Democratization is the transition from authoritarian or semi-authoritarian systems to democratic political systems, where democratic systems are taken to be those approximating to universal suffrage, regular elections, a civil society, the rule of law, and an independent judiciary.


Factors affecting democratization

There is considerable debate about the factors which affect democratization. A great many things, including economics, culture, and history, have been cited as impacting on the process. Some of the more frequently mentioned factors are:

  • Wealth. It has been claimed that countries with a higher GDP are more likely to be democratic. There is debate about whether democracy is a consequence of this wealth, a cause of it, or completely unrelated to it. Some campaigners for democracy believe that as economic development progresses, democratisation will become inevitable.
  • Economic system. Some claim that a country's economic system is an important factor in democratization. For example, it is sometimes claimed that democracy and capitalism are intrinsically linked. This belief generally centers around the idea that democracy and capitalism are simply two different aspects of freedom, and that without one, the other cannot exist. By contrast, many Marxists would claim that capitalism is inherently undemocratic, and that true democracy can only be achieved if the economy is controlled by the people as a whole rather than by private individuals.
  • A large middle class. According to some, the existence of a substantial body of citizens who are of intermediate wealth can exert a stabilising influence, allowing democracy to flourish. This is usually explained by saying that while the upper classes may want political power to preserve their position, and the lower classes may want it to lift themselves up, the middle class simply has less use for power, and is therefore unlikely to pursue non-democratic means of achieving it.
  • Civil society. A healthy civil society (NGOs, unions, academia, human rights organisations) are considered by some theorists to be important for democratization, as they give people a unity and a common purpose.
  • Homogeneous population. Some believe that a country which is deeply divided, whether by ethnic group, religion, or language, cannot establish a working democracy. The basis of this theory is that the different components of the country will be more interested in advancing their own position than in sharing power with each other.
  • Culture. It is claimed by some that certain cultures are simply more conductive to democratic values than others. Typically, it is Western culture which is cited as "best suited" to democracy, with other cultures portrayed as containing values which make democracy difficult or undesirable. This argument is sometimes used by undemocratic regimes to justify their failure to implement democratic reforms.
  • A tradition of democracy. According to some theorists, it is very difficult (or even impossible) for democracy to be implemented immediately in a country that has no prior experience with it. Instead, they say, democracy must evolve gradually. This argument is often linked with the argument about cultural values. Some theorists believe that democratisation in the developing world is furthered by a country having extensive contact with Western countries, and therefore absorbing cultural values and ideals.
  • Foreign intervention. Some believe that foreign involvement in a democratization is a crucial factor in its success or failure. For some, foreign involvement is advantageous for democracy—these people believe that democracy must be actively promoted and fostered by those countries which have already established it, and that democracy will not otherwise take hold. Others, however, take the opposite stance, and say that democratization must come "from the bottom up", and that attempts to impose democracy from the outside are doomed to failure regardless of other factors.

Empirical research

A considerable amount of empirical research has been conducted on democratization, with scholars looking for patterns in the establishment of democracies around the world. The results have been varied, with different researchers coming to different conclusions.

In The Civic Culture and The Civic Culture Revisited Gabriel A. Almond and Sidney Verba (editors) conducted a comprehensive study of civic cultures. The main findings is that a certain civic culture is necessary for the survival of democracy. This study truly challenged the common thought that cultures can perserve their uniqueness and practices amd still remain democratic.

Samuel P. Huntington wrote the Third Wave defining a global democratization trend in the world post WWII. Huntington defined 3 waves of democratization that have taken place in history, with the latest wave marking its period through the present. It is considered by the Journal of Democracy, a periodical journal, as one of the most empirical approaches to democratization. Samuel Huntington also examined the cultural aspect in international interactions in his rather non-empirical writing the Clash of civilizations. He identified six civilizations of the world and elaborated the concept of a cultural clash between the "East" and the "West" marked by democratic and freedom values of the West.

Francis Fukuyama wrote another classic in democratization studies entitled the The End of History and the Last Man which spoke of the rise of an inevitable western liberal democracy in the new world order post-Cold War. He was determined in his writing to present the inevitablity of western values and democratic values to take place in an imperialist democratic wave.

One influential survey in democratization is that of Freedom House, which arose during the Cold War. The Freedom House, today a institution and a think tank, stands as one of the most comprehensive "freedom measures" nationally and internationally and by extention a measure of democratization. Freedom House catagorizes all countries of the world according to a seven point point value system with over 200 questions on the survey and multiple survey representatives in various parts of every nation. The total raw points of every country places the country in one of three categories: Free, Partly Free, or not Free.

One of the very few studies examining the relationship between capitalism (measured with one Index of Economic Freedom), economic development (measured with GDP/capita), and political freedom (measured with the Freedom House index) found that high economic freedom increases GDP/capita and a high GDP/capita increases economic freedom. A high GDP/capita also increases political freedom but political freedom did not increase GDP/capita. There was no direct relationship either way between economic freedom and political freedom if keeping GDP/capita constant. Template:Ref

Democratization movements

Today, there are a large number of groups around the world which describe themselves as seeking democratization. In many cases, these groups are illegal. The methods employed by these groups vary considerably—some are peaceful, while others pursue violent means.

People, groups, and events which have been described as working for democratization include:

Democratization in other contexts

Although democratization is most often thought of in the context of national or regional politics, the term can also be applied to international bodies (e.g the United Nations where there is an ongoing call for reform and altered voting structures) and corporations. In firms, the traditional power structure was top-down direction and the boss-knows-best; this is quite different from consultation, empowerment (of lower levels) and a diffusion of decision-making (power) throughout the firm.


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Further reading

  • Thomas Carothers. Aiding Democracy Abroad: The Learning Curve. 1999. Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
  • Frederic C. Schaffer. Democracy in Translation: Understanding Politics in an Unfamiliar Culture. 1998. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
  • Fareed Zakaria. The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad. 2003. New York: W.W. Norton.

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