Consolidated Democracy is Hard

Achieving consolidated democracy is hard for the United States as well as other countries across the world. Many scholars in politics and economics have been attempting to figure out precisely the problems of achieving consolidated democracy. A consolidated democracy is a process in which a newfound democracy matures to a more robust democracy that will not turn into an autocracy. Dr. Stephen Krasner, a professor of international relations at Stanford University, discussed the issues of consolidated democracy with James Hollifield, Professor of Political Science at SMU and Director of the Tower Center for Political Studies. This topic was discussed during the SMU Tower Center “Consolidated Democracy is Hard” online event. The discussion was moderated by SMU alum Kovan Barzani, who is part of the first cohort of the SMU Tower Scholar program. Dr. Krasner has had an interest in consolidated democracy for much of his life.

The fundamental underlying problem for the United States, in particular, is that it assumes that every other country wants to be like us in terms of our government, but that is not the case. The United States has a powerful and effective military that allows us to intervene in most places. Although we can intervene in these places, that does not guarantee that those places will become democratic countries. The United States needs to recognize that not every country will switch to democracy and adopt a system similar to that of the United States. This is in part because it is tough to create an American system. The creation of an American system has only been accomplished within the last 150 years and only in a limited number of places such as North America, East Asia, and Western Europe. There is only one country that has become wealthy and democratic after World War II, and that country is South Korea.

To figure out the problems, you must understand and analyze how countries can become wealthy and democratic. Dr. Krasner introduced three theories that help explain this concept. The three theories are argument modernization theory, institutional capacity theory, and rational choice theory. Argument modernization theory states that all a country needs is a new technology, population growth, and a large middle class. Dr. Krasner uses the example of an escalator to explain this theory. Once you get to the bottom of the up escalator, you keep going up without having to do any work. Most people in the United States hold this theory and there is a lot of empirical evidence to support it. The theory also argues that if a country is wealthy and becomes democratic, it is more likely to stay democratic. In contrast, a developing country is more likely to slip into an autocracy.

The second theory is an institutional capacity theory, which argues that a country that wants to be wealthy and democratic must have a vital state. If you do not have a strong form, you will be stuck. The nations will not be able to obtain anything without intense levels of institutional capacity. If you have social mobilization without having a political institution, you will end up with political decay. A country can become wealthier, but if there is no political change simultaneously then that country will fail. This theory requires correct social coalitions and a large middle class that places demands on their government.

The last theory is a rational choice theory, which is the most persuasive. This theory argues that elites like being elites and will do everything in their power to stay elite. The elites have money, energy, and prestige, all of which they are reluctant to give up. They work strategically to maintain their power. There have been a few places where the elites have given up some of their ability. These places are Western Europe, the United States, and Canada. However, it is unusual for the elites to give up any form of their power. There would never be a situation where political elites would accept a government that would decrease their influence. Dr. Krasner consistently emphasized that it is hard to create a state that is effective and constrained simultaneously, but it is not impossible.

Watch the entire event below:



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This post was written by JaQuia White ‘22, an SMU Tower Center Intern. She is majoring in Corporate Communication and Public Affairs with a focus in Public Affairs and Political Communication and a Women and Gender Studies minor. She is on the SMU Women’s Basketball team and is the President of the Black Student-Athlete Committee. She is also the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion chair for the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee.