A democracy becomes consolidated—that is, it is expected to endure—when political actors accept the legitimacy of democracy and no actor seeks to act outside democratic institutions for both normative and self-interested reasons. On one the hand, when democracy becomes routinized, institutionalized, and normalized, acting outside or in violation of democratic norms is both unappealing and disadvantageous for politicians and other political actors. On the other hand, equating consolidation with endurance may strike some scholars and students as a descriptive tautology; consolidated democracies are those that survive, and surviving democracies are those that are consolidated. The way in which to measure and define consolidation, therefore, is debated by scholars in the field.
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In the immediate aftermath of all these democratic transitions, pressing concerns have quickly arisen about how to strengthen and stabilize these new regimes. It has come to include such divergent items as popular legitimation, the diffusion of democratic values, the neutralization of antisystem actors, civilian supremacy over the military, the [End Page 91] elimination of authoritarian enclaves, party building, the organization of functional interests, the stabilization of electoral rules, the routinization of politics, the decentralization of state power, the introduction of mechanisms of direct democracy, judicial reform, the alleviation of poverty, and economic stabilization.
At this point, with people using the concept any way they like, nobody can be sure what it means to others, but all maintain the illusion of speaking to one another in some comprehensible way. The use of one and the same term for vastly different things only simulates a shared common language; in fact, the reigning conceptual disorder is acting as a powerful barrier to scholarly communication, theory building, and the accumulation of knowledge. The meaning that we ascribe to the notion of democratic consolidation depends on where we stand our empirical viewpoints and where we aim to reach our normative horizons.
It varies according to the contexts and the goals we have in mind. The most widely accepted criteria for identi-fying a country as democratic have been put forward by Robert Dahl—civil and political rights plus fair, competitive, and inclusive elections.
Two other subtypes of democracy have gained wide recognition in the scholarly literature on new democracies. This four-fold classification—authoritarianism, electoral democracy, liberal democracy, advanced democracy—basically corresponds to the way David Collier and Steven Levitsky have ordered the semantic universe of democracy and its subtypes. In their admirable effort to bring order to the chaos of innumerable subtypes of democracy that circulate in contemporary democratization studies they stopped counting at , they have distinguished precisely these four broad regime categories even if they label them differently.
The two middle categories, electoral and liberal democracy, represent the empirical referents of all debate on democratic consolidation. In normative terms, authoritarianism forms the outer negative horizon that democrats in both these kinds of regimes try to avoid, and advanced democracy forms the outer positive horizon that they try to approach. In addition, electoral democracy and liberal democracy constitute normative horizons for each other. Those who look hopefully from electoral or liberal democracy to advanced democracy equate democratic consolidation with democratic deepening, with advances in the quality of democracy.
And those who look with impatience from electoral democracy to liberal democracy equate democratic consolidation with completing democracy, with supplying its missing features.
Of course, I am not the first to note the teleological quality of democratic consolidation. Democratic consolidation is indeed an intrinsically teleological concept.
Yet I think there is nothing inherently wrong with teleology, provided that three conditions are met: First, we have to avoid veiling or obscuring it; hidden teleology is indeed bad teleology. For these actors, consolidating democracy means reducing the probability of its breakdown to the point where they can feel reasonably confident that democracy will persist in the near and not-so-near future. It gives coherence to a broad and crowded semantic field where a wide range of semantic labels defines this telos in either positive or negative ways.
In its positive formulations, this branch of consolidation studies speaks about reaching the goal of democratic continuity, maintenance, entrenchment, survival, permanence, endurance, persistence, resilience, viability, sustainability, or irreversibility. By contrast, negative formulations invoke the necessity of moving beyond democratic fragility, instability, [End Page 95] uncertainty, vulnerability, reversibility, or the threat of breakdown.
Whatever the differences in nuance, the unifying purpose beneath this multifaceted vocabulary is straightforward: It is basically pre-occupied with keeping democracy alive, with preventing its sudden death. In accordance with its focus on the danger of coups, this first notion of democratic consolidation is concerned above all with deviant or antisystem actors who harbor antidemocratic motives. In principle, the range of actors who actually or potentially fall into this category of dangerous elements is unlimited.
In Latin America, with its recent history of bureaucratic-authoritarian regimes, fears of democratic breakdown have tended to focus on the professionals of state violence, as well as the business class, which had also acquired a solid antidemocratic reputation until the latest cycle of democratization.
