasn't fully democratic. However, the majority of ex-USSR central asian republics now forbid freedom of speech and oposition parties again. Turkmenistan is more or less North Korea 2.0.
  • A couple Central Europe countries gained a democratic elected government after World War I, but shifted undemocratic again with little violence after half a dozen of years: Hungary, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Yougoslavia. Although violence was definitely present, it was not comparable to the repeated acts violence happened before during the overthrow of government in Italy, Germany and Austria.
  • Many countries impose a "Martial law" when a more powerful neighbour is at war. This gives temporary more power to the government, because decisions has to be taken very quickly and the a democratic debate would be a huge waste of time, in addition to reveal the government intention to their potential enemies immediately as the decision is taking. Switzerland and Sweden during World War II are good examples of this.

As for countries being taken over by a couple of multinational companies, I can't really answer. Some of the poorer countries in Africa and Asia are probably de facto in such a situation, however, they didn't have a democratic past.


If an undemocratic system arose from democracy, then they have no reason to remove democratic institutions as a facade, after all, all these institutions led them to power.

Explicitely removing democracy may be needed if one wants to proclaim a monarchy. Consider

  • Naponelon III's proclamation as emperor of France after he was elected president.

  • Yuan Shikai's proclamation as emperor of China after he was elected president.

Although in the later case it sparked a civil war post-factum.

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