Democratization (or democratisation) is the transition to a more democratic political regime. It also refers to substantive political changes moving in a democratic direction. It may be the transition from an authoritarian regime to a full democracy, a transition from an authoritarian political system to a semi-democracy or transition from a semi-authoritarian political system to a democratic political system. The outcome may be consolidated (as it was for example in the United Kingdom) or democratization may face frequent reversals (as it has faced for example in Venezuela). Different patterns of democratization are often used to explain other political phenomena, such as whether a country goes to a war or whether its economy grows. Democratization itself is influenced by various factors, including economic development, history, and civil society. The ideal result from democratization is to ensure that the people have the right to vote and have a voice in their political system.
There is considerable debate about the factors which affect or ultimately limit democratization. A great many things, including economics, culture, and history, have been cited as impacting on the process. Some of the more frequently mentioned factors are:
- Wealth. A higher GDP/capita correlates with democracy and some claim the wealthiest democracies have never been observed to fall into authoritarianism. The rise of Hitler and of the Nazis in Weimar Germany can be seen as an obvious counter-example, but although in early 1930s Germany was already an advanced economy, by that time, the country was also living in a state of economic crisis virtually since the first World War (in the 1910s), a crisis which was eventually worsened by the effects of the Great Depression. There is also the general observation that democracy was very rare before the industrial revolution. Empirical research thus lead many to believe that economic development either increases chances for a transition to democracy (modernization theory), or helps newly established democracies consolidate. One study finds that economic development prompts democratization but only in the medium run (10–20 years). This is because development may entrench the incumbent leader but make it more difficult for him deliver the state to a son or trusted aide when he exits. However, the debate about whether democracy is a consequence of wealth, a cause of it, or both processes are unrelated, is far from conclusive. Another study suggests that economic development depends on the political stability of a country to promote democracy. Clark, Robert and Golder, in their reformulation of Albert Hirschman's model of Exit, Voice and Loyalty, explain how it is not the increase of wealth in a country per se which influences a democratization process, but rather the changes in the socio-economic structures that come together with the increase of wealth. They explain how these structure changes have been called out to be one of the main reasons several European countries became democratic. When their socioeconomic structures shifted because modernization made the agriculture sector more efficient, bigger investments of time and resources were used for the manufacture and service sectors. In England, for example, members of the gentry began investing more on commercial activities that allowed them to become economically more important for the state. This new kind of productive activities came with new economic power were assets became more difficult for the state to count and hence more difficult to tax. Because of this, predation was no longer possible and the state had to negotiate with the new economic elites to extract revenue. A sustainable bargain had to be reached because the state became more dependent of its citizens remaining loyal and, with this, citizens had now leverage to be taken into account in the decision making process for the country.
- Social equality. Acemoglu and Robinson argued that the relationship between social equality and democratic transition is complicated: People have less incentive to revolt in an egalitarian society (for example, Singapore), so the likelihood of democratization is lower. In a highly unequal society (for example, South Africa under Apartheid), the redistribution of wealth and power in a democracy would be so harmful to elites that these would do everything to prevent democratization. Democratization is more likely to emerge somewhere in the middle, in the countries, whose elites offer concessions because (1) they consider the threat of a revolution credible and (2) the cost of the concessions is not too high. This expectation is in line with the empirical research showing that democracy is more stable in egalitarian societies.
- Culture. It is claimed by some that certain cultures are simply more conductive to democratic values than others. This view is likely to be ethnocentric. Typically, it is Western culture which is cited as "best suited" to democracy, with other cultures portrayed as containing values which make democracy difficult or undesirable. This argument is sometimes used by undemocratic regimes to justify their failure to implement democratic reforms. Today, however, there are many non-Western democracies. Examples include: India, Japan, Indonesia, Namibia, Botswana, Taiwan, and South Korea. Research finds that "Western-educated leaders significantly and substantively improve a country's democratization prospects".
- Social Capital. Robert Putnam argues that certain characteristics make societies more likely to have cultures of civic engagement that lead to more participatory democracies. Putnam argues that communities with denser horizontal networks of civic association are able to better build the "norms of trust, reciprocity, and civic engagement" that lead to democratization and well-functioning participatory democracies. Putnam contrasts communities with dense horizontal networks, to communities built around vertical networks and patron-client relations which he asserts are unlikely to build the culture of civic engagement necessary for democratization.
