28 Mayıs 2014 Çarşamba

Defining and Studying Democratic Transition

As Samuel Huntington analyzes in his famous book The Third Wave[1], starting from the mid 1970s, there has been a visible trend -using the old categorization- in second and third world countries to make democratic reforms and to transform their political regimes into Western type democracies. This process has accelerated after the collapse of Soviet Union. Many scholars from the Western world wrote extensively on democratization and how to best study the phenomenon of democratization for non-Western countries. In this paper, I am going to summarize what has been said in the Western world about democratization and studying democratic transitions.
Terry Lynn Karl:
Terry Lynn Karl in the article “Dilemmas of Democratization in Latin America”[2] basically tries to find an answer to the question: Will new South American democracies survive in the context of terrible economic conditions? Karl offers a new approach to deal with the problem of determining the necessary conditions of a consolidated democracy. Karl thinks that first of all, social scientists should develop an interactive approach that can relate structural constraints to the shaping of contingent choice. Secondly, scholars of Comparative Politics must accept that there can be more than a single way to democracy. Different versions of democracy should also be studied and scholars should get rid of their prejudices and their broad categorization of democratic versus non-democratic regimes. Karl later moves on to analyze different definitions of democracy. Minimalist Schumpeterian[3] definition of democracy refers to a “polity that permits the choice between elites by citizens voting in regular and competitive elections” (Karl, p. 164). Huntington also with his “two turnover” test[4], places himself in the category of minimalist definition. With this minimalist approach, Karl argues many of the Latin American countries can be considered as democratic systems. However, broader definition of democracy includes important conditions such as lack on citizen expression, absence of discrimination against particular groups and political parties, freedom of association for all interests, an active civil society and civilian control over military forces. Even broader definition of democracy also includes increasing economic equity, increasing proportion of population participating in elections and referendums etc. With these broader definitions, nearly none of Latin American or developing countries (including Turkey) fit into the category of democracy. Terry Lynn Karl accepts that these broader definitions can be too idealistic but still we have to increase minimalist approach. Karl proposes a middle-range definition of democracy which would help us in studying developing countries. According to Karl, we have to define democracy as “a set of institutions that permits the entire adult population to act as citizens by choosing their leading decision-makers in competitive, fair and regularly scheduled elections that are held in the context of rule of law, guarantees for political freedom, and limited military prerogatives” (Karl, p. 165).
In the next part, Karl analyzes and criticizes existing perspectives in studying Comparative Politics. Scholars who think within the limits of modernization theory like Seymour Martin Lipset[5] believes that specific economic conditions play a decisive role in the settlement of democracy. Lipset, by using statistical correlations strengthens his arguments and asserts that more a country industrializes, urbanizes, economically enriches and educates its citizens, the more it will have chance to consolidate its democracy. Second approach focuses on the political culture and deals with rising civic mentality and diminishing religious fanaticism. Robert Putnam with his great work Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy[6] can be given as the founder of this approach. According to the third approach, historical conditions are prerequisites of democracy. Scholars such as Barrington Moore[7] believes that democracy is the product of rising bourgeoisie and in countries where landed aristocracy is strong and labor-repressive agriculture is the dominant mode of production democratic settlement would be difficult. Fourth approach considers international influence as the main actor in the spread of democracy. Samuel Huntington for instance argues that the third democratic wave is the product of USA’s increasing prestige and power in the international political system. Huntington praises Reagan government for expanding the borders of democracy and restoring American power. In the same way, many other scholars blame USA as being the unsuccessful promoter and leader of democratic bloc.
Terry Lynn Karl also points out how these approaches could not pass their borders of discourse and miss “anomalies” in the international system. For instance, Argentina and Peru examples seem to refute Lipset’s views on the economic development. Similarly, considering USA’s help to authoritarian and Islamic extremist groups, regimes during the Cold War refutes the fourth perspective. In Karl’s idea, we have to change our minds in studying democracy. First, we have to be aware of the fact that there is no single precondition for the emergence of democracy. Secondly, in Karl’s view, what has been said in the literature as the precondition of democracy can be rather the outcome of democracy. Lynn Karl, later starts to analyze the modes of transition to democracy. As far as Terry Lynn Karl is concerned, transitions to democracy can be basically realized in two ways: by elite ascendance (in a top down, Jacobin manner) or by mass ascendance. Elite ascendance can be made by compromise in the form of pact as in Venezuela (1958), Colombia (1958) and Uruguay (1984) or by force in the form of imposition like in Brazil (1974) and Ecuador (1976) examples. Mass ascendance can take place by compromise in the form of reform like in Argentina (1946-1951), Guatemala (1946-1954) and Chile (1970-1973) or by force in the form of revolution as in Mexico (1910), Bolivia (1952) and Nicaragua (1979).
