Raised Questions About Democratization Essay

1637 words - 7 pages

By R.J. Rummel

The process through which a political system becomes democratic. This raises three questions: what is the meaning of democracy that is the result of this process? What is the process that achieves this end. And how is this end to be evaluated?
Democracy may be defined by its inherent nature and by its empirical conditions. As to its nature, Aristotle defined democracy as rule by the people (Greek demokratia: demos, people + -kratia, -cracy), and this idea that in some way the people govern themselves is still the core meaning of democracy. But around this idea several related themes have developed that are now thought integral to what democracy means. One ...view middle of the document...

In addition to this basic meaning, there is wide agreement on the empirical conditions that either give substance to what democracy means or must be present for democracy to exist. One is that the newspapers and other communication media are free to criticize government policies and leaders. A second is that there is open competition allowed for political office, which usually is translated to mean that there is more than one political party competing for power. A third is that there be a popularly and regularly elected legislature and head of government. Moreover, it is now deemed necessary that election ballots be cast secretly, but that debate and voting by democratically elected representatives be public. Then there is also the widely accepted belief that democracies cannot coexist with lack of religious freedom and the right to hold and express unpopular ideas. Finally, for there to be a rule of law there must be fundamental documents which structure the government, elaborate the reciprocal rights and duties of government and the people, and which all governing officials and their policies must obey. This is a constitution, either in the form of a single document as for the United States, or a set of documents, statutes, and signed agreements, as for Great Britain.
These are the generally accepted conditions of democracy. Among some democratic theorists and activists, however, it is also believed that democracy is inconsistent with a command economy, or that there must be guarantees of minority rights, or that government must be limited. Some also insist that democracy can only exist when the people also have economic power. But these and other such elaborations are really defining types of democracies (such as democratic socialist or democratic individualist) rather than the basic ideal or its conditions.
How is the ideal to be achieved? There appears to be no one process of democratization. What agreement there is on how best to achieve a stable democracy favors slow incremental development. Great Britain is, of course, the example of the gradual change over centuries from absolute monarchy to one of the world's most enduring democracies. However, such an incremental process seems neither necessary nor sufficient for democracy nor for its stability. Great Britain is an example of a bottom-up process, where the non-governing elite or lower classes made incessant demands for an extension of rights and voting power that, by government concession after concession, chipped away at ruling authority. Not all such democratization is so gradual, and indeed many appear revolutionary. The American Revolution, the French Revolution, the Chinese Revolution of 1912, and the Russian Revolution of 1917 that preceded the Bolshevik coup are examples, only the first of which established a long lasting democracy.
The process of democratization may also be carried out by the governing elite themselves, as has often happened in South America, and indeed,...

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