Do Transitions Away from Authoritarian Regimes always End in Democratic Systems?

After reading the first two chapters of Huntington’s book The Third Wave, and the introduction of Levitsky and Way’s book Competitive Authoritarianism, I do not believe a transition away from an authoritarian regime always end in a democratic system.

When answering this question, one must first define authoritarian regime and democratic system. According to Huntington, “the central procedure of democracy is the selection of leaders through competitive elections by the people they govern” (6). Additionally, Huntington defines authoritarian as “all non democratic systems” (13). Meanwhile, Levitsky and Way define democracy in a “procedural-minimum conception”, and believe a democracy must possess “a reasonably level playing field between incumbent and opposition” (6). Additionally, they define full authoritarianism as “a regime in which no viable channels exist for opposition to contest legally for executive power” (7).

Huntington writes that since 1828, the world has seen both democratization waves and reverse waves. Given the names, one can imply that during democratization waves, there was an influx in countries forming democratic regimes, while during reverse waves, authoritarian regimes gained control. He writes, “democracy had come to be seen as the only legitimate and viable alternative to an authoritarian regime of any type” (58).

I disagree with Huntington’s statement; I think transitions away from authoritarian regimes can lead to what Levitsky and Way call competitive authoritarianism. According to them, competitive authoritarian regimes are regimes, “in which formal democratic institutions exist… but in which incumbents’ abuse of the state places them at a significant advantage” (5). Levitsky and Way agree with Huntington that there was a fundamental challenge to authoritarian regimes after the Cold War, but they believe that after the authoritarian regimes collapsed, transitions did not always lead to democracy. Instead, they believe new regimes emerged which possessed varying degrees of authoritarianism and electoral competition. Levitsky and Way stressed that although, the competition was real it was also unfair. To them, if a country holds elections where the incumbent possesses a significant advantage over their real competition, it is not a democracy.

The article I chose was from the New York Times written by Thomas Friedman titles Democracy in Recession. During class we have talked a lot about how democratic regimes around the world are declining, and I believe this article provided a nice complement to our class discussion. Friedman references a democracy expert named Larry Diamond. According to Diamond, there are various reasons for the decline in democracy. Three of the top reasons are; fast learning and adaptable autocrats, China, a non democratic country, replacing the United States as the top foreign aid provider to Africa, and the decline in democratic “efficacy, energy, and self-confidence” (1). So, the next question could be when a democratic system ends, what type of regime emerges?


One thought on “Do Transitions Away from Authoritarian Regimes always End in Democratic Systems?

  1. I agree that our country is transitioning away from democracy. This is especially true if you use the Levitsky and Way definition that “if an incumbent possesses a significant advantage over their real competition, it is not a democracy.” Our democracy is broken due to a number of reasons including: lack of term limits and a need for campaign finance reform; special interests have too much influence over governmental policy and public opinion; a substantial percentage of eligible voters are disaffected and disenfranchised; and, the size and complexity of our government make it difficult for even the most motivated citizens to make informed decisions about candidates and policy. I wonder if our traditional democratic system has already “ended” and if we are transitioning toward authoritarianism.

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