A democracy exists only insofar as its ideals and values bring it into being.
Is the Russian Federation under Vladimir Putin correctly classified as a 'democracy'? Is Indonesia engaged in a process of 'democratization' following thirty-two years of authoritarian rule under General Suharto? Was Colombia for forty years one of the best established democracies in Latin America, and what is it now? For that matter, is the European Union either a democratic entity or a means for the promotion of democracy within its area? Was the USA democratic before the abolition of slavery, or did it democratize thereafter? If the second, how do Jim Crow laws fit into a process of democratization, and is that process now complete? Was the presidential election of 2000 consistent with America's image as the world's oldest and most secure political democracy? All round the world new political experiences continually test, bombard, and interrogate established labels and ways of theorizing about political reality.
This book is a meditation on such experiences, and their implications for our repertoire of general concepts and theories concerning democracy and democratization. The key conclusions are that we need a 'floating but anchored' conception of democracy, and that democratization is best understood as a long-term process of social construction. The obvious place to begin is therefore with some discussion of these two key terms as they bear on contemporary experience, together with the linkages between them. This is the (mainly theoretical) task of this chapter.