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  • Debate: Democratic ConsolidationIllusions and Conceptual Flaws
  • Guillermo O’Donnell (bio)

In their rejoinder, Richard Gunther, P. Nikiforos Diamandouros, and Hans-Jürgen Puhle (henceforth “the authors”) discuss several issues: those pertaining to my critique of their use of “democratic consolidation”; those related to my doubts about the idea of democratic consolidation more generally; and their own critique of the alternative criteria sketched in my essay. The first set of issues is most relevant to this exchange, although I will briefly discuss the others as well.

The authors define democratic consolidation as “the achievement of substantial attitudinal support and behavioral compliance with the new democratic institutions and rules of the game they establish.” 1 Since “full consolidation” is an ultimately unattainable “ideal type” (p. 5 and rejoinder), it suffices that “all politically significant groups” (p. 7) provide such support and compliance. When this is the case, a democracy is “sufficiently consolidated.” The authors locate the “dividing line” between “consolidated and unconsolidated democratic regimes” where “democratic regimes are sufficiently consolidated so as to survive and remain stable in the face of such serious challenges as major economic or international crises, or even serious outbreaks of terrorist violence” (p. 8, italics in original).

This approach has several flaws. It fails to distinguish between survival and stability as a definitional component of sufficient consolidation and as a consequence of the consolidation resulting from the attitudinal and behavioral acceptance of the regime (p. 3). It also fails to distinguish between democratic consolidation as a process and as a regime attribute achieved after “successful completion” of the former (p. 389). Lastly, if “all politically significant actors” accept a regime’s [End Page 160] “rules of the game,” it is not astounding news to assert that, other things being equal, this regime is consolidated—or likely to endure, or stable, or any equivalent idea. 2

The authors view consolidation as a several-stage process. It begins, and may overlap, with the transition from an authoritarian regime (pp. xii–xiii; we are not told how to distinguish processes pertaining to the one or the other). The democracy resulting from the transition may be simply unconsolidated, but it may also be “partially consolidated,” or “substantially consolidated”; or it may be consolidated at the national but not the regional level—all this before eventually reaching “sufficient consolidation.” 3 In turn, partial consolidation may mean that only some of the “partial regimes” 4 have consolidated (p. 410), or it may refer to a stage between nonconsolidation and sufficient consolidation. Nor need the latter stage be the end, for then may come “the stage of democratic persistence” (p. 413), which “represents the end product of a long democratization process” (p. xiii). Surprisingly, we read that at this stage “entirely new theoretical and practical concerns move to center stage, as the imperatives of transition and consolidation fade into the background of social inquiry” (p. 412). Presumably this applies in the cases of “Greece, Portugal, and Spain [which] are examples of consolidation and continuing [sic ] democratic persistence” (p. 413).

Still other possibilities exist: a consolidated or even a persistent democracy may deconsolidate and break down, or it may deconsolidate and reequilibrate, as in contemporary Italy (p. 15), or, in a different interpretation of this same case, see some of its partial regimes deconsolidate (p. 394)—in these cases we are not told if regimes are just reconsolidated or if they can return directly to the stage of persistence. Additionally, in categories even more casually drawn, a consolidated democracy may be “mired in its own contradictions and, hence [ sic ], become frozen” as a result of pacts (p. 406), or there may be “consolidated limited democracies” (p. 413), or even democracies that, puzzlingly, are “by and large consolidated” (p. 25).

I find all this confusing. How can we know when a democracy is substantially consolidated (i.e., no longer simply unconsolidated but not yet sufficiently consolidated), or substantially but “not yet” sufficiently consolidated, or partly consolidated, or when some of its partial regimes have consolidated or deconsolidated, or when it has moved from consolidation to persistence? Now I examine how the authors treat cases.

Cases and Indicators

Beyond their own assertions, the authors give no...

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