Academic journal article International Social Science Review

Democracies, Autocracies, and Political Stability

Academic journal article International Social Science Review

Democracies, Autocracies, and Political Stability

Article excerpt

Democracies, Autocracies, and Political Stability

Since the third wave of democratization, many scholars have debated whether or not there exist necessary prerequisites for the consolidation of democracies. In fact, democratic transitions toward democracy cannot occur without the state achieving a semblance of 'stateness,' (1) as a state that has various ethnic groups or polarizing cleavages may bring about political instability, which will make it unlikely for democracy to endure. Giovanni Sartori argues that democracy cannot arise in societies that are prone to internal conflict. (2) What a country needs before it can experience the advent of democratic politics is domestic security within its borders. A growing number of scholars, on the other hand, claim that the causal relationship is reversed. Samuel Huntington (3), Juan Linz (4), and Guillermo O'Donnell (5) all argue that democracies are prone to political instability primarily because they invite political pluralism. In other words, the large presence of interest groups and the mobilization of independent associations can likely weaken the state from carrying out its capacity to govern effectively. When economic modernization outpaces the development of democratic political institutions, the likelihood for the emergence of political order and stability become highly unlikely. As a result, coups, revolutions, and the breakdown of democratic institutions is a likely scenario in highly democratic regimes. This article addresses the fundamental empirical question of whether nation-states that are more democratic are more likely to be politically stable or unstable over time.

Using a global model of 122 nation-states, the cases included represent a variety of countries that experienced a legacy of colonialism, and accordingly are likely candidates to be praetorian states in the Huntingtonian sense: states that are prone to strong-armed governments and political instability. (6) A majority of the states in the study are also considered patrimonial states where government officials look at political offices and the natural resources of their country as exploitable rents that can be plundered for private personal gain or as a means to favor a particular ethnic or religious group. Due to the nature of client-patron relations and high levels of corruption, these patrimonial states are prone to low levels of economic growth and hence are more prone to higher levels of political instability, in particular the collapse of civilian governments through civil wars, military intervention, political unrest, or prolonged insurrectionist movements. (7)

A number of empirical works demonstrate the negative effect of democracy on political stability. Bingham Powell establishes the linkage on how democracies fall prey to large-scale political unrest. (8) In his study of twenty-eight nation-states during the 1958-1976 period, he finds that nation-states that had high levels of multi-party democracy experienced large-scale instability in terms of political violence, strikes, rallies and protests. Since most of the nascent democracies did not have party systems that are institutionalized, extremist groups took advantage of the weakness of the current political system and brought about political mayhem in the streets that weakened the legitimacy of elected governments. Alessina and Perroti show that democracies are prone to large scale instability primarily because sectorial interests in a pluralistic setting may bring about large scale income inequality. (9) They found that democracies are likely to generate higher levels of income inequality (measured by the share of the third and fourth quintiles of income among a population). Thus, democratic systems are prone to generate social discontent, which facilitates socio-political instability. As such, there is an indirect relationship of income inequality causing a decrease of private and public investments. They predicate the inverse relationship between socio-political instability on democracy based on uncertainty--such that private entrepreneurs are discouraged from continued investment in a nation-state blighted by assassination attempts, coup plots, and a high death rate based on domestic disturbances. …

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