Analysis of democratic regimes and democratisation processes

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Political regimes and democratisation are vast and complex subjects that encompass many aspects of society, politics and history. A political regime is a system of governance used by a country or region. Political regimes can vary greatly depending on a number of factors, including the degree of democratisation.

Democratisation is the process by which a country moves from an undemocratic regime (such as a dictatorship or an absolute monarchy) to a democratic regime. This process can take many forms and can be influenced by many factors, including international pressure, internal social movements, economic and political reforms, and changes in a country's social and cultural structure. Democratisation is generally a complex and often tumultuous process. It can lead to radical changes in the political structure of a country, and it can also be marked by conflict and tension. However, democratisation is often seen as a positive step towards a more representative government that respects human rights.

Analysing the fundamental differences between democratic and non-democratic regimes leads us to examine several key aspects of political structures, including how power is exercised and how citizens interact with government.

In a democracy, power is derived from the people, through free and fair elections. Leaders are elected by the people and are accountable to them. In non-democratic regimes, on the other hand, power is often acquired and retained by undemocratic means, such as force, intimidation, electoral fraud or inheritance. In terms of individual freedoms and human rights, democracies are generally respectful, protecting freedoms such as freedom of expression, of the press and the right to a fair trial. In contrast, non-democratic regimes tend to restrict these rights and freedoms. The separation of powers is another feature of democracies, where a clear distinction is made between the executive, legislative and judicial branches. This separation ensures that no individual or group has absolute power, allowing for a system of checks and balances. In a non-democratic regime, these powers are often concentrated in the hands of a single entity. As far as the rule of law is concerned, democracies maintain it as a fundamental principle, ensuring that everyone, citizens and leaders alike, is subject to the law. In non-democratic regimes, on the other hand, the rule of law is often weakened and rulers can act without fear of consequences. Finally, democracy is characterised by political pluralism, allowing for the existence of multiple political parties and diverse opinions. By comparison, non-democratic regimes are often dominated by a single party or a very small number of parties.

These differences have a considerable impact on the lives of citizens, governance, political stability, and economic growth and development. However, the global political reality is complex and nuanced, and not all regimes fall neatly into these categories.

Desirability of Democracy: Analysis and Prospects[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Democracy is widely recognised and valued as a desirable form of government for a number of essential reasons, both intrinsic and practical. Firstly, it is based on the fundamental principle of popular sovereignty. In a democracy, power belongs to the people. This means that citizens have the right and the ability to participate actively in the political process and to contribute to the decisions that affect their daily lives. It is a direct affirmation of the right of individuals to have a say in how they are governed. Secondly, democracy is inseparable from the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms. These include, among others, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion and the right to a fair trial. In a democratic system, these rights are generally protected by law and respected by both government and society. Finally, democracy is also characterised by the absence of arbitrary violence. It offers citizens protection against arbitrary violence and intimidation. Any abuse of power or act of violence is punished in accordance with the law, providing an additional level of security and justice for individuals.

Democracy is often considered desirable not only for its intrinsic values, but also for the tangible benefits it can bring to society. These benefits include peace, economic development and reduced corruption. Research has shown that democracies are generally more peaceful in their relations with other democracies, a concept known as 'democratic peace'. This tendency towards non-aggression and peaceful conflict resolution helps to create a safer and more stable environment for their citizens. In addition, democracy is often associated with greater economic development. Democratic principles, such as government accountability, respect for the rule of law and the protection of property rights, are conducive to a robust and prosperous economy. In an environment where rules are respected and leaders are held accountable, innovation and investment are generally encouraged, leading to more dynamic economic growth. In addition, democracies tend to have lower levels of corruption than non-democratic regimes. Through transparency, accountability and the rule of law, corruption can be prevented, detected and punished more effectively, contributing to public confidence in institutions and social justice.

The notion of the people governing is at the heart of our contemporary understanding of democracy. This derives from the word itself - "democracy" comes from the Greek words "demos", meaning people, and "kratos", meaning power or rule. Democracy therefore literally means "the power of the people" or "the rule of the people". In a democracy, the people hold the ultimate power. This power can be exercised directly, as in a direct democracy where citizens participate personally in decision-making, or indirectly, as in a representative democracy where citizens elect representatives to make decisions on their behalf. This idea of popular sovereignty is crucial because it means that the government is accountable to its citizens. Leaders are elected by the people and are accountable to them. This creates a system of checks and balances where the power of government is limited and controlled by the people it serves. This contemporary understanding of democracy emphasises citizen participation, government accountability and respect for fundamental rights and freedoms. It recognises that power resides in the people and seeks to create a system where that power is exercised fairly and transparently.