- Dictatorship type. The three dictatorship types, monarchy, civilian and military have different approaches to democratization as a result of their individual goals. Monarchic and civilian dictatorships seek to remain in power indefinitely through hereditary rule in the case of monarchs or through oppression in the case of civilian dictators. A military dictatorship seizes power to act as a caretaker government to replace what they consider a flawed civilian government. Military dictatorships are more likely to transition to democracy because at the onset, they are meant to be stop-gap solutions while a new acceptable government forms.
- Scrambled Constituencies. Mancur Olson theorizes that the process of democratization occurs when elites are unable to reconstitute an autocracy. Olson suggests that this occurs when constituencies or identity groups are mixed within a geographic region. He asserts that this mixed geographic constituencies requires elites to for democratic and representative institutions to control the region, and to limit the power of competing elite groups.
- Education. It has long been theorized that education promotes stable and democratic societies. Research shows that education leads to greater political tolerance, increases the likelihood of political participation and reduces inequality. One study finds "that increases in levels of education improve levels of democracy and that the democratizing effect of education is more intense in poor countries".
- Urbanization. There is research to suggest that greater urbanization, through various pathways, contributes to democratization.
- Natural Resources. University of California, Berkeley political scientist Thad Dunning proposes a plausible explanation for Ecuador’s return to democracy that contradicts the conventional wisdom that natural resource rents encourage authoritarian governments. Dunning proposes that there are situations where natural resource rents, such as those acquired through oil, reduce the risk of distributive or social policies to the elite because the state has other sources of revenue to finance this kind of policies that is not the elite wealth or income. And in countries plagued with high inequality, which was the case of Ecuador in the 1970s, the result would be a higher likelihood of democratization. In 1972, the military coup had overthrown the government in large part because of the fears of elites that redistribution would take place. That same year oil became an increasing financial source for the country. Although the rents were used to finance the military, the eventual second oil boom of 1979 ran parallel to the country’s re-democratization. Ecuador’s re-democratization can then be attributed, as argued by Dunning, to the large increase of oil rents, which enabled not only a surge in public spending but placated the fears of redistribution that had grappled the elite circles. The exploitation of Ecuador’s resource rent enabled the government to implement price and wage policies that benefited citizens at no cost to the elite and allowed for a smooth transition and growth of democratic institutions.
- Foreign trade. A 2016 study found that preferential trade agreements "encourage the democratization of a country, in particular if the PTA partners are themselves democracies."
- Democracy protests. Research indicates that democracy protests are associated with democratization. A 2016 study found that about a quarter of all cases of democracy protests between 1989-2011 lead to democratization.
- Threat of civil conflict. Research suggests that the threat of civil conflict encourages regimes to make democratic concessions. A 2016 study found that drought-induced riots in Sub-Saharan Africa lead regimes, fearing conflict, to make democratic concessions.
- Overthrow of dictators. Rebels may overthrow their dictators with the aim of establishing a democratic government, but this method is rarely successful. The death of a dictator rarely ushers in democracy. One analysis found that "of the 79 dictators who have died in office (1946-2014)... in the vast majority (92%) of cases, the regime persists after the autocrat's death."
- International cooperation. A 2002 study found that membership in international organizations "is correlated with transitions to democracy during the period from 1950 to 1992."
- Foreign intervention. Democracies have often been imposed by military intervention, for example in Japan and Germany after WWII. In other cases, decolonization sometimes facilitated the establishment of democracies that were soon replaced by authoritarian regimes. For example, Syria, after gaining independence from French mandatory control at the beginning of the Cold War, failed to consolidate its democracy, so it eventually collapsed and was replaced by a Ba'athist dictatorship. In general, most attempts to establish democracy by military means have failed.
- War-making. Jeffrey Herbst, in its acclaimed paper "War and the state in Africa", explains how democratization in European states was achieved through war making and how it is a cause of state formation missing in Africa today. He exemplifies how war caused the state to become more efficient in revenue collection, it forced leaders to improve administrative capabilities; and created and environment where populations could develop a sense of unification. European states where under constant threat of being invaded and bursting into war with their neighboring countries. This demand to be constantly vigilant enabled the development of effective revenue collection systems and, those states that did not raise sufficient revenue for war perished. War also created a common and powerful association between the state and its people, given that citizens felt threatened as a nation and, it was only as a nation that they would thrive. Fighting wars made people feel more associated with the state.
