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Democratization is the transition to a more democratic political regime. It may be the transition from an authoritarian regime to a full democracy, a transition from an authoritarian political system to a semi-democracy or transition from a semi-authoritarian political system to a democratic political system. The outcome may be consolidated (as it was for example in the United Kingdom) or democratization may face frequent reversals (as it has faced for example in Argentina). Different patterns of democratization are often used to explain other political phenomena, such as whether a country goes to a war or whether its economy grows. Democratization itself is influenced by various factors, including economic development, history, and civil society. The ideal result from democratization is to ensure that the people have the right to vote and have a voice in their political system.


There is considerable debate about the factors which affect or ultimately limit democratization. A great many things, including economics, culture, and history, have been cited as impacting on the process. Some of the more frequently mentioned factors are:

  • Wealth. A higher GDP/capita correlates with democracy and some claim the wealthiest democracies have never been observed to fall into authoritarianism.[1] The rise of Hitler and of the Nazis in Weimar Germany can be seen as an obvious counter-example, but although in early 1930s Germany was already an advanced economy, by that time, the country was also living in a state of economic crisis virtually since the World War I (in the 1910s), a crisis which was eventually worsened by the effects of the Great Depression. There is also the general observation that democracy was very rare before the industrial revolution. Empirical research thus lead many to believe that economic development either increases chances for a transition to democracy (modernization theory), or helps newly established democracies consolidate.[1][2] One study finds that economic development prompts democratization but only in the medium run (10–20 years). This is because development may entrench the incumbent leader but make it more difficult for him deliver the state to a son or trusted aide when he exits.[3] However, the debate about whether democracy is a consequence of wealth, a cause of it, or both processes are unrelated, is far from conclusion.[4] Another study suggests that economic development depends on the political stability of a country to promote democracy.[5]
  • Social equality. Acemoglu and Robinson argued that the relationship between social equality and democratic transition is complicated: People have less incentive to revolt in an egalitarian society (for example, Singapore), so the likelihood of democratization is lower. In a highly unequal society (for example, South Africa under Apartheid), the redistribution of wealth and power in a democracy would be so harmful to elites that these would do everything to prevent democratization. Democratization is more likely to emerge somewhere in the middle, in the countries, whose elites offer concessions because (1) they consider the threat of a revolution credible and (2) the cost of the concessions is not too high.[6] This expectation is in line with the empirical research showing that democracy is more stable in egalitarian societies.[1]
  • Culture. It is claimed by some that certain cultures are simply more conductive to democratic values than others. This view is likely to be ethnocentric. Typically, it is Western culture which is cited as "best suited" to democracy, with other cultures portrayed as containing values which make democracy difficult or undesirable. This argument is sometimes used by undemocratic regimes to justify their failure to implement democratic reforms. Today, however, there are many non-Western democracies. Examples include: India, Japan, Indonesia, Namibia, Botswana, Taiwan, and South Korea. Research finds that "Western-educated leaders significantly and substantively improve a country's democratization prospects".[7]
  • Foreign intervention. Democracies have often been imposed by military intervention, for example in Japan and Germany after WWII.[8][9] In other cases, decolonization sometimes facilitated the establishment of democracies that were soon replaced by authoritarian regimes. For example, Syria, after gaining independence from French mandatory control at the beginning of the Cold War, failed to consolidate its democracy,so it eventually collapsed and was replaced by a Ba'athist dictatorship.[10]
  • Education. It has long been theorized that education promotes stable and democratic societies.[11] Research shows that education leads to greater political tolerance, increases the likelihood of political participation and reduces inequality.[12] One study finds "that increases in levels of education improve levels of democracy and that the democratizing effect of education is more intense in poor countries".[12]
  • Foreign trade. A 2016 study found that preferential trade agreements "encourage the democratization of a country, in particular if the PTA partners are themselves democracies."[13]
  • International cooperation. A 2002 study found that membership in international organizations "is correlated with transitions to democracy during the period from 1950 to 1992."[14]
  • Dictatorship type. Research suggests that some forms of dictatorships are more likely to democratize than others. Military dictatorships are more likely to transition to democracy than non-military dictatorships.[15]
  • Democracy protests. Research indicates that democracy protests are associated with democratization. A 2016 study found that about a quarter of all cases of democracy protests between 1989-2011 lead to democratization.[16]
  • Threat of conflict. Research suggests that the threat of civil conflict encourages regimes to make democratic concessions. A 2016 study found that drought-induced riots in Sub-Saharan Africa lead regimes, fearing conflict, to make democratic concessions.[17]

