Study Guide: Democratization
This study guide was created by reviewing questions on past CRS comprehensive exams and breaking them down into elemental questions and themes. Outlines for each are then provided based on course readings and class notes. No optional readings are included in the cited literature.
Core questions:
1. Define democracy.
Charles Tilly (2007; pp. 7-11) identifies 4 types of definitions for democracy: constitutional, substantive, procedural, and process-oriented.
· Constitutional definitions focus on whether a country’s legal code (e.g. constitution) proclaims the country democratic and purports to support democratic practices. The advantage of this definition is that it is easy to operationalize. The disadvantage is that what exists on paper may not exist in practice. Here Tilly uses the example of Kazakhstan.
· Substantive definitions of democracy focus on the people’s life conditions and political practices (e.g. human welfare, individual freedom, security, equity, social equality, public deliberation, and peaceful conflict resolution). The advantage is that it measures democracy more accurately. However, how do we handle trade-offs among indicators? Also, its focus on outcomes doesn’t explain how democracy delivers these outcomes better than other regime types.
· Procedural definitions are exemplified by Schumpter and, to a lesser extent, Freedom House. Here the focus is on specific practices, especially elections (free and fair, competitive, large voter turnout) and alternation. Again, easy to measure. However, the definition is very narrow.
· Process-orientated definitions are exemplified by Robert Dahl (1998). He identifies 5 processes that must be continually in place: effective participation, voting equality, enlightened understanding, control of the agenda, and inclusion of all adults. He also identifies 6 democratic institutions: free, fair, and frequent elections, freedom of expression, alternative sources of information, associational autonomy, and inclusive citizenship. The disadvantage of this definition is that it’s all or none and doesn’t allow for degrees of democracy. When you try to turn these into continuous variables, conflicts among them arise.
Tilly’s definition: “A regime is democratic to the extent that political relations between the state and its citizens feature broad, equal, protected, and mutually binding consultation.” (2007, pp.13-14)
2. Define democratization.
Tilly (2007) views democratization as a process which can progress or regress (de-democratization). Democracy is a matter of degrees. Democratization is a net movement toward braoder, more equal, more protected, and more binding consulation between the state and its citizens. De-democratization is a net movement away from broader, more equal, more protected, and more binding consulation between the state and its citizens.
3. Why does democratization occur?
Acemoglu and Robinson:
Democracy is the result of a power struggle between citizens (who want democracy) and elites (who don’t). When citizens obtain a certain degree of de facto political power (by virtue of their economic might and ability to mobilize for collective action), they will want to formalize and consolidate this power by gaining de jure political power through the establishment of democratic institutions. They want democratic institutions because these lead to more equal distribution of both political power and economic wealth. The elites will resist democratization either by trying to pay off citizens or by repressing them, but citizens will resist being bought off because elites’ promises are not credible without democracy, and repressions are costly. The best example of this model is Britain.
Geddes:
Geddes (2007) considers various theories of the causes of democratization. She notes that the relationship between economic development and democratization may be spurious. Both may be caused by some other factor, such as education, urbanization, industrialization, and the weakening of loyalties. The relationship between democratization and equal wealth distribution may be causal, but this hasn’t been empirically supported. Also, capital mobility may increase democratization, since people can take their money elsewhere to avoid paying taxes, thereby gaining leverage with elites who must lower taxes and satisfy citizens’ demands for political power.
Tilly:
There are no necessary and sufficient conditions for democratization. However, there are 3 broad processes which support democratization. When these increase, democratization progresses. When these decrease, de-democratization occurs. These processes are:
1. The increasing integration of trust networks into public politics.
a. Examples of trust networks: religious groups, ethnic groups, etc.
b. The idea isn’t to eliminate these groups per se, but to get them involved in the political process rather than having them operate outside of the political process.
2. The increasing isolation of public politics from categorical inequalities.
a. Ideally, inequalities in society would decrease. But Tilly’s more modest proposal is that social inequalities at least not spill over into public politics. In other words, systems where social prejudice is crystallized in political systems – such as with Apartheid in South Africa – are bad for democracy. Political systems should institute practices such as secret ballots which buffer public politics from social inequalities.
3. The decreasing autonomy of major power centers from public politics.
a. Some examples of power centers could be wealthy elites powerful enough to dominate politics (Russia), but Tilly is most concerned about autonomous military forces or other violent groups like the mafia who undermine the democratic political process.
