The Problems of Democratic Transition and Consolidation

The Problems of Democratic Transition and Consolidation: Southern Europe, South America, and Post-Communist Europe book by Linz and Stepan explore the issue of democratic transitions defining the core issues and making adequate assumptions concerning the causes and conditions that lead to them.

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The post-authoritarian democracies, in particular, post-1989 Europe and the former Soviet Union constitute the focal focus of the book. Authors state that democracy is regarded consolidated in the case it is the “only game in town” (Linz and Stepan 5). This means the correspondence to the three dimensions including behavioral, constitutional, and attitudinal ones. The behavioral dimension refers to the fact that no actor, in other words, a team or group spends significant resources trying to change the democratic regime or achieve secession. Regarding the constitutional dimension, democracy is considered consolidated when governmental and non-governmental forces operate in a similar way striving to common goals.

The attitudinal dimension supposes the situation when public opinion strongly supports the democratic regime. Linz and Stepan distinguish the five arenas of a consolidated democracy, each of which is essential for the existence of the democratic regime (7). Being a form of state governance, democracy requires the following components to be incorporated in it: a civil society free of association and communication; a political society with free and inclusive electoral contestation; a rule of law to guarantee constitutionalism; a rational-legal bureaucracy; and an economic society with institutionalized markets and a certain degree of regulation by the state (Linz and Stepan 14).

Furthermore, authors discuss the notion of “states” that occur when one confuses nation and state and decides, for instance, the question of citizenship. At that, Linz and Stepan emphasize the great importance of state existence pinpointing that the “absence of an organization with the attributes of a modern state…precludes democratic governance over the whole territory of the state, although it might not preclude areas of segmented political authority” (18). A state is represented here as a range of institutions performing specific functions.

In terms of nationalism, authors claim that “the nation-state policy often has a different logic than a democratic policy” (Linz and Stepan 25). It is reflected in the alienation of some nations from the state governing, for instance, when one language is recognized official in a multinational setting. At the same time, the chances to consolidate are bigger in multinational states due to equal citizenship granted to individuals. Providing thorough analysis, authors consider the two additional non-democratic regimes including post-totalitarian and sultanic. At that, pluralism, ideology, mobilization, and leadership criteria serve as a basis for their comparison and discussion. After that, the authors provide tables that explain several transition paths and consolidation tasks inherent to a particular country.

Reading this work, it becomes evident that Linz and Stepan aim to explain a part of democracy focusing on transition and consolidation in post-authoritarian societies. Variables utilized by authors include a range of countries and appropriate criteria for their evaluation. This explanation clarifies the causal mechanisms that lead to the identified types of democracy. It should be stressed that authors utilize both political and economical instruments to explain their assumptions. Such a comprehensive approach promotes a clear understanding of the theme.

In particular, combining such factors as economic conditions, market, elections, and several others, they achieve a multifaceted explanation. At the same time, they avoid economism and politicism preventing the reduction of all facts to these dimensions. As for international factors, Linz and Stepan provide the evaluation of many countries, among which one might note Hungary, Bulgaria, USSR, Czechoslovakia, and others, yet the analysis does not focus on the connection between them. The selection of the above cases is justified by their relation to the identified regions of post-authoritarian regimes. Cases operationalized by authors are analyzed and measured appropriately. Also, they provide data and background information concerning all the cases.

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Analyzing the data, authors apply the methods of scientific research and empirical evidence that, in turn, contribute to the objective consideration of the topic. As a result of the empirical analysis, the authors specify information related to certain countries. At that, various tables benefit the visibility of data. Through the research, they strengthen their proposed explanations and acquire a basis for further discussion. Speaking of the focal contribution, it should be emphasized that the importance of the notion of democratic consolidation cannot be overestimated.

The post-authoritarian democracies present rather ambiguous and complex phenomenon that needs to be analyzed in detail to understand their consequences and implications both in local and global contexts. The only weakness of the work that might be noted is the absence of limitations, in other words, the shortage of factors that might limit the suggested information. As was stated before, the work by Linz and Stepan is relevant to the debate on the topic yet it might be improved and complemented by new works. For example, Rizman and Ethier present contemporary views on the topic. Howbeit, this work is essential to comprehend core definitions as well as tendencies related to democratic transition and consolidation in the post-authoritarian setting.

