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Waves of democracy often get reversed, Lipset reminds social scientists
STANFORD -- Don't count on all the world's new democracies lasting, says Seymour Martin Lipset, senior fellow of the Hoover Institution, in a speech prepared for delivery Saturday, Aug. 14, to 4,000 sociologists meeting in Miami Beach.
Lipset, the only person to have been elected president of both the American Sociological Association (in 1992) and the American Political Science Association (in 1981), will review what researchers have learned about the factors that promote democracy.
"Cultural factors appear even more important than economic ones," he concludes, in his presidential address for the 88th annual meeting of the American Sociological Association at the Fontainebleau Hilton. The theme of this year's conference is "Transition to Democracy."
Some of the key factors that Lipset says have promoted democracy in the past are capitalism, economic growth, a moderate opposition, British influences and Protestantism. The scholarly literature on democracy, however, contains at least 27 factors or variables, he said, and experts in this field are somewhat like doctors who have studied the probability statistics of a disease.
"The statistics based on thousands of individuals cannot tell the physician what to do about a given case," Lipset said.
The literature, however, suggests that "the requisite cultural changes are still not strong enough in many new democracies to justify a conclusion that the 'third wave' [of democracy] will not be reversed," he wrote in his prepared remarks..
Research results "suggest the need for considerable caution about the long-term prospects for stable democracy in many of the new systems, given their low level of legitimacy," wrote Lipset, who is author of 21 books, a professor emeritus of Stanford and on the faculty of George Mason University, as well as a fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution.
Democratic reversals common
The first 20th-century wave of democracy occurred after World War I and the second after World War II, he said. The third wave began in the mid-'70s, Lipset said, in Spain, Portugal and Greece. It continued throughout Latin America, in some Asian countries and finally in Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union and some of sub-Saharan Africa.
"Not long ago, the overwhelming majority of the members of the United Nations had authoritarian systems," Lipset said. "As of 1993, over half - 99 out of 186 countries - have competitive elections and various guarantees of political and individual rights, over twice the number two decades earlier in 1970."
Yet "attempts to move from authoritarianism to democracy have failed more often than not after most revolutions," he said. Examples include France in 1789, Russia in 1917, most new nations in Latin America in the 19th century, and countries in Africa and Asia after World War II.
Juan Linz of Yale and Samuel Huntington of Harvard both have noted, Lipset said, that "the two previous waves of democratization were followed by 'reverse waves,'" - the revival of authoritarianism. Their work shows that only four of 17 countries that adopted democratic institutions from 1915 to 1931 retained them through the 1930s, and one- third of 32 "working democracies" in 1958 had authoritarian governments by the mid-1970s.
Economic and cultural factors
The rise of democracy has been associated with capitalist economies partly because they tend to strengthen the working class, which then seeks political power, he said, quoting John Stephens of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.
However, there also have been many cases of market economies that aren't democratic.
"That is, capitalism has been a necessary, but not a sufficient, condition," Lipset said.
Economic success or growth also has been an important precondition, he said. This is partly because "corruption [or] sociological nepotism - one of the major problems of governance - is inherent in systems built on poverty." Even in the democracies that are now wealthy countries, Lipset said, it took a long time to institutionalize the awarding of government contracts, jobs and investment capital on the basis of "impersonal meritocratic standards."
A nation's historical political culture is important also, he said, because institutionalizing democracy involves beliefs. Members of a civil society must develop tolerance for those who disagree with them, and political winners must allow losers to continue to compete for power.
"Almost all the heads of new democracies, from John Adams and Thomas Jefferson to Indira Gandhi . . . attempted to repress their opponents," Lipset said.
Democratic successes, he said, "have reflected the varying strengths of minority political groups and lucky constellations, as much or more than commitments by new officeholders."
A recent statistical analysis published by Lipset and two Stanford graduate students in sociology, Kyoung-Ryung Seong and John Charles Torres, found that "having been a British colony shows a higher relationship" to democracy than any other variable studied.
"Many former British colonies - such as those in North America before the revolution, or India and Nigeria in more recent times - had elections, parties and the rule of law before they became independent. The Spanish, Portuguese, French, Dutch, Belgian and former Soviet-controlled countries were different. They did not allow for the gradual incorporation of 'out groups' into the polity."
Role of religion
Protestant religious traditions are more associated with democracy than Catholicism, Orthodox Christianity, Islam or Confucianism, he said.
"Catholic countries, however, have contributed significantly to the third wave of the 1970s and 1980s," Lipset said. He attributes this partly to efforts by the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy to "delegitimize so- called ultra-rightist or clerical fascism" after the defeat of fascism in Europe, and partly to the postwar economic growth of such predominantly Catholic societies as Italy, Spain, Brazil, Quebec in Canada, and Chile.
Poland, however, is "now troubled by conflicts flowing from the Church's efforts to affect politics in the East, while it has modified and relaxed its policies in Western Europe and most of the Americas," he said.
Almost all Moslem states remain authoritarian, said Lipset, who quotes scholars who believe that this is because religion and politics are not separate spheres in most Moslem regions. Orthodox Christianity also is "hegemonic" in Russia and Belarus, he said, and Ukraine is "dominated by" the Catholic and Orthodox churches.
"Led by the Orthodox Serbians but helped by Catholic Croats and Bosnian Moslems, the former Yugoslavia is being torn apart along ethnic and religious lines with no peaceful, much less democratic, end in sight," Lipset said. "We would be fooling ourselves if we ignore the continued dysfunctional impact of diverse cultural values and the institutions linked to them."
Only one Confucian country, "the most diluted one, Japan," has substantial experience with democratic government, he said. However, South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan conducted national elections in 1992, which, he said, reflects the ways that economic growth can undermine autocracy.
China, however, has a long way to go before its citizens could sustain a democracy, concluded two scholars who recently analyzed public opinion polls there.
Sources of legitimacy
Support for democratic institutions builds slowly, he said, because it can take a while for any new government to gain legitimacy. The Constitution is now the source of legitimacy in the United States, but there were many secessionist movements before the Civil War. "Basically, it took the Civil War and subsequent long-term economic growth to legitimate the American constitutional regime," Lipset said.
New authoritarian regimes are generally less stable than new democratic ones, Lipset said, but both can break down in a crisis.
A new dictator needs police and military force to maintain control. In a democracy, "an opposition is necessary to act as a communication mechanism, calling problems to the attention of the society and government," he said.
In the West, civic organizations - such as unions, veterans' organizations and ethnic and religious groups - form the basis for political parties. Parties that can stay alive after defeats at the polls enable the "citizenry to see the polity including all elements, not simply those in power."
Retaining vestiges of a traditional monarchy has helped some transitional democracies establish legitimacy, Lipset said. MacArthur helped democracy get a foothold in Japan, for example, by insisting the imposed changes would operate under the aegis of the emperor.
In contrast, "some Latin American and post-communist new democracies have acquired a kind of negative legitimacy," he said, "an inoculation against authoritarianism in reaction to the viciousness of the previous dictatorial regimes."
Democratic stability often also depends upon mechanisms for protecting minorities from infringement of their rights by majorities, Lipset said. Federalism sometimes works but not always. Cyprus and Lebanon failed when they proposed constitutions that gave veto power to minorities,. South Africa is considering a comparable arrangement, he said, but is not likely to go through with it.
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