Olson:
Olson compares the government to a bandit who takes what citizens produce. Citizens prefer a “stationary bandit” to a “roving bandit” because a roving bandit will take everything at unpredictable times, whereas a stationary bandit is predictable and will not take everything, instead preferring to incentivize the population to produce so that the bandit can steal continuously, albeit in smaller increments (so an not to deincentivize production). Both autocracies and democracies can act as stationary bandits. However, when autocracies are short-term and not long-term, they act like roving bandits who take as much as they can. Citizens will then attempt to inhibit the bandit’s predation by pushing for courts, the rule of law, respect for property rights and individual freedoms, and – wala! – you get democracy.
4. Who is the driving force behind the creation of democracies, the elites or the masses?
These theorists focus on contentious bargaining between elites and the masses where elites ultimately concede to democracy based on a cost-benefit analysis. Because elites concede to democracy, these could be considered elite-driven.
· Acemoglu and Robinson: Citizens want democracy and elites do not. However, it is unclear who is meant by “citizen.” It is clear this includes the bourgeoisie, but would it also include peasants?
· Olson: Governments act as bandits, and citizens attempt to deal with them by lessening their predation by instituting democracy.
Tilly: Bottom-up democratization is usually most effective, whereas de-democratization is generally elite-driven.
Inglehart: Democracy is a grassroots movement. Everybody wants it.
5. What explains the timing of individual democratic transitions?
Acemoglu and Robinson: External crises and shocks upset the status quo and create a field of action for change and negotiation.
Tilly: Again, external shocks upset the status quo, create space for bargaining. Shocks could include things like domestic confrontation, military conquest, revolution, and colonization.
6. What explains the consolidation/stabilization of democracy?

Przeworski:
· The consolidation and stability of democracy depends on a country’s level of economic wealth. Above a certain threshold, democracies are much more likely to survive. Below a certain threshold, they are much more likely to de-democratize. This has empirical support.
· Why is this? In a nutshell, in sufficiently wealth countries, the potential gains from establishing a dictatorship to redistribute wealth are not worth the loss of freedom. However, below a certain threshold, the majority (who are poor) would gain considerably from establishing a dictatorship to to redistribute wealth.
· Key Assumptions: Wealth is unequally distributed in a society where the majority are poor and the minority are rich. People vote on income taxes (where the party of the poor favors wealth redistribution via taxes and the party of the rich favors no redistribution). The military is strong enough to stage a coup if people are unsatisfied with the election results.
· People will not state a coup if the outcome of the elections is the same as what they would expect were they to install a dictatorship. Short of this, the Median Voter must weigh the costs and benefits of staging a coup and establishing a dictatorship (for greater redistribution of wealth) vs. accepting the election results (even if this means less or no redistribution of wealth.)
· In a sufficiently wealthy country, the Median Voter accepts election results because the increased income resulting from a dictatorship isn’t worth the loss of democracy.
· Caveat: Where distribution is equal and the military is weak, democracies can survive even in poor countries.
Acemoglu and Robinson:
Democracies can consolidate if the military does not back the deposed elites, allowing them to stage a coup. (This is not the central theme of their article, but a side note.)
7. What is the relationship of democracy to the level of economic development?
Acemoglu and Robinson:
They argue that conditions favoring economic growth are best protected by democratic institutions. Such conditions include political institutions with checks and balances, political power and investment opportunities (e.g. via property rights) spread across as broad a base as possible, and limits on the rents which power holders can extract (e.g. oil => high rents, agriculture => lower rents). Thus, citizens will want democratization to secure de jure (institutional) political power and promote economic prosperity. Although democracy is predicted to lead to economic prosperity, economic prosperity does not cause democracy. However, Acemoglu and Robinson do seem to suggest that a certain threshold of economic development must be reached before citizens have sufficient de facto political power by virtue of their economic might to coerce elites into creating democratic institutions.
Przeworski: Level of economic development explains why some democracies fail and others flourish (Note he is explaining the consolidation and not the creation of democracy here.)
· The consolidation and stability of democracy depends on a country’s level of economic wealth. Above a certain threshold, democracies are much more likely to survive. Below a certain threshold, they are much more likely to de-democratize. This has empirical support.
· Why is this? In a nutshell, in sufficiently wealth countries, the potential gains from establishing a dictatorship to redistribute wealth are not worth the loss of freedom. However, below a certain threshold, the majority (who are poor) would gain considerably from establishing a dictatorship to to redistribute wealth.
· Key Assumptions: Wealth is unequally distributed in a society where the majority are poor and the minority are rich. People vote on income taxes (where the party of the poor favors wealth redistribution via taxes and the party of the rich favors no redistribution). The military is strong enough to stage a coup if people are unsatisfied with the election results.
· People will not state a coup if the outcome of the elections is the same as what they would expect were they to install a dictatorship. Short of this, the Median Voter must weigh the costs and benefits of staging a coup and establishing a dictatorship (for greater redistribution of wealth) vs. accepting the election results (even if this means less or no redistribution of wealth.)
