Can democracy emerge in any country, or must there be some pre-requisites in place beforehand

Since the middle 70’s most scholars would agree that the adoption of democracy along the countries worldwide have been wide and far. Today democracy is a global concept that states are willing to take. However, there is the broad discussion about the elements for democracy to emerge and whether if it’s likely or not; this essay will discuss:  Can democracy emerge in any country, or must there be some pre-requisites in place beforehand?

Yes, democracy in theory is able to emerge in any country as it don’t know any boundaries, whatever  the political past is; it can be argued that has to do mostly with people and mentality towards a democratic change rather than anything else. Though in practice is different; reason are explained next.

Democracy is an extensive concept that must be clarified in this essay; it is a political regime. Therefore, there is a set of rules and norms that must be followed. These rules determine two things: one is the ways in which political actors gain access to the power and two; the manner in which such actors can exercise power once they have it. As regimes, there are only two types, democratic and authoritarian. Now, let us assume that we agree that democracy is a political regime in which power is so distributed that control over the authoritative allocation of values lies in the hands of the mass of the people. To say that “the United Sates is a democracy” can obviously be proved or disproved, given the accessibility to the facts.  We can speak of the truth or falsity of such proposition. But to say, ‘I prefer democracy’ introduces a proposition with a logically different aspect. It expressed my sentiment in favour of this kind of political system. The significance here is that from this point of view there is no proving that democracy is ‘good’ or that it is ‘better’ than fascism or communism, just as there is no proving any value judgment. Nevertheless, In West countries such as Britain, Greece, France and Germany for example; democracy has played a longer role than others developed countries like Zimbabwe in Africa, Cuba, Colombia and Venezuela in South America. Iran, Pakistan in the East and China in Asia, where the democratic regimes are not fully taken or adopted. It may be argued because these countries do not see this regime as the most effective. In this case, the problem would be: how can democracy emerge in the countries that are opposed to it? By this I mean; today, many independent countries were in some point of its history a colony of a so called ‘democratic regime’. Some of the countries mentioned before and many others see democracy as a regime that is opposed to freedom instead of providing its citizens with it. The evidence for this is seen thought their history and the facts around those states which are mostly authoritarian. In the other hand, it is also known that over half of the world’s population and half of its countries live under democratic rule of some kind. It seems that democracy is no longer confined to Western countries or those connected to them as a result of past colonial ties. To a deeper level, former European communist states as Poland for example or in Latin America like in Mexico and parts of Asia as Taiwan would all claim democratic credentials; in this case is undeniable that democracy as a political regime has expanded far and wide.[1]  Here, the growth and the adoption of democratic regimes seem to be partially expanding. In addition, recent fact shows, there were major shift towards democracy after mid-1970’s. ‘The third wave of democratization’[2]: First wave in 19th century, second wave after WWII and third wave after 1975. From 1973 (40 democracies out of 150 states). In 1988 (67 democracies out of 166 states). In the last year 2009 there was 119 democracies out of 193 states.

(Huntington, 1991,) suggested that ‘waves of democratization’ is a group of transitions from non-democratic to democratic regimes that occur within a specified period of time and that significantly outnumber transitions in the opposite direction during that period. Furthermore, He makes reference to three waves of democratization between 1828 and 1991. The first wave in 1829 until 1926 in Britain, France and USA; partly reversed between 1922 and 1942 and the second wave with India, Israel, Japan and West Germany similarly between 1958 and 1975; the third one was between 1974 and 1991 and includes Southern and eastern Europe, Latin America and parts of Africa. On top, it can be also argued that the third wave transformed the global political landscape. ‘The predominance of democracy resulting from this wave provides and inhospitable environment for those non-democratic regimes that survive’.[3] As well, within the third wave, the Southern European groups provide the most secure cases of consolidation, aided by membership of the European Union and economic development. These same factors also encouraged democratic deepening in Eastern Europe, at least in countries seeking to join the European Union. Elsewhere, including much of Latin America and Africa, many democratic latecomers have not yet fully consolidated, if indeed they are to do so at all.[4] So, according to Huntington, it is possible for democracy to emerge.

In the other side, it is argued that in order to replace any regime with a democratic one is believed that is necessary three elements or factors: First, a breakdown of the pre-existing regime. Second, a transition to new regime. Third, consolidation which does not always follows. This means that it does not always apply. The question is: is this process always capable of leading to democracy effectively? Apparently not, in South America there are cases of countries which aimed for democracy but failed in the process of transition. The fact that breakdown occurs is not a guarantee that the process is actually happening.

In a simple view, breakdowns refer to the collapse of the regimes. Some of the most common reasons are: external such as defeat in war and an economic depression or internal such as death of a dictator (which rarely occurs) or an economic performance for example. Transition refers itself usually to the short period in which the rules of the new regime are agreed. And finally, consolidation which relates to the stabilization and institutionalization of the new regime. The elements necessary to consolidation are believed to be quality and stability of the government alongside the endurance of the administration over the time. Besides, the optimistic assumption that all democratization efforts would lead to democratic consolidation. Moreover, Huntington also argued that a democracy has consolidated when it provides an accepted framework for political competition. He suggested a two turnover test: that is consolidation occurs when each of the two main sides has given up power to the other through an election. In opposition, Przeworski’s definition has proven to be more useful:  democracy is consolidated when a particular system of institutions becomes the only game in town and when no-one can imagine acting outside the democratic institutions.

On, Przeworski’s basis, democracy cannot be consolidated when they are more that one game in the outside democratic institutions.  In the other side, it is extremely difficult to dispense with such a cathartic stage in the unfolding of a transition. Some democratic leaders believe they have such a clear understanding of the endpoint they have agreed to reach that they would like to proceed directly from the demise of the authoritarian regime to the unveiling of a consolidated democracy without undergoing the dramatic tension and distracting uncertainties of the intervening transition period. For example, this was long the ambition of the Mexican PRI, until its defeat in the election of 2000, and also of the KMT, in Taiwan. Consequently, a more critical view would argue that the emergence of democracy can happen in some cases and in others it can’t as it is showed above. Mexico is today a democracy and Taiwan is not.  

 Following Mill argument, unless these features of democratization are taken into account many of the instances under investigation will be’ insufficiently known’ with the risk that a wrong empirical law will emerge.[5]  In fact, if the standard method depends for its reliability on the quality of its analysis of the least known instances, then it is almost certain to fail, given the poor data available in some developed countries. In contrast, there exists in the developing countries a great variety of mixed types of authoritarian regimes, intermediate between limited forms of democracy and the ‘development dictatorships’ of a state single party or a military junta. Subsequently, the question that arises is: how about the future of those states with mixed regimes and several years of dictatorship? Also, as an examples that do not fit into any general formula it may be cited the “guided democracy” of president Surkano of Indonesia, and the long reign of Peron in Argentina; both regimes rested on the skill of a leader balancing the plurality of organized forces not by democratic institutions under the rule of law but by his personal authority.[6] In either case, there are also some exceptions to the rule called hybrid regimes. They combine the elements of democratic and authoritarian regimes. Also it can be argued that they hold regular and sometimes competitive elections. In the other hand, these regimes are also characterized by the abuse of power by incumbent governments. As example: Zimbabwe and Malaysia. For that reason, the question of this essay has both ways to go as it could be argued that in some rare cases it does but in other has failed several times and the emergence of democracy keeps as a failure.  

Likewise, the comparative study of democratic transitions focuses on this limited period of chronological time, during which an apparently almost unlimited range of experiments may be attempted by an indeterminate variety of often political actors.[7]At least, in retrospect, some democratic transitions can be viewed as relatively orderly processes kept within predictable limits through the tacit or explicit collaboration of the major power contenders, whose identities and resources were apparent from the outset. But even such ‘negotiated’ transitions carry a change of dramatic tension while they are in process. For example, popular discontent, manifestations and violent act along civilians.[8]

 To some point, democratic transitions, and longer term processes of democratization, figure among the complex dynamic processes that cannot be adequately apprehended solely through formal modelling. Indeed it may be the case that much of social reality lies outside the scope of strict modelling procedures, and that alternative strategies of cognition are indispensable for interpreting the world.[9] In any case, is it to believe that the most essential aspect of political leadership is the capacity to persuade and perhaps to inspire others. This is not just a question of appealing to their direct self-interest, or threatening them with coercion. So, in this scenario, is democracy confined to the personal abilities and skills of their leaders? No, it can’t because democracy is not a regime that lays in the power of one person. Nevertheless that is what hybrid regimes are about and that is an important threat and a reason that makes democracy not an emergent regime in some countries.

Now, theories such as Regime Change suggest: what determines whether a transition will take place and what type of new regime it will lead to? Other theories such as Modernisation Theory propose: democracy needs certain social and economic requisites (Seymour Martin Lipset). Furthermore, economic development leads to education, literacy and middle classes. In the other hand, it leads to corruption as well and that is another issue to democracy today. Other thinkers in this field such as Przeworski and Limongi suggest that economic development does not significantly increase chances of democratic transitions. But economic development can help with consolidation. They also argue that countries that experience a transition and have certain level of GDP are more likely to have stable democracies. Last but not least, is the Elite Theory which focused on people rather than governments as the quote “invisible structures do not make democracies or dictatorships. People do” [10] Elitists argue that there are no pre-requisites to democracy because; democracy and regime change rest on elites and their interactions, not on the social, economic or historical features of a country. In addition; you just need committed democrats in position of power, then democracy can be established in any context. As an example of democracies in cases without traditional requisites: India (lacks high levels of economic development) and Mongolia in Central Asia (lack of economic development, plus no history of democracy before 1990, plus the fact that is surrounded by authoritarian countries). Also, the concept of Elite Interaction; which is focused on the elite groups since they are influential in the authoritarian breakdown as if the elite splits they are key triggers to change. Besides, the transition period or the trajectory of countries undergoing transition depends on the interests and resources of elite groups. Therefore, in a sense the existence of elites in democratic states is necessary and social groups are vital.

To finish, Geddes support the idea that democracy is more likely in more developed countries and that regime transitions of all kinds are more likely during economic overturns. Plus, economic development increases the like hood of democratic politics. However, this is not always a constant factor, as an example of this we have the democratic case of Indonesia and Nigeria; some years ago these countries embarked upon transitions to democracy.

 This was an unprecedented development in Indonesia, and a third attempt in Nigeria. In both cases the experience so far has been fraught with difficulties, including some large-scale violence at the regional level, and severe problems in establishing a new balance between federal and state levels. Nevertheless in both countries democratization remains in place, at least for now.  These are both geographically weighty oil-dependent developing countries with large Muslim electorates, and both face severe regional imbalances.[11] Therefore is to believe, if they can be successfully democratized this will have a major implications for the politics of their respective regions, and for democratization itself as a worldwide project.

As a conclusion, and after the research in this essay, is believed that democracy as a concept and as a regime can emerge. Moreover, factors like political past, economic development and the neighbours states are not in all the cases completely influential; in some countries it make a difference in others it don’t. In a few words, different rules apply in each country. As an example we have Indonesia and Nigeria. In addition, Huntington showed how democracy has partially grown in the last decade worldwide. So, it can be taken as an indicator of the emergence of democracy. To some extend, the importance of social factors cannot be undermined as they can seriously impact of the everyday implications of democracy in practice, or an attempt at putting democracy into exercise. Even so, to promote democracy there is always the important question of social norms, and it can be difficult for citizens to accept outside implementations that differ from the political and social cultures of their own country.


B. Gueddes, What do we know about democratization after twenty years?, reading p.1 of 31

-B. Holden; The nature of democracy, Nelson Ltd, 1974

– D. Zolo; Democracy and complexity (A realist approach), Brackwell publishers, 1992

– H. Ehrmann; Democracy in a changing society, Pall Mall press Limited, 1965

-J.S Mill, A system of Logic(1843), in Collected works, University of Toronto Press, 1973

R.Hague & M.Harrop, Comparative Government and Politics, 7th edition, 2007

– L. Whitehead, Democratization Theory and Experience, Oxford University Press, 2002

– M. McFaul, ‘The Fourth wave of Democracy and Dictatorship’, World Politics, Vol.54, No.2, 2002.

-T.L Thorson; The logic of democracy, Rinehart and Winston Inc, 1962

[1] Understanding governments and politics

[2] B. Gueddes, What do we know about democratization after twenty years?, reading p.1 of 31

[3] R.Hague & M.Harrop, Comparative Government and Politics, 7th edition, 2007, p.56

[4] R.Hague & M. Harrop, p.57

[5] J.S Mill, A system of Logic(1843), in Collected works, University of Toronto Press, 1973,

[6] H. Ehrmann, Democracy in a changing society, London, 1964, p.206

[7]L. Whitehead, Democratization Theory and Experience, Oxford University press, 2002,  p.36

[8] L. Whitehead p.36

[9] L. Whitehead p.37

[10] Michael McFaul, ‘The Fourth wave of Democracy and Dictatorship’, World Politics, Vol.54, No.2, 2002.

[11] L. Whitehead, p.252


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