Summary of "Problems of Democratic Transition and Consolidation: Southern Europe, South America, and Post-Communist Europe"

Summary of

Problems of Democratic Transition and Consolidation: Southern Europe, South America, and Post-Communist Europe

By Juan J. Linz and Alfred C. Stepan

Summary written by Eric Brahm, Conflict Research Consortium

Citation: Linz, Juan J., and Alfred C. Stepan. 1996. Problems of Democratic Transition and Consolidation: Southern Europe, South America, and Post-Communist Europe. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.

In this important addition to the democratization literature, Linz and Stepan identify patterns with respect to democratic transition and consolidation in three regions of the world. They outline salient differences in the pre-transition regime and the nature of the transition that have direct consequences for the nature and durability of the ensuing democratic experiment. The first part of the book provides the theoretical underpinning and subsequent sections contain a wide range of case studies on individual country experiences.

The first step in this task is identifying the important characteristics of their dependent variable, namely a consolidated democracy. They delineate five 'arenas': civil society, political society, rule of law, bureaucratic structure, and economic society. First, a vibrant civil society provides a check on state power. Second, political society involves the arrangements through which contests for political power are legitimately arranged. Third, a set of explicit rules to which all are bound is another precondition for democratic consolidation. Fourth, a democratic government requires an effective bureaucratic apparatus to maintain the monopoly of violence and to enforce law. In a subsequent chapter, Linz and Stepan further elaborate on the question of nationalism and the under-explored problem of 'stateness' for democratic consolidation. Finally, a socially agreed-upon set of practices to mediate between state and market are crucial for democracy.

Further, they find it useful to distinguish four additional regime types: authoritarianism, totalitarianism, post-totalitarianism, and sultanism. Post-totalitarianism characterized a number of parts of the former Soviet bloc after Stalin and became more common the closer one gets to the fall of the Soviet Union. Under this type of regime, political pluralism remains virtually non-existent, but some limited opening occurs in the social, economic, and institutional realms. The guiding ideology under the prior totalitarian system remains, but faith in it is largely lost. Leaders lose their enthusiasm for the system and its end and focus more on their own personal well-being. The second ideal type is sultanism, which characterizes highly personalist, paternalistic regimes. There is little distinction between public and private, institutions are weak, and rule is applied inconsistently. There is little coherent ideology other than adoration of the ruler. Mobilization is frowned upon except to provide demonstrations of support for the ruler. Family and close associates have privileged access and often accede to power.

These different regime types have consequences for the paths of democratic transition that are possible. One common path of democratization has been through pacted transitions. This is a common path for authoritarian and post-totalitarian regimes. However, totalitarian or sultanic systems place such severe restraints on political and social space that it is unlikely an opposition could develop that would be significant enough to compel the regime to negotiate. Similarly, in both of these contexts, losing a war is unlikely to provide a democratic opening unless outside powers invest heavily in building a democracy. If elections are not held quickly, interim governments may be tempted to remain in power in the aftermath of sultanism or authoritarianism. Former authoritarian governments that were composed of a hierarchical military organization may be more willing to extricate themselves from power peacefully if the institution of the military is respected. In a non-heirarchical military, by contrast, infighting may make it easier to realize civilian oversight, but different factions may have different agendas and destabilize the situation.

To bring all these components together, the legacy regime type influences the prospects for each of the five arenas. Of the four non-democratic regime types, authoritarianism has the best chance of having a tradition of rule of law to build upon. In terms of building political society, all have weaknesses. Totalitarian and post-totalitarian require the dismantling of the dominant party's position and in sultanic and authoritarian situations, trust and institutions must often be built. Although constitutions have often existed in these contexts, they typically have negative connotations for the public so there is a need for significant overhaul if not complete abandonment of existing arrangements. After authoritarian regimes, by contrast, there may be a pre-authoritarian constitution that could be revived or frequently the constitution from the authoritarian period is modified. Comparatively speaking, bureaucracies held over from authoritarian regimes may provide a sufficient foundation to build upon. In totalitarian and post-totalitarian contexts, however, the intertwining of party and bureaucracy necessitates significant reform. Under sultanism, the bureaucracy is likely riddled with corruption. Finally, under authoritarianism, there may be a reasonable amount of autonomy for economic actors that can allow for pluralism in the civic, political, and economic societies. By contrast, the command economy and patrimonialism in totalitarian and sultanistic regimes require much more dramatic reform.