Nests of Democracy: The Institutional Interdependence of People's Rule in Europe & Eurasia

Article excerpt

Abstract: This article draws on the experience of several post-communist countries of Europe and Eurasia to present a concise and clearly defined conceptual model for understanding democratic systems and how they function and change. The "nest" model emphasizes the complex interdependence among five core institutional spheres of democratic systems (political competition, civil society, information/media, rule of law, and good governance). The article outlines and analyzes the specific interactions and interdependent relationships among those institutional spheres. Key implications of the model are that democracy promotion efforts should focus on 1) building the different institutional spheres in a multi-pronged and roughly simultaneous manner and 2) strengthening the constructive interactions between those institutional spheres. The nest model calls into question "targeting" and "sequencing" approaches to democratization.


Scholars and practitioners of democratization have long debated what is necessary to build, support and sustain democratic systems. (1) Time and again they have asked: What is necessary for democracy to come about? What makes democracy work? What leads to democratic decline? Even with the growing number of studies on democracy since the "third wave," and more recently the "color revolutions" in Europe and Eurasia, this literature has yet to adequately define and analyze the interrelationships between the elements or arenas of democratic systems. That is, in trying to understand how democracy works, our structural analysis of democratic systems has been incomplete.

Much has been written on the interaction of democratic institutions in their limiting or constraining sense--on how democratic institutions "check and balance" one another. Perhaps because the constitutional and legal restraints and limits on political power in democratic institutional arrangements seem to capture so much of the essence of democracy, the focus has been predominantly on the "push and pull" nature of these institutional relationships. Discussions from The Federalist Papers to more recent debates on "constitutional engineering" (2) for new democracies have focused on these aspects of separating, limiting, and balancing power among democratic institutions.

Far less attention has been devoted to how spheres, elements and institutions of democracy specifically rely on, reinforce, and interact with one another. Although constraining political power--particularly executive branch authority--has been a predominant concern in attempting to craft democracies, strengthening fledgling democratic institutions and the interactions between them appears to be an important way to build democracy or help overcome authoritarianism. A more coherent and systematic understanding of these relationships would be valuable to those attempting to encourage democratic development in the former communist countries of Europe and Eurasia and beyond.

Conceiving Democracy between Clouds and Clocks

Much of what has been written on the relational structure of democratic systems has been relatively nebulous--often not much more than a list or set of "dimensions," "conditions," "pillars," or "arenas" of democracy. Perhaps most notably, Linz and Stepan write about the necessity of five broad interconnected arenas of civil society, political society, the rule of law, a state bureaucracy, and an economic society. (3) Many other conceptions of democracy tend to be requisites--based focused on the achievement of certain standards of institutions, rights and norms in particular spheres. Perhaps the most noted example of a requisites/standards approach is Robert Dahl's classic Polyarchy, which posits that polyarchies (or real world democracies) possess certain levels of contestation and inclusion. (4) Dahl's more recent work on "polyarchical democracies" posits six sets of democratic institutions (5), but even these conceptions are essentially static, and tell us little about how democracies change. …