- Peace and security. Wars may contribute to the state building that precedes a transition to democracy, but war is also a serious obstacle to democratization. While adherants of the democratic peace theory believe that democracy comes before peace, historical evidence shows the opposite. In almost all cases, peace has come before democracy. There is little support for the hypothesis that democracy causes peace, but strong evidence for the opposite hypothesis that peace leads to democracy. Christian Welzel's human empowerment theory posits that existential security leads to emancipative cultural values and support for a democratic political organization. This is in agreement with theories based on evolutionary psychology. The so-called regality theory finds that people develop a psychological preference for a strong leader and an authoritarian form of government in situations of war or perceived collective danger. On the other hand, people will support egalitarian values and a preference for democracy in situations of peace and safety. The consequence of this is that a society will develop in the direction of autocracy and an authoritarian government when people perceive collective danger, while the development in the democratic direction requires collective safety. This explains why almost all attempts to establish democracy by violent means have failed
In Great Britain, there was renewed interest in Magna Carta in the 17th century. The Parliament of England enacted the Petition of Right in 1628 which established certain liberties for subjects. The English Civil War (1642–1651) was fought between the King and an oligarchic but elected Parliament, during which the idea of a political party took form with groups debating rights to political representation during the Putney Debates of 1647. Subsequently, the Protectorate (1653-59) and the English Restoration (1660) restored more autocratic rule although Parliament passed the Habeas Corpus Act in 1679, which strengthened the convention that forbade detention lacking sufficient cause or evidence. The Glorious Revolution in 1688 established a strong Parliament that passed the Bill of Rights 1689, which codified certain rights and liberties for individuals. It set out the requirement for regular parliaments, free elections, rules for freedom of speech in Parliament and limited the power of the monarch, ensuring that, unlike much of the rest of Europe, royal absolutism would not prevail. Only with the Representation of the People Act 1884 did a majority of the males get the vote.
The American Revolution (1765–1783) created the United States. The new Constitution established a relatively strong federal national government that included an executive, a national judiciary, and a bicameral Congress that represented states in the Senate and the population in the House of Representatives. In many fields, it was a success ideologically in the sense that a relatively true republic was established that never had a single dictator, but voting rights were initially restricted to white male property owners (about 6% of the population). Slavery was not abolished in the southern states until the constitutional Amendments of the Reconstruction Era following the American Civil War (1861–1865) and the Civil Rights given to African-Americans were only achieved in the 1960s.
The French Revolution (1789) briefly allowed a wide franchise. The French Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars lasted for more than twenty years. The French Directory was more oligarchic. The First French Empire and the Bourbon Restoration restored more autocratic rule. The Second French Republic had universal male suffrage but was followed by the Second French Empire. The Franco-Prussian War (1870–71) resulted in the French Third Republic.
The Kingdom of Italy, after the unification of Italy in 1861, was a constitutional monarchy with the King having considerable powers. Italian fascism created a dictatorship after the World War I. World War II resulted in the Italian Republic.
The Meiji period, after 1868, started the modernization of Japan. Limited democratic reforms were introduced. The Taishō period (1912–1926) saw more reforms. The beginning of the Shōwa period reversed this until the end of World War II.
According to a study by Freedom House, in 67 countries where dictatorships have fallen since 1972, nonviolent civic resistance was a strong influence over 70 percent of the time. In these transitions, changes were catalyzed not through foreign invasion, and only rarely through armed revolt or voluntary elite-driven reforms, but overwhelmingly by democratic civil society organizations utilizing nonviolent action and other forms of civil resistance, such as strikes, boycotts, civil disobedience, and mass protests.
One influential survey in democratization is that of Freedom House, which arose during the Cold War. Freedom House, today an institution and a think tank, produces one of the most comprehensive "freedom measures" nationally and internationally and by extension a measure of democratization. Freedom House categorizes all countries of the world according to a seven-point value system with over 200 questions on the survey and multiple survey representatives in various parts of every nation. The total raw points of every country places the country in one of three categories: Free, Partly Free, or not Free.