The death of a dictator rarely ushers in democracy. One analysis found that "of the 79 dictators who have died in office (1946-2014)... in the vast majority (92%) of cases, the regime persists after the autocrat's death."[18]


Democracy development has often been slow, violent, and marked by frequent reversals.[19]

Historical cases[edit]

In Great Britain, the English Civil War (1642–1651) was fought between the King and an oligarchic but elected Parliament.[20] The Protectorate and the English Restoration restored more autocratic rule. The Glorious Revolution in 1688 established a strong Parliament that passed the Bill of Rights 1689, which codified certain rights and liberties for individuals.[21] It set out the requirement for regular parliaments, free elections, rules for freedom of speech in Parliament and limited the power of the monarch, ensuring that, unlike much of the rest of Europe, royal absolutism would not prevail.[22][23] Only with the Representation of the People Act 1884 did a majority of the males get the vote.

The American Revolution (1765–1783) created the United States. In many fields, it was a success ideologically in the sense that a relatively true republic was established that never had a single dictator, but voting rights were initially restricted to white male property owners.[24] Slavery was not abolished in the southern states until the constitutional Amendments of the Reconstruction Era following the American Civil War (1861–1865) but the Civil Rights given to African-Americans were only achieved in the 1960s.

The French Revolution (1789) briefly allowed a wide franchise. The French Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars lasted for more than twenty years. The French Directory was more oligarchic. The First French Empire and the Bourbon Restoration restored more autocratic rule. The Second French Republic had universal male suffrage but was followed by the Second French Empire. The Franco-Prussian War (1870–71) resulted in the French Third Republic.

The German Empire was created in 1871. It was followed by the Weimar Republic after World War I. Nazi Germany restored autocratic rule before the defeat in World War II .

The Kingdom of Italy, after the unification of Italy in 1861, was a constitutional monarchy with the King having considerable powers. Italian fascism created a dictatorship after the World War I. World War II resulted in the Italian Republic.

The Meiji period, after 1868, started the modernization of Japan. Limited democratic reforms were introduced. The Taishō period (1912–1926) saw more reforms. The beginning of the Shōwa period reversed this until the end of the World War II.

Since 1972[edit]

According to a study by Freedom House, in 67 countries where dictatorships have fallen since 1972, nonviolent civic resistance was a strong influence over 70 percent of the time. In these transitions,

"changes were catalyzed not through foreign invasion, and only rarely through armed revolt or voluntary elite-driven reforms, but overwhelmingly by democratic civil society organizations utilizing nonviolent action and other forms of civil resistance, such as strikes, boycotts, civil disobedience, and mass protests."[25]


One influential survey in democratization is that of Freedom House, which arose during the Cold War. The Freedom House, today an institution and a think tank, stands as one of the most comprehensive "freedom measures" nationally and internationally and by extension a measure of democratization. Freedom House categorizes all countries of the world according to a seven-point value system with over 200 questions on the survey and multiple survey representatives in various parts of every nation. The total raw points of every country places the country in one of three categories: Free, Partly Free, or not Free.

One study simultaneously examining the relationship between market economy (measured with one Index of Economic Freedom), economic development (measured with GDP/capita), and political freedom (measured with the Freedom House index) found that high economic freedom increases GDP/capita and a high GDP/capita increases economic freedom. A high GDP/capita also increases political freedom but political freedom did not increase GDP/capita. There was no direct relationship either way between economic freedom and political freedom if keeping GDP/capita constant.[26]


Francis Fukuyama wrote another classic in democratization studies entitled The End of History and the Last Man which spoke of the rise of liberal democracy as the final form of human government. However it has been argued that the expansion of liberal economic reforms has had mixed effects on democratization. In many ways, it is argued, democratic institutions have been constrained or "disciplined" in order to satisfy international capital markets or to facilitate the global flow of trade.[27]

Samuel P. Huntington wrote The Third Wave, partly as response to Fukuyama, defining a global democratization trend in the world post WWII. Huntington defined three waves of democratization that have taken place in history.[28] The first one brought democracy to Western Europe and Northern America in the 19th century. It was followed by a rise of dictatorships during the Interwar period. The second wave began after World War II, but lost steam between 1962 and the mid-1970s. The latest wave began in 1974 and is still ongoing. Democratization of Latin America and the former Eastern Bloc is part of this third wave.

