This paper distinguishes between nomological and historical explanations of democracy. The former searches for the general conditions under which democracies emerge (modernization theory is the most accomplished example). The latter asks about the historical origins of democracy and its expansion. It is argued that representative democracy was born at the end of 18th century in the West because this was the region of the world with higher levels of individualism, assuming a tight affinity between the values of individualism and democracy (equality and freedom). Societies with lower levels of individualism democratized later or did not democratize at all. The process of democratic expansion is driven by economic closeness to the West. The study combines distal (pre-modern individualism) and proximal (economic closeness to the West) variables in the historical explanation of democracy. The outcome variable is the year in which countries become stable democracies. A battery of statistical analyses, including instrumental variables, confirms the importance of individualism.