One study simultaneously examining the relationship between market economy (measured with one Index of Economic Freedom), economic development (measured with GDP/capita), and political freedom (measured with the Freedom House index) found that high economic freedom increases GDP/capita and a high GDP/capita increases economic freedom. A high GDP/capita also increases political freedom but political freedom did not increase GDP/capita. There was no direct relationship either way between economic freedom and political freedom if keeping GDP/capita constant.
Francis Fukuyama wrote another classic in democratization studies entitled The End of History and the Last Man which spoke of the rise of liberal democracy as the final form of human government. However it has been argued that the expansion of liberal economic reforms has had mixed effects on democratization. In many ways, it is argued, democratic institutions have been constrained or "disciplined" in order to satisfy international capital markets or to facilitate the global flow of trade.
Samuel P. Huntington wrote The Third Wave, partly as response to Fukuyama, defining a global democratization trend in the world post WWII. Huntington defined three waves of democratization that have taken place in history. The first one brought democracy to Western Europe and Northern America in the 19th century. It was followed by a rise of dictatorships during the Interwar period. The second wave began after World War II, but lost steam between 1962 and the mid-1970s. The latest wave began in 1974 and is still ongoing. Democratization of Latin America and the former Eastern Bloc is part of this third wave.
A very good example of a region which passed through all the three waves of democratization is the Middle East. During the 15th century it was a part of the Ottoman Empire. In the 19th century, "when the empire finally collapsed [...] towards the end of the First World War, the Western armies finally moved in and occupied the region". This was an act of both European expansion and state-building in order to democratize the region. However, what Posusney and Angrist argue is that, "the ethnic divisions [...] are [those that are] complicating the U.S. effort to democratize Iraq". This raises interesting questions about the role of combined foreign and domestic factors in the process of democratization. In addition, Edward Said labels as 'orientalist' the predominantly Western perception of "intrinsic incompatibility between democratic values and Islam". Moreover, he states that "the Middle East and North Africa lack the prerequisites of democratization".
Fareed Zakaria has examined the security interests benefited from democracy promotion, pointing out the link between levels of democracy in a country and of terrorist activity. Though it is accepted that poverty in the Muslim world has been a leading contributor to the rise of terrorism, Zakaria has noted that the primary terrorists involved in the 9/11 attacks were among the upper and upper-middle classes. Zakaria has suggested that the society in which Al-Qaeda terrorists lived provided easy money, and therefore there existed little incentive to modernize economically or politically. With little opportunity to express themselves in the political sphere, scores of young Arab men were "invited to participate" through another avenue: the culture of Islamic fundamentalism. The rise of Islamic fundamentalism and its violent expression on September 11, 2001 illustrates an inherent need to express oneself politically, and a democratic government or one with democratic aspects (such as political openness) is quite necessary to provide a forum for political expression.
Larry Pardy observed that governments are motivated by political power, which is generated by two factors: legitimacy and means. The legitimacy of a democratic government is achieved through the consent of the population through fair and open elections while its financial means are derived from a healthy tax base generated by a vibrant economy. Economic success is based on a free market economy with the following elements: property rights, a fair and independent judiciary, security, and the rule of law. The core elements that support economic freedom convey the same basic rights onto individuals. Conversely, there can be no rule of law for investors when governments crack down on political opponents and no property rights for industry when personal wealth can be arbitrarily seized.
According to Clark, Golder, and Golder, an application of Albert O. Hirschman's exit, voice, and loyalty model is that if individuals have plausible exit options, then a government may be more likely to democratize. James C. Scott argues that governments may find it difficult to claim a sovereignty over a population when that population is in motion. Scott additionally asserts that exit may not solely include physical exit from the territory of a coercive state, but can include a number of adaptive responses to coercion that make it more difficult for states to claim sovereignty over a population. These responses can include planting crops that are more difficult for states to count, or tending livestock that are more mobile. In fact, the entire political arrangement of a state is a result of individuals adapting to the environment, and making a choice as to whether or not to stay in a territory. If people are free to move, then the exit, voice, and loyalty model predicts that a state will have to be of that population representative, and appease the populous in order to prevent them from leaving. If individuals have plausible exit options then they are better able to constrain a government’s arbitrary behaviour through threat of exit. For instance, Alex Tabarrok argues that the reverse of this occurred in Ferguson, Missouri; those who could left the township, but ultimately the local government abused its power as people could not exit in part due to a string of excessive fines which forced them to stay.