A very good example of a region which passed through all the three waves of democratization is the Middle East. During the 15th century it was a part of the Ottoman Empire. In the 19th century, "when the empire finally collapsed [...] towards the end of the First World War, the Western armies finally moved in and occupied the region".[29] This was an act of both European expansion and state-building in order to democratize the region. However, what Posusney and Angrist argue is that, "the ethnic divisions [...] are [those that are] complicating the U.S. effort to democratize Iraq". This raises interesting questions about the role of combined foreign and domestic factors in the process of democratization. In addition, Edward Said labels as 'orientalist' the predominantly Western perception of "intrinsic incompatibility between democratic values and Islam". Moreover, he states that "the Middle East and North Africa lack the prerequisites of democratization".[30]

Fareed Zakaria has examined the security interests benefited from democracy promotion, pointing out the link between levels of democracy in a country and of terrorist activity. Though it is accepted that poverty in the Muslim world has been a leading contributor to the rise of terrorism, Zakaria has noted that the primary terrorists involved in the 9/11 attacks were among the upper and upper-middle classes. Zakaria has suggested that the society in which Al-Qaeda terrorists lived provided easy money, and therefore there existed little incentive to modernize economically or politically.[31] With little opportunity to express themselves in the political sphere, scores of young Arab men were "invited to participate"[32] through another avenue: the culture of Islamic fundamentalism. The rise of Islamic fundamentalism and its violent expression on September 11, 2001 illustrates an inherent need to express oneself politically, and a democratic government or one with democratic aspects (such as political openness) is quite necessary to provide a forum for political expression.

Larry Pardy observed that governments are motivated by political power, which is generated by two factors: legitimacy and means. The legitimacy of a democratic government is achieved through the consent of the population through fair and open elections while its financial means are derived from a healthy tax base generated by a vibrant economy. Economic success is based on a free market economy with the following elements: property rights, a fair and independent judiciary, security, and the rule of law. The core elements that support economic freedom convey the same basic rights onto individuals. Conversely, there can be no rule of law for investors when governments crack down on political opponents and no property rights for industry when personal wealth can be arbitrarily seized.

A sustainable democracy has to involve far more than fair and open elections. It rests on a solid foundation of economic and political freedom that, for Western nations, had to be pried from governments over centuries. It goes back at least to 1215 when King John accepted limits on his powers and conceded certain rights in the Magna Carta. Then, as now, governments will be motivated to support rights and freedoms only when it directly impacts the government's ability to maintain and exercise political power. It does not arise with idealistic notions of democracy and freedom, implied fiscal contracts with citizens, exhortations from donor states or pronouncements from international agencies. Fukyama was essentially correct with his assertion regarding the end of history – that Western liberal democracy represents the endpoint of mankind's ideological evolution. It represents a mechanism whereby our free market system efficiently allocates resources in our economy while co-existing in a symbiotic relationship with our democratic system of government. Our governments are incentivized to protect the economy while the foundations for that economy create the conditions for democracy.[33]

In other contexts[edit]

Although democratization is most often thought of in the context of national or regional politics, the term can also be applied to:

International bodies[edit]

  • International bodies (e.g. the United Nations) where there is an ongoing call for reform and altered voting structures and voting systems.


The concept of democratization can also be applied in corporations where the traditional power structure was top-down direction and the boss-knows-best (even a "Pointy-Haired Boss"); This is quite different from consultation, empowerment (of lower levels) and a diffusion of decision making (power) throughout the firm, as advocated by workplace democracy movements.

The Internet[edit]

The loose anarchistic structure of the Internet Engineering Task Force and the Internet itself have inspired some groups to call for more democratization of how domain names are held, upheld, and lost. They note that the Domain Name System under ICANN is the least democratic and most centralized part of the Internet, using a simple model of first-come-first-served to the names of things. Ralph Nader called this "corporatization of the dictionary."