Democracy has not always been seen as the most desirable form of government. Many ancient thinkers, including Plato and Aristotle, expressed reservations about it. Plato, in his famous work The Republic, warned of the dangers of democracy. He believed that political decisions should be taken by a class of educated and experienced guardians who were best able to guide society towards the common good. For Plato, democracy was risky because it gave power to the masses, who were not necessarily educated or capable of making informed decisions. He feared that democracy would lead to impulsive, unfounded decisions that were potentially harmful to society. Aristotle, in "Politics", also listed the potential defects of democracy. He recognised that democracy could become a tyranny of the majority, where the interests of the many would inevitably prevail over those of the few. He also worried about the risk of demagoguery, where populist leaders could manipulate the masses for their own benefit. These views were formulated in the context of ancient Greek city-states, where democracy functioned differently from modern representative democracy. However, they highlight important questions about how democracy works that are still debated today, such as how to ensure informed decisions, avoid the tyranny of the majority and prevent demagoguery.

It was especially after the Second World War that democracy began to be widely regarded as the most desirable form of government. Several factors contributed to this change in perception.

Firstly, the atrocities committed by totalitarian regimes during the war highlighted the dangers of unchecked power. This led to a general rejection of authoritarian forms of government and an increased appreciation of the democratic principles of freedom, equality and respect for human rights. Secondly, the post-war period was marked by a process of decolonisation that led to the emergence of many new states. These states often adopted democratic forms of government, which helped to reinforce the idea that democracy was the model to follow. Finally, the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union also played a role. The United States positioned itself as the defender of democracy and actively promoted this system of government throughout the world. Moreover, the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union were interpreted by many as a victory of democracy over authoritarianism. Since then, democracy has been widely perceived as the most desirable model of governance, despite the challenges and difficulties it can present. However, it is important to note that achieving democracy involves much more than simply holding elections: it also requires respect for human rights, a strong rule of law, an active civil society, and a political culture that values participation and accountability.

Churchill addressed this paradox "democracy is the worst form of government - except for all those other forms, that have been tried from time to time."[1] This paradox recognises that, although democracy has its faults, it remains the most desirable system of government compared to the alternatives available. Churchill highlights that, despite its flaws, democracy has a unique capacity for self-correction that is lacking in other systems of government. Errors and excesses can be corrected through the free expression of public opinion and the electoral process. In a democracy, leaders can be held accountable for their actions and citizens have the power to change their government if they are dissatisfied with its performance. In contrast, non-democratic regimes may not have effective mechanisms to correct mistakes or control abuses of power. Leaders are not accountable to citizens, and it may be difficult, if not impossible, for citizens to change their government. So while democracy can be criticised for being messy, inefficient or prone to the tyranny of the majority, it is preferred to other forms of government because of its ability to be self-correcting, to protect human rights and to ensure political accountability.

Several types of questions are asked:

  • What is democracy? Democracy is a form of government in which power is exercised by the people. This can be achieved either directly, where citizens actively participate in decision-making (direct democracy), or indirectly, where citizens elect representatives to make decisions on their behalf (representative democracy). The fundamental values of democracy include freedom, equality, participation, accountability and respect for human rights.
  • Which countries are democracies? There are many countries in the world that are considered to be democracies. These include, but are not limited to, the United States, Canada, most European Union countries, Australia, New Zealand, India, Japan and South Africa. However, it should be noted that not all democracies are the same and that there can be significant variations in the degree and quality of democracy.
  • What are the constituent elements of democracy? The constituent elements of democracy include: political equality (all citizens have the right to participate), freedom of expression and assembly, freedom of the press, respect for human rights, the rule of law, free and fair elections, and governance by consent of the governed.
  • What are the necessary elements of democracy? The elements necessary for democracy include a strong rule of law, strong and accountable institutions, an active civil society, a free press, a political culture that values participation and accountability, and an educated and informed population. In addition, mutual tolerance and trust are essential to the functioning of a democracy.
  • What distinguishes non-democratic from democratic regimes? Non-democratic regimes are generally characterised by a lack of political accountability, restrictions on freedom of expression and association, the absence of free and fair elections, and often a disregard for human rights. Rulers can exercise absolute or near-absolute power unchecked by the law or the people. In a democracy, on the other hand, power is controlled, leaders are held accountable, and citizens' rights and freedoms are respected and protected.

Democratic transition and democratic consolidation are crucial aspects of the study of democracy.

  • Democratic transition: Democratic transition refers to the process by which an authoritarian or undemocratic regime becomes a democracy. This process can be triggered by a variety of factors, including popular discontent, economic failure, international pressure, or reforms initiated by the regime itself. The transition process often involves establishing democratic institutions, holding free and fair elections, and guaranteeing civil and political rights. However, not all democratic transitions are successful, and some countries may slip back into authoritarianism or settle into a state of "hybridity" where certain democratic features coexist with authoritarian elements.
  • Democratic consolidation: Democratic consolidation refers to the process by which democracy becomes the "only rule of the game", i.e. the majority of citizens accept democracy as the legitimate form of government, and democratic institutions are strong enough to withstand challenges and crises. Factors influencing democratic consolidation can include economic development, political culture, education levels, the existence of a robust civil society, and confidence in democratic institutions. For example, in the case of Ukraine, successful democratic consolidation may depend on the country's ability to manage internal conflicts, build a strong and stable economy, reduce corruption, and maintain a commitment to democratic values and institutions.

While democratic transition focuses on the transition from authoritarianism to democracy, democratic consolidation concerns how democracy can be maintained and strengthened once established.