Rose & Shin:
Richard Rose and Don Chull Shin elaborate their views on democratization and democratization studies in their article “Democratization Backwards: The Problem of Third-Wave Democracies”[8]. They basically claim that third world democracies are incomplete and these regimes can lead to three different scenarios: completing democratization, turning into an undemocratic alternative or falling into a low-level equilibrium. According to Rose and Shin, basic institutions of the modern state are missing in developing democracies (Rose & Shin, p. 332). Rose and Shin also try to draw the road map of democracy by profiting from the views of famous German sociologist Max Weber. First of all, as Weber asserted earlier, modern democratic states should be based on rule of law and multiple institutions of civil society. Laws should not be arbitrary and should be applied to all citizens including governors and bureaucrats. Laws and the principle of rule of law should introduce predictability and rationality in the administration of government and in people’s attitudes. Secondly, there should be many actors, institutions in modern democracies independent from the state like universities, religious authorities, business associations, trade unions, independent media etc. Thirdly, there should be a somehow “horizontal accountability of governors to elites” for taking elites’ views through traditional channels (Rose & Shin, p. 333). Rose and Shin, similar to Terry Lynn Karl, criticize the minimalist (Schumpeterian) definition of democracy. They profit from Karl’s idea called “the fallacy of electoralism”. By this idea, Lynn Karl criticizes social scientists that overvalue elections and ignore other important dimensions of democracy.
Richard Rose and Don Chull Shin later explain the characteristics of three waves of democratization. In their idea, the first wave of democracy did not possess basic democratic qualities like universal suffrage and its basic function was to create an “embryonic” modern state between elites. Although until 1918 in United Kingdom and 1965 in USA, universal suffrage was not granted, these countries’ democracies trace back to 18th centuries. Democracy (democratic rights and democratic culture) first appeared in elites and later spread to whole society. Second wave democracies “are characterized by the breakdown of the initial attempt at introducing free elections, and subsequent success in the second round” (Rose & Chin, p. 336). Although universal suffrage was introduced in the early 20th century, this was followed by the collapse of democracies and the rise of totalitarian regimes like in Germany. Third wave democracies on the other hand, have begun democratization backwards. In their idea, universal suffrage was introduced before necessary tools, institutions of democracy were created. This creates most of the problems in developing democracies according to authors’ idea. Writers later begin to name some conditions of democracy which are rule of law, active civil society, free elections and accountability. They try to show how democratic culture is undeveloped and corruption is widespread in developing countries including Russia, Austria, South Korea and Czech Republic by using statistical data. They also explain the other two alternatives which can take place if developing democracies could not complete their democracies. Their incomplete democracies may indefinitely persist if they do not take further steps. Otherwise, the repudiation of their democracy is also possible. In fact, this was happened in Europe between World Wars.
Linz & Stepan:
Linz and Stepan are also two familiar scholars who wrote extensively of democracy and democratization. In their article “Democracy and Its Arenas”[9], they try to differentiate some concepts, terms that we use in the democratization event. For instance, in their idea democratization is a broader term that contains liberalization in itself. Democratization includes liberalization, open contestation over the right to win control of the government and free competitive elections. They assert that liberalization can take place without a complete democratization.
Linz and Stepan also define democracy on three levels. According to Linz and Stepan, behaviorally, a system is democratic when there are no significant political, social or economic actors that want to demolish the regime. Attitudinally, a democratic regime is consolidated when the very majority of people in this country are committed to democratic principles. Constitutionally, a regime should be called democracy when there are specific laws, regulations, and procedures in the constitution that prevent the collapse of democratic system. Linz and Stepan also name five conditions of a democratic state. First of all, a true democracy needs the existence of “free and lively civil society” (Linz & Stepan, p. 7). Second, there must be a relatively autonomous and valued political society in the country. Third, rule of law should absolutely be present. Fourth, there must be a non-partisan state bureaucracy that can work with all political parties. Fifth, there must be an institutionalized economic society. Linz and Stepan later explain these conditions in detail.
Adam Przeworski:
Adam Przeworskiin his book Democracy and the Market: Political and Economic Reforms in Eastern Europe and Latin America (Studies in Rationality and Social Change)[10], deals with the same issue from a different perspective. In his idea, transition to democracy is either becomes successful or dies in the hands of those “who have arms or starved by those who control productive resources” (Przeworski, p. 51). He analyzes different scenarios of transitions by providing examples and shows how dangerous hardliners can be in the process of democratic transition. He later names essential features of democracy including constitution and contestation.
