Getting to Democracy: Plenary Session II

A Research Perspective

Terry Karl

The questions that are on the table all over the world right now that interest us can be put quite simply: will the recent demise of authoritarian rule around the world, combined with certain efforts at liberalization that are also occurring, lead to democracies that are durable? In other words, will these new experiments last? Second, in those cases where we cannot say, according to some basic definition, that a full-blown democracy exists, such as Mexico and certain parts of Eastern Europe, will those liberalizations continue into some real form of democratization? The third question is will previously consolidated democracies be able to extend the principles of political citizenship and political equality into the economic and social realms in their societies and be able to perpetuate themselves? I a m putting forward several propositions that sum up what we do and do not know about democratic transitions.

  1. What social scientists once thought were preconditions for democracy are no longer regarded by many as preconditions and may instead be outcomes of democracy.

  2. The “rules of the game” in democratic transitions may be very different from the rules that operate during periods of “normal politics.”

  3. There are many different ways of getting to democracy. Historically, some ways have been more successful than others, but this does not mean that ways that have been least successful in the past are ruled out for the future. In fact, they may become some of the more likely modes of transition in the future.

  4. The way you get to democracy, the “mode of transition,” has a great deal to say about what type of democracy will or will not evolve in the future. It has a great deal to say about whether democracies will endure or collapse. The old vision--that everything good comes along with democracy, including economic development, peace, all kinds of civil society--is probably not the case. Modes of transition are characterized by some very real and often painful trade-offs.



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THE TRANSITION TO DEMOCRACY: Proceedings of a Workshop Getting to Democracy: Plenary Session II A Research Perspective Terry Karl The questions that are on the table all over the world right now that interest us can be put quite simply: will the recent demise of authoritarian rule around the world, combined with certain efforts at liberalization that are also occurring, lead to democracies that are durable? In other words, will these new experiments last? Second, in those cases where we cannot say, according to some basic definition, that a full-blown democracy exists, such as Mexico and certain parts of Eastern Europe, will those liberalizations continue into some real form of democratization? The third question is will previously consolidated democracies be able to extend the principles of political citizenship and political equality into the economic and social realms in their societies and be able to perpetuate themselves? I a m putting forward several propositions that sum up what we do and do not know about democratic transitions. What social scientists once thought were preconditions for democracy are no longer regarded by many as preconditions and may instead be outcomes of democracy. The “rules of the game” in democratic transitions may be very different from the rules that operate during periods of “normal politics.” There are many different ways of getting to democracy. Historically, some ways have been more successful than others, but this does not mean that ways that have been least successful in the past are ruled out for the future. In fact, they may become some of the more likely modes of transition in the future. The way you get to democracy, the “mode of transition,” has a great deal to say about what type of democracy will or will not evolve in the future. It has a great deal to say about whether democracies will endure or collapse. The old vision--that everything good comes along with democracy, including economic development, peace, all kinds of civil society--is probably not the case. Modes of transition are characterized by some very real and often painful trade-offs.

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THE TRANSITION TO DEMOCRACY: Proceedings of a Workshop The role of external actors in the overwhelming number of democratizations is in fact quite limited. The centrality of local actors and circumstances emerges very clearly from comparing democratizations. Having put forth these propositions, let me elaborate on each of them. The first issue concerns preconditions. As economists, political scientists, and social scientists, we have put forward a number of preconditions, one of which is that a certain amount of wealth is necessary for democracy. One study of Central America concluded that democracy will not occur until everyone has a per capita income of approximately $250 in 1970 dollars. A country must reach that threshold before it can have political democracy. A whole school evolved that said “These are the economic conditions/preconditions that you need . . . .” These conditions included literacy, urbanization, education at different levels, and they came as a package. A second precondition was a certain type of political culture characterized by high degrees of trust, tolerance, civil behavior, and so forth. If countries had those kinds of cultures, they would be more likely to develop democracies than if they did not. A third set of preconditions was based on the historical sequencing of events, on particular historical conditions. In Barrington Moore 's version, for example, the argument was that without a landed aristocracy in decline, democracy would not develop. Of course, there are all sorts of other social and historical conditions and sequences that have been put forward as preconditions of democracy. A fourth, and final set--although there are many more examples--was that external influences matter enormously in the process of democratization. There are two different schools of thought on this. One group, “ dependency” theorists, would say that external influences were in fact not conducive to democratization. The more that developing countries became linked to the international economy, the more dependent they became on the system of international trade and other transnational and international systems, then the more likely that nation would be pushed toward military rule. These beliefs were very strong, particularly in the late 1960s and 1970s. Another school said, on the contrary, that it was not increased integration into the international system that led to authoritarianism. They put forth a different interpretation that is strongly associated with Samuel Huntington. They argued that external influences were important and most important was the role of the United States. If the United States was strong, political democracies would emerge around the world, but if the United States was weak, you would be less likely to find this taking place. One of the things that we know now, after watching this enormous

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THE TRANSITION TO DEMOCRACY: Proceedings of a Workshop wave of recent democratizations, is that virtually every one of these propositions has been disputed by the evidence from some country. In other words, they just do not hold up. The hypothetical links between wealth and democracy, for example, cannot account for the fact that transitions to political democracy occurred in countries undergoing very severe economic crises, whose per capita incomes were dropping rather than rising. Economic crisis itself, as we heard this morning, may in fact be one of the pushes toward political democracy; therefore the link between wealth and democracy is not as clear as it was believed to be. The arguments about political culture make it difficult to understand why nations with cultures that were hierarchical and Catholic--the same cultures we used to explain the rise of authoritarian rule, such as Brazil and Argentina, for example--now tend to be producing political democracies. The cultures and cultural values are the same, but the countries have switched from one form of rule to another. How can cultures that looked authoritarian and hierarchical suddenly become “civic?” The preconditions for democratic outcomes based on international influences have not held up very well either. Highly dependent countries are sometimes democratic and sometimes authoritarian. The pattern of the emergence of democracy in Latin America, in particular, raises very real questions about the relationship between a strong United States and political democracies. In the Latin American context, those countries in the Southern Cone, where United States influence has been weakest, have moved much further ahead in the democratization process than the countries of Central America and the Caribbean, where the United States is much stronger. That particular relationship is trickier than many people initially thought. One precondition has held up relatively well, and I want to highlight it because it has a great deal to say for transitions in agrarian societies. That is Barrington Moore's notion that it is very difficult to get political democracies in countries where the landed class, which is generally the most recalcitrant of interests in a society, has the dominant economic role. This is not just a landed class--oligarchs, landlords, plantation owners, and so on--but also one that uses what we call “labor repressive forms of government.” In such countries, it is very difficult to build sustained democracies. The problem is obvious in places like Guatemala and El Salvador today, where those types of agrarian relationships are still very much in play. All these problems with preconditions suggest that we need to rethink the entire issue of what is necessary to start a process of democratization. They suggest two arguments that many of us are now putting forward. First, there may be no single necessary condition, and there is certainly no single sufficient condition for producing democracy. Second, what we once

