Democratization: Economic Prerequisites?

  • Graeme Gill


In the last quarter of the twentieth century, the international scene has been transformed by the wave of regime changes that has constituted what one observer has called the ‘third wave’ of democratization.1 Beginning with Portugal and Greece in 1974 and rolling through Spain, Latin America and, most spectacularly, the former Communist states of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe (and Mongolia), and also influencing events in East and South-east Asia, this wave has altered fundamentally the geopolitical map of the globe. Long-standing dictatorships across the globe fell, to be replaced by regimes both professing democratic principles and having considerable success in translating those principles into practice. The political implications of these changes can hardly be exaggerated, with their most important manifestation being the transformation of much of the Communist world which had for so long posed a major geopolitical and ideological challenge to Western capitalist democracy. The misplaced triumphalism of some notwithstanding,2 it was clear that a major political phenomenon had occurred and needed to be explained. But how was it to be explained?


Civil Society Regime Change Authoritarian Regime Political Sphere Democratic Transition 
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Notes and References

  1. 1.
    Samuel P. Huntington, The Third Wave. Democratization in the Late Twentieth Century (Norman, University of Oklahoma Press, 1991).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man (London, Penguin, 1992).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Huntington, pp. 13–26.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Huntington, p. 17. This is representative of the minimalist notion of democratization generally used in studies of this process, including in this book, viz. the change of regime from one functioning on the basis of non-democratic principles to one resting on democratic principles. This begs the important question of what is meant by democracy, and this is raised in the Conclusion.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    It is not clear that the metaphor of the wave is completely satisfactory; waves tend to be regular in timing, there is often a certain uniformity both within and between waves, the effect of one wave is overwhelmed by the next (at least when the tide is coming in), and the notion of a wave lasting 100 years robs the metaphor of any meaning. The metaphor can obscure differences between the cases comprising the waves. For example, in the case of the decolonized states in the second wave, the crucial authorities were external, the colonial masters, and it was the disappearance of their will and capacity to maintain their rule in the colony which was essential rather than the breakdown of the local power structure. In the third wave cases (and those non-colonial second wave cases) it was the breakdown of the local authority structures which was important. Nevertheless, it has become established in the literature as a useful way of referring to the democratizations of the 1970s and 1980s, and will therefore be used in the subsequent discussion.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Gabriel A. Almond and Sidney Verba, The Civic Culture: Political Attitudes and Democracy in Five Nations (Boston, Little, Brown & Co., 1965).Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Robert A. Dahl, Polyarchy. Participation and Opposition (New Haven, Yale University Press, 1971), Chapter 8.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    See this discussed in Huntington, pp. 298–311.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    See the discussion in Kenneth A. Bollen, ‘Political Democracy and the Timing of Development’, American Sociological Review 44, 4, 1979, pp. 572–587. The reverse of this was the argument about the incompatibility of Roman Catholicism and democratic outcomes. For example, Howard Wiarda, ‘Toward a Framework for the Study of Political Change in the Iberic—Latin Tradition: The Corporative Model’, World Politics 25, 2, January 1972, pp. 206–235.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Seymour Martin Lipset, ‘Some Social Requisites of Democracy: Economic Development and Political Legitimacy’, American Political Science Review 53, 1, March 1959, pp. 69–105.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    For example, see the discussions in Seymour Martin Lipset, Kyoung-Ryung Soong and John Charles Torres, ‘A Comparative Analysis of the Social Requisites of Democracy’, International Social Science Journal 136, May 1993, pp. 155–175; Seymour Martin Lipset, ‘The Social Requisites of Democracy Revisited’, American Sociological Review 59, February 1994, pp. 1–22; Carlos H. Waisman, ‘Capitalism, the Market, and Democracy’, American Behavioral Scientist 35, 4/5, March/June 1992, pp. 500–516; Mick Moore, ‘Democracy and Development in Cross-National Perspective: A New Look at the Statistics’, Democratization 2, 2, Summer 1995, pp. 1–19.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Lipset, p. 75.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    For example, see Larry Diamond, ‘Economic Development and Democracy Reconsidered’, American Behavioral Scientist 35, 4/5, March/June 1992, pp. 450–453.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    See Diamond pp. 454–155; Samuel P. Huntington, ‘Will More Countries Become Democratic?’, Political Science Quarterly, 99, 2, Summer 1984, pp. 200–201; Huntington, Third Wave, pp. 59–64; Adam Przeworski and Fernando Limongi, ‘Modernization: Theories and Facts’, World Politics 49, 2, 1997, pp. 159–160. For Huntington, the range was defined as ‘upper middle income’. For an argument that posits the occurrence of democracy when ‘power resources have become so widely distributed that no group is any longer able to suppress its competitors or to maintain its hegemony’, see Tatu Vanhanen, Prospects of Democracy. A Study of 172 Countries (London, Routledge, 1997). The quotation is from p. 5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    Diamond, p. 454.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Przeworski and Limongi, pp. 159–160.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    To use another of Huntington’s terms.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    For some data, see Huntington, Third Wave... p. 62.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    See Huntington, ‘Will More Countries...’ p. 199.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Huntington, Third Wave... Chapter 2.Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    This is based on the discussion in Diamond, pp. 475–485, which is in turn based principally on Lipset.Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    This is based on Lipset’s views about the political susceptibilities of the working class and the problems they can pose for democratic stability. In particular, see Seymour Martin Lipset, Political Man (London, Heinemann, 1960), Chapters 3 and 4.Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    Civil society is itself shaped by the course of economic development. The contours of the groups of which civil society consists (especially those related to employment), the improved educational levels which underpin increased popular involvement, and the development of a mass communications network which helps shape the public sphere, are all themselves directly shaped by the course of economic development.Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    Guillermo O’Donnell, Philippe C. Schmitter and Laurence Whitehead (eds.), Transitions from Authoritarian Rule: Prospects for Democracy (Baltimore, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986). See Chapter 3 for more details. Use of the term ‘transition’ has been criticized for its teleological overtones, but those working in the field have generally not seen the process as inevitably leading to democracy. The breakdown of an authoritarian regime may lead to its replacement by another authoritarian regime. A democratic regime established in the transition phase may not become consolidated. Indeed, a consolidated democratic regime may itself fall and be replaced by an authoritarian set of ruling arrangements.Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    Juan J. Linz and Alfred Stepan, The Breakdown of Democratic Regimes (Baltimore, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978).Google Scholar

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© Graeme Gill 2000

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  • Graeme Gill

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