Andreas Schedler:
Andreas Schedler in his article “What Is Democratic Consolidation”[11], defines democratic consolidation as “the challenge of new democracies secure, of extending their life expectancy beyond the short term, of making them immune against the threat of authoritarian regression, of building dams against eventual reverse waves”. He later moves on to discuss the problems of the field of Comparative Politics. He thinks that democratic consolidation is a “nebulous” term since there has always been a conceptual fog that veiled the term. also mentions about different categorizations of regimes which make the situation even more complicated. According to the work of David Collier and Steven Levitsky, there are around 550 different categories of political regimes. However, Schedler accepts four basic categories which are: authoritarianism, electoral democracy, liberal democracy and advanced democracy. Schedler asserts that countries that satisfy the conditions of Robert Dahl’s “polyarchy” conception should be classified as liberal democracies. He uses electoral democracy or semi-democracy for regimes in which free and fair elections are hold but there are problems related to political and civil freedoms. Advanced democracies on the other hand, are countries that have better conditions that minimal conditions of liberal democracies and have absolutely consolidated democracies for long decades.
Schedler strongly rejects the idea that there is a unilinear process in democratization and countries do not necessarily lead to pass stages from authoritarianism to electoral democracy first, and to liberal democracy later and finally to advanced democracies. He finds this unilinear approach as “teleologic” and thinks that we have to get rid of this specific mentality.  Shortcomings and turn-backs are always possible according to Schedler in the democratization process. He analyzes these scenarios under five headings: Democratic Breakdown, Democratic Erosion, Completing Democracy, Deepening Democracy and Organizing Democracy. Democratic breakdown takes place when a country moves from electoral democracy or liberal democracy to authoritarianism. Latin American experience in the 1970s can be a good example for democratic breakdown. In democratic breakdown, multi-party free and fair elections are abolished and authoritarian governments are formed. Democratic erosion is realized when a country goes from liberal democracy to electoral democracy and many civil, political rights are suspended, limited. Completing democracy is a term for the transition from electoral democracy to liberal democracy. Many of newly industrializing countries are in fact at this stage and try to complete their democracies by reducing the role of unelected state institutions (i.e. military) and granting extensive civil-political liberties to its citizens. Deepening democracy is a process during which countries move towards advanced democracies from electoral or liberal democracy stage. This process takes decades for the internalization of democratic culture and norms by citizens and all political actors as well as to raise the standards of rights and freedoms. Organizing democracy on the other hand, takes place at the process of liberal democracy and is about the construction of “all those big organizations that make up the characteristic infrastructure of modern liberal democracies: parties and party systems, legislative bodies, state bureaucracies, judicial systems, and systems of interest intermediation”.
Guillermo O’Donnell:
Guillermo O’Donnell in his articles “Democracy, Law, and Comparative Politics”[12] and “Illusions About Consolidation”[13], makes it clear at the beginning that his purpose at present is to furnish some elements of what he believes are needed revisions in the conceptual and comparative agenda for the study of all existing polyarchies especially those that are informally institutionalized. O’Donnell rejects minimalist definition of democracy and thinks that Robert Dahl’s “polyarchy” definition can help us to differentiate democratic and other types of regimes if we can make few additions. In O’Donnell’s view, when elections and their surrounding freedoms are institutionalized, it might be said that polyarchy (or political democracy) is consolidated, likely to endure. He quotes from Adam Przeworski and says that democratic consolidation is a state of affairs “in which none of the major political actors, parties, or organized interests, forces, or institutions consider that there is any alternative to democratic processes to gain power, and no political institution or group has a claim to veto the action of democratically elected decision makers”. Although O’Donnell agrees with this “only game in the town” definition, he still thinks that this is not enough for a consolidated democracy. He claims that there is no theory that is able to tell us why and how the new polyarchies that have institutionalized elections will complete their institutional set, or otherwise become consolidated. He thinks we can only say that as long as elections are institutionalized, polyarchies are likely to endure. We can add the hypothesis that this likelihood is greater for polyarchies that are formally institutionalized. But this proposition is not terribly interesting unless we take into account other factors that most likely have strong independent effects on the survival chances of polyarchies.
