Introduction: Definitions & Conceptual Issues
Democracy, as scholar Arend Lijphart notes, "is a concept that virtually defies definition."1 It is a type of political regime; however, clarity around delimiting it from other forms is hampered by significant disagreement. For instance, "to be considered democratic, a country must choose its leaders through fair and competitive elections, ensure basic civil liberties, and respect the rule of law."2 However, is the presence of these institutions enough to define democracy? Many would argue that these tenets are necessary, but insufficient, parameters for democratic regimes.
Democracy versus polyarchy
The notion of democracy represents an ideal. As such, many scholars employ Dahls alternative notion of polyarchies, which "may be thought of as relatively (but incompletely) democratized regimes or, to put it in another way, polyarchies are regimes that have been substantially popularized and liberalized, that is, highly inclusive and extensively open to public contestation."6 On this basis, polyarchies strive toward the same principles as democracies and have seven attributes that mirror those of democracy, including:
A spectrum of regimesThe distinction between the ideal of democracy and the reality is one that emerges often in discussions of the extent to which democracy can be described as consolidated. 'Democratic consolidation' itself is a somewhat contested term. Many use the 'only game in town theory' as a litmus test for democratic consolidation, wherein "no significant political group seriously attempts to overthrow the democratic regime or to promote domestic or international violence in order to secede from the state."10 Others utilize the 'two turnover rule,' wherein power has successfully changed hands twice via a free and fair electoral process.11
This indicates that in practice, regimes are often seen as existing on a spectrum between democracy and what is generically termed 'authoritarianism.'12 Other terms used to imply this end of the continuum include 'hierarchical,' 'monocratic,' 'absolutist,' 'autocratic,' 'despotic,' 'hegemonic' (preferred by Dahl), and 'totalitarian.'13 An authoritarian regime may be defined as "a political system with limited, non-responsible political pluralism; without an elaborated and guiding ideology, but with distinctive mentalities; without either extensive or intense political mobilisation, except at some points in their development, and in which a leader, or occasionally, a small group, exercise power from within formally ill-defined, but actually quite predictable limits."14
Along this scale, a number of typologies and terms have been offered to describe those that fall between authoritarian and democratic systems, including 'semi-consolidated democracies,' 'semi-consolidated authoritarian regimes,' 'partial democracies,' 'electoral democracies,' 'illiberal democracies,' 'defective democracies,' 'competitive authoritarianisms,' 'semi-authoritarianisms,' and 'electoral authoritarianisms.'15 Collectively, these may be called hybrid regimes16 "a mix of varying degrees of authoritarian and democratic systems (though there is some argument as to whether these regimes are hybrids or transitioning democracies).17
To delimit points within this range, a four-fold typology may be used, with cognizance that some variation exists between scholars on these conceptions: authoritarianism, electoral democracy, liberal democracy, and advanced democracy. In this view, whereas an electoral democracy "manages to hold (more or less) inclusive, clean, and competitive elections but fails to uphold the political and civil freedoms essential for liberal democracy,"18 a liberal democracy "extends freedom, fairness, transparency, accountability, and the rule of law from the electoral process into all other major aspects of governance and interest articulation, competition, and representation."19 Finally, advanced democracies "presumptively possess some positive traits over and above the minimal defining criteria of liberal democracy, and therefore rank higher in terms of democratic quality than many new democracies."20 This last classification inherently offers normative merit to western democracies, but is often used in writings on democracy.21 Go to Electoral Processes and Political Parties
22 An important point on such governance is that it is "as much about the process and political legitimacy as it is about institutions, structures and rules."23
The notion of democratic governance is tied into concepts of sovereignty, as well. Scholars Juan Linz and Alfred Stepan have observed, "Democracy is a form of governance in which the rights of citizens are guaranteed and protected. To protect the rights of its citizens and to deliver other basic services that citizens demand, a democratic government needs to be able to exercise effectively its claim to a monopoly of the legitimate use of force in its territory. . . . A modern democracy, therefore, needs the effective capacity to command, to regulate, and to extract tax revenues. For this, it needs a functioning state with a bureaucracy considered usable by the new democratic government."24 This is an important point in the peacebuilding context as "war-shattered states typically lack even the most rudimentary governmental institutions."25
Democratization/democratic transition processes