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THE TRANSITION TO DEMOCRACY: Proceedings of a Workshop considered preconditions for democracy--a certain level of wealth, certain kinds of economic growth, civic cultures, and so forth--may be the products of a long-running democracy. Long-running democracies, through their political institutions, can build over time habits of trust, habits of tolerance, notions of compromise, and political behaviors that are different from the behaviors that led to the construction of the democracy in the first place. In fact, in my study with Philippe Schmitter, it seems that democracies arise not from these forms of trust and tolerance, but specifically from very uncivic behavior, such as warfare and out of internal social conflicts. Even though many transitions happened relatively peacefully, there was an enormous amount of conflict involved in many of them. Some of these democracies, such as Costa Rica, are the products of warfare. Costa Rica had a civil war in 1948 in which one side defeated the other militarily, and that war was the basis of the kind of democracy that exists there today. If, indeed, there are no preconditions, and what we once thought of as preconditions are outcomes, the result is that many of us are turning away from large, structural arguments about how to get to democracy and beginning to look at specific calculations, processes, and patterns that are involved in moving from authoritarian rule to democratic rule. Specifically, we are beginning to realize that there are a number of ways to get there, and many of these ways have to do with the kinds of strategic interaction that happen between political actors, military actors, and economic actors, on the left, on the right, and in the center. We are now spending a lot of time on those strategic interactions. By use of the term “strategic interactions ” I want to underline something that Philippe Schmitter stated in his presentation: transitions are usually second-best options, they are not what people plan. A group with another agenda, that wants something else--to restore authoritarian rule, for example, or to protect their property, or to have a revolution--realizes in the process that it lacks the strength to impose that vision on the whole society. So, it fails back and accepts a game, if I may put it that way, in which it can win some of the time, but in which losing does not guarantee that it will lose all of the time. If you do not win in the first round, you have a chance to come back and try again and push your vision in another round. Democracy is a second-best option; it happens on the installment plan, which means that there is no grand design. Instead you make your way as you go. The key to that process of building democracy is the notion of stalemate. In other words, no one group is strong enough to impose its vision and will on the society as a whole. There is stalemate, which means you must compromise about the ultimate outcome, and that compromise is the basis of democratization. I am now going to talk about why transitions are a time of struggle

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THE TRANSITION TO DEMOCRACY: Proceedings of a Workshop and uncertainty. What is important here is that democratic transitions are characterized by enormous amounts of uncertainty. All the rules of the game are in flux. Property rights, the role of the military, the role of the political opposition, who will be the political leaders, the existence of labor unions with the right to organize, the existence of peasant organizations are all suddenly up for grabs. We do not know what is going to happen. The absence of predicable rules of the game is key in a transition. Indeed, the dynamics of a transition, what marks it as such, is bargaining between competing actors to begin slowly to establish a new pattern of rules of the game: who gets in; who gets out; which resources will be allowed to be brought into the political process, and which will not be allowed; what happens to winners and losers in round one, and whether the losers will be guaranteed some way to come back later. These decisions, made incrementally in bargaining processes along the way, often in the heat of the moment, will have enormous consequences later for what type of democracy is built. Another very important point is that these bargains and rules are not made in a vacuum. Even though everything is in a sense up for grabs, certain groups have more power and resources than other groups because of their historical position. Some may be wealthier or have more political support. Groups may have all kinds of resources to bring to bear; you cannot begin with a clean slate. These bargains take place in institutional spaces and settings that are inherited from the past. They are particularly influenced by the nature of the authoritarian regime that was in place before the transition. This means that not all potential bargains can be struck. There are certain things that will not be up for grabs, no matter what. Let me give you some examples of how this political space is defined, and how it is different in the areas of the world that I am most familiar with: Latin America and Eastern and Southern Europe. The overriding problem that constrains all Latin American transitions to democracy is the nature of civil/military relations in South America. The big problem, the sword of Damocles, that hangs over the Latin American transitions is whether or not the armed forces will tolerate a return to democracy, particularly one that seeks to limit the privileges and prerogatives of the military. That is the question in Latin America. In Eastern Europe, the overriding problem is quite different. It comes instead from the nature of state/civil society relations. Will the state and party apparatus permit elected governments to undermine their monopoly on administrative roles and structures? Will they undermine the possibility of transferring substantial productive resources to private citizens? It is a very different political space, a very different problem. In Eastern Europe it is often referred to as the nomenklatura problem; in Latin

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THE TRANSITION TO DEMOCRACY: Proceedings of a Workshop America we often call it the “gorilla” problem: what to do with the armed forces. In Southern Europe, the cases lie in between; transitions face different problems. In Greece and Turkey, for example, the problem was a Latin-America-like fear of what the military would do. In Spain, Franco had already asserted civilian control over the military. This did not mean that the military posed no threat to the democratic transition; the threat did indeed come from certain groups inside the military. But the military as an institution had already been subordinated to civilian rule. Economic contexts are also extremely different among these regions. In Latin America, the overriding issue again is the enormous social and economic inequalities under which democratization takes place and within which democracy has to operate. In Eastern Europe, social and economic inequalities are much less harsh. There the issue is how to privatize, how to get to some of the growth issues that Latin America has been dealing with for a longer period of time. Now let me turn to a discussion of different modes of transition, which can be thought of as lying along two different axes. On the horizontal axis is a continuum from force to compromise. By force, I mean transitions that come from above, in which some authoritarian actor or actors already in power tries to design the rules of the game, and say, “This is the way it will be, and if you don't like it, we have force behind us to make sure it will be that way.” Other transitions are much more negotiated, not set up unilaterally. On the vertical axis is a continuum between transitions largely designed by elites at the top and transitions more deeply and heavily influenced by the masses. My intent was to design four different modes of transition to democracy (see Figure 1) and to say that each of these modes has a particular set of problems accompanying it that will tell us a great deal about what we should expect down the road. I am now going to talk about each one of those modes and state some problems associated with each. Practitioners can think about whether the cases they are particularly interested in actually fit this model and whether it is a helpful way of conceiving different kinds of transitions. My first point is that some transitions cannot be neatly located in this space. Poland, for instance, started at the box labeled “reform.” With the rise of Solidarity, they moved toward the “pact” box in 1981, then into “imposition” when the military regime said, “We don't like these rules,” and back to “pact” in 1989 when the military regime bargained with Solidarity for restricted elections, and finally once again back to “reform” at the bottom when those elections produced a more reformist regime. The most frequent modes of transition in the past have been some sort of transition from above, either elite transitions or bargains among contending elites. In these transition from above, the “pacted ” transitions

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THE TRANSITION TO DEMOCRACY: Proceedings of a Workshop FIGURE 1 Modes of transition SOURCE: Karl, T. (1990) Dilemmas of Democratization Comparative Politics 23:1-2. have beneath them not just small deals struck by politicians, but big, foundational pacts. In most cases, these pacts revolve around four types of agreements. The first is a military/civilian pact, which is the bargain struck between the military and civilians regarding the prerogatives of the military and how the military will be treated after democracy. Amnesty is

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THE TRANSITION TO DEMOCRACY: Proceedings of a Workshop a very important issue in that bargain. What happens to military officers who have committed crimes? A second extremely important bargain is one among politicians on what the rules of the game will be. Will the game be presidential? Parliamentary? Majority rule or some sort of proportional representation? What will the rules of party interaction be? If one party is clearly dominant, will it give up a little piece of the game to a lesser party, as happened in Venezuela? A third set of bargains is socio-economic. This concerns the rules of property. Will you confiscate or not? If you are confiscating, will you give back? What are the relationships between capitalists and labor unions, between private sector associations and labor unions, and so on. Understanding the socioeconomic component of the transition to democracy is absolutely essential. Finally, there are often religious or ethnic pacts that concern how to deal with religious and ethnic cleavages in society. The combination of these four types of bargains, all interacting, all set simultaneously or at some point along the way, and all feeding back on each other in different ways, are the kinds of bargains that have historically led to durable democracies. Let me stress that elections, as important as they are for transitions to democracy, are not the way the bargains are struck. The elections themselves cannot strike a bargain; out of the bargains comes the decision to have an election. When elections are finally held, certain rules of the game have already been decided outside the electoral arena. The notion that you can simply have elections and resolve the conflict is false; it will not work. What happens along the way is that mechanisms are needed to reduce the uncertainty that characterizes the transitions in the first place. Because elections are so inherently uncertain, you need something in these transitions that guarantees some certainty outside the electoral process. This in turn means that there is something inherently undemocratic about these pacts, in that they remove certain issues from the electoral arena. In Columbia, for example, a political deal was struck at the end of the 1950s to decide who would be president, who would have political office over an 18-year period. Even if they had elections, it was already decided outside the electoral arena who would be the head of the country. In Venezuela, the political parties signed an accord in which all the political parties fighting for office agreed to implement the same kind of economic programs. Contestation was thus mediated prior to the election since they had all agreed to essentially the same economic program. This reduced the uncertainty of the transition itself, by providing certain guarantees so that the military and economic elite, who may not have wanted democracy in the first place, had enough protection for their vital interests to remove the threat of attempts to undo the democratic process itself.

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THE TRANSITION TO DEMOCRACY: Proceedings of a Workshop The “imposition” model has an inherent problem. While it is often the smoothest transition, strangely enough successful authoritarian rule may be the hardest to transform. When there has not been a need to bargain, the rules of the game are set up in such a way that the continuing ability of political institutions to transform themselves is very circumscribed. This means that transitions from above, including, to a lesser extent, “pacted” transitions, share a fundamental dilemma. The very decisions that are made to guarantee having the transition in the first place may make it extremely difficult to deal with the equity issue, with questions of socioeconomic justice, and so on. Trying to bring everyone along so that no one will undo the process and giving sufficient guarantees that vital interests are respected may prevent you from continuing to transform the economic and political rules of the game in a way that creates a more open and iust society for everyone. If that is so, and you get what I call the “freezing” of the democratic process, those democracies will be the weakest, the least durable, and the ones that increasingly are less capable of transforming themselves in the direction of greater equity. These are likely to be cases that we will be looking at as democratic breakdowns in the future. I now present an hypothesis: democracies that are the least likely to survive tend to be those in which no clear strategy of transition is apparent at any given time. By that, I mean cases characterized by some mix of imposition, pact, or mass action with no clear mode dominating at any one time. I do not mean movement from one mode to another, as I talked about earlier in the case of Poland. Finally, something about the bottom of the graph. In the past, at least in Latin America, the “reform” component of these modes of transition has been least likely to succeed. In the history of Latin America, reformist governments have been the most fragile and have frequently been overthrown, usually by their militaries. This is in the past, in the following sense: an important component of the failed “reform ” cases Philippe Schmitter and I investigated in Latin America was the identification of mass movements with communism, with Soviet-inspired actions. The winding down of the Cold War means that it will be more difficult to make an automatic assumption that mass movements per se are linked to external actors that have important security implications for the United States. Cases like Guatemala in 1954, or Chile in 1970 and 1973, may or may not be seen as desirable types of transitions, but the fact remains that there is a very important link between those cases and the Cold War. This link may be increasingly drawn into question, and that may create more space for that reformist model in the future. Let me conclude with some implications. First, what does all this mean for what external actors can or cannot do? I want to read the

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THE TRANSITION TO DEMOCRACY: Proceedings of a Workshop conclusion of a book that is soon to be published entitled, The United States and Latin American Democracy: Lessons from History, that looks at transitions to democracy and U.S. efforts to export democracy from the 1920s to the present. The final chapter, written by Abraham Lowenthal, concludes: Recurrent efforts by the government of the United States to promote democracy in Latin America have rarely been successful, and then only in a narrow range of circumstances. From the turn of the century until the 1980s, the overall impact of U.S. policy on Latin America 's ability to achieve democratic politics was usually negligible, often counterproductive, and only occasionally positive. Although it is too soon to tell, this general conclusion may turn out to be true for the eighties and nineties as well. Despite Washington's current bipartisan enthusiasm for exporting democracy, Latin America 's experience to date suggests that expectations should be modest. Let me explain why I think this is probably true. First, my conclusion comes from our understanding of transitions. In order to establish a durable transition to democracy, the major local forces must be given sufficient room to maneuver. In other words, what we see more and more is that the self-organization of groups into intermediary units that Philippe Schmitter talked about earlier is very important in building a durable transition to democracy. They need to have their own room to maneuver; they need to act on their own behalf, often even counter to the desires and wishes of bigger powers. They need, in a sense, to be able to establish their credentials as authentic groups and not as clients somehow manipulated or directed by external actors. One important implication is what I call a “self-denying ordinance.” By this I mean that it is often very important to sit back and refrain from doing the kinds of things that you actually could do at the moment, in the sole interest of allowing the local groups to build certain kinds of authentic credentials on their own. That does not mean that external actors should do nothing, which is a pessimistic conclusion of this last implication. If you look at the figure, there are some guidelines about what can and cannot be done. What we think we know about democracies is that the ones that have the greatest capacity to endure, and the greatest capacity to transform themselves, will permit as much local expression as possible. That means that to the extent that modes of transition happen first, by compromise, and second, with as much mass participation as possible within legitimately organized intermediary organizations, durable transitions are more likely. Two very important questions for any attempt to help foster democratization are: (1) what can external actors do to encourage compromise over force and (2) what can external actors do to encourage the participation of groups that have not been previously incorporated into the political system under authoritarian rule?

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THE TRANSITION TO DEMOCRACY: Proceedings of a Workshop Discussion Karl emphasized that she opposed both overly simplistic “necessary preconditions” approaches to understanding transitions and the equally fallacious strategy of assuming “all is choice” in periods of transition. For example, she uses the term “structured contingency” to describe a bargaining situation in which different actors bring very different resources and strengths to the table. In Karl's view, a successful pact is predicated on the idea that not all issues are up for grabs in the bargaining process. The first bargain of most democracies is a “pact to make pacts,” which is in essence an agreement to remove certain issues from the arena of debate. Karl disagreed strongly, however, with a suggestion that democracy is primarily a “procedural” issue. While the initial pact may be largely procedural (a recognition that different actors will bargain over certain rules), later pacts are frequently substantive, with enormous consequences for the shape later taken by the new democracy. Examples of such substantive pacts are agreements on property rights or labor relations. The key idea is that the mode of transition to democracy provides very important information on the type of democracy likely to result. She presented a number of hypotheses about the relationship between the initial bargains and the forms of democracy that emerge later: “Imposed” transitions would likely result in what she termed “conservative democracies” in which the prerogatives of the dominant power are so pervasive that the emerging democracy's ability to continue transforming society and provide increasingly equal citizenship rights is severely circumscribed. “Pacted” transitions, resulting from bargains struck among a number of actors and organizations, would be more likely to result in a “corporatist ” form of democracy. Bargains involving a significant “mass actor” component would be more likely to result in a “competitive democracy” operating under majoritarian rules. Each type of bargain has implications for the durability of the democracy and its ability to cope with internal social problems. A number of participants questioned whether Karl's model had implicit preconditions for democracy. For instance, questioners suggested the necessity of (1) intermediary groups with sufficient strength to discipline their followers, and (2) at least one strong competing group with whom it was possible to strike a compromise or reach a “stalemate.” Using Venezuela as an example, Karl responded that at the time of transition the country had neither a well-organized collection of intermediary groups nor

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THE TRANSITION TO DEMOCRACY: Proceedings of a Workshop a strong competing opposition. She argued that the process of deal-making enabled organizations to bargain without a strong constituency, building their own followings simultaneously. One participant suggested that Spain also supported Karl's point; at the time of the Moncloa Agreement there were no real trade unions or viable business associations, allowing political parties to sign the agreement. The eventual outcome of the pact was the emergence of a very vibrant civil society in Spain, including some of the most influential trade unions in Europe. Karl also disagreed that successful transition pacts necessarily required at least one strong competing group. Again citing the Venezuelan example, she commented that a powerful group there had shown wisdom and political insight by not fully utilizing its powers, actually giving up control over portions of the labor unions and ministries to competing political parties. Such far-sighted behavior helped a successful transition by giving outside groups a stake in the system, preventing disillusionment.