Defining Democracy: Approaches and Premises[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Robert Alan Dahl teaching at Yale University.

Robert Dahl is a leading figure in political science, particularly for his contribution to democratic theory. His concept of "polyarchy", introduced in his book "Polyarchy: Participation and Opposition" (1971), is a major contribution to our understanding of modern democracies.[2]

For Dahl, a polyarchy is a political system that meets two main conditions: maximum inclusion of citizens and free and fair political contestation. In other words, all citizens have the right to participate in the political life of their country, and there is open and free political competition among different parties and ideologies. Dahl argued that polyarchical systems, while not 'pure' democracies (where every citizen has an equal say in every political decision), are the closest political systems to the democratic ideal in complex, modern societies.

According to Dahl, for a polyarchy to be possible, several conditions must be met: the freedom to form and join organisations, freedom of expression, the right to vote, eligibility for public office, the right of leaders to compete for support and votes, alternative sources of information, free and fair elections, and institutions that allow government policies to depend on the votes and preferences of citizens. Dahl's work on polyarchy remains a benchmark in democracy studies and is still widely used and cited by researchers.

Robert Dahl defined two essential dimensions for measuring the quality of a democracy, or more precisely a polyarchy: contestation and participation. These two dimensions help to differentiate between different political regimes.

  1. Contestation (or opposition): Dahl refers here to the possibility of open and fair opposition to the government of the day. In a regime with full contestation, various parties and candidates can freely stand for election, and citizens have the right to openly express their opinions and criticisms of the government. The media also have the right to criticise the government and inform citizens about the various political options. Dissent is essential to a truly democratic political system. It reflects the extent to which citizens have the freedom to criticise the government, oppose its policies and propose alternatives. In a polyarchy, or a fully developed democracy according to Dahl, political contestation is wide open. Citizens are free to express their opinions, to assemble and organise demonstrations, to form and join opposition political parties, and to participate in free and fair elections. The media are also free to criticise the government and provide alternative information to citizens. In this context, there is real potential for political change through a competitive and open process. Conversely, in less contested regimes, opportunities for political opposition are limited. This may be due to legal or informal restrictions on freedom of expression, the right of assembly, or the right to form political parties. In such regimes, elections, if held, may be rigged or unfair, and the government may repress political opposition. These regimes are generally considered less democratic because they limit the ability of citizens to hold the government accountable and bring about political change.
  2. Participation '(or inclusion): This dimension refers to the opportunity for all adult citizens to express their political preferences and to participate actively in the political life of their country. Full participation means that all adult citizens have the right to vote, without discrimination based on gender, race, religion, wealth or education. Participation is a key dimension of democracy and polyarchy, referring to the extent of voting rights and political participation of all adult citizens in a country. In a fully inclusive democracy, all adult citizens have the right to participate in the political process, regardless of their gender, race, religion, income level, level of education or other personal characteristics. This includes the right to vote in elections, but also other forms of participation, such as the ability to stand for political office, to join political parties or other civil society organisations, and to freely express their political views. On the other hand, in less inclusive systems, certain groups of citizens may be excluded from the political process. This may be done formally, through laws that explicitly restrict the right to vote to certain groups (e.g. women, ethnic minorities, the poor), or informally, through practices of discrimination or marginalisation that make it difficult for certain groups to participate politically. Less inclusive systems are generally considered to be less democratic, as they fall short of the democratic ideal of political equality.

Depending on the level of contestation and participation, Dahl has classified political systems into four types: closed democracies, competitive oligarchies, inclusive democracies and polyarchies. Polyarchies, where both contestation and participation are high, are considered to be the most democratic regimes. Closed democracies and competitive oligarchies have low and high levels of contestation and participation respectively, while inclusive democracies have high levels of contestation but low levels of participation.

Définir la démocratie dahl-robert.png

The application of Dahl's two dimensions - contestation and inclusion - can be visualised by a graph with two axes. In this graph, the y-axis represents contestation and the x-axis represents participation.

  • At the top right of the graph, where the levels of contestation and participation are both high, we find polyarchies, which are the political regimes closest to the democratic ideal, according to Dahl.
  • At the top left, where the level of contestation is high but the level of participation is low, we find what Dahl calls exclusive democracies. These regimes allow a degree of political contestation, but only certain groups of citizens have the right to participate in political life.
  • At the bottom right, where the level of contestation is low but the level of participation is high, we find inclusive oligarchies. In these regimes, a wide range of citizens have the right to participate in political life, but opportunities for political contestation are limited.
  • At the bottom left, where levels of contestation and participation are both low, we find closed regimes, which are the least democratic.

This graph is a useful tool for understanding and comparing different political regimes in terms of their degree of democracy. It shows that there is a wide variety of political regimes, even among those that can be classified as 'democracies', and that democracy is a multidimensional concept that cannot be measured by a single variable.

