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In this article we probe the effect of democratization on the state's administrative capacity. Using time-series cross-section data, we find a curvilinear (J-shaped) relationship between the two traits. The effect of democracy on state capacity is negative at low values of democracy, nonexistent at median values, and strongly positive at high democracy levels. This is confirmed under demanding statistical tests. The curvilinear relationship is due, we argue, to the combined effect of two forms of steering and control; one exercised from above, the other from below. In strongly authoritarian states, a satisfactory measure of control from above can at times be accomplished. Control from below is best achieved when democratic institutions are fully installed and are accompanied by a broad array of societal resources. Looking at two resource measures, press circulation and electoral participation, we find that these, combined with democracy, enhance state administrative capacity.