ABSTRACT

By any standard, the spread of belief in democracy since World War II, especially in the most recent period, is impressive, but the difficulties often experienced in putting the belief into practice cast a cautionary shadow over prospects for worldwide democratization. Successful democratization, requires a transformation not only in governmental institutions and practices, but also in social and economic structure, institutions, behavior, and values. This broad and deep restructuring is most likely to be accomplished in societies in which levels of education and standards of living are relatively high to begin with and in which democratization raises them further. The transition to democracy is much harder to achieve in societies in which most people are poor, illiterate, and sharply divided by group identities and loyalties. In such settings, efforts of restructuring are likely to arouse resistance among the privileged and powerful before the benefits for the mass of the people become tangible enough to mobilize their countervailing support. During periods of change, entrenched elites—whether bureaucratic, military, economic, or ecclesiastical—can undermine reforms and sometimes make and unmake governments. If reforms are implemented gradually, resistance from the privileged can be muted, but only at the cost of disappointing the expectations of the impoverished. If radical economic reform is attempted, however, it may impose short-term economic hardships upon those least able to bear them. Those factions able to influence the transition will try to protect their own interests by structuring constitutional and electoral laws and using state offices and patronage to shield themselves from opposition and accountability. The problem of achieving a successful transition is often compounded by regional and ethnic rivalries and by appeals to nationalism. Cultural traditions are sometimes said to be threatened by efforts to modernize the society and integrate it into the international economy. Small wonder, then, that efforts of democratization often founder and sometimes only lead to autocratic reactions.