Different nations at different periods in history can be placed in Robert Dahl's scheme of contestation and inclusion:

  • Apartheid in South Africa: this regime was characterised by high contestation among the white population, but low inclusion due to the systematic exclusion of the black majority of the population. This would place it at the top left of the graph.
  • The United States before 1830: at that time, the right to vote was restricted to landowners, which excluded a large part of the population. This would place the United States somewhere to the left of the graph, perhaps somewhere between the middle and the top, depending on the degree of contestation among those included.
  • Switzerland before 1971: although Switzerland has a long tradition of direct democracy, the right to vote was not granted to women until 1971, indicating limited inclusion before that date. This would place Switzerland at that time somewhere in the centre of the graph, perhaps towards the top right, given the existence of political contestation among those who were included.
  • Contemporary China: as an authoritarian communist regime, China has both low contestation and low inclusion, which places it at the bottom left of the graph.

Even among non-democratic regimes, there can be some variation. For example, in some authoritarian regimes there can be a degree of inclusion, in the sense that a wide range of citizens have the right to participate in political life, even if the scope for contestation is limited. This illustrates the usefulness of Dahl's two-dimensional approach to understanding the complexity and diversity of political regimes.

Robert Dahl's theory of polyarchy creates a framework within which four main types of regime can be identified according to the levels of contestation and participation. To summarise, these four types are :

  • Polyarchies (top right): These regimes have both high levels of contestation (opposition) and participation (inclusion). Citizens have the right to criticise the government and propose alternatives, and a wide range of citizens have the right to participate in political life. Modern liberal democracies, such as the United States and the European Union, generally fall into this quadrant.
  • Exclusive democracies (top left): These regimes have high levels of contestation but low levels of participation. There is some freedom to criticise the government, but only a subset of the population has the right to participate in political life. A historical example might be the United States before the extension of universal suffrage.
  • Inclusive oligarchies (bottom right): These regimes have high levels of participation but low levels of contestation. A wide range of citizens have the right to participate in political life, but opportunities to criticise the government and propose alternatives are limited. Some authoritarian regimes that allow some political participation, but repress opposition, could fall into this category.
  • Closed regimes (bottom left): These regimes have both low levels of dissent and low levels of participation. Opportunities to criticise the government are limited, and only a subset of the population has the right to participate in political life. Many totalitarian regimes, such as North Korea, fall into this quadrant.

According to Robert Dahl, a polyarchy is the concrete and achievable form that democracy takes in today's complex societies. He has used the term to describe regimes that come closest to the democratic ideal in the real world, but do not fully realise it. According to Dahl, a polyarchy is characterised by high levels of political contestation and citizen participation - but it is not a perfect democracy. He recognises that in practice there may be barriers to full participation (for example, due to inequality of resources or information) and that contestation may be limited (for example, by the monopolisation of public discourse by certain voices).

Consequently, a polyarchy is a regime that comes close to the ideal democracy - a system in which all citizens have an equal opportunity to put forward their point of view and influence political decisions - but does not fully achieve it. In Dahl's vision, a complete democracy would be a system in which all citizens have an equal opportunity to participate in decision-making, with equal access to information and no systemic barriers to participation. This is a useful view for understanding political regimes, as it recognises that there are a range of degrees of democracy, rather than simple categories of 'democratic' and 'undemocratic'. At the same time, it maintains the democratic ideal as a standard to be achieved, while recognising the practical challenges of achieving it in modern societies.

Dahl's model of polyarchy has been extremely influential, but it captures only two dimensions of democracy: contestation and participation. Although crucial, other aspects of democracy are not directly addressed by these two dimensions. For example, the quality of public deliberation is a dimension of democracy that is not directly covered by Dahl's model. Democracy implies the possibility of challenging power and participating in decision-making and the possibility of informed and nuanced public debate on political issues. Moreover, Dahl's model does not directly consider issues such as economic and social equality, minority rights, the quality of the rule of law, corruption, and other factors that can affect the quality of democracy.

Nevertheless, despite these limitations, Dahl's concept of polyarchy has contributed to our understanding of democracy. It has provided a useful framework for analysing and comparing political regimes and has highlighted the importance of political participation and contestation for democracy. Although the term 'polyarchy' itself is not always used, the ideas it represents continue to influence studies of democracy.

Procedural institutions: criteria for assessing a democracy[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Robert Dahl has proposed eight criteria for determining whether a democracy exists in a given country. These criteria are all part of what Dahl calls the 'procedural institutions' of democracy, which are designed to ensure that the government reflects the will of the people. Here are these criteria restated in paragraphs:

  1. Freedom of association: In a democracy, individuals must be free to organise themselves and form groups such as political parties, trade unions or non-governmental organisations. This allows citizens to come together to defend their interests and to participate more effectively in the political process.
  2. Freedom of expression: Citizens must have the right to express their opinions without fear of reprisal. This includes the freedom to criticise the government and to debate public issues. Freedom of expression is essential for vigorous and informed public debate, which is at the heart of democracy.
  3. Right to vote: All adult citizens should have the right to vote in elections. This ensures that the government is chosen by the people and not by a small elite.
  4. Right to stand for election: All citizens should have the right to stand for election. This ensures that the choice of leaders is not limited to a small elite.
  5. Right of political leaders to compete for popular support: Political leaders must have the right to campaign for popular support. This allows for genuine debate between different political visions.
  6. Diversity of information sources: There must be a plurality of information sources so that citizens can form an informed opinion on public issues. This implies freedom of the press and the absence of government control over information.
  7. Free and fair elections: Elections must be free and fair to ensure that the will of the people is properly reflected. This means that the electoral process must be impartial, votes must be counted correctly and all parties must have an equal chance of winning.
  8. Political institutions must be designed to ensure that government policies reflect the will of the people. This may involve electoral systems that ensure fair representation of all groups, checks and balances to prevent abuse of power, and other measures to ensure government accountability to the people.