In his idea, we have to separate idealized formal rules of consolidated democracy from more particular ones. O’Donnell asserts that even in so called consolidated democracies, there is an increasing gap between formal rules and the behavior of all sorts of political actors. Moreover, the gap is even larger in many new polyarchies, where the formal rules about how political institutions are supposed to work are often poor guides to what actually happens. In O’Donnell’s idea, we have to distinguish extremely influential particular and clientelist rules that affect polyarchies. O’Donnell calls these rules as “non-universalistic relationships” which range from hierarchical particularistic exchanges, patronage, nepotism etc. In short, he argues that polyarchies are not the same kind of regime and there are many particularistic characteristics. This is the point where O’Donnell re-considers “the only game in the town” definition. He claims that this definition is about the formal rules of polyarchy. However, this approach does not prevent the chance of the games played inside the democratic institutions. O’Donnell thinks this is mostly caused by the lack of “horizontal accountability”. By horizontal accountability, he refers to different state institutions’ checks and balances of each other. O’Donnell also mentions the importance of plebiscite in the real democratic rule.
Although much has been said in the Western academic world about the democratization phenomenon and studies, these works might not always touch upon realities in the street. Especially concerning the Islamic world, unfortunately democratization hopes and projects might face with political Islam, which is a real discouraging factor for decision-makers and academics. Political Islam, -except for the first 5 years experience of Justice and Development Party (JDP) in Turkey (2002-2007)- has not been able to create a liberal and democratic system although they may implement free and fair elections. Tunisia might be another good example for this model in the near future since it is maybe the only successful country after the Arab Spring. But other experiences such as the Muslim Brotherhood rule in Egypt and the nature of opposition in Syria for instance show that it might not be that easy to embrace democracy in the Islamic world.
Another problem about democratization studies in the Western academia is that they seem forgot centuries old experiences of European countries in embracing full scale democracy. It must not be forgotten that Turkic states for instance are newly independent countries that have been still struggling to establish a modern bureaucratic and economic system. Without a modern state mechanism and working market economy, democracy would not work anywhere in the world. In addition, although Western pressure for democracy is valuable and can encourage leaders of these countries to make further reforms, these pressures should be for the sake for democracy not for geopolitical advantages of the Western world.

Assist. Prof. Dr. Ozan ÖRMECİ

[2] Karl, Terry Lynn (1990), “Dilemmas of Democratization in Latin America”, Comparative Politics, Vol. 23, No: 1, October 1990, Available at: http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/422302?uid=3739192&uid=2&uid=4&sid=21104082961917.
[3] Reference to Joseph Schumpeter’s minimalist definition of democracy.
[4] Samuel Huntington by his “two turnover” test basically claims that if a country has been able to experience changes of governmental power twice, we can assert that this country is democratic.
[5] See for instance; Lipset, Seymour Martin (1963), Political man: The social bases of politics, Anchor Books. Available at Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Political-man-social-bases-politics/dp/0385066503/.
[6] Putnam, Robert (1994), Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy, Princeton University Press. Available at Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Making-Democracy-Work-Traditions-Modern/dp/0691037388/.
[7] See for instance; Moore, Barrington (1993), Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Lord and Peasant in the Making of the Modern World, Beacon Press. Available at Amazon:http://www.amazon.com/Social-Origins-Dictatorship-Democracy-Peasant/dp/0807050733/.
[8] Rose, Richard & Shin, Don Chull (2001), “Democratization Backwards: The Problem of Third-Wave Democracies”, British Journal of Political Science, No: 31, pp. 331-354.
[9] Linz, Juan & Stepan, Alfred (1996), “Democracy and Its Arenas” in Problems of Democratic Transition and Consolidation, Johns Hopkins University Press. Available at:http://polisci2.ucsd.edu/democracy/documents/LinzandStepan-TransitionandConsolidation.pdf.
[10] Przeworski, Adam (1991), Democracy and the Market: Political and Economic Reforms in Eastern Europe and Latin America (Studies in Rationality and Social Change), Cambridge University Press. Available at Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Democracy-Market-Political-Economic-Rationality/dp/052142335X/.
[11] Schedler, Andreas (1998), “What is Democratic Consolidation?”, Journal of Democracy, Vol. 9, No: 2, pp. 91-107. Available at: http://www.sciencespo.site.ulb.ac.be/dossiers_supports/schedler1.pdf.
[12] O’Donnell, Guillermo (2001), “Democracy, Law, and Comparative Politics”, Studies in Comparative International Development, Vol. 36, No: 1, pp. 7-36.
[13] O’Donnell, Guillermo (1996), “Illusions about Consolidation”, Journal of Democracy, Vol. 7, No: 2, pp. 34-51.

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