POLSC221 Study Guide

Unit 3: Democratic States and Democratization

3a. Define democracy

  • How would you define suffrage, democracy, republic, majority rule, and parliament?
  • How would you define participatory democracy, constitutional monarchy, and liberalism?
  • What are some of the most notable characteristics of a democracy?
  • What fear did Plato and Alexis de Tocqueville have regarding democracy and the tyranny of the majority?
  • What are checks and balances?
  • What ideas did James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay include in The Federalist Papers to try to prevent a tyranny of the majority from developing in the United States?

As in all forms of government, many variations and types of democracy exist. Nevertheless, key components of democracy endure, such as some type of participation or involvement from their citizens.

James Madison (1731–1836), Alexander Hamilton (1755–1804), and John Jay (1745–1829) authored The Federalist Papers, a series of 85 articles published in New York newspapers under the pseudonym Publius to make the case for democracy in the United States and convince the people to ratify the U.S. Constitution. They shared the fear Plato and Alexis de Tocqueville had regarding the tyranny of the majority. They installed certain incentives and institutional checks and balances to prevent any one faction from creating a tyranny in the United States.

To review, see Democracy and Democracy and Majority Rule, Part I.

3b. Differentiate between representative (indirect) and participatory (direct) democracy

  • What are some examples of government institutions that offer direct (participatory), and representative democracy?
  • How do voters participate in democratic governments?
  • How do direct and indirect forms of democracy allow different voices to be heard?

Citizens experience different levels of involvement in their democratic governments. Most democratic governments only invite their citizens to vote or get involved in certain types of decision-making, for reasons of time and expediency. For example, in the United States, voters elect legislators to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate to represent them when they make laws. Voters also elect a president to execute the laws. Many democracies around the world have similar parliamentary systems.

To review, see Democracy and Forms of Government.


3c. Identify prominent characteristics of democratic states

  • What are some typical precursors and components of a democratic state?
  • What are some typical ideals for democracy?

Many of us have a general idea of what democracy entails, but no one country has incorporated every element at any one time. For example, in every democratic state, we can all point to past and present examples of practices or inequities that are hardly democratic, such as slavery, restrictions on voting rights for certain demographic groups, injustices based on economic class, and racial discrimination that restricts access to certain necessary goods and services. Every country has a history that includes examples of restrictions on free speech, a free press, and freedom of assembly.

Nevertheless, many of us push our governments to meet the ideals of a democratic state. For example, democratic ideals include free, open, transparent, and competitive elections; freedom of the press; the freedom of religion; the respect for the rule of law; the freedom to assemble and organize; the ability to hold elected and appointed public officials accountable; protections for personal property; protections for minority populations; and respect for human rights.

To review, see Conceptualizing and Assessing the State of Democracy in the World Today and Democracy and Development: The Role of the UN.


3d: Identify trends in democratization

  • What are some components of democratization?
  • What do the scholars in the resources in this unit have to say about the trends toward democratization?
  • What elements in society can discourage the creation of democratic institutions?

The trend toward democratization is not linear. Many states falter on their path toward democracy, backtrack, or simply get stuck in limbo. Creating legitimate democratic institutions can take decades, even centuries, to take root. For example, while several populations rushed to democratize during the recent so-called Arab Spring, democratic transitions have seemed too slow and falter in many areas. Russia, following the demise of the Soviet Union also seemed to be moving toward a more democratic government, but now appears to have settled on a more autocratic system. It is difficult to say whether these reversals present examples of temporary or permanent setbacks. Do you think these trends toward and against democratization are beneficial to the purpose of creating a civil society?

To review, see Conceptualizing and Assessing the State of Democracy in the World TodayDemocracy and Development: The Role of the UN, and The Arab Spring: Prospects for Democracy.


3e. List the six major explanations for democratization

  • What are ten catalysts that have prompted a transition from authoritarian, or dictatorial, to democratic forms of government?
  • Why did each of these catalysts promote democratic government?

The key causes for democratization are difficult to establish, but social scientists have an idea about some of the conditions that may lead to democratization. Do all of the reasons they provide mean democratization will necessarily result? Can you think of any states that may have fulfilled these conditions, but have not democratized?

To review, see Democratization.


3f. Assess if democracy improves economic outcomes

  • Do you see a causal relationship between democratization and economic growth?
  • Do you think a repressive society can foster economic growth for its entire population, not simply support a wealthy governing class?

Many politicians believe democratization will lead to higher levels of economic growth for most members of the population. They argue that a government that promotes an open democratic society, where people are able to meet freely with others to exchange ideas, will improve the economic well-being of their citizens. Economic progress is a benefit frequently touted as a reason for promoting democratic transition. When these promised benefits do not emerge, domestic friction and animosity toward the democratic process can emerge.

To review, see Democracy and Development: The Role of the UN. Vladimir Putin blamed liberal democracy for Russia's economic collapse in the 1990s. He promoted nationalistic fervor and used the economic downturn to justify returning Russia to autocratic rule in Nationalism and Legitimation for Authoritarianism: A Comparison of Nicholas I and Vladimir Putin.


Unit 3 Vocabulary

  • Alexander Hamilton
  • Alexis de Tocqueville
  • Autocracy
  • Checks and balances
  • Civil society
  • Constitutional monarchy
  • Democracy
  • Dictatorship
  • Direct democracy
  • James Madison
  • John Jay
  • Liberalism
  • Majority rule
  • Minimalist standard
  • Monarchy
  • Oligarchy
  • Parliament
  • Participatory democracy
  • Polyarchy
  • Representative democracy
  • Republic
  • Rule of law
  • Suffrage
  • The Federalist Papers
  • Totalitarianism
  • Tyranny of the majority