Together, these eight criteria offer a fairly complete picture of what it means to be a democracy. However, it is important to note that no country has a perfect democracy that satisfies all these criteria.

Alfred Stepan, a well-known political scientist, has argued that Robert Dahl's definition of democracy is not sufficient to guarantee respect for fundamental freedoms and minority rights. According to Stepan, to be considered a complete democracy, a regime must not only allow participation and dissent, but also guarantee human rights and respect the rule of law.

In other words, in a genuine democracy, the majority cannot simply impose its will on the minority. Minorities must enjoy substantial legal protections for their fundamental rights, including freedom of speech, religion, association and assembly. In addition, all citizens, regardless of ethnicity, gender, religion or sexual orientation, must have equal opportunities to participate in the political and economic life of the nation.

By adding these criteria, Stepan underlines the importance of an inclusive democracy that respects rights, a democracy that does more than hold elections, guarantees civil and political liberties and respects diversity and human rights. He reminds us that democracy is as much a question of quality as quantity and that simply holding elections is not enough to make a country a true democracy.

Conceptions of Democracy: A Comparison of Procedural and Substantive Approaches[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The understanding of democracy can be divided into two main conceptions: procedural and substantial (or consubstantial).

  • Procedural democracy: this conception focuses on the mechanisms, rules and procedures that characterise the political system. It emphasises democratic processes such as free and fair elections, equal voting rights, freedom of expression, freedom of the press and the right of association. This is what Dahl described in his definition of polyarchy. This is a narrower view of democracy that focuses primarily on the establishment and operation of democratic institutions. The procedural definition of democracy, such as that proposed by Anthony Giddens, a British sociologist, focuses on the procedures and institutions that enable citizen participation and guarantee civic rights. In this conception, democracy is often associated with the following characteristics:
    1. Multi-party system: the presence of several political parties allowing real political competition. This gives citizens a choice between different political options and allows for healthy public debate.
    2. Free and fair elections: this ensures that citizens have the power to choose and change their leaders in a peaceful manner. Elections must be fair, inclusive, equitable and transparent.
    3. Civil liberties and human rights: Democracy must guarantee fundamental freedoms, such as freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, freedom of the press, the right to a fair trial, etc. It must also respect and protect human rights. It must also respect and protect human rights. This approach emphasises the "form" of democracy, focusing on how political power is acquired and exercised. However, some argue that this definition is insufficient because it does not take sufficient account of the substantive content of democracy, i.e. the degree to which rights and freedoms are actually realised, and the fairness of public policies.
  • Substantive (or consubstantial) democracy: this concept goes beyond mere procedures and focuses on the results and substance of public policies. It is concerned not only with how the political system works, but also with what it actually produces. It takes account of human rights, social and economic equality, the well-being of citizens, and access to education, health and other basic public services. A substantive democracy is concerned with the fairness of outcomes and the extension of democratic principles into all social and economic life areas. The substantive conception of democracy, unlike the procedural conception, focuses on the concrete results of the political system. This approach seeks to determine whether democratic institutions and procedures result in political equality and respect for the rights and freedoms of all citizens. As the British political scientist Michael Saward suggests, a country is democratic when the influence of its citizens on the political system is more or less equal. This substantive conception of democracy often involves an assessment of factors such as:
    1. Political equality: do all voices have equal weight in decision-making? Are policies fair and inclusive?
    2. Political outcomes: do government policies and decisions reflect the people's will?
    3. Respect for rights: do all citizens, including minorities, have their rights protected and respected?
    4. Social and economic redistribution: is the political system capable of reducing socio-economic inequalities? This substantive perspective is useful for criticising and improving existing democracies, reminding us that democracy is not just a question of procedures but also of substantive results. However, it also poses a challenge, as it is difficult to measure these more qualitative aspects of democracy. There can be disagreement about what constitutes a 'good' policy or a 'good' outcome.

These two conceptions are not mutually exclusive. In fact, true democracy requires both solid democratic procedures and the achievement of substantial results for all citizens. The combination of the two creates a truly democratic political, social and economic environment.

Authoritarian Regimes and Democratic Transition: Dynamics and Trends[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Understanding the Key Factors of Democratic Transition in Authoritarian Regimes[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Authoritarian regimes are political systems in which one person or a group of people hold absolute power without effective democratic control. Human rights violations, little freedom of the press and expression, and a lack of transparency and accountability often characterise these regimes. They can take many forms, from absolute monarchies to military dictatorships and one-party regimes.

Democratic transition, on the other hand, refers to the process by which an authoritarian regime becomes a democracy. It is a complex and multifactorial process, often requiring profound changes in a country's political and social structure.

Democratic transition can be triggered by a variety of factors, including :

  • Internal pressure: Popular protest movements can push for democratic reforms. These movements may be motivated by political, economic or social concerns.
  • 'External pressure: International intervention, economic sanctions or diplomatic pressure can encourage an authoritarian regime to undertake democratic reforms.
  • Economic factors: Economic modernisation can bring about social changes favouring democratisation, such as urbanisation, education and the growth of the middle class.
  • Peaceful transition: In some cases, authoritarian leaders may voluntarily choose to embark on a democratic transition, often under pressure from internal and external factors.

Democratic transition is a potentially unstable and uncertain process. There is often a risk of a relapse into authoritarianism, and the consolidation of democracy can take many years, even decades. What's more, even after a successful transition, there may be significant challenges to overcome in terms of governance, social justice, reconciliation and institutional reconstruction.

The democratisation of South America and the collapse of the Soviet Union are two examples of transitions to democracy that were characterised by great complexity and diversity of factors. They demonstrate that democratisation is an extremely complex, contextual and often non-linear process, and that it is, therefore, difficult to make generalisations. In South America, the transition to democracy has often taken place after periods of authoritarian regimes and military dictatorships, with a variety of factors such as pressure from civil society, economic crises, international pressure, and sometimes the willingness of the ruling elites themselves to make the transition to a democratic regime. However, each country has experienced a unique path to democratisation, with specific challenges linked to its history, culture and socio-economic structure. The fall of the Soviet Union was a case of democratisation marked by a sudden collapse of authoritarian rule rather than a gradual transition. The fall of the USSR was triggered by a combination of factors, including economic problems, nationalist tensions, dissent and poorly managed political reforms. However, the transition to democracy in the former Soviet republics has been a tumultuous and uneven process, with many challenges such as corruption, ethnic conflict and state-building problems. These two cases show that there is no single formula or universal model for democratisation. Each country has its own unique path to democracy, shaped by many internal and external factors.

Authoritarian regimes are far from monolithic; they are highly diverse in terms of structure, legitimacy, control over society and many other characteristics. Understanding this diversity is essential for analysing the processes of transition to democracy. For example, an authoritarian regime may be based on a specific ideology (such as communism or fascism) or be more pragmatic and focused on maintaining power. Some authoritarian regimes are ruled by a single person (such as a dictatorship), while others are ruled by a group of people (such as a military junta or an oligarchy). Some authoritarian regimes have absolute control over society and repress all forms of opposition, while others allow a degree of freedom of expression and dissent. These differences within authoritarian regimes can significantly impact how the transition to democracy proceeds. For example, an authoritarian regime that allows a certain degree of dissent may be more likely to experience a peaceful transition to democracy. In contrast, a regime that represses all forms of dissent may be more likely to experience a violent or unstable transition.

Typology of Authoritarian Regimes: A Study Based on Power Structure[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Barbara Geddes, an American political scientist renowned for her work on authoritarian regimes, has proposed a typology of these regimes based on their power structure.[3][4]

  1. Personalistic regimes are centred around a dominant figure, and power is often transferred through inheritance or personal mechanisms rather than formal institutions.
  2. Military regimes are led by a coalition of military leaders. Power is often structured around a military hierarchy, and discipline and order are fundamental values.
  3. Single-party regimes are dominated by a single political party, which controls and directs state policy. The party may use a specific ideology or rhetoric to justify its exclusive power.

According to Geddes, these types of authoritarian regimes are likely to have different democratisation processes because of their different power structures. For example, a personalistic regime might be more likely to undergo a democratic transition through revolution or coup d'état, because power is concentrated in the hands of one person. On the other hand, a one-party regime might be more likely to undergo a democratic transition through internal reform, because the ruling party has greater institutional influence.

Authoritarian regimes.png

Personalised diets: Nature and Characteristics[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Personalist regimes, often referred to as "dictatorships" or "authoritarian regimes", are characterised by the almost total control of power by an individual or a small group. This authority is often reinforced by a cult of personality, in which the leader is presented as indispensable and infallible. In a personalistic regime, the leader or the elite that supports him or her holds almost absolute power, generally controlling both the political apparatus and the security forces. They can take political decisions without consultation or approval from other branches of government or the population. What's more, they are often backed by a network of loyal followers who benefit from their position of power.

The survival of the regime is generally the main concern of the personalist leader and his inner circle. Because of the concentration of power, the fall of the regime often means the loss of their status, their privileges and sometimes even their freedom or their lives. This is why these regimes can be extremely resistant to change and democratisation. For example, in Libya, under the regime of Muammar Gaddafi, the country was governed by a system of "jamahiriya", or "state of the masses", which was in reality a personal dictatorship where Gaddafi held absolute power. In Syria, Bashar al-Assad inherited power from his father and has maintained an authoritarian regime with an iron fist. Similarly, in North Korea, the Kim dynasty, in particular Kim Jong-un, maintains total control over the country.

In these regimes, democratisation can be particularly difficult to achieve, as any change of regime can be perceived as a direct threat to the survival of the ruler and his inner circle. Often, democratisation can only occur after a major crisis, such as a revolution, internal conflict or international intervention.

