Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Beyond the Transition Paradigm: A Research Agenda for Authoritarian Consolidation

Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Beyond the Transition Paradigm: A Research Agenda for Authoritarian Consolidation

Article excerpt

Abstract: The transition literature is insufficient to understand the political developments in several states of the former Soviet Union. Instead, it is perhaps best to explore these regimes in terms of autocratic systems which are both politically stable and increasingly resistant to domestic and external pressures for political change. The emerging literature on authoritarian consolidation takes autocracy seriously by rejecting teleological assumptions about the power of democracy and seeks to understand the foundations of political stability in authoritarian countries. However, this concept remains underexplored. This article presents the foundation of a research agenda on authoritarian consolidation by reviewing the prior literature, identifying key concepts, and outlining possible theoretical dynamics.

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As we move further from the twenty-year anniversary of the collapse of the Soviet Union, it is increasingly clear that the framework of "transition" is less and less applicable to much of the region. While this literature has often served as a straw-man for critics, and has had its assumptions and conclusions consistently mischaracterized, (1) Carothers was correct in arguing that scholars and policymakers should "discard the transition paradigm," given that democratization has stalled in many countries and several early democratic openings have been reversed. (2) For the Baltic region, it is better to analyze these countries in terms of "integration," given that they have completed their transition to well-entrenched, liberal democracies and have joined the European Union. In other cases, such as Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine, and Armenia, the language of transition might still apply, given that the fundamentals of their political systems remain unsettled. (3) However, for the remaining ex-Soviet republics, our understanding of their political dynamics is not well-served by looking for cracks in their authoritarian edifice.

Although Carother's article was released in 2002, "it clearly failed to bring about [the transition paradigm's] demise" and "with the 'color revolutions' ... and more recently and even more dramatically with the regime changes associated with the 'Arab Spring' and the political opening in Burma, the question of democratic transitions has returned to center stage." (4) During the 2011-2012 protests in Russia following the questionable parliamentary elections, there was far too much speculation by those looking for signs of the end of Putin's regime and the possibility of democratic opening. For example, a Chatham House report declared that the protests marked "the beginning of the end of the Putin regime;" (5) a sentiment echoed in The Economist. (6) As seen in the Arab Spring, political change is always possible, but an attraction to the transition paradigm may blind us to more important dynamics occurring within these countries. Instead, it would be better to approach them as autocratic regimes, which are both politically stable and increasingly resistant to internal and external pressures for political change.

If we shift away from the transition paradigm and accept authoritarianism on its own terms, we can utilize two literatures that appear more appropriate to these countries, consolidology and authoritarian persistence. In many ways, these literatures deal with a similar issue: the conditions under which a certain regime type is likely to continue into the future. In fact, a literature is emerging which combines the two and seeks to understand the nature of authoritarian consolidation (7)--the process by which authoritarianism is solidified and entrenched within a political system to the extent that expectations for democratic regime change in the short-to-medium term are consistently pessimistic. However, the idea of authoritarian consolidation--its connections to prior literature, theoretical concepts, and conceptual bases--remains underdeveloped at the present time. …

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