Does a Transition Away From an Authoritarian Regime Always End in Democracy?

After reading Samuel P. Huntington’s “The Third Wave”, I personally do not believe that democracy is always born after an authoritarian regime has declined. As he stated, there is a constant shifting of emphasis on either democracy or authoritarianism around the world. This wave that Huntington refers to in his article does not flow just one way. Although he does state that democratic tendencies can translate into democratic regimes, he also makes sure to state that the wave he refers to is “..transitions from a nondemocratic to democratic regimes that occur within a specified period of time and that significantly outnumber transitions in the opposite direction” (Huntington, 15). What I want to highlight about this quote is the fact that a democratic wave, or change, is defined by democratic ideals outnumbering authoritarian ideals. So while there may be a sense of democratization in some authoritarian societies, the push to democracy must be overwhelming for there to be a strong shift to a democratic regime. Even if a state decides to try its hand at a democratic regime after an authoritarian one, there can be falsities and corruption, as Huntington points out.

One example of how a decline in authoritarian ideals does not automatically lead to a democratic regime are the changing ideals in China and its economy. This can be expressed in the article “How China Is Ruled: Why It’s Getting Harder for Beijing to Govern” by David M. Lampton. Over the past 20 years, China’s economy has grown exponentially, slowly changing into a somewhat capitalist economy. Lampton describes these new Chinese companies as looking like “Western companies”. These new companies and ideals in the China’s economic market stray from the communist economics that were found during the Mao era of China. Another question facing this issue is will a liberal economy and a conservative political system be able to coexist?

While this article does touch on some issues that China’s authoritarian regime is facing, it is not necessarily saying that China will completely adopt a democratic system. It points out important points about the changing times in China, such as an increased presence and importance placed on the public opinion. This idea of a relationship between the people and the government is one of the main ideals behind the foundation of democracy. But while politicians in China are beginning to have a dialogue with its people, it does not and is still far off from having the institutional guarantees put forth by Dahl. Like we have discussed in class, China has utilized the authoritarian regime for so long that it is difficult to imagine China completely democratizing. Especially since China’s economic system has been fairing so well under an authoritarian regime.


You can find the article here:


One thought on “Does a Transition Away From an Authoritarian Regime Always End in Democracy?

  1. I agree, a transition away from authoritarian rule does not always end in democracy. In terms of China’s economy, Huntington argues that the third wave happened because of two aspects. The first is a decline in legitimacy. An authoritarian’s legitimacy declines when there is a decline in the economy, when there is military failure and when the authoritarian succeeds in his/her endeavors. The second aspect is economic development and economic crises. Here, Huntington says that economic development leads to support for democratization, however, democratization is not necessarily a direct result of economic development. In other words, economic development, like we see in China, has the potential to educate the population on different democratic values, but does not always lead to direct democratization. While China has embraced some aspects of liberalization in their economy, they are still under authoritarian rule.

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