A sustainable democracy has to involve far more than fair and open elections. It rests on a solid foundation of economic and political freedom that, for Western nations, had to be pried from governments over centuries. It goes back at least to 1215 when King John accepted limits on his powers and conceded certain rights in the Magna Carta. Then, as now, governments will be motivated to support rights and freedoms only when it directly impacts the government's ability to maintain and exercise political power. It does not arise with idealistic notions of democracy and freedom, implied fiscal contracts with citizens, exhortations from donor states or pronouncements from international agencies. Fukyama was essentially correct with his assertion regarding the end of history – that Western liberal democracy represents the endpoint of mankind's ideological evolution. It represents a mechanism whereby our free market system efficiently allocates resources in our economy while co-existing in a symbiotic relationship with our democratic system of government. Our governments are incentivized to protect the economy while the foundations for that economy create the conditions for democracy.
According to a study by political scientist Daniel Treisman, influential theories of democratization posit that autocrats "deliberately choose to share or surrender power. They do so to prevent revolution, motivate citizens to fight wars, incentivize governments to provide public goods, outbid elite rivals, or limit factional violence. Examining the history of all democratizations since 1800, I show that such deliberate choice arguments may help explain up to one third of cases. In about two thirds, democratization occurred not because incumbent elites chose it but because, in trying to prevent it, they made mistakes that weakened their hold on power. Common mistakes include: calling elections or starting military conflicts, only to lose them; ignoring popular unrest and being overthrown; initiating limited reforms that get out of hand; and selecting a covert democrat as leader. These mistakes reflect well-known cognitive biases such as overconfidence and the illusion of control."
In other contexts
Although democratization is most often thought of in the context of national or regional politics, the term can also be applied to:
The concept of democratization can also be applied in corporations where the traditional power structure was top-down direction and the boss-knows-best (even a "Pointy-Haired Boss"); This is quite different from consultation, empowerment (of lower levels) and a diffusion of decision making (power) throughout the firm, as advocated by workplace democracy movements.
The loose anarchistic structure of the Internet Engineering Task Force and the Internet itself have inspired some groups to call for more democratization of how domain names are held, upheld, and lost. They note that the Domain Name System under ICANN is the least democratic and most centralized part of the Internet, using a simple model of first-come-first-served to the names of things. Ralph Nader called this "corporatization of the dictionary."
The democratization of knowledge is the spread of knowledge among common people, in contrast to knowledge being controlled by elite groups.
- Chilean transition to democracy
- Color revolution
- Democracy activists
- Democracy in the Middle East
- Democratic peace theory
- Democratisation in Hong Kong
- Democratisation in the Soviet Union
- Good governance
- History of Parliamentarism
- Nonviolent revolution
- Portuguese transition to democracy
- Spanish transition to democracy
- Transitional justice
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The key landmark is the Bill of Rights (1689), which established the supremacy of Parliament over the Crown.... The Bill of Rights (1689) then settled the primacy of Parliament over the monarch's prerogatives, providing for the regular meeting of Parliament, free elections to the Commons, free speech in parliamentary debates, and some basic human rights, most famously freedom from 'cruel or unusual punishment'.
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The earliest, and perhaps greatest, victory for liberalism was achieved in England. The rising commercial class that had supported the Tudor monarchy in the 16th century led the revolutionary battle in the 17th, and succeeded in establishing the supremacy of Parliament and, eventually, of the House of Commons. What emerged as the distinctive feature of modern constitutionalism was not the insistence on the idea that the king is subject to law (although this concept is an essential attribute of all constitutionalism). This notion was already well established in the Middle Ages. What was distinctive was the establishment of effective means of political control whereby the rule of law might be enforced. Modern constitutionalism was born with the political requirement that representative government depended upon the consent of citizen subjects.... However, as can be seen through provisions in the 1689 Bill of Rights, the English Revolution was fought not just to protect the rights of property (in the narrow sense) but to establish those liberties which liberals believed essential to human dignity and moral worth. The "rights of man" enumerated in the English Bill of Rights gradually were proclaimed beyond the boundaries of England, notably in the American Declaration of Independence of 1776 and in the French Declaration of the Rights of Man in 1789.
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- International IDEA (International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance)