Monday, 27 February 2012

Democracy or Autocracy?



In early 19th century, democracy started to developed and spread from its origin in Western Europe, which was the center of international politics during that time, to many countries in the world, especially Southern America which is rich in natural resources. However, the advent of democracy cannot be taken for granted as it is a complicated struggle for equality and power among different classes in a society of a country. The Western European countries had met different political outcomes in their paths of transformation to a new regime such as democracy, authoritarianism, and fascism due to their mixed characters of their developmental experience. For example, France had become a liberal democracy while its neighbor, Germany, had ended up in Fascism in the interwar period.

Under what conditions are stable democracy adopted? What facilitates the survival of authoritarian regimes? Who are the main actors in contributing to a change of a political regime (the roles of the working class, middle class, and elite class)? And with what resources do they have to make a choice of political regimes? Three scholars (Carles Boix, Ruth Berins Collier, and Gregory M. Luebbert) have expressed their views on these questions.

Most studies have found that there is a strong link between democracy and economic development. Under neoinstitutionalism, some scholars have claimed that a the progress of a stable democracy is only sustained by a particular set of constitutional rules and embedded in certain social norms and practices. By filling the gap made by previous studies, Carles Boix in his book of “Democracy and Redistribution” provides detailed models of preference and incentives of actors engaged in struggles over determination of political regime. He argues that democracy prevails when either economic equality or capital mobility are in a country. First, economic equality promotes democracy. Second, a decline in the specificity of capital curbs the redistributive pressures from non-capital holders, the poor, and results in no conflict between capital holders and non-holders. So, the likelihood of democracy arises and it will facilitate the peaceful transformation into democracy. In contrast, authoritarianism predominates in those countries in which both the level of inequity and the lack of capital mobility are high. In highly unequal societies, the redistributive demands of the poor on the rich are very intense. So, the rich has strong incentive to oppose to the introduction of democracy which requires wealth distribution through imposing heavy taxes on them. Furthermore, the highly immobility of capital of the wealthy can exacerbates the authoritarian solution. So, they grow more resolute in their effort to block democracy and maintain authoritarianism in order to preserve their wealth and continue to repress the poor. He also adds that the political resources of the contending parties affect the sustainability of an authoritarian regime. If the lower classes are demobilized or the ruling elite have strong repressive capabilities, there is a peaceful and durable authoritarian regime. However, if the organizational capacity of the poor rises, the likelihood of revolutionary explosions and civil wars escalates. If the poor win, they proceed to expropriate the assets of the wealthy and establish a left-wing dictatorship. Political mobilization of the contending parties can shift the balance of power in a regime. When the wealthy is weakening, political mobilization of the working class could precipitate the introduction of a democratic regime. The authoritarian elite must give way to democracy when the relative cost of repression reaches a high point. This partly explains the sweeping and peaceful democratization of Western Europe after the First World War.  In contrast, in a country where inequality is high and the capital is mostly immobile, the same process of political mobilization triggers political violence (civil war and revolution) instead.   

Carle Boix’s model of preference and choice of political regimes refers only to the poor, the middle class, and the wealthy. However, he does not mention on role of the working class in process of democratization, which is considered by many scholars as an important class during period of industrialization in Europe. Ruth Berins Collier (Paths Toward Democracy) emphasizes the role of the working class in democratization based on comparative analysis of history in Western Europe and South America. His analysis on paths toward democracy is based on two directions of movement: a conquest from above (elite class) or a revolution from below (working class).  The two perspectives come from distinct analytic traditions. The first is a strategic interaction approach, focusing on the negotiating or bargaining role of leaders or elites. The second continues a long line of class analysis focusing the working class that has its root in Marxist analysis. According to historical cases, he has identified three patterns of democratization. First, in the Middle-Sector Democratization, reform occurred when the “out” demanded political inclusion, but these petitioners were middle-sector groups, not the working class. The working class came to be included by default. The second pattern is the Electoral Support Mobilization which occurred as result of incumbent projects: democratization was not a result of the “outs” trying to get in, but the outcome of strategies of those already “in”. It is a strategy pursued by political parties with the goal of partisan mobilization for electoral competition to gain more support. The third pattern, the Joint Projects, democratization proceeded primarily through the interactions among the “in” groups. Not only the middle and upper classes, but also the working class had already been given the right to vote and even represented in parliament through labor-based socialist parties. The point is that the working class is not only just an important pro-democratic actor, but they participated largely from a position of prior inclusion. The importance of the working class is indicated in two points. First, in the parliament, the socialist parties representing the working class must be seen both as class actor and as strategic actor engaged in political game of partisan competition. Second, the working class role took on a dual form (commitment and mobilization of support by socialist parties) and operated in dual arena, in which the working class role took place both through party negotiations within parliament and through mass mobilization through unions.

