In the book “Democratization: a critical introduction,” Jean Grugel discusses how a range of global pressures and events combined to create a political opportunity for an increased level of democratization worldwide at the end of the twentieth century. Since the 1970s, there have been many sustained efforts that have gradually gathered to subject governments to public control and oversight and to make government work in a way that is favorable to a broader mass of people. Additionally, Grugel explores the fate of some of the recent experiments in democratization and argues that the consolidation of democratization is nationally-determined as opposed to influenced by global pressures. Grugel also takes issue with the idea that there are several different paths for democratization that can be successfully applied to any given scenario. In reality, Grugel states that democratization is a slow process that is dependent on numerous factors that vary from country to country and that the number of successful democratizations is outweighed by both failed or stalled efforts.

Jean Grugel looks at the changing nature of democratization studies over the past several decades. Initial studies on the meaning of democratization during the 1970s and 1980s presumed that democratization was simply the process of a political system transitioning from a non-democracy towards a representative government. Additionally, democratization studies during this period adopted a process-oriented approach that identified the paths to democratization and made the necessary distinction between the transition period, when the political system is fluid and democracy is not assured, to the consolidation period, when democratic institutions are officially established. As democratization spread during the 1990s, it became evident that a number of countries either collapsed or fell into the category of problematic democracies. As a result, researchers began to focus on identifying the factors that make emerging democracies succeed and the factors that contribute to the failure of democratization in other countries.

Jean Grugel also discusses the changing nature of democratization studies. Initial studies during the 1970s and 1980s assumed that democratization was the process of a political system transitioning from a non-democracy towards a representative government. Additionally, democratization studies during this period adopted a process-oriented approach that identified the paths to democratization and made the important distinction between the transition period, when the political system is fluid and democracy is not assured, to the consolidation period, when democratic institutions are officially established. As democratization spread during the 1990s, it became evident that a number of countries either collapsed or fell into the category of problematic democracies. As a result, researchers began to focus on identifying the factors that make emerging democracies succeed and the factors that contribute to the failure of democratization in other countries. This represented a shift in the democratization debate from a primary interest in structure and agency and their respective roles in causation, towards a focus on how political culture, political economy, and formal institutions shape democratic outcomes in particular countries.

Whether the focus is on the mechanisms that cause democratization to its outcomes, there has been division among researchers as to what is the exact definition of democratization. Democratization has been analyzed through the perspectives of political theory, comparative politics, international relations, and political economy and has been thought of as a discrete set of sequential changes achieved over time, a transformation of societal institutions, or as an unattainable idea. From the perspective of political science, democratization has been understood along a continuum from a minimal to a maximalist position. The basic minimalist definition sees democratization as the holding of clean elections and the introduction of mechanisms that make free elections possible. A more inclusive definition includes the introduction of individual rights such as freedom to stand for public office, freedom of the press, religious liberty, freedom of assembly, the establishment of a multi-party system, and universal suffrage. Grugel favors a broader definition of democratization that includes the introduction and extension of citizenship rights and the creation of a democratic state. Additionally, Grugel looks at the question of what extent should democratization include the elimination of the most extreme forms of socio-economic inequality and indicates that economic inequalities shape the politics in established democracies.

Jean Grugel rejects the assumption that democracy means liberal democracy. Up until the mid-1990s, it was the common belief among scholars that for a country to be considered a liberal democracy, it needed to hold free elections, have a multi-party system, and a set of procedures for government. On the other hand, Grugel argues that the existence of such factors does not guarantee the existence of essential democratic freedoms and rights, such as respect for civil liberties and equality under the law. Instead of defining democracy through the lens of liberalism, Grugel feels that it is more useful to define democracy as “a mode of decision-making about collectively binding rules and policies over which the people exercise control.” The divisions over the proper definition of democracy have led to a divide between scholars who insist on the minimalist definition and others who argue that democracy implies both the procedures for a government (formal democracy) and sustentative rights (sustentative democracy). The differing opinions regarding its definition show that the theory of democracy has been understood to mean more than the introduction of procedures for changing governments peacefully and increasing the connections of the populace to their governments.

Jean Grugel then goes on to explore the relationship between democratization and globalization. The initial theories about democratization assumed that the forces that lead to the creation of democracy originated were rooted in particular nation-states and that international factors played a secondary role in promoting democracy. With the rise of globalization during the early 1990s, scholars began to look at the effects of globalization in promoting democratization. It was determined that globalization shapes the democratization process through the establishment of a global communication network and global culture, the establishment of a global capitalist economy, and the creation of global governmental institutions. All three factors encourage the diffusion of values created at the global level into previously isolated societies and serves to reduce state sovereignty. Since globalization is an uneven process and impacts less developed countries more than developed ones, it is easier for the developed world to push its vision democracy more effectively in the developing world.

Even though globalization creates expanded opportunities for political change, Jean Grugel states that global forces cannot impose democracy from the outside. Additionally, globalization at times creates false expectations or distorts that processes that global institutions claim to favor. For example, global institutions have encouraged political leaders toward more open government, but this does not lead to democratization when there are insufficient pro-democracy pressures inside nation-states. Additionally, the role of global institutions has often served to re-legitimize authoritarian governments by creating for it a layer of accountability. Global organizations also make assumptions about the relationship between political order and economics and operate with the belief that the introduction of market mechanisms in previously statist economies will lead to democratization. On the other hand, Grugel makes the argument that the deepening of the market may serve as an impediment to the expansion of democracy, especially when the expansion of the free market occurs too rapidly.

In conclusion, Jean Grugel presents an overview of the idea of democratization in “Democratization: a critical introduction.” She discusses some of the factors that have resulted in an increase in the spread of democracy worldwide over the past few decades, the changing definition of democratization, and the relationship between democratization and globalization. Additionally, Grugel also looks at democratization theory through the lens of both political science and sociology and explores the differing opinions among scholars about what can be used to measure the overall level of democracy in a country. An in-depth understanding of the evolution of democracy at the global scale can allow political scientists to determine the future state of international affairs and shape public policy at the international level to accommodate any potential democratic changes.

the author

Matt is a graduate of Monmouth University. Matt has been studying and analyzing politics at all levels since the 2004 Presidential Election. He writes about political trends and demographics, the role of the media in politics, comparative politics, political theory, and the domestic and international political economy. Matt is also interested in history, philosophy, comparative religion, and record collecting.

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