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.
2.1 Historical cases
2.2 Since 1972
5 In other contexts
5.1 International bodies
5.3 The Internet
6 See also
8 Further reading
9 External links
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 sate. 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 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
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.
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.
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
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
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."
International cooperation. A 2002 study found that membership in
international organizations "is correlated with transitions to
democracy during the period from 1950 to 1992."
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.
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
Threat of 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.
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 mor associated with the state.
Urbanization. There is research to suggest that greater urbanization,
through various pathways, contributes to democratization.
Natural Resources. Author 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
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
Democracy development has often been slow, violent, and marked by
In Great Britain, there was renewed interest in Magna Carta in the
17th century. The
Parliament of England
Parliament of England enacted the Petition of
Right in 1628 which established certain liberties for subjects. The
English Civil War
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.
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
American Civil War
American Civil War (1861–1865) and the Civil Rights
given to African-Americans were only achieved in the 1960s.
French Revolution (1789) briefly allowed a wide franchise. The
French Revolutionary Wars
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
Second French Republic
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.
German Empire was created in 1871. It was followed by the Weimar
Republic after World War I.
Nazi Germany restored autocratic rule
before the defeat in
World War II
World War II .
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
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
The End of History and the Last Man
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
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.
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
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
9/11 attacks were among the upper and upper-middle classes.
Zakaria has suggested that the society in which
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
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
James C. Scott
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
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 UCLA 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
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:
International bodies (e.g. the United Nations) where there is an
ongoing call for reform and altered voting structures and voting
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
The loose anarchistic structure of the
Internet Engineering Task Force
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
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
The trend that products from well-known designers are becoming cheaper
and more available to masses of consumers. Also, the trend of
companies sourcing design decisions from end users.
Chilean transition to democracy
Democracy in the Middle East
Democratic peace theory
Democratisation in Hong Kong
Democratisation in the Soviet Union
History of Parliamentarism
Portuguese transition to democracy
Spanish transition to democracy
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^ Thad Dunning. 2008. Crude Democracy: Natural Resource Wealth and
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monarch's prerogatives, providing for the regular meeting of
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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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^ Fareed Zakaria, The Future of Freedom: Illiberal
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and Abroad, W.W. Norton & Co., 2007, 138.
^ Fareed Zakaria, The Future of Freedom: Illiberal
Democracy at Home
and Abroad, W.W. Norton & Co., 2007.
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Look up democratization in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
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