What Makes a Stable Democracy?

The articles I reviewed both were concerned with the theme of what makes democracy, and what factors are thrown into a democracy to make it so stable. I found commonality between both of the articles, but I favored the position taken by the authors of “What Makes Democracies Endure”. This is simply because of the way they arranged their data leading to why Democracies endure, while using Dahl’s definition of a democracy as a guide. I also felt that the parallels they drew between Lipset’s main point of view and their own, helped reinforce the differences they held separate from Lipset.

Their central finding had parallels to Lipset’s article on the social requisites of a democracy. This is because the author’s main point was that “economic factors” have a significant influence on the lifespan of a democracy, much like Lipset’s point of view. However, unlike Lipset, they took the time to disprove some well-known false beliefs about modern democracy. This is where they draw the line between their article and Lipset’s. The authors of “What Makes Democracies Endure” prove that even though a country is well established and wealthy where democracy is “certain to survive”, a dictatorship attempting to transition to a democracy will fail no matter their economic standing is. They also disprove the belief that democracy cannot thrive in a poor country. Although it is shown that a democracy can’t thrive in a “declining economy”, a democracy can thrive in a nation that’s baseline per-capita income is only $1,000. The only conditions needed for the democracy to grow is “generating development, reduction of inequality, (a prosperous) international climate, and if they have parliamentary institutions.”

While using the definition given by Dahl the authors were also able to fashion rules that help define if a regime is a dictatorship. This includes the right to free and fair elections of a leader, the difference between an elected and not-elected legislature, and the difference between a one party or multiple party system. I found this to be very helpful as their can be some grey area on the subject of a dictatorship. Although these rules are not an end all be all, much like Dahl’s rules for a Democracy, they give a good outline to what a Dictatorship is.

Articles Reviewed:
-Sermour Martin Lipset. 1959. “Some Social Requisites of Democracy: Economic Development and Political Legitimacy.” The American Political Science Review, 53(1):69-86. *
-Cheibub, Jose Antonio, Adam Przewoprski, Fernando Papaterra Limongi Neto, Micheal Alvarez. 1996. “What Makes Democracies Endure” Journal of Democracy 7(1): 39-55. http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/jod/

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3 thoughts on “What Makes a Stable Democracy?

  1. This might be a matter of poor word choice, but I disagree with some aspects of your summary of Cheibub’s (and other’s) argument. In your post, you use phrases such as, “a dictatorship attempting to transition to a democracy will fail no matter [what] their economic standing is” and “a democracy can’t thrive in a ‘declining economy’.” On the contrary, the authors are largely discussing circumstances that make a thriving democracy more or less favorable, not possible vs. impossible. I can think of very few statements used in this paper with the same black-or-white assertiveness as your summary, the following being a rare example: “Indeed, we have found that once a country is sufficiently wealthy, with per-capita income of more than $6,000 a year, democracy is certain to survive, come hell or high water” (49). For most of the paper, the authors speak in terms of probability and trends, beginning claims with phrases that leave room for error, such as “democracy is much more likely to survive…” This paper is full of predictions, and I imagine that one could find exceptions to many the authors’ claims. That said, I think that the unambiguousness of your summary is a misrepresentation of the authors’ argument, which is a theory and not a definitive law.

    Also, I would be interested to know where you found the argument that “a dictatorship attempting to transition to a democracy will fail no matter [what] their economic standing is” because the authors of “What Makes Democracies Endure?” write that they have observed dictatorships transition to democracy; are you saying that this transition is impossible?

    • I would say that my word choice, as you pointed out, could have been better on the above review of these two articles. To rephrase my statement, I feel that these articles demonstrate the transition from dictatorship to democracy as “improbable”. Although there have been examples of the transition observed by the authors, they are very few and far between. I would also be remiss to point out that the authors do take the time to list off their quantitative results regarding the capacity of dictatorships for improving their nations economy. When they observed 98 dictatorships below the level of $2,000 per capita, “by the exit year only 26 had made it to $2,000, 15 to $3,000, 7 to $4,000 and 4 to $5,000.” This was whether they transitioned to democracy or were still under a dictatorship. This proves that dictatorships don’t help poor countries develop better than democracies, because 46 of the dictatorships observed had not shown any signs of growth. Which begs the question of why a nation would use a dictatorship in the first place, if they don’t help economic development any more than a democracy.

      There is no way to say that a transition from dictatorship is completely impossible, because there is no way to back up that statement. However, the authors of “What Makes Democracies Endure?”, do take a strong stance on the fact that dictatorships don’t help the transition in any way. They dismantle the belief that Dictatorships help the transition to democracy by claiming that “dictatorships offer no advantage in attaining the dual goal of development and democracy.” This is shown by the data in the previous paragraph which proves dictatorships don’t “promote economic growth in poor countries.” The authors then benchmark their stance on this subject by encouraging countries that if they want a “democracy, [they] should strengthen democracy, not support dictatorships.”

      However, to bring it back to your previous question, no the transition is not impossible. My word choice on the phrases you cited was a bit off center, but I feel that my amended statements on the matter better convey my position on these articles.

  2. Interesting debate…Great that you are pushing each other to be more precise.
    Nick, Can you link the Thai and Egyptian cases to the articles more explicitly? What would the authors predict about these cases? How do their arguments apply?

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