The democratization of knowledge is the spread of knowledge among common people, in contrast to knowledge being controlled by elite groups.


The trend that products from well-known designers are becoming cheaper and more available to masses of consumers. Also, the trend of companies sourcing design decisions from end users.[34]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Przeworski, Adam; et al. (2000). Democracy and Development: Political Institutions and Well-Being in the World, 1950-1990. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 
  2. ^ Rice, Tom W.; Ling, Jeffrey (2002-12-01). "Democracy, Economic Wealth and Social Capital: Sorting Out the Causal Connections". Space and Polity. 6 (3): 307–325. doi:10.1080/1356257022000031995. ISSN 1356-2576. 
  3. ^ Treisman, Daniel (2015-10-01). "Income, Democracy, and Leader Turnover". American Journal of Political Science. 59 (4): 927–942. doi:10.1111/ajps.12135. ISSN 1540-5907. 
  4. ^ Traversa, Federico (2014). "Income and the stability of democracy: Pushing beyond the borders of logic to explain a strong correlation?". Constitutional Political Economy. 26: 121–136. doi:10.1007/s10602-014-9175-x. 
  5. ^ FENG, YI (July 1997). "Democracy, Political Stability and Economic Growth". British Journal of Political Science. 27 (3): 416, 391–418. doi:10.1017/S0007123497000197. 
  6. ^ Acemoglu, Daron; James A. Robinson (2006). Economic Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 
  7. ^ Gift, Thomas; Krcmaric, Daniel (2015). "Who Democratizes? Western-educated Leaders and Regime Transitions". Journal of Conflict Resolution. doi:10.1177/0022002715590878. Retrieved December 23, 2015. 
  8. ^ Therborn, Göran (1977). "The rule of capital and the rise of democracy: Capital and suffrage (cover title)". New Left Review. I. 103 (The advent of bourgeois democracy): 3–41. 
  9. ^ The Independent
  10. ^ Krokowska, Katarzyna (2011). "The Fall of Democracy in Syria" (PDF). Perceptions. 
  11. ^ Friedman, Milton (1962). Capitalism and Freedom. p. 86. 
  12. ^ a b Alemán, Eduardo; Kim, Yeaji (2015-10-01). "The democratizing effect of education". Research & Politics. 2 (4): 2053168015613360. doi:10.1177/2053168015613360. ISSN 2053-1680. 
  13. ^ Manger, Mark S.; Pickup, Mark A. (2016-02-01). "The Coevolution of Trade Agreement Networks and Democracy". Journal of Conflict Resolution. 60 (1): 164–191. doi:10.1177/0022002714535431. ISSN 0022-0027. 
  14. ^ Pevehouse, Jon C. (2002-06-01). "Democracy from the Outside-In? International Organizations and Democratization". International Organization. 56 (03): 515–549. doi:10.1162/002081802760199872. ISSN 1531-5088. 
  15. ^ Debs, Alexandre (2016-02-18). "Living by the Sword and Dying by the Sword? Leadership Transitions in and out of Dictatorships". International Studies Quarterly: sqv014. doi:10.1093/isq/sqv014. ISSN 0020-8833. 
  16. ^ Brancati, Dawn (2016). Democracy Protests: Origins, Features and Significance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 
  17. ^ Aidt, Toke S.; Leon, Gabriel (2016-06-01). "The Democratic Window of Opportunity Evidence from Riots in Sub-Saharan Africa". Journal of Conflict Resolution. 60 (4): 694–717. doi:10.1177/0022002714564014. ISSN 0022-0027. 
  18. ^ "When Dictators Die". Foreign Policy. Retrieved 2016-02-26. 
  19. ^ Journal of Democracy
  20. ^ "Origins and growth of Parliament". The National Archives. Retrieved 7 April 2015. 
  21. ^ "Britain's unwritten constitution". British Library. Retrieved 27 November 2015. The key landmark is the Bill of Rights (1689), which established the supremacy of Parliament over the Crown.... The Bill of Rights (1689) then settled the primacy of Parliament over the monarch's prerogatives, providing for the regular meeting of Parliament, free elections to the Commons, free speech in parliamentary debates, and some basic human rights, most famously freedom from 'cruel or unusual punishment'. 
  22. ^ "Constitutionalism: America & Beyond". Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP), U.S. Department of State. Retrieved 30 October 2014. The earliest, and perhaps greatest, victory for liberalism was achieved in England. The rising commercial class that had supported the Tudor monarchy in the 16th century led the revolutionary battle in the 17th, and succeeded in establishing the supremacy of Parliament and, eventually, of the House of Commons. What emerged as the distinctive feature of modern constitutionalism was not the insistence on the idea that the king is subject to law (although this concept is an essential attribute of all constitutionalism). This notion was already well established in the Middle Ages. What was distinctive was the establishment of effective means of political control whereby the rule of law might be enforced. Modern constitutionalism was born with the political requirement that representative government depended upon the consent of citizen subjects.... However, as can be seen through provisions in the 1689 Bill of Rights, the English Revolution was fought not just to protect the rights of property (in the narrow sense) but to establish those liberties which liberals believed essential to human dignity and moral worth. The "rights of man" enumerated in the English Bill of Rights gradually were proclaimed beyond the boundaries of England, notably in the American Declaration of Independence of 1776 and in the French Declaration of the Rights of Man in 1789. 
  23. ^ "Citizenship 1625-1789". The National Archives. Retrieved 2010-08-22. 
  24. ^ "Expansion of Rights and Liberties - The Right of Suffrage". Online Exhibit: The Charters of Freedom. National Archives. Retrieved April 21, 2015. 
  25. ^ Study: Nonviolent Civic Resistance Key Factor in Building Durable Democracies, May 24, 2005
  26. ^ Ken Farr; Richard A. Lord; J. Larry Wolfenbarger (1998). "Economic Freedom, Political Freedom, and Economic Well-Being: A Causality Analysis". Cato Journal. 18 (2): 247–262.  [1]
  27. ^ Roberts, Alasdair S.,Empowerment or Discipline? Two Logics of Governmental Reform (December 23, 2008). Available at
  28. ^ Huntington, Samuel P. (1991). Democratization in the Late 20th century. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press. 
  29. ^ Simon, Bromley. Rethinking Middle East Politics: State Formation and Development. (Polity Press, Cambridge, 1994)
  30. ^ ed by Marsha, Pripstein Posusney and Michele, Penner Angrist. Authoritarianism in the Middle East: Regimes and Resistance. (Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc., USA, 2005)
  31. ^ Fareed Zakaria, The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad, W.W. Norton & Co., 2007, 138.
  32. ^ Fareed Zakaria, The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad, W.W. Norton & Co., 2007.
  33. ^ Pardy, Larry D. Understanding the Determinants of Democracy: Opening the Black Box. Amherst, NS: October 2014
  34. ^ Harry (2007). The Democratization of Design

Further reading[edit]

  • Thomas Carothers. Aiding Democracy Abroad: The Learning Curve. 1999. Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
  • Josep M. Colomer. Strategic Transitions. 2000. Baltimore, Md: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
  • Daniele Conversi. 'Demo-skepticism and genocide', Political Science Review, September 2006, Vol 4, issue 3, pp. 247–262
  • Haerpfer, Christian; Bernhagen, Patrick; Inglehart, Ronald & Welzel, Christian (2009), Democratization, Oxford: Oxford University Press, ISBN 9780199233021 .
  • Inglehart, Ronald & Welzel, Christian (2005), Modernization, Cultural Change and Democracy: The Human Development Sequence, New York: Cambridge University Press, ISBN 9780521846950 .
  • Muno, Wolfgang. "Democratization" (2012). University Bielefeld - Center for InterAmerican Studies.
  • Frederic C. Schaffer. Democracy in Translation: Understanding Politics in an Unfamiliar Culture. 1998. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
  • Fareed Zakaria. The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad. 2003. New York: W.W. Norton.
  • Christian Welzel. Freedom Rising: Human Empowerment and the Quest for Emancipation. 2013. New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-1-107-66483-8.
  • Tatu Vanhanen. Democratization: A Comparative Analysis of 170 Countries. 2003. Routledge. ISBN 0415318602

External links[edit]