[Politics] Democratization Theories
Scholars have developed multiple explanations and frameworks trying to explain the process of democratization. One of the most notable theories is the modernization theory proposed by Seymour Martin Lipset, who believed there is a correlation between economic development and democracy. More specifically, as states become more economically developed, they also are more likely to become democratic. The process of democratization, in his theory, does not mean having more money would lead to democracy. Rather, the increase in wealth would cause social-economical changes through the formation of a new middle class in the society. A Higher level of urbanization and industrialization will also increase people’s political engagement as people are less reliance on agriculture and come to the cities. The high levels of education would also be necessary fertilizers to democracy as Lipset has pointed out. For instance, he mentioned, “Post-Nazi data from Germany indicate clearly that higher education is linked to the rejection of strongman and one-party government.”(Lipset, 1959) This theory indeed is true for many western countries. For example, many European countries such as United Kingdom, Norway, and the United States are all great examples.
However, over time, most scholars argued that this theory would not explain how many wealthy states had remain authoritarian today, including MENA states, China, and Singapore. Nor does it demonstrate why countries such as India, an independent democracy, have a population of 51.3% living below world poverty line. Thus, other more sophisticated methods and revisions to Lipset’s modernization theory arise, including Acemoglu and Robinson’s inverted-U relationship between income inequality and democratization, Carles Box’s focus on types of assets the leaders has, and the importance of linkage and leverage proposed by Levitsky and Way. One of the most interesting theories that focus more on economical than political factors is the inverted-U shaped relationship between Democracy and income inequality. According to Acemoglu and Robinson, when the society has a low-income inequality, citizens will not push for democracy. When income inequality is high, which means there is a wide gap between the earnings for different groups of people in the society, elites will be reluctant to promote any concession on democracy. Only as there is a moderate level of income inequality would democracy more likely to emerge.
Personally speaking, I would mostly agree with the logic of these theories’ arguments. Although Lipset’s modernization theory has been criticized widely in recently years, current events still demonstrate how economic development has an effect on politics. Many would argue that the success of Donald Trump as a presidential candidate is due to the dissatisfaction and rage of the White Middle Class. Likewise, income inequality might not lead to democratization but rather, I would argue, some type of regime change or revolution followed by the anger experienced by the public. For example, the uprising in Egypt and Arab Spring can be seen as a protest against income inequality. However, how successful was the uprising and the results remain a question.
Lipset’s modernization theory, amongst the earliest empirical studies in comparative politics, remains a significant component while discussing the democratic transition, this theory is challenging by his fellow researchers as time passes. Other methods, such as Acemoglu and Robinson’s argument on a certain amount of inequality is required for a democratic transition from authoritarian rule, give a more holistic and circumvent some of the difficulties faced by the modernization theory.