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

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 consolidation7- 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.

This approach integrates some of the insights of the authoritarian persistence literature, but goes a step farther. Authoritarian persistence has traditionally been concerned with identifying those structural or institutional factors which are associated with regime survival, as well as authoritarian preconditions and the lack of democratic "requisites." For example, several works on the pre-2011 Arab world as an exemplar of authoritarian stability fit into this category.8 However, there is a tendency within this literature to see authoritarianism as too static. As Croissant and Wurster defined it, "[p]ersistence is understood as the absence of change, e.g., the continuance or permanence of authoritarian subtypes."9 By contrast, authoritarian consolidation seeks to understand the maturation of authoritarianism within a polity. As seen below, authoritarian consolidation is interested in how authoritarianism comes to be embedded in these societies and the effects of this process. …

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