In his turn, Lijphart focuses on consociational democracy in his Democracy in Plural Societies: A Comparative Exploration book. According to Lijphart, a concept of consociational democracy might be referred to as a complete and self-sufficient theory, in which one observes a double phenomenon of the emergence of the vertical segmentation into separate groups according to certain common characteristics including religion, language, race, ethnicity, and ideology and the institutionalization of the negotiation process at the level of the groups of elites. Speaking of consociationalism, Lijphart distinguishes the two principal aspects: “a plural society with segmental cleavages; and the segmental elites cooperate through consociational structures” (5). The author claims that democracy necessitates in cross-cutting cleavages that might involve religion, linguistic division, or ethnicity. However, he strives to develop such a model of state governance that will work even in the absence of the aforementioned cleavages.

The political stability which includes such concepts as system maintenance, civil order, legitimacy, and effectiveness serves as an essential foundation of the system. Developing the theory of consociational democracy, Lijphart specifies the most significant characteristics of the regime that are as follows: the high probability of preservation of democracy and a low level of violence applied to the public (21). Precisely speaking, Lijphart highlights the four main characteristics of consociational democracy:

  • A grand coalition. The exercise of power by a large coalition of political leaders of all significant segments of the plural society that assumes, first of all, the creation of a coalition government with the participation of all parties representing the main sectors of society (25);
  • Proportionality as the guiding principle of political representation and the distribution of posts in the state apparatus and the state budget (38);
  • Mutual veto or the rule of “the matching of the majority” that acts as an additional guarantee of the vital interests of the minorities (36). It involves the final decision of a qualified majority with two-thirds or three-fourths majority vote that would give minorities more chances for the defense of their interests;
  • Segmental autonomy and federalism that suppose a high degree of autonomy of each segment in the management of its internal affairs (41).

The study conducted by the author is conceptualized and focused on democracy within multiple societies. The author proposes the change in the democracy level suggesting appropriate decisions towards its development. In the role of dependant variables, Lijphart utilizes mutual veto, proportionality, segmental autonomy, and a grand coalition. However, it is better to say that these variables are interdependent as the change of one of them leads to the change in others and democracy essence in general. On the contrary to the work by Linz and Stepan, Lijphart applies only political terms avoiding cultural or economic factors. At that, he explores plural societies to ensure the rights of minorities.

Also, he does not address international factors preferring to compare democracies existing in different countries. Lijphart selects the four cases of the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, and Austria to explain his comparative insights. After that, he applies the identified model of consociational democracy to a wide range of countries from Canada to Indonesia. Therefore, the selection of the author aims at embracing multiple countries. Speaking of the chapters specified in the assignment, it is important to note that Lijphart represents working definitions and assumptions making it possible for the reader to understand the topic correctly and properly. Likewise, Linz and Stepan, Lijphart uses empirical evidence and scientific research methods to conduct the analysis. Also, he puts causal mechanisms in the core of study and explanation. The result of such an approach undoubtedly benefits the study and strengthens proposed assumptions.

The key contribution of the work is the fact that Lijphart investigates democracy in plural societies promoting the rights of minorities. His clear explanation of variables necessary to democracy existing also should be noted as a contribution. Perhaps, the weakness of the work lays in the lack of economic factors. It seems that the addition of economic variables might enhance the explanation. In his work, Lijphart bases on other scientists’ ideas to improve on them. For instance, the assumption that the two-party system contributes to the cross-cutting cleavages was examined. As a result, he debunked this hypothesis using strong arguments related to real events. Furthermore, several prominent political science researchers have contributed to the emergence and further development of this theory as well. In particular, it is worth noting that Corwin, Lembruch, and other political scientists work on this theme.

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Thus, the detailed consideration of the problem of democratic consolidation principles to the plural nature of some societies has led to the construction of the independent concept of consociationalism. It should be noted that this concept fits the nowadays disputes and the resolution of the problems along with conflicts in multipartite societies. To conclude, it should be emphasized that the common theme of democratic transition was discussed in both suggested works. While the work by Linz and Stepan focuses on post-authoritarian democracies, the work by Lijphart explores democracy in plural societies.

Works Cited

Lijphart, Arend. Democracy in Plural Societies: A Comparative Exploration. New Haven: Yale UP, 1977. Print.

Linz, Juan J., and Alfred Stepan. Problems of Democratic Transition and Consolidation: Southern Europe, South America and Post-Communist Europe. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1996. Print.

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StudyCorgi. 2020. "The Problems of Democratic Transition and Consolidation." October 29, 2020.


StudyCorgi. (2020) 'The Problems of Democratic Transition and Consolidation'. 29 October.

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