But in fact, the list of either suspected or convicted assassins or gravediggers of democratic rule is much longer. It includes private men-at-arms guerrillas, drug cartels, violent street protesters , elected presidents who stage military-backed autogolpes, and even disenchanted populations who may become tired of a democracy that has not delivered, in material terms, much more than economic hardship and social inequality.
Eliminating, neutralizing, or converting disloyal players represents the primary task of democratic-breakdown prevention. Yet taming the enemy is by no means the only practical concern associated with the stabilization of democracy. Since democratic stability is a noble and uncontroversial goal, some scholars tend to invoke anything positively valued in the name of democratic sustainability. They discuss, for example, economic performance, nation building and state building, the creation of mass legitimacy, the diffusion of democratic values, the elimination of authoritarian legacies, the institutionalization of party systems, and so forth.
The list is endless. Sometimes these items are accompanied by plausible causal theories about how they affect chances for democratic survival, though often only through indirect and long chains of causation. As students of democratic consolidation have been quick to recognize, focusing on the military and on classical coup politics as privileged objects of research may be morally, politically, and empirically questionable insofar as it diverts attention from other pressing issues.
Moreover, it may even turn out to be a misleading perspective that looks for danger in the wrong places, and therefore overlooks real threats that hide at less traditional and less obvious sites.
Many new democracies do face the threat of illegal or pseudo-legal overthrow by antidemocratic forces. But in addition to the risk of breakdown—of dramatic, sudden, and visible relapses to authoritarian rule—many new democracies have to contend with the danger of decay, of less spectacular, more incremental, and less transparent forms of regression.
While the former provokes a radical discontinuity with democratic politics leading to open authoritarianism , the latter implies a gradual corrosion leading to fuzzy semidemocracy, to a hybrid regime somewhere between liberal democracy and dictatorship. If democratic breakdown is the dominant concern and defining horizon of avoidance of our first concept of democratic consolidation, democratic erosion occupies the same role with respect to this second concept of consolidation.
A cynic could make the point that a few new democracies no longer face the danger of retrogressing to semidemocratic rule because they have already arrived there. For such polities, democratic erosion is no longer a risk because it has become a reality.
Irony aside, the continuing political relevance of the issue is quite evident. In a recent article, Samuel P. Other forms of erosion attack other institutional pillars of democracy. For example, state violence as well as state weakness may subvert the rule of law; the rise of hegemonic parties may [End Page 97] suffocate electoral competition; the decay of electoral institutions may affect the honesty of vote counting; incumbents may use their privileged access to state resources and to the mass media in ways that violate minimum standards of electoral fairness and equal opportunity; or the introduction of exclusionary citizenship laws may violate democratic norms of inclusiveness.
In graphical terms, they tend to look not just backward to the dangers of authoritarian regression, but also forward to the promises of democratic progress. Which are the basic actors, conflicts, and sites of democratic completion? In Latin America, three configurations have been of special relevance. To begin with, there are those countries where the outgoing authoritarian regime was able to write certain non-democratic rules into the constitution.
In such cases of constitutional defects, full democratization requires these formal authoritarian legacies to be removed. The prototypical Latin American case of constitutional semidemocracy has been Chile after , and the classical study that modeled a general notion of democratic consolidation along the Chilean fault lines was J.
Since then, this notion of democratic consolidation has received widespread scholarly attention. Another kind of semidemocracy that has raised peculiar challenges of democratic consolidation-as-completion is the hegemonic-party system in crisis. The Latin American cases are or were Mexico and Paraguay. In essence, the problem is how to tell at what point authoritarian hegemonic parties have become democratic dominant parties. Dominant parties, by contrast, do not but can, in principle, lose at the polls.
Yet as long as alternation in power, the ultimate proof of any democratic electoral system, remains a mere possibility and does not occur in fact, entrenched suspicions will persist as to whether the incumbent party would really accept losing a national election. Democracies have been created in the context of states whose presence looks partial and precarious in both territorial and social terms and with judicial systems in place that often cannot do much more than administer the rule of lawlessness.
The list of presumptive structural deficits covers fields as diverse as governmental performance, public administration, judicial systems, party systems, interest groups, civil society, political culture, and styles of decision making. Most authors who write about democratic consolidation either think about our very first notion of democratic consolidation, the stabilization of democracy, or about this last notion of democratic consolidation, the deepening of democracy.
These two concepts of democratic consolidation are by far the most popular ones. In fact, the academic popularity of the former comes as no surprise. As rule, however, this is no longer an immediate concern, but just one issue among many others that command political attention. Today, issues of democratic quality tend to be much more salient in everyday politics than issues of democratic survival.
Tertium non datur? I do not think so. In other words, this concept of consolidation turns its attention from the procedural minima that define democratic regimes to the concrete rules and organizations that define various forms of democracy. While Schmitter, to my knowledge, deserves the credit for introducing and developing this concept of democratic consolidation, others have followed his track, especially subdisciplinary specialists to whom this notion of democratic consolidation provides an opportunity to link up their particular scholarly concerns with the general discussion on democratic consolidation.
It looks, so to speak, from liberal democracy to nowhere else. Some authors are emphatic in stressing its neutrality in normative terms. Yet rather than being normatively neutral, the concept appears to be normatively ambivalent. But it may also pull us farther away.
It all depends on the concrete forms in which democracy becomes organized. One basic finding is that the consolidation of democracy, as scholars use the term, represents a cluster concept with an intelligible structure but without a core, without a meaningful common denominator. All the notions in use part from some type or other of democratic regime, and they all aim at improving the democratic status quo.
In fact, these varying ideas of democratic consolidation do not have very much in common. Thus the consolidation of democracy emerges as an omnibus concept, a garbage-can concept, a catch-all concept, lacking a core meaning that would unite all modes of usage. It is held together by no more than a shared domain of application.
They tend to ignore the vagueness and inconsistency of usage. One can understand the practical reasons for the current situation but in terms of scholarly research, this uncontrolled coexistence of inconsistent meanings, this case of homonymity one word meaning many things running wild, is an unhappy state of affairs.
It is not only inimical to theory building and the accumulation of knowledge, it even frustrates such elementary operations as case classification. In terms of democratic consolidation as the term is used today, countries such as Argentina and Poland may be ranked almost anywhere. Its boundaries are fuzzy and fluid.
It does not allow us to order reality in any reliable way. How can we change this lamentable state of affairs?
Such open recognition of differences may represent the only realistic way out of the conceptual mess. So long as the notion of democratic consolidation works as a generic label for the study of new democracies and near-democracies , it would be surprising to see the scholarly community privileging one theme to the exclusion of others, and converging toward a more narrow and precise definition of the term. Most scholars would rapidly denounce such a one-sided agenda as empirically inappropriate, normatively annoying, politically unwise, and academically boring.
The peaceful coexistence and mutual recognition of various concepts of democratic consolidation would be preferable to the status quo of conceptual confusion. The same would be true for another option: to abandon the concept and stop talking about it. Yet both alternatives are only second-best solutions.
Rather than using the term in ambiguous and inconsistent ways, we should attach one clear meaning to it. We should restore its classical meaning, which is securing achieved levels of democratic rule against authoritarian regression. The main reason is that all other usages of democratic consolidation completing, organizing, and deepening democracy are problematic and can be replaced by superior alternative concepts.
First, the process and the challenge of putting a partial, blocked, derailed, or truncated transition back on track falls within the purview of transition studies. There is no need to confuse matters and introduce another term for it. It binds together by definition two things that in fact are only loosely coupled.
For example, a democracy may be secure against reversals even if its party system is still inchoate and fluid; and conversely, a democracy may break down even if its party system is highly institutionalized.
Measuring Democratic Consolidation
In the immediate aftermath of all these democratic transitions, pressing concerns have quickly arisen about how to strengthen and stabilize these new regimes. It has come to include such divergent items as popular legitimation, the diffusion of democratic values, the neutralization of antisystem actors, civilian supremacy over the military, the [End Page 91] elimination of authoritarian enclaves, party building, the organization of functional interests, the stabilization of electoral rules, the routinization of politics, the decentralization of state power, the introduction of mechanisms of direct democracy, judicial reform, the alleviation of poverty, and economic stabilization. At this point, with people using the concept any way they like, nobody can be sure what it means to others, but all maintain the illusion of speaking to one another in some comprehensible way. The use of one and the same term for vastly different things only simulates a shared common language; in fact, the reigning conceptual disorder is acting as a powerful barrier to scholarly communication, theory building, and the accumulation of knowledge.
Viewpoints and Horizons