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Democratization as the historic movement from monarchic rule to republicanism was, no doubt, first promoted by capitalists (bourgeoisie) before the industrial revolution had become well launched. Nevertheless, as industrialization proceeded, the need for predictable laws protecting property, access to capital, land and labor, plus other requisites of large-scale productive enterprise and marketing made dependence on the whims of changing monarchs increasingly unsatisfactory. Representative government was, therefore, viewed as a way to establish the "rule of law" and reliable means to protect property. Reciprocally, by supporting the rule of law, democracies have promoted industrialization. Further comments on these relationships can be found in Riggs (1994c).
The generic links between democracy and nationalism are also basic. E. K. Francis, in a notable but much neglected book, wrote that "The proper functioning of democratic government requires the integration of the citizens into a viable societal unit which is achieved through the cultural homogenization of the state population" (Francis 1976, p.387). Put differently, the viability of democratic institutions, especially of constitutive systems, hinges on the degree to which citizens share a sense of identity as members of a single nation. Put differently, ethnic nationalism promotes democratization and democratic institutions promote nationalism -- this involves circular, not unilinear, causation.
It is also a matter of degree, not absolute either/or dichotomies. Contrary to Francis, democratic governance is possible without cultural homogeneity, as the Swiss case shows. In the American case, ethnic diversity has become increasingly acceptable as a norm, replacing the "melting pot" myth of Americanization. This does not, however, contradict the premise that cultural integration strengthens democratic institutions and democracy can support inter-ethnic harmony if not ethnic homogenization. When we think about the basis for legitimizing the authority of elected assemblies, we see that the principle of majority rule implies the willingness of minorities to accept defeats. Surely it is much easier for any minority to accept majority rule when it is not a permanent minority. By this I mean that when one is sometimes but not always overruled by a majority, it is much easier to accept defeat than when one feels permanently marginalized.
It is easy to see how a minority can feel permanently marginalized -- consider, for example, the indigenous peoples in countries now densely settled by Europeans. Their sense of being politically voiceless leads them to feel alienated and hostile toward the dominant community and its institutions. The reverse proposition follows: a democracy (oligocracy) that cannot integrate large segments of its population generates their growing hostility and resistance: revolts, terrorism, and law breaking will surely follow. The more such violence escalates, the greater the likelihood that democratic institutions will founder as the regime itself relies on coercion to suppress its domestic opponents, especially ethnonational minorities.
The temptation to adopt measures that embitter cultural minorities and exacerbate ethnonational conflicts will, certainly, be reduced if democratic regimes are truly democratic. This thought leads to some reflections on what it means to be "democratic." Put more ironically, "undemocratic" democracies will not only fail to generate sentiