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Theories of

6 Democratization
Christian Welzel

• Introduction 74

• The Nature and Origin of Democracy 75

• Social Divisions, Distributional Equality, and Democratization 78

• Colonial Legacies, Religious Traditions, and Democracy 80

• Modernization and Democratization 80

• International Conflicts, Regime Alliances, and Democratization 81

• Elite Pacts, Mass Mobilization, and Democratization 82

• State Repression and Democratizing Mass Pressures 83

• Institutional Configurations and Democracy 86

• The Human Empowerment Path to Democracy 86

• A Typology of Democratization Processes 87

• Conclusion 88

This chapter provides an overview of the factors that describes human empowerment as an evolutionary
have been proposed as determinants when, where, force channelling the intentions and strategies of
and why democratization happens. Several of these actors towards democratic outcomes.
factors are synthesized into a broader framework that


The question: which political regime prevails in Democratization can be understood in three
which society, and why, has been at the heart of different ways. For one, it is the introduction of
political science since Aristotle’s first treatment of democracy in a non-democratic regime. Next, democ-
the problem. And so is the question as to when and ratization can be understood as the deepening of the
why societies democratize. democratic qualities of given democracies. Finally,

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democratization involves the question of the survival There are many different explanations of democ-
of democracy. Technically speaking, the emergence, ratization processes. Provided a grain of truth is in
the deepening, and the survival of democracy are most of these explanations, researchers have too
strictly distinct aspects of democratization. But they often tried to take sides, favouring one particular
merge in the question of sustainable democratization, factor over all others. But the real challenge is to
that is, the emergence of democracies that develop theorize about how different factors interplay in the
and endure. Democratization is sustainable to the making of democracy. This is what this chapter aims
extent to which it advances in response to pressures to achieve.
from within a society.

The Nature and Origin of Democracy

Before one can think about the causes of democra- mount pressure on elites (Tarrow 1998). Under these
tization one has to have an understanding of what conditions, bargaining power is vested in wider parts
democracy means—for one needs to have an idea of the public as elites cannot access their resources
of the nature of the phenomenon one wants to without consent. And if elites try to extract resources
explain. from people, they have to make concessions in the
In its literal meaning, ‘government by the people’, form of civic freedoms. Such was the case when the
democracy is about the institutionalization of people principle of ‘no taxation without representation’ was
power. Democratization is the process by which this established during pre-industrial capitalism in North
happens. People power is institutionalized through America and Western Europe (Downing 1992).
civic freedoms that entitle people to govern their lives, To be sure, no democracy in pre-industrial history
allowing them to follow their personal preferences in would qualify as a democracy under today’s standards
governing their private lives and to make their politi- because one defining element of mature democracies,
cal preferences count in governing public life. universal suffrage, was unknown. All pre-industrial
In the history of states, the institutionalization democracies were nascent democracies that restricted
of people power has been an unlikely achievement. entitlements to the propertied classes. But nascent
As power maximizing actors, power elites have a democracy was necessary to create mature democ-
natural tendency to give as little power away as racy, encouraging yet disempowered groups to also
possible. There is a natural resistance among elites push for civic freedoms, until universal suffrage cre-
to grant civic freedoms to the wider public because ated mature democracies early in the twentieth cen-
such freedoms limit elite power (Vanhanen 2003). tury in parts of the Western world (Markoff 1996).
To acquire civic freedoms, ordinary people had usu- Since then people’s struggles for empowerment have
ally to overcome elite resistance and to struggle for continued and expanded. Within established democ-
their cause (Foweraker and Landman 1997). This is racies, civil rights and equal opportunity movements
no easy achievement. It requires wider parts of the did and do fight to deepen democracy’s empower-
public to be both capable and willing to mount pres- ing qualities. Beyond established democracies, peo-
sures on power elites. ple power movements did and do pressure to replace
Quite logically then, the conditions under which authoritarian rule with democracy.
democracy becomes likely must somehow affect the It is impossible to understand the driving forces
power balance between elites and masses, placing con- of democratization without understanding why and
trol over resources of power in the hands of the peo- where democracy first emerged. So we must have
ple. Only when some control over resources of power a closer look at the origin of nascent democracy in
is distributed over wider parts of the public, are ordi- pre-industrial times and the factors giving rise to it.
nary people capable to coordinate their actions and to Without exception, all nascent democracies are found
join forces into social movements that are capable to in agrarian economies of the freeholder type. Most

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freeholder societies organized defence in the form of a Zealand (Midlarsky 1997). These are the areas where
militia, the citizen-army (Finer 1999). In a freeholder- we find the threefold constellation of freeholdership,
militia system, all men owning a slot of land provide pre-industrial capitalism, and nascent democracy.
military service and, in return, are entitled with civic Besides the continuity of rainfall, another natural
freedoms. In pre-industrial times, a citizen army could endowment was conducive to nascent democracy.
only be sustained in a freeholder system. Only the This condition, too, favours democracy by limiting
yeoman who could sustain a family on his own could centralized control over resources—in this case not
afford the armoury necessary for military service. In over water but armoury. When a territory is, by means
a freeholder-militia system citizens had bargaining of its topography, shielded from the continuous threat
power against central authorities—for citizens could of land war, there is no necessity to sustain a standing
boycott taxes and military service. Without a stand- army at the exclusive disposal of a monarch (Down-
ing army at their exclusive disposal, rulers lacked the ing 1992). With no standing army at hand, a ruler’s
means to end such boycotts, disabling them to deny control over coercion is limited. Hence, the proportion
or abrogate civic freedoms (McNeill 1968). of sea borders (an island position in the optimal case)
Nascent democracy limited participation to the has been found to be positively related with the occur-
propertied classes. Still, compared to other pre-indus- rence of nascent democracy (Midlarsky 1997). Iceland,
trial regimes, nascent democracy is characterized the UK, and Scandinavia are examples. A functional
by relatively inclusive civic freedoms. This constel- equivalent of the shielding effect of sea borders are
lation reflects relatively widespread access to basic mountains. Shielded by the Alps from war with neigh-
resources, such as water, land, and armoury, and lack bours, Switzerland never needed a standing army. It
of central control over these resources. These con- sustained a freeholder-militia system, and is hence
ditions vest action capacities and bargaining power among the prime examples of nascent democracy.
into the wider society and limit the state’s repressive Since democracy is about people power, it origi-
potential. The absence versus presence of democracy nates in conditions that place resources of power in
is about the absence versus presence of centralized the hands of wider parts of the populace, such that
control over resources of power (Dahl 1971). authorities cannot access these resources without
making concessions to their beholders. But when rul-
ers gain access to a source of revenue they can bring
Democracy and resource distribution under their control without anyone’s consent, they
have the means to finance tools of coercion. This is
Freeholder systems not only gave rise to nascent the basis of absolutism, despotism, and autocracy—
democracy but also to pre-industrial capitalism. The the opposite of democracy. The Spanish monarchy
combination of freeholdership, pre-industrial capital- turned more absolute after the crown gained control
ism, and nascent democracy is hardly the result of an over the silver mines in South America. From then on,
ingenious act of social engineering, such that some the Spanish Habsburgs did not have to ask for consent
wise men decided at one point in history to create free- in the cortes to finance military operations (Landes
holdership, capitalism, and democracy. Instead, this 1998). This is a pre-modern example of what is today
constellation evolved in a cumulative process that was known as the ‘resource curse’. It is a curse for democra-
favoured by certain natural endowments. Freeholder cy when a country is endowed with immobile natural
systems only emerged where there was lack of central- resources that are easily brought under central con-
ized control over the resource that makes land valu- trol, giving rulers a source of revenue that requires no
able: water (Jones 1985). This was the case only where one’s consent (Boix 2003). These revenues allow rulers
continuous rainfall over the seasons made water so to invest into the infrastructure of their power. Thus,
generally available that a centrally coordinated irri- ‘oil hinders democracy’ as Michael Ross (2001) put it.
gation system was unnecessary (Midlarsky 1997). So, we find both prosperity and democracy to be
Continuous rainfall over the seasons is only found associated with climate. The more temperate the cli-
in certain climatic zones, especially in North-West mate of a country, the more likely it is both to be rich
Europe, North America, and parts of Australia/New and democratic (Landes 1998). According to Acemoglu

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and Robinson (2006), the geographic pattern of both society. In the liberal revolutions and the liberation
prosperity and democracy simply reflects that white wars of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the
Europeans embarked early on a path of both capital- middle classes used this bargaining power against
ist and democratic development. They brought with monarchs to establish the principle ‘no taxation
them the institutions of capitalism and democracy without representation’ (Tilly 1997). This is the birth
wherever they could settle in larger numbers, that is, of nascent democracy, and capitalism preceded it.
wherever they found a European-like climate. And However, two qualifications of the claim that capi-
when they settled in hotter climates, such as the talism led to democracy are due (see also Ch. 9). First,
Southern states of the USA or Brazil, they brought capitalism led to democracy only where propertied
slavery and other exploitative institutions with them groups, such as rural freeman and urban merchants,
and resisted democracy. In this view, the global geo- represented broad middle classes—not tiny minori-
graphic distribution of capitalism and democracy ties (Moore 1966). This condition was limited to the
simply reflects where climate ‘required’ Europeans hubs of the pre-industrial capitalist world economy,
settlers to introduce slavery and exploitative planta- centring on North-West Europe and its overseas colo-
tion economies. nial offshoots in North America (Wallerstein 1974).
But why did Europeans embark on a path of capital- Colonies that were unsuited for large-scale European
ist-democratic development? Simply viewing this as a settlement were kept under an exploitative regime.
smart historic choice of Europeans is unsatisfactory. Democracy was not imported by Europeans where the
Following Jared Diamond (1997), the more likely colonial interest was focused on extraction rather than
reason why Europeans embarked on a course of capi- settlement (Acemoglu and Robinson 2006). Second,
talist-democratic development is that some unique pre-industrial capitalism only ever established nascent
natural endowments made this a more likely ‘choice’ democracy, limiting civic freedoms to the propertied
in Europe than elsewhere. classes. The establishment of mature democracy with
universal (male) suffrage was a product of industrializa-
tion and the working class’s struggle for political inclu-
sion (Huber, Stephens, and Rueschemeyer 1992). Yet,
Capitalism, industrialization, and industrialization did not always lead to mature democ-
democracy racy, at least not to enduring mature democracy. Mature
democracy in a stable form followed industrialization
One of the reasons why the duo of pre-industrial cap- only where royal absolutism was prevented or aban-
italism and nascent democracy emerged in Europe, doned and where nascent democracy was established
is that, among the major pre-industrial civilizations, already in pre-industrial times (Huntington 1968).
Europe was the only one that sustained rainfed free- There is no uniform connection between industri-
holder societies on a larger scale (Jones 1985). But alization and democracy. In fact, the fierce class strug-
within Europe, this feature varies on a geographical gles connected with the rising industrial working
gradient, becoming ever more pronounced as one class often operated against democracy. Of course,
moves north-westward, culminating in the Nether- industrialization almost always led to the symbolic
lands and England. integration of the working class by granting universal
As one approaches Europe’s north-west, the conti- suffrage. But universal suffrage was as often organ-
nuity of rainfall increases as a result of the influence ized in authoritarian ways as in democratic ones.
of the Gulf Stream. In late medieval times, this led to Communist, fascist, and other forms of dictatorship
an increasing agrarian surplus towards the north-west all adopted universal suffrage in the industrial age.
(Jones 1985). From this followed an entire chain of And while the working class almost always fought
consequences, as shown in Figure 6.1: a larger urban for universal suffrage, it often sided with populist,
population, a denser network of cities, a more com- fascist, and communist parties that aborted the civic
mercialized economy, more advanced capitalism, and freedoms that define democracy (Lipset 1960).
bigger and economically more powerful middle class- Achieving mature democracy in a stable form at an
es. Capitalism vested bargaining power in the wider early stage was neither the achievement of the middle

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Closeness to the
Northern Atlantic

Stronger commer-
Larger urban cialization and
More continuous Greater agrarian population and Sea trade and
monetization of
rainfall surplus greater density settler colonies
the economy: pre-
of cities
industrial capitalism

Bigger and more

powerful middle

Rulers’attempts at Liberal revolutions

unconsented taxation and liberation wars

Prevention or Democratic Abondining the

overcoming of freedoms for privileges of
royal absolutism the propertied the feudal
classes: nascent aristocracy

Middle classes not

blocking the working Early
class’s claim for industrialization
universal suffrage

Early Full Democracy

Fig 6.1 Factors explaining the northern Atlantic origins of capitalism and democracy

classes nor the working class alone. It appeared on state repression was an option in dealing with
when the middle classes did not take sides against the working class. Partly for reasons originating in
the working class (Collier 1999). This in turn only natural endowments, these conditions were histori-
happened when the middle classes’ victory over the cally unique to North-West Europe and its overseas
aristocracy and royal absolutism was so decisive that offshoots (Moore 1966).
neither an alliance with the aristocracy, nor reliance

Social Divisions, Distributional Equality, and

Except under conditions found in North-West cleavages and group distinctions turn into enmity,
Europe and its overseas offshoots, the social class political camps fight for the monopolization of state
struggles associated with industrialization did not power in order to become capable of repressing the
generally work in favour of democracy. This can claims of rival groups. This pattern works against
be turned into a more general point. When class democracy (Dahl 1971).

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Class cleavages turn easily into enmities when the state (Dahl 1971). Peaceful power transfers from
classes are segregated into separated milieus, when one group to another, as democracy foresees them,
political parties are single-class parties, and when are not accepted under these conditions. Instead,
the distribution of economic resources between military coups and civil wars that end up in the
classes is extremely unequal. Under such circum- dictatorship of one group over others are the reg-
stances, class coalitions and compromises are ular result of polarized societal cleavage structures
unlikely. Rivalry and enmity between groups will (Huntington 1968).
prevail (Lipset 1960). In European countries with a The logic of group enmity does not only apply
tradition of royal absolutism and continued privi- to social class. Societies can also be segregated into
leges of the aristocracy, industrialization regularly hostile groups on the basis of religion, language, and
produced such class divisions, polarizing an impov- ethnicity, and the chances for this to happen increase
erished rural and urban working class against a priv- with a country’s religious, linguistic, and ethnic frac-
ileged class of land owners, industrialists, bankers tionalization, especially when fractionalization goes
and office holders in the state apparatus and the together with spatial group segregation (Rokkan
army (Lipset and Rokkan 1967). Outside Europe, 1983). Spatial segregation facilitates the stabiliza-
industrialization had the same effect in areas the tion of group identities, and this is an important pre-
Europeans colonized out of ‘extractive interests’ condition for the development of group hostilities.
rather than for reasons of settlement (Acemoglu Sub-Saharan Africa, as the region with the highest
and Robinson 2006). ethnic fractionalization, exemplifies the latter type
Wherever industrialization produced class polari- of group enmity and its negative effect on the chanc-
zation of this kind, the privileged classes would fear es of democracy to emerge and survive (see Ch. 22).
working class parties to be voted into office. Once in These insights can be turned into positive conditions
office, these parties might use their power to enforce for the emergence and survival of democracy. The
land reforms and other redistributive measures that presence of a large middle class, in whom economic
deprive the privileged classes of their privileges. Thus, differences do not go beyond a certain range, is a con-
the privileged classes would rely on state repres- dition that eases group enmity, which in turn increas-
sion to prevent working class parties from gaining es the acceptance of democratic power transfers
power. Confronted with state repression, working between groups. Seen in this light, the transition
class activists would, in turn, radicalize and embrace of industrial to post-industrial societies is a positive
revolutionary goals, aimed at a total reversion of the development because it overcomes the sharp division
existing social order (Collier 1999). This is pretty between the working class and the privileged classes
much the pattern that explains Latin America’s long that characterized the industrial age (Bell 1973).
lasting capture between right-wing military regimes When resources are more equally distributed across
and leftist guerrilla warfare (see Ch. 19). socioeconomic, religious, ethnic, and other groups,
Democratic countries in the ‘centre’ of world capi- this can diminish existential hostilities, making
talism would often support the repression of work- groups more inclined to accept each other as legiti-
ing class interests in the ‘periphery’ in order to be mate contenders for political power. If there is less
able to outsource labour into cheap-wage regions at stake in the power game, all groups can be more
and in order to prevent communism from taking relaxed about others winning the game for just one
over countries in the capitalist periphery. During the electoral round. Relative equality in the distribution
Cold War, and before the Washington consensus, of resources has thus a diminishing effect on hostili-
the capitalist world system favoured democracy in ties for all sorts of groupings, be they class-related or
the centres of capitalism, but authoritarian rule in ethnicity-related. In models explaining democratiza-
its periphery (Wallerstein 1974). In any case, it can tion, measures of income distribution are often used
be said that extreme social polarization is detrimen- and have many times been found to significantly
tal to democracy because group polarization turns increase the chances of democracy to emerge and
easily into violent fights for the monopolization of survive (Muller 1995; Vanhanen 2003).

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Colonial Legacies, Religious Traditions, and


In its northern Atlantic origins, democracy is inti- have been granted, creating constitutional monar-
mately connected to two traditions: Protestant reli- chies that are anchored in society rather than being
gion and British descent (Lipset 1959). But this does absolute from it (Lipset 1960).
not mean that Protestantism and British descent Similarly misunderstood is the relationship between
per se favoured democracy. They did so insofar as Islam and democracy. It has often been said that Islamic
they were situated in the northern Atlantic centre traditions are unfavourable to democratization (Hunt-
of pre-industrial capitalism (Bollen and Jackman ington 1996). And indeed, the belt of Islamic countries
1985). Neither Protestantism nor Britishness created from North-West Africa to South-East Asia is still the
pre-industrial capitalism. Countries such as the least democratized region in the world. However, this
Netherlands, Iceland, and Denmark, were located might not reflect a negative influence of Islam per se.
at the northern Atlantic and so they embraced pre- Instead, for reasons of natural endowments, an unu-
industrial capitalism and nascent democracy, despite sual proportion of Islamic societies have based their
the fact that they were not British. Vice versa, Prot- economies on the export of oil. This places revenues
estant Prussia was far off the northern Atlantic, so it in the hands of rulers without requiring anyone’s con-
neither embraced pre-industrial capitalism nor nas- sent, which is what explains the absence of democ-
cent democracy (Tilly 1997). Belgium, by contrast, racy. As Michael Ross (2001; 2008) argues, Islam has
was mainly Catholic but it is located at the northern little negative effect of its own on democracy, once
Atlantic, so it adopted pre-industrial capitalism and one controls for oil exports. The same logic that
nascent democracy. Contrary to Max Weber (1958 explains why the capitalist development of Protestant
[1904]), who claimed that Protestantism created societies favoured democracy explains why oil exports
capitalism, it is just as plausible to argue that socie- in the Islamic societies hinders democracy. Capitalist
ties that were already capitalist adopted Protestant- development tends to spread control over resources of
ism as the religion granting the most legitimacy to power among wider parts of the society. Oil exports,
the capitalist system (Landes 1998). by contrast, tend to concentrate control over resourc-
The relationship between Protestantism and cap- es of power in the hands of dynasties (see also Chs 8
italist democracy is as easily misunderstood as the and 21). On a more general note, explaining certain
fact that many of the early democracies are still mon- countries’ affinity or aversion to democracy by criteria
archies today (e.g. UK, The Netherlands, Scandina- that simply group them into ‘cultural zones,’ ‘civiliza-
vian countries). Monarchies survived until today in tions’, or ‘families of nation’ is inherently unsatisfac-
some of the oldest democracies because these monar- tory as long as one cannot specify what exactly it is
chies did not insist on royal absolutism. Instead, they about these grouping criteria that creates these affini-
negotiated social contracts by which civic freedoms ties and aversions.

Modernization and Democratization

Because of democracy’s obvious link to capitalist 1994). The thesis that modernization favours democ-
development, ‘modernization’ has been most often ratization has been repeatedly challenged, but time
championed as the decisive driver of democratization and again it has been re-established against these
(Lerner 1958; Lipset 1959; Burkhart and Lewis-Beck challenges. Adam Przeworski and Fernando Limongi

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(1997), for instance, thought to demonstrate that actions for common demands, mounting effective
modernization only helps existing democracies to pressures on state authorities to respond. Given that
survive but does not help democracy to emerge, but state authorities, by the nature of their positional
Carles Boix and Susan Stokes (2003) used their data interest, aim to preserve as much autonomy from
to show that modernization operates in favour of mass pressures as possible, democratization is an
both the emergence and the survival of democracy. unlikely result, unless the masses become capable
As of today, the fact that modernization operates in to overcome the authorities’ resistance to empower
favour of democracy is beyond serious doubts. them (Vanhanen 2003). The major effect of mod-
The reasons as to exactly what it is about mod- ernization, then, is that it shifts the power balance
ernization that operates in favour of democracy are between elites and the masses to the mass side.
less clear. Modernization constitutes a whole bun-
dle of intertwined processes, including productivity
growth, urbanization, occupational specialization,
social diversification, rising levels of income and
prosperity, rising literacy rates and levels of educa- Box 6.1 Key points
tion, more widely accessible information, more
intellectually demanding professions, technological • Social divisions that foster group enmities hinder
advancement in people’s equipment and available peaceful power transfers that are necessary for
infrastructure, including means of communication democracy to function.
and transportation, and so on. Which of these proc- • Democracy is anchored in social conditions in which
esses does exactly what to increase the chances of a resources of power are widely distributed among the
country to become and remain democratic is an unre- population so that central authority cannot access
solved problem, and most likely these effects are not these resources without their beholders consent.
isolable. Perhaps, it is precisely the fact that they are • Certain natural conditions have been favourable to
so closely intertwined that makes them so powerful. a more widespread control over resources but mod-
One thing, however, seems clear that all these ernization can happen everywhere and it is impor-
processes do together. They enhance the resources tant because it tends to distribute the control over
available to ordinary people, and this increases the resources in the ways that favour democracy.
masses’ capabilities to launch and sustain collective

International Conflicts, Regime Alliances, and

The fact that scores of countries have democratized confrontations between the enduring alliance of
in distinctive international waves suggests that proc- Western democracies and shifting counter-alliances
esses of democratization cannot be considered as of antidemocratic empires. Thus, regime changes
isolated domestic events (see Chs 4 and 7). They are towards and away from democracy are not only a
influenced by international factors, especially the matter of power struggles between pro-democratic
outcome of confrontations between opposing regime and antidemocratic forces within countries. Instead,
alliances. Therborn (1977) noticed that countries power struggles between opposing regime forces
democratize as much as a consequence of wars as of take also place on the international stage, in con-
modernization. frontations between democratic and antidemocratic
Whether, and when, countries democratize has regime alliances. Indeed, three waves of democratiza-
often been decided by the outcome of international tion followed precisely such confrontations. Western

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democracies defeated the alliance of Germany, insofar as people find freedom and prosperity attrac-
Austria-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire in World tive, democracy has become the preferred type of
War I; this led to a (later reversed) wave of democ- regime in most populations of the world (Fukuyama
ratization in Central and Eastern Europe. Western 1990; Klingemann 1999; Inglehart 2003).
democracies again, together with the Soviet Union, The economic, technological, and media domi-
defeated the fascist axis powers in World War II and nance of Western democracies are important explan-
this led to another wave of democratization, includ- atory factors in the recent spread of democracy.
ing, for the first time, countries outside the West, such Democratization is hence, to some extent, an exter-
as India and Japan. Finally, Western democracies tri- nally triggered phenomenon. But whether externally
umphed over communism in the Cold War, leading triggered democratization leads to viable and effec-
to the most recent and massive wave of democratiza- tive democracy still depends on domestic conditions
tion throughout Eastern Europe and parts of Africa within a country. External influences can open impor-
and Asia (Huntington 1991, McFaul 2002). tant opportunities for democratic forces in countries
Part of the explanation as to why democracy has where such forces exist. But external influences can-
been spreading is the technological and military not create democratic forces where they do not exist.
superiority of democracies, and their tendency to And without democratic forces growing strong inside
join forces against antidemocratic empires. Togeth- a country, democracy will not be socially embedded.
er, these two factors have enabled democracies to It remains a socially aloof, and hence, hollow phe-
free societies from the tyranny of antidemocratic nomenon. Even if most people in a country associate
empires—when necessary, Western democracies have positive things with the term democracy, this does not
used their power to install democracy by military necessarily mean that people understand the freedoms
intervention, as in Grenada or Iraq. Since the 1980s, that define democracy nor that they have the means
they have also used their economic power to press and the will to struggle for these freedoms.
countries depending on Western credits to adopt elec- Externally triggered democratization has led to
toral democracy. This was a dramatic paradigm shift. a spread of electoral democracy, but not necessar-
During the Cold War, the capitalist world system was ily effective democracy (Welzel and Inglehart 2008).
favourable to democracy in the centres of capitalism Many new democracies have successfully installed
and to authoritarian rule at its periphery. But since the competitive electoral regimes but their elites are
Washington consensus, Western countries promoted corrupt and lack a commitment to the rule of law
electoral democracy throughout the globe. Installing that is needed to enforce the civic freedoms that
a system of electoral accountability seemed to be a define democracy (O’Donnell 2004). These deficien-
better safeguard of investment security than the arbi- cies render democracy ineffective. The installation
trary rule of eccentric dictators, especially after com- of electoral democracy can be triggered by external
munism and socialism lost their appeal. In addition, forces and incentives. But whether electoral democ-
rich Western democracies dominate the global enter- racy becomes effective in respecting and protecting
tainment industry and images of the living condi- people’s civic freedoms depends on domestic factors.
tions in Western countries spread around the planet. Democracies have become effective only where the
Consequently, people associate everywhere democra- masses put the elites under pressure to respect their
cy with the freedom and prosperity of the West. And freedoms (Welzel and Inglehart 2008).

Elite Pacts, Mass Mobilization, and Democratization

Besides mass-level factors, actor constellations at the authoritarian rule to democracy, scholars distinguish
elite level are widely considered decisive for democ- two opposing sets of actors: the regime elite and the
ratization processes. Considering transitions from regime opposition. The regime elite is usually not

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a monolithic bloc but a coalition of forces that can possible. This interpretation sees negotiated transi-
split under certain circumstances into an orthodox tions via elite pacts as the ideal path to democracy.
status quo camp and a liberal reform camp. The Mass anti-regime mobilization is not only unneces-
regime opposition, too, is often divided into a mod- sary for democratic regime transitions from this point
erate bargaining camp and a radical revolution camp of view; it even endangers their success by prompting
(Casper and Taylor 1996). the regime elite to close its ranks and tempting it to
The early transition literature argued that a regime issue repressive measures (Casper and Taylor 1996).
opposition in an authoritarian system cannot achieve The recent democratization literature has altered
a transition to democracy unless a split in the regime these views rather decisively, emphasizing the posi-
elite occurs and a liberal reform camp becomes visible tive role of non-violent mass opposition in knocking
(O’Donnell et al. 1986; Higley and Burton 2006). Such over authoritarian regimes and establishing democ-
a split is likely to occur after a major economic crisis, racy (Karatnycki and Ackerman 2005; Ulfelder 2005;
a lost war or other critical events that undermine the Welzel 2007). These studies show that democracy is
legitimacy of the regime. Such critical events lead to in most cases achieved when ordinary people strug-
the formation of a liberal reform camp that aims to gle for it against reluctant elites. Democratization
regain legitimacy by initiating a liberalization process. processes of recent decades have been most far-reach-
If in such a situation the regime opposition is domi- ing and most successful where the masses were mobi-
nated by a moderate camp whose proponents are will- lized into democracy movements in such numbers
ing to bargain with the reform camp in the regime and so ubiquitously that state authorities could not
elite, a negotiated transition to democracy becomes suppress them easily.

State Repression and Democratizing Mass Pressures

Recent studies on the positive role of mass opposi- when people come to find appeal in the freedoms
tion have altered our view on the survival of authori- that define democracy that they begin to consider
tarian regimes. Usually it was held that authoritarian dictatorial powers as illegitimate. Only then does the
regimes can use repression to silence opposition and threat of repression become a relevant stabilization
that this allows them to endure, even if the masses factor of authoritarian rule. And yet, there is ample
find their regime preferences ‘falsified’ (Kuran 1991). evidence from the non-violent, pro-democratic mass
However, most authoritarian regimes did not survive upheavals of recent decades that when a population
because of their ability to repress mass opposition begins to long for freedoms, mass opposition does
(Wintrobe 1998). In fact, most authoritarian regimes emerge—in spite of repressive threats (Karatnycki
did not have to deal with widespread mass opposi- and Ackerman 2005; Schock 2005; Welzel 2007).
tion most of the time (Francisco 2005). This might Once opposition becomes manifest, the success of
partly be so because a credible threat of repression attempts at repression does not only depend on the
alone can keep people from opposing a regime. Yet, extent of coercion used; it depends as much on the
for the credibility of repression to become the key size and scope of the mass opposition itself. Indeed,
factor in stabilizing authoritarian rule, there must be mass opposition can grow so wide that repression
a widespread belief in the illegitimacy of authoritar- becomes too costly, overwhelming the power holders’
ian rule in the first place. And this does not always repressive capacities. In such cases power holders are
seem to be the case. In fact, as Samuel Huntington forced to open the way to a regime change. This hap-
(1991:143) notes, most of the authoritarian regimes pened quite often during the last three decades. Huge
that were swept away by mass opposition movements mass opposition swept away authoritarian regimes
late in the twentieth century, were initially ‘almost in scores of countries, including some strongly coer-
always popular and widely supported’. It is only cive regimes. The point here is that the desire for

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democratic freedoms and the corresponding belief in is a stable and constant factor that does not vary
the illegitimacy of dictatorial powers are variables, not across populations (Acemoglu and Robinson 2006).
constants. When these variables grow strong, they But ample evidence from the major cross-national
provide a powerful motivational force for the mobi- survey programmes shows that the extent to which
lization of mass opposition in authoritarian regimes ordinary people value democratic freedoms varies
as soon as opportunities occur (Oberschall 1996). widely across populations (Dalton, Shin and Jou
And no regime has the power to foreclose the rise of 2007; Shin and Tusalem 2007). Hence, to make plau-
opportunities. Repression cannot isolate authoritar- sible that modernization favours democracy, one has
ian regimes from the destabilizing effect of eroding not only to show that it increases people’s capabil-
legitimacy and rising mass demands for democracy. ity to struggle for democratic freedoms but also that
it increases their willingness to do so. However, this
seems unlikely from the perspective of institutional
Mass beliefs and democratization learning theory. Dankwart Rustow’s (1970) ‘habitu-
ation model’, for instance, maintains that people
Socioeconomic modernization and the emergence learn to appreciate democracy’s freedoms only if they
of mass democracy movements are not necessar- have gathered experience with the practice of these
ily contradictory explanations of democratization. freedoms. This requires democratic institutions to be
They are simply located at different stages in the in place for democratic values to emerge. In this view,
causal sequence. By enhancing ordinary people’s people’s valuation of democratic freedoms is endog-
available resources, modernization increases collec- enous to the presence of democratic institutions and
tive action capacities on the part of the masses and does not cause them. Since an intrinsic valuation of
thus makes mass democracy movements possible, be democratic freedoms among the populace can only
it to achieve democracy when it is denied, to defend occur under enduring democratic institutions, mod-
it when it is challenged, or to advance it when it ernization cannot give rise to pro-democratic values,
stagnates. But even if we link modernization with unless it advances under democratic institutions.
democracy movements, there is still something miss- By contrast, Christian Welzel and Ronald Inglehart
ing. As social movement research has shown, pow- (2008) argue that people’s valuation of democratic
erful mass movements do not simply emerge from freedoms reflects how much utility they see in these
growing resources among the population. Social freedoms. And perceived utility is not only depend-
movements must be inspired by a common cause that ing on first-hand-experience with the practice of
motivates their supporters to take costly and risky these freedoms. It depends primarily on the resources
actions (McAdam 1986). This requires ideological that people command, for the more resources people
‘frames’ that create meaning and grant legitimacy to have, the more they need freedoms to make use of
a common cause so that people follow it with inner them (Rostow 1961). Hence, growing and spreading
conviction (Snow and Benford 1988). Successful resources increase the utility of democratic freedoms
frames are not arbitrary social constructions and not in ways that are easily becoming obvious. According-
every frame is equally appealing in every population. ly, Figure 9.3 in Chapter 9 demonstrates that, under
Instead, frames must resonate with ordinary people’s mutual controls, the endurance of democracy has no
prevailing values to generate widespread and pas- effect on people’s valuation of democratic freedoms
sionate support. This is why values are important. To while modernization has. Emphasis on democratic
advance democracy, people have not only to be capa- freedoms is more driven by the utility of these freedoms
ble to struggle for its advancement; they also have than by the experience of them. This makes it possi-
to be willing to do so. And for this to happen, they ble that an intrinsic desire for democracy emerges in
must value the freedoms that define democracy. This authoritarian regimes and that pro-democracy activ-
is not always a given, and is subject to changes in the ists can create civic rights frames that resonate with
process of value transformation. people’s emerging valuation of freedoms.
Structural approaches implicitly assume that the People’s valuation of democratic freedoms becomes
masses do always anyways want democracy, so this manifest in emancipative beliefs that emphasize the

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power, freedom, agency, equality and trustworthi- elites, and the elites oppose it for precisely the same
ness of ordinary people (Welzel and Inglehart 2008). reason. Consequently, the elites will only concede
As these values emerge, they motivate elite-challeng- universal suffrage if they have reason to believe it
ing collective actions (Welzel 2007). In fact, eman- will not lead to extensive redistribution—other-
cipative beliefs motivate elite-challenging collective wise, they will suppress mass demands for suffrage.
actions on every level of democracy (or lack thereof). The reason why modernization is important in this
And on all levels of democracy, emancipative mass model is that it is assumed to close the income gap
actions operate in favour of democracy, helping to between the elites and the masses, tampering the
achieve democracy when it was absent and to sustain masses’ interest in extensive redistribution and the
it when it is present. elites’ fear of it. Suppressing the masses’ demands for
Counter-intuitively, at first glance, the type of mass democracy becomes then more costly than conced-
beliefs tapping public support for democracy in a ing democracy and so the elites concede democracy.
most direct way is irrelevant to democracy, both to its An additional reason why elites have less to fear
survival and its emergence (Inglehart 2003). The per- from conceding democracy is when their capital is
centage of people in a country who say they support so mobile that they can move it out of the reach of
democracy strongly and reject authoritarian alterna- taxation into other countries (Boix 2003).
tives to democracy strictly, has no effect whatsoever Several strong assumptions underlie this model
on subsequent measures of democracy, once one con- (these assumptions are not always made explicit but
trols for the dependence of these attitudes on prior without them the model would not work). First, varia-
democracy (Welzel 2007). What matters is not wheth- tion in mass demands for democracy cannot account
er people support democracy but for what reasons they for the emergence and survival of democracy, since the
do so (Schedler and Sarsfield 2006). Only when people model assumes that the masses are always in favour
support democracy for the freedoms that define it, are of democracy. Second, the decision to democratize is
they ready to mount pressures on elites to introduce always fully in the hands of the elites; they decide
these freedoms when they are denied, to defend them whether to repress mass demands for democracy or
when they are challenged, or to advance them when whether to concede democracy. Third, moderniza-
they stagnate. Thus, people’s explicit support for tion increases the chances to democratize by changes
democracy advances democracy if—and only if—this in income equality and capital mobility that make
support is motivated by emancipative values. Devoid universal suffrage more acceptable to the elites.
of these values, support for democracy has no effect. The human empowerment approach of Ron-
ald Inglehart and Christian Welzel (2005) favours
almost the exact opposite assumptions. First, these
Elite-conceded versus authors find a great deal of variation in the degree
mass-pressured democratization to which given publics desire democratic freedoms.
Second, the decision to expand democratic freedoms
Two recent approaches link modernization to actor
constellations and by doing so claim to have found
the reason why modernization favours democratiza-
tion. The two approaches are in direct contradiction Box 6.2 Key point
to each other.
Acemoglu and Robinson (2006) interpret democ- • The global diffusion of democracy resulted partly
racy as the result of a struggle over economic redistri- from the military defeat of anti-democratic empires
bution between propertied elites and impoverished by allied democratic powers.
masses. In this view, democracy is a struggle for uni- • Mass-pressured democratization is the more fre-
versal suffrage in which both sides are motivated by quent and more successful type of democrati-
conflicting interests in economic redistribution. The zation as compared to merely elite-conceded
masses want democracy because universal suffrage democratization.
would enable them to redistribute income from the

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remains exclusively an elite choice only as long as the mass side with ongoing modernization. The
ordinary people’s action resources are meagre. But recent waves of democratization were, in large part,
this is precisely what modernization changes. It a story of effective mass mobilization, motivated by
greatly increases ordinary people’s action resources, strong emancipative beliefs among people who had
enabling them to mount more powerful collective become increasingly articulate and skilled at organ-
actions, putting increasingly effective pressure on izing social movements. In this view, the major effect
elites. Third, the survival of authoritarian regimes of modernization is not that it makes democracy
is not simply a question of whether elites choose to more acceptable to elites. It is that modernization
repress the masses—it reflects the balance of forces increases ordinary people’s capabilities and willing-
between elites and masses, which tends to shift to ness to struggle for democratic freedoms.

Institutional Configurations and Democracy

Beside socioeconomic modernization, social divisions, a democratic mass movement. But one should not for-
international regime alliances, elite constellations, get that opportunity structures do not by themselves
social movements and mass beliefs, institutional fac- create these mass movements and that no authoritar-
tors have been claimed to influence democratization. ian regime has the power to foreclose opportunities
Barbara Geddes (1999) argues that the type of authori- forever. Once the resources and values that make peo-
tarian regime shapes the chances of democracy to ple capable and willing to struggle for freedoms have
emerge. She differentiates three types of authoritarian emerged, people will find and create opportunities to
regimes: personalistic regimes, military regimes, and join forces in mass democracy movements. Provided
single-party regimes. By means of their institutional such movements grow strong enough, no authoritar-
variation, these regimes are supposed to be vulnerable ian regime can resist them forever, regardless what
to different degrees to democratizing forces, as they institutional type of authoritarian regime it is.
offer different opportunities for regime opponents and Institutional variation plays also a role when it
command different resources to restrict their radius. comes to existing democracy’s malfunctions, which
Indeed, these three types of authoritarianism are vul- can be an important factor of their stability and sur-
nerable in different degrees to mass regime opposition vival. There is a large literature on the deficiencies of
(Ulfelder 2005). But the point is that all three of them presidential democracies, as opposed to parliamentary
are more likely to break down and to transit to democ- democracies, and it is widely believed that presiden-
racy under the pressure of anti-regime mobilization. tial democracies are more vulnerable to antidemocrat-
The level at which regime type and other institu- ic challenges (Linz and Valenzuela 1994; Mainwaring
tional variables operate is what is commonly called and Shugart 1997; Lijphart 1999). Again, the argu-
‘political opportunity structure’ (Tarrow 1998). Any ment is about opportunity structures. By means of
authoritarian regime, even the most powerful one, has their institutional structures, presidential democracies
some sort of a control deficit, depending on institu- might offer antidemocratic challengers better oppor-
tional structures. Depending on the nature and extent tunities to operate. But institutional opportunities
of these control deficits, authoritarian regimes offer do not create these challengers. Other, more deeply
democratic forces different opportunities to merge into rooted societal factors are responsible for this.

The Human Empowerment Path to Democracy

Synthesizing the above discussion, we can now identify ordinary people, making them more capable to strug-
a ‘master sequence’ towards sustainable democratiza- gle for democratic freedoms in launching popular
tion. Modernization enhances the action resources of movements that sustain elite-challenging activities.

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Growing action resources Rising emancipative values Expanding civic freedoms
empower capability-wise, empower ambition-wise, empower entitlement-wise,
enabling people motivating people allowing people
to practice freedoms. to practice freedoms. to practice freedoms.

(people being capable, willing, and entitled to practice freedoms)

Fig 6.2 The human empowerment path towards democratization

By increasing people’s action resources, moderniza- capable to struggle for freedoms, (2) rising eman-
tion increases the utility of democratic freedoms and cipative beliefs empower them mentally by making
it does so in ways that are easily made perceptible them more willing to struggle for freedoms, and (3)
through frames, so that people’s valuation of these democracy empowers them legally by allowing peo-
freedoms grows. This gives rise to emancipative val- ple to practice freedoms.
ues, making publics more willing to struggle for dem- The more human empowerment has advanced in
ocratic freedoms. its material and mental dimensions, making people
Popular struggles for democracy become manifest capable and willing to practice democratic freedoms,
in social movements whose activists frame demo- the more sustainable the legal component of human
cratic goals and mobilize the masses in support of empowerment—democracy—becomes. The human
these goals in campaigns that sustain elite-chal- empowerment path to democracy is not the only
lenging actions (Foweraker and Landman 1997). If path to democracy. But it is arguably the only path
elites do not voluntarily give in, in anticipation of producing socially embedded and hence sustainable
these mass pressures, these pressures can grow too democracy.
strong to resist, forcing elites to give in, either by Putnam’s (1993) social capital theory of democra-
introducing democracy when they have denied it cy represents a specific aspect of the general human
or by advancing it when they were to bloc its fur- empowerment framework (see also Ch. 11). As
ther advancement. This sequence is what Welzel and human empowerment advances in its material and
Inglehart (2008) call the ‘human empowerment’ mental dimensions, it makes people more capable
path to democracy, as shown in Figure 6.2. It follows and more willing to initiate and sustain collective
a sequence such that (1) growing action resources action. In doing so, human empowerment creates
empower people materially by making them more social capital as a by-product.

A Typology of Democratization Processes

The human empowerment path to democracy is democratization, and imposed democratization. In each
responsive to mass pressures for democracy. This of these types, the power elites’ vested interest in
path constitutes responsive democratization. This has monopolizing power is overcome by reasons other
been the dominant type of democratization in the than mass pressures. In each of these types this leads
emergence of nascent democracies and in the global to socially detached rather than embedded democ-
wave of democratization of recent times. But there racy, the latter of which can only result from mass
are other types of democratization processes that do responsive democratization.
not respond to mass pressures. These types can be One of the reasons why power elites might over-
classified as enlightened democratization, opportunistic come their natural resistance to democratize is

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when negative historical experiences have discred- Still another and increasingly widespread case in
ited alternative forms of government. The adoption which elites concede democracy in the absence of mass
of democracy in post-World War II Germany, Italy, pressures is when they believe they can easily corrupt
and Japan partly fall into this category. This type of democratic standards in practice and when the pretence
enlightened democratization is the only type in which of democracy is perceived as a useful means to open
elites effectively respect democratic standards even the doors to the international community, especially
in absence of mass pressures to do so. But this model donor organizations. This case of opportunistic democra-
is very rare in history as it is at odds with power elites’ tization has become more likely since the Washington
natural tendency to resist democratization. consensus, as a result of which western credits have
Another reason why elites concede democracy been tied to conditions of ‘good governance.’
even in the absence of mass pressures is when these In the enlightened, imposed, and opportunistic
elites depend on the will of external powers and when types of democratization, elites concede democracy
these powers are pushing for democracy. This case of despite absent mass pressures to do so. Among these
imposed democratization is again typical of post-war three types, elites respect democratic freedoms effec-
democracies such as West Germany, Austria, Italy, tively only in the enlightened type but this type is rare.
and Japan after World War II. The US-led attempts to In the imposed and opportunistic types of democra-
install democracy in post-war Afghanistan and Iraq tization, elites do not effectively respect democratic
fall into the same category of externally imposed freedoms. Responsive democratization is the only
democratization, though it is far from clear whether type of democratization in which democracy becomes
the latter cases will be successful. socially embedded and hence socially sustainable.

Some approaches to understand democratization Figure 6.3 suggests motivational mass tendencies
focus on societal conditions, such as modernization or as the intervening force that helps translate objec-
distributional equality. Other approaches emphasize tive social conditions into intentional collective actions.
the role of collective actions, including elite pacts or Motivational tendencies are based on shared beliefs
mass mobilization. Conditions and actions are often and values. They are shaped, on one hand, by social
portrayed as contradictory explanations of democra- conditions because what people believe and value is
tization when in fact a full understanding of democ- not a context-free given but reflects objective circum-
ratization needs to highlight the interplay between stances. On the other hand, motivational tendencies
conditions and actions. direct intentions towards goals that inspire actions.
It is self-evident that democratization is not an The path in Figure 6.3 focuses on mass responsive
automatism that guides itself without agents. Instead, democratization because this is the socially most
it is the outcome of intentional collective actions, sustainable type of democratization process. For this
involving strategies of power elites, campaigns of type of democratization to become possible, peo-
social movement activists, and mass participation. ple must have the resources that enable them to act
Thus, any explanation of democratization intend- jointly for democratic freedoms, and this is where
ing to illuminate the role of social conditions must social conditions become relevant. Socioeconomic
make plausible how these conditions shape actor modernization, for instance, places more resources
constellations. On the other hand, it is just as self- into the hands of ordinary people, enhancing their
evident that actions leading to democratic outcomes capacity for collective action. But in order to take the
are the result of choices that are socially conditioned. risks and costs to act jointly for democratic freedoms,
Thus, it is the task of action-centred approaches to people must passionately believe in these freedoms.
illuminate how concrete actions respond to social This is where emancipative values become impor-
conditions. tant. Where these values develop, they provide a

06-haerpfer-chap06.indd Sec2:88 10/20/08 7:53:48 PM


Denied, deficient
or challenged
democratic International
Modernization freedoms. or domestic
trigger event.

Growth and spread Widespread Emergence and Social movement

of resources resources diffusion activists find Social movement
making wider extend ordinary of values the resources activists mobilize Elite measures
parts of society people’s action predispositioning to mobilize mass elite-challenging realizing
capable to initiate, repertoire, thus wider parts of support and mass actions democratic
join, and sustain increasing the society in can frame pressuring for goals*.
collective utility of favor of democratic goals* democratic
elite-challenging democratic democratic that resonate with goals*.
action. freedoms. freedoms. people’s values.

Objective Social Conditions Motivational Mass Tendencies Intentional Collective Actions


Fig 6.3 Causal path toward mass-pressured democratization

motivational force that predispositions people this causal interplay is that they determine a soci-
in favour of democratic freedoms. If people have ety’s capabilities for collective action. The role of
acquired both the capability and the willingness to motivational mass tendencies is that they shape the
join forces in struggling for democratic freedoms, intentions that inspire collective actions. The role of
and if there is reason for grievance because these grievances is that they provide a reason to become
freedoms are denied, deficient or challenged, at some active for the sake of given goals. The role of criti-
point a critical event will prompt people to actually cal events is that they provide a trigger for collective
act together for these freedoms, be it to establish, to actions. And the role of collective actions is that they
deepen or to defend them. Provided these actions constitute a challenge that, when becoming strong
grow strong enough, power elites will be forced to enough, leads to a political change.
give in to their demands. When this happens we wit- Again, mass responsive democratization is not
ness mass responsive democratization. the only path to democracy. For democracy can be
Mass responsive democratization is the joint result imposed by foreign powers or adopted by unilateral
of objective social conditions, motivational mass elite actions. But mass responsive democratization
tendencies, and intentional collective actions, trig- is the only path to democracy that creates socially
gered by critical events, in the context of enduring embedded democracy. And only socially embedded
grievances. The role of objective social conditions in democracy is sustainable democracy.


1. What is nascent democracy?

2. Which structural factors favour democratization?

3. Which structural factors impede democratization?

4. Why did democracy and capitalism co-evolve in Western Europe and North America?

5. Why did industrialization not always favour democratization?

6. What is the role of mass motivational tendencies in democratization?

Visit the Online Resource Centre that accompanies this book for additional questions
to accompany each chapter, and a range of other resources: <www.oxfordtextbooks.

06-haerpfer-chap06.indd Sec2:89 10/20/08 7:53:48 PM



Acemoglu, D. and Robinson, J. A. (2006), Economic Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy (New
York: Cambridge University Press).

Encompassing account of the origins of democracy from a political economy perspective.

Casper, G. and Taylor, M. M. (1996), Negotiating Democracy (Pittsburgh: University of

Pittsburgh Press).

This book is the best on actor strategies, comparing failed and successful cases of

Dahl, R. A. (1971), Polyarchy: Participation and Opposition (New Haven: Yale University Press).

This classic provides the theoretically most comprehensive account of democracy until today.

Foweraker, J. and Landman, T. (1997), Citizenship Rights and Social Movements (Oxford: Oxford
University Press).

One of the best books on democratization from a social movement perspective.

Huntington, S. P. (1991), The Third Wave (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press).

The classic on waves of democratization and what causes them.

Inglehart, R. and Welzel, C. (2005), Modernization, Cultural Change, and Democracy (New York:
Cambridge University Press).

Perhaps the most comprehensive account of democratization in a political culture



<http://repositories.cdlib.org/csd> This website links to downloadable publications of the

Center for the Study of Democracy at UC Irvine.

<http://democracy.stanford.edu> This is the website of the Comparative Democratization

project of Stanford University, directed by Larry Diamond.

<www.journalofdemocracy.org> This is the website of the Journal of Democracy. Some

articles are free for download.

<www.tandf.co.uk/Journals> This is the website of the Taylor & Francis academic journal
Democratization. Article abstracts can be read online.

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