· In a sufficiently wealthy country, the Median Voter accepts election results because the increased income resulting from a dictatorship isn’t worth the loss of democracy.
· Caveat: Where distribution is equal and the military is weak, democracies can survive even in poor countries.
Tilly:
Tilly says its important to note whether the state controls the wealth directly (in which case it has little motivation to democratize) versus whether the state relies on citizens for production (e.g. in agricultural societies), whom it then taxes to obtain revenues. In the latter case, citizens have more leverage and can bargain for democracy. (Chapter 7)
Geddes:
Commenting on the correlation between economic development and democratization, Geddes questions both variables, pointing out that economic development could be standing in for some other causal variable (e.g. education or urbanization), and that democratization should be disaggregated. Democratization arises differently in different contexts, and so we need to break it down by those contexts, paying particular attention to historical period and regime type.
8. What is the relationship of democracy to the level of political development?
Tilly (2007) examines the relationship of state capacity to democracy and also the political processes which support democratization.
1. State capacity is linked to democratization in that states with low capacity are unable to support and protect democratic institutions from threats. Increasing state capacity generally supports increasing democratization.
a. Although strong states can misuse their power to dedemocratize, state capacity building usually involves eliminating autonomous power centers, which lays the groundwork for democratization. (Franco is a good example of this – Although an authoritarian leader, he eliminated armies which arose in pre-Franco Spain. This laid the groundwork for democratization to occur at a later point).
b. Weak states have a harder time becoming democratic unless they are protected by a strong neighbor. They will be too weak to institute the 3 processes which promote democratization (incorporate trust networks, eliminate inequalities from public politics, and eliminate competing autonomous power centers). Moreover, weak states are more prone to civil war.
2. He further argues that there are 3 processes which promote democratization: (p. 23)
4. The increasing integration of trust networks into public politics.
a. Examples of trust networks: religious groups, ethnic groups, etc.
b. The idea isn’t to eliminate these groups per se, but to get them involved in the political process rather than having them operate outside of the political process.
5. The increasing isolation of public politics from categorical inequalities.
a. Ideally, inequalities in society would decrease. But Tilly’s more modest proposal is that social inequalities at least not spill over into public politics. In other words, systems where social prejudice is crystallized in political systems – such as with Apartheid in South Africa – are bad for democracy. Political systems should institute practices such as secret ballots which buffer public politics from social inequalities.
6. The decreasing autonomy of major power centers from public politics.
a. Some examples of power centers could be wealthy elites powerful enough to dominate politics (Russia), but Tilly is most concerned about autonomous military forces or other violent groups like the mafia who undermine the democratic political process.
Olson:
Democracy encourages investment and wealth production because the “stationary bandit” that is the government is constrained from unchecked predation. In short-term autocracies, governments act like roving bandits who steal at unpredictable times and steal everything, and so people have no incentive to invest.
This is especially true if capital is mobile. People will resist overtaxation and invest their money elsewhere, outside of the country.
Are state formation and democratization inimical (unfavorable toward each other/opposed)? Be sure to ground your answer in the literature in both subfields.
For this question, refer to Tilly’s argument (above) that state capacity and democratization usually increase in tandem. Also, refer to the literature on state formation.
Variations on a theme:
The following questions can probably be answered using ideas from the above outlines.
· Assess the various explanations for the expansion of democracy.
· Is representative democracy a universal means of governance that can take root successfully in any part of the world?
· What are the strengths and weaknesses of explanations for the uneven spread of democracy in the world? (Focus on Geddes’ critiques and also the theories’ underlying assumptions.)
· Why do so many of the new democracies from post-communist countries and the global south fall short along several standard measures of democratic performance? Are there two types of democracy, old and established versus new and diminished? What are the intellectual costs and benefits of such a bifurcation? What are the strengths and weaknesses intellectually of using qualifying adjectives (e.g. illiberal, delegative and hybrid) or other classifications (e.g. old and established versus new and not fully formed) to describe these states, as some authors do in the democratization literature?
· The J-curve conundrum is that things will get worse before they get better, but that new democracies are fragile and may not survive the downturn. With reference to at least 2 countries, and discussing relevant literature, 1.) assess the logic of the J-curve and 2.) discuss possible ways of resolving the intertemporal problem.
(NOTE: Ian Bremmer came up with the idea of the J-curve, and we did not read his book for class. I would approach this by drawing upon Tilly’s notion of democratization as a process which can entail movement both forwards and backwards. One solution is for policy makers to focus on state capacity building, which promotes democratization while resolving the J-curve conundrum.)