In a personalistic regime, the leader and his inner circle may strongly resist any form of democratic reform. Not only do they risk losing their power and privileges, but they could also be held accountable for abuses committed during their reign. As a result, they have little incentive to initiate a transition to democracy voluntarily.

Popular pressure can be a key factor in bringing about change in these regimes. Massive strikes, demonstrations and other forms of civil resistance can create social and economic tensions that are difficult for the regime to manage. However, in many cases, personalist regimes respond to these pressures with increased repression rather than liberalisation. What's more, even if these pressures lead to a degree of liberalisation, there is often a risk of backlash if democratisation does not progress quickly and steadily.

The total overthrow of a personalistic regime can be a violent and disruptive process, often involving revolution, civil war or foreign invasion. In these cases, the transition to democracy can be a long and complex process, involving building democratic institutions from scratch and reconciling the divisions created during the previous regime.

Finally, international factors can play a significant role in democratic transition. Military intervention, economic sanctions, diplomatic pressure and support for opposition groups can all help to weaken a personalistic regime. However, these tactics can also have unintended consequences, such as prolonging conflicts, exacerbating humanitarian crises and supporting opposition groups that are not necessarily committed to democracy. It is therefore crucial that these actions are implemented in a considered and responsible manner.

Military Regimes: Profile and Behaviour[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

In a military regime, power is usually held by a junta or a leader who has either been an officer in the army or supported by the army. Military regimes tend to see their legitimacy not in terms of democratic elections, but in terms of national security and stability. However, these regimes may also have a more temporary perspective, seeing themselves as guardians of the country until the "situation improves".

In these regimes, the transition to democracy is often more likely for a number of reasons:

  • Military interests: The military generally have broader institutional interests than simply preserving political power. They may therefore be willing to accept a transition to democracy if this does not threaten their position and prerogatives in society.
  • Legitimacy: Military regimes are often perceived as illegitimate and may be subject to internal and international pressure to democratise.
  • Institutionalization: Because the military is generally a well-structured institution with a clear hierarchy, there may be mechanisms for the transition of power that do not exist in other types of authoritarian regimes.
  • The cost of repression: Maintaining an authoritarian regime can be costly in terms of repression and control, and the military may decide that it is more efficient to allow some form of democracy.

Military regimes, despite their monolithic appearance, can be subject to internal differences or factionalism, particularly when faced with political or economic crises. In such situations, different groups or individuals within the military may have differing views on how to respond to the crisis. Some may support a more repressive response, while others may advocate reforms or even a transition to democracy. Moreover, the fact that the army is often a hierarchical and disciplined institution can make these divisions particularly problematic. If divisions become too great, this can lead to a loss of cohesion, weakening the regime's ability to maintain control. When internal divisions become too great, it can be a trigger for political liberalisation. Factions that advocate change may gain influence, or the fear of disintegration may spur reforms. In some cases, this may lead to a transition to a more democratic regime.

In some cases, the military elite may initiate the transition to a democracy if they feel that it does not threaten their fundamental interests, such as preserving national security and maintaining their prerogatives and the influence of their organisation. The transition to democracy may be seen as a means of managing political or economic crises, reducing internal tensions or factionalism, or responding to popular or international pressure. It can also be seen as a strategy for maintaining a degree of influence over the government in a more democratic context, for example through constitutional guarantees or the army's involvement in politics.

However, this transition is often negotiated and orderly, and usually involves a degree of continuity with the old regime. For example, successors to military leaders may be chosen in competitive elections. Still, these elections may be influenced by the former military elite, for example through control of the media or the use of state resources to support certain candidates. Furthermore, even after a democratic transition, the military may continue to play an important political role. In some cases, they can regain power, as we recently saw in Burma. So the transition to democracy does not necessarily guarantee a stable and lasting regime.

One-Party Regimes: Identification and Analysis[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

One-party regimes, also known as hegemonic regimes, are characterised by the existence of a single political party that controls all aspects of government. These regimes were often formed following a revolution or a strong nationalist or ideological movement. Notable examples include the Communist Party in China or the Workers' Party of Korea in North Korea.

The main interest of the ruling elite in a one-party regime is to maintain power. To achieve this, they can use a variety of tactics, including co-opting opponents. By allowing certain moderate opponents to participate in the political system, they can divide and weaken the more radical opposition, while strengthening their own legitimacy. Another advantage of co-option is that it can help prevent internal divisions within the single party. By including various groups and interests in the party, they can maintain a certain stability and avoid the kind of internal conflicts that could threaten their power. However, despite their apparent stability, one-party regimes can be vulnerable to various challenges, including changing economic conditions, demographic pressures and changes in the international environment. In addition, they may face increasing demands for democratisation from their populations, particularly as levels of education and prosperity rise.

Because of their structure and relative stability, one-party regimes tend to last longer than other types of authoritarian rule. However, when these regimes eventually fall, they can often leave behind a legacy of authoritarian control and corruption that can hinder the transition to a genuine and sustainable democracy.