During the interwar period (World War I and World War II), four types of regimes of historic importance appeared in Europe: pluralist democracy, social or corporatist democracy, traditional dictatorship, and fascism (Gregory M. Luebbert, Social Foundations of Political Order in Interwar Europe). The four regimes were the interwar byproducts of four routes from preindustrial politics to the crises of the 1920s and 1930s.  He questioned the argument of Barrington Moore and Alexander Gerschenkron that a fascist outcome was caused by the existence of landed elite which added the support of a rural mass to a coalition with the bourgeoisie. In this view, the presence of landed elite in control of rural masses resulted in fascism: England and France became liberal democracies because they lacked politically decisive landed elite while Germany became fascist because it preserved one.  With his skepticism on their views, he provided three reasons. First, there is no correlation between the rural social structure and the regime outcome. Second, even if a landed elite exerted economic control on a rural mass, it did not necessarily control the latter’s political behavior. Third, an authoritarian outcome did not require that landed elite have political control of a rural mass. When an independent peasantry took side with the bourgeoisie, an authoritarian outcome ensued even in the absence of important landed elite. For example, in Spain, the critical support for a fascist solution did  not came from southern landed elites, but from the middle peasants in the north and center.

In addition, one of Luebbert’s main arguments is that moderation and democratic stability required that socialists ignore a substantial part of the working class, and no socialist leaders consciously decided to do so. Where they did it, it was because they had no choice – whether they were initially radical after the war, as in Norway and Sweden, or reformist, as in Denmark - So, the outcome was stable democracy.

To sum up, Boix has made elaboration on which factors that prompt democracy or sustain an authoritarian regime. From his view, equality, economic development, and capital mobility serve as catalysts to produce and sustain democracy. His choice of political regime on a two-class (the wealthy and the poor) model and a three-class (the poor, the middle class, and the wealthy) is a rational political calculation based on economic resources. If applied by a politician, a roadmap of decision making will include the stakeholders and outcome of his or her campaign and it also enable decision maker to choose the best alternative. So, Boix’s idea is based on rational decision-making.

Collier has focused on the roles of the working class, the middle class, and the elite class in his patterns of democratization based on two perspectives of political movement: revolution from above or from below. The working class, whether it was active or passive, is always in the sphere of political arena where the elite class can raise percentage of vote in election by mobilizing support from the working class or to directly negotiate with it if the working class could gather a mass mobilization of protest to demand democratic reform or extension of the suffrage. 


For the role of working class in sustaining a stable democracy, Luebbert views that this class has critical role and is the core of social democracy where socialist party has strong presence in the legislature. If participation of the socialist party in political decision grows bigger and bigger, social democracy will turn into fascism as witnessed by Germany. Luebbert’s work complements Collier’s work in his patterns of democratization. I think that Boix and Collier identifies the paths of transformation and choice of a political regime while Luebbert gives more focus on the political outcomes such as liberal democracy, socialist democracy, traditional dictatorship, and fascism. Luebbert has given examples (Fascism in Germany and Traditional Dictatorship in Austria) of the most recent historical events which happened in Europe between WWI and WWII while Boix and Collier has had a look into the political transformation and interaction between classes in the 19th century.

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