Democratization, or democratic transition, is a somewhat challenging concept to pinpoint because, in some senses, it imagines a start and end point for processes of democratic consolidation. Broadly speaking, it may be understood as the process by which a country adopts a democratic regime.26 In this regard, it has been defined as "the way democratic norms, institutions and practices evolve and are disseminated both within and across national and cultural boundaries."27 Yet, it assesses not only how but also the extent to which these institutions and processes move and are adopted. That is, democratization delimits between mature democracies and states that are in the process of democratizing.28
Democracy and its relationship to the economy and civil societyBecause of the flexibility and at times vague nature of definitions of democracy, some contestation has emerged concerning democracy's relationship to the economy and to civil society. Chip Hauss notes, "Some observers also claim that a democracy has to have a capitalist economy and a strong civil-society and civic culture, although not all political scientists would include these two criteria."32 For instance, while some insist on the association of capitalism with democracy, others, such as Juan Linz and Alfred Stepan, contend that there has never been, and almost certainly will never be, a modern consolidated democracy with a pure market economy. Modern consolidated democracies require a set of sociopolitically crafted and accepted norms, institutions, and regulations, "what we call economic society," that mediates between the state and the market.33
In the literature on democratization, the assumption that civil society promotion and democratic viability go hand in hand is also debated, even though the existence of a lively civil society is mentioned as an important factor by leading scholars in the field, including Linz and Stepan, as well as ODonnell. This correlation is based on the idea that civil society is key to the establishment and maintenance of competent citizen activity, which is a necessary component of democratic sustainability. These arguments are often premised on Alexis de Tocqueville, who in Democracy in America posits that civic engagement in associations serves as a school of democracy and renders citizens capable of checking the abuse of authority. Thus, civic virtues such as tolerance, acceptance, honesty, and trust are really integrated into the character of civic individuals through associations.
Civic engagement in associations is thought to build confidence in democratic mechanisms, or what scholar Robert Putnam refers to as social capital. For Putnam, democracy may not be defined by associational activity, but such activity is what makes democracy work.34 Parts of the earliest discussions around this approach are now considered by many to be naïve, all but suggesting that any expansion of civic engagement was good for democracy. Anyone who has explored the rapid expansion of political involvement in such countries as the former Yugoslavia or Rwanda knows that any simplistic link between participation and democracy "let alone conflict resolution" is absurd.35 Critics of Putnam's original work even question whether the theory of social capital is sufficient to indicate that building civic associations will lead to improved governance and democracy. These arguments are based on some significant methodological critiques of Putnam's work, which note the inherent historical selectivity and endogeneity of his argument.36 Other scholars have preferred to use the notion of civil culture (or political culture, in reference to the values and attitudes that emerge with, and work to sustain, participatory democratic institutions).37
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GovernanceGenerally speaking, governance is broadly agreed upon to connote the formation and stewardship of the rules that regulate the public realm "the space where state as well as economic and societal actors interact to make decisions." Governance is a voluntarist activity that helps define the terms and conditions, under which policies are made and implemented.38 It should be observed that governance is at times also conceived as a broader system that enables and coordinates public policy.
Governance includes the role of government, which, as an entity, comprises officials typically appointed or elected to the legislature or the executive. Government, therefore, should be noted as a component of, but not synonymous with, governance. Rather, governance is the space in which these actors operate. Finally, most scholars include in their approach of governance formal as well as informal rules that apply to how issues emerge in the public and are handled by the political system.39
Go to Definition of governance: Administration, government, and governance
Good governanceThe notion of good governance came into use when, in the mid-1980s, the World Bank studied the conditions of success and failure of structural adjustment programs. During this period, international support was conditioned upon good governance, related to the functioning of state structures, and to states role in the market and relationship to civil society. The notion of good governance was progressively expanded and is now used by all donors, which generally rely on the following normative indicators articulated by the World Bank: 40
As a concept, scholars have defined local governance as the set of formal and informal rules, structures and processes defining the measures with which individuals and organizations can exercise power over the decisions by other stakeholders capable of affecting their welfare at the local levels.42 Yet, nuanced variations exist in such conceptions, and the normative perspectives on the good and bad functioning of governance have also entered into the defining of local governance.