When the one-party regime begins to lose its grip, leaders may prefer a transition to democracy rather than an abrupt regime fall. In a democracy, they may have the opportunity to continue their political careers, even if they lose some of their power. There could be an incentive to present a new face to the public and reposition themselves as Democrats. This has often been observed during peaceful transitions of power in former one-party regimes. For example, in some Eastern European countries, after the fall of communism, former communist party members were able to reposition themselves as democrats and continue their political careers. However, this transition is not always easy. The process can be complicated by challenges such as reforming political institutions, overcoming social divisions and managing public expectations of change. In addition, the authoritarian past of politicians can be an obstacle to their acceptance by the public in a new democracy. In short, while the transition to democracy can offer a way out of a declining one-party regime, it also brings its share of challenges.

Single-party regimes that can no longer maintain their grip could opt for a democratic transition. This transition would be negotiated and would involve the organisation of free and fair elections. The idea is that, faced with the inability to preserve the authoritarian status quo, these leaders should hand over power peacefully through elections rather than risk a violent collapse of the regime, which could have disastrous consequences for them and for the country. These transitions are often the result of internal negotiations between party leaders and other key political players. Authoritarian leaders may accept a democratic transition in exchange for security guarantees for themselves and those close to them.

The Link between Modernisation and Democracy: An Evolving Relationship[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Seymour Martin Lipset, in his famous article "Some Social Requisites of Democracy: Economic Development and Political Legitimacy", established an important link between a country's level of economic development and its ability to maintain a stable democratic system.[5]

According to Lipset, a certain level of economic development is necessary for democracy to establish and sustain itself. He argues that economic wealth, a strong middle class, a high level of education and urbanisation are all factors that contribute to democratic stability. At the same time, Lipset stresses the importance of political legitimacy, which is the widely shared belief among citizens that the current political system is the most appropriate for society. He notes that political legitimacy is essential for democratic stability and can be enhanced by a history of effective government, a value system that values democracy, and strong and respected institutions.

As part of modernisation theory, Seymour Martin Lipset has proposed that modernisation processes, such as urbanisation, industrialisation and education, are closely linked to the development of democracy. Here is how each of these factors contributes to democracy:

  • Urbanisation: Urbanisation can foster democracy by bringing together people from different backgrounds and exposing them to new ideas and perspectives. Urban areas tend to be centres of economic, social and political activity, which can facilitate collective organisation, public debate and political mobilisation.
  • Industrialisation: Industrialisation can contribute to democracy by creating an organised working class and expanding the middle class. These groups can demand more political and economic rights, leading to democratic reforms. In addition, industrialisation can foster the development of modern institutions and the spread of democratic values.
  • Education: Education is a key factor in democratisation. It improves people's ability to understand and participate in political processes. In addition, education can promote democratic values, such as tolerance, cooperation and respect for human rights.

However, it is important to note that these factors are linked and mutually reinforcing. For example, urbanisation and industrialisation can increase the demand for education, and a more educated population can promote urbanisation and industrialisation. Moreover, while these factors can facilitate democracy, their absence does not necessarily rule out the possibility of democracy. Factors such as historical conditions, existing political structures and the international context can also play an important role.

There is an academic debate about whether economic development is really a driver of democratisation. Some researchers question whether these two factors have a causal link, suggesting that economic development could trigger a series of processes leading to democracy. Others, however, argue that this relationship is more significant in terms of the consolidation of democracy rather than in terms of the transition to it. According to this view, economic development could reduce the chances of democratic collapse. The relationship between economic development and democracy is a widely debated topic in political science and economics, and there is no consensus on the nature of this relationship:

  • Economic development as a cause of democratisation: Some researchers argue that economic development promotes democratisation. They suggest that when a country's economic wealth increases, the middle class develops and demands more political participation, which leads to democratisation. In addition, a more developed economy can encourage the creation of stronger institutions and the emergence of more democratic values.
  • Economic development as a consolidator of democracy: Other researchers argue that economic development is important for consolidating democracy but not necessarily for initiating the transition to democracy. They suggest that countries with more developed economies are less likely to revert to authoritarian rule once they have become democratic. Economic development can contribute to the stability and resilience of democracy by promoting prosperity and public satisfaction and by deterring coups d'état and conflict.
  • No direct link: Some researchers argue that there is no direct link between economic development and democracy. They argue that the transition to democracy depends on specific political, institutional and historical factors and that high economic development does not necessarily lead to democratisation.

It is, therefore, clear that the relationship between economic development and democracy is complex and multidimensional. Moreover, it may vary according to the specific context of each country.

Annexes[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

References[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

  1. Democracy is the worst form of government - except for all those other forms, that have been tried from time to time.
  2. Polyarchy. Participation and opposition. New Haven, Conn. ISBN 0-300-01565-8.
  3. Geddes, Barbara. "What do we know about democratization after twenty years?". Annual review of political science 2.1 (1999): 115-144.
  4. Geddes, Barbara. "Authoritarian breakdown." Manuscript. Department of Political Science, UCLA (2004).
  5. Lipset, Seymour Martin. "Some Social Requisites of Democracy: Economic Development and Political Legitimacy." The American Political Science Review, vol. 53, no. 1, 1959, pp. 69-105. JSTOR,