The Paradoxes of Contemporary Democracy: Formal, Participatory, and Social Dimensions

Evelyne Huber, Dietrich Rueschemeyer, John D. Stephens
1997 Comparative politics  
We care about formal democracy because it tends to be more than merely formal. It tends to be real to some extent. Giving the many a real voice in the formal collective decision-making of a country is the most promising basis for further progress in the distribution of power and other forms of substantive equality.'" 1 We made this assertion when we introduced the results of a broad-based comparative historical investigation of the roots of democracy in capitalist development. We held that
more » ... . We held that formal democracy was valuable in its own right, but we emphasized that it makes deepening towards more fully participatory democracy and progress towards increasing equality possible. And we argued, further, that the same social and historical conditions that promoted formal democracy-in particular, a shift in the class balance of power in civil society favoring subordinate classes--would also advance the cause of greater social and economic equality. Yet in the current historical conjuncture strides toward introducing and consolidating formal democracy in Latin America and eastern Europe appear to be combined with movements away from more fully participatory democracy and equality. We want to analyze this apparent anomaly in this article. We begin by defining formal, participatory, and social democracy. By formal democracy we mean a political system that combines four features: regular free and fair elections, universal suffrage, accountability of the state's administrative organs to the elected representatives, and effective guarantees for freedom of expression and association as well as protection against arbitrary state action. Indeed, the word democracy is commonly understood in this way when it is used with some conceptual care. Often, however, it is used more loosely. Current political discourse bestows the label frequently on any country that has held an election roughly free of fraud. Even if elections are held with some regularity, it is worthwhile to inquire whether opposition could be expressed and organized without fear and to what extent the state apparatus is in fact accountable to elected officials. If in the past limitations of the suffrage were the most common means to abridge democracy, today restricting the state's accountability and curtailing civil rights are the less easily visible tools of choice.2 Even if all four requirements are met, a country may still be far from equality in the process of making collective decisions. Formal democracy does not entail an 1. , Capitalist Development and Democracy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992), p. 10. The change in the order in which our names appear here is due exclusively to the name change of one of the coauthors; the order remains alphabetical and does not represent any statement about our relative contributions. 2. The existence of political systems that fall short of full formal democracy has led to the proliferation of what Collier and Mahon call secondary radial categories of democracy. For instance, O'Donnell coined the concept of delegative democracy for systems that are particularly weak in the third dimension but also deficient in the fourth dimension. David Collier and James E. Mahon, "Conceptual 'Stretching' Revisited," American Political Science Review, 87 (December 1993), 845-55; Guillermo O'Donnell, "Delegative Democracy," Journal of Democracy, 5 (January 1994), 55-69. 3. Our view of participatory democracy is instrumentalist, or processual. We claim that it is valuable, not because of its psychological effects on the participating citizenry (though it may be), but rather because it prevents rule by privileged minorities and promotes equal representation of interests and redistributive economic and social policies. Whereas the level of participation and differences in participation rates across social categories are analytically distinct, they are empirically related; where participation rates are low, differences among social categories tend to be high, with lower socioeconomic groups participating less. 4. In Collier and Mahon's terminology, we are treating participatory and social democracy as secondary classical categories in that we add defining elements to the primary category of formal democracy. 5. "Social democratic" will be used here in this sense, as the designation of policies that effectively advance social and economic equality; the term does not refer specifically to the (European) political movement bearing the same name. For a similar usage, see Luiz Carlos Bresser Pereira, Jos6 Maria Maravall, and Adam Przeworski, Economic Reforms in New Democracies (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993). 6. O'Donnell, "Delegative Democracy." 7. Rueschemeyer, Stephens, and Stephens; for a summary, see
doi:10.2307/422124 fatcat:qmfox7vv7nfqziraq4xgeafr3q