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Democratic Transitions and Consolidation

How do the causes of democratic transitions differ from the causes of democratic consolidation? For example, how much weight should be given to the preferences, calculations, and behavior or political actors, and how much to the broader structural and cultural conditions in which they operate?

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Transitions are changes from one political system to another. However, a transition can occur from any form of government to any other type of government. Scholars study government transitions from authoritarianism to democracy (Huntington 1991, Rueschmeyer Stephens and Stephens 1992, Barros 2002) just as they observe transitions from a democracy to a dictatorship (Cohen 1994, Berman 1997). Understanding transitions to a democratic system, a particular focus of transitions literature, is frequently referred to as "democratization". That is, transitions to democracy are when efforts are made to liberalize, granting more rights and freedoms to the citizenry (O'Donnell and Schmitter 1986). A democratic transition is said to have occurred after the first free and fair election. To be clear, democratization is a process that cannot be measured or studies while it is happening; rather, it can only be said to have occurred after the fact. Yet scholars wishing to understand democratization must also appreciate how democracies are consolidated.
Consolidation and democratization are separate phenomena. Consolidation refers to the "behavioral and attitudinal embrace of democratic principles and methods by both elite and mass" (Diamond, 1999: 20). In studies of consolidation; however, a new variable - civil society -- has arisen which has forced scholars of transitions to re-examine their theories and cases to determine the impact civil society has had on democratization. This essay will evaluate the literature on both transitions and consolidation. Next it will discuss civil society and why it has emerged as an important variable for both democratization and consolidation. Finally, I will discuss the direction democratization literature should go in order to fully benefit from the insights civil society has generated.
Initial scholars of democratization understood democracy as the natural 'end' of the process of modernization (Lipset 1957, Lerner 1958, Dahl 1971, Rueschmeyer Stephens and Stephens 1992). As economic developments were made and the economy grew, societies would become more educated and literate (Lipset 1957, Lerner 1958, Dahl 1971), various forms of communication would arise as would the middle class (Rueschmeyer Stephens and Stephens 1992) and ultimately society would pressure the political system to liberalize. This literature was initially studied from a macro-historical approach, particularly utilizing comparative historical analysis. Western Europe and the United States were prime cases of study for these scholars and, as such, some arguments were made that religion influences efforts of democratization. Huntington (1991) in particular argues that democracy was facilitated by Protestantism and that explains its earlier emergence in these societies than in Islamic or Catholic states.
As democracy began to emerge in Catholic states, particularly Spain and Latin America, a new approach to understanding its emergence arose. The literature began to explore a mode of transition approach to explaining democratic outcomes. In particular, this scholarship argues that existing institutions influence and shape transitions. Collier and Collier (2002) argue that the sequential timing of how labor is mobilized will shape the nature ...

Solution Summary

Consolidation and democratization are separate phenomena. Democratic Transitions are the change from an authoritarian system to a democratic one -- usually said to have occurred after the first free and fair election. Consolidation is the institutionalization of a democracy. The conditions leading to a transition are different from the variables resulting in democratic consolidation. The role of key actors, such as government leaders or regional/political elites, varies depending on either occurrence as does the importance and relevance of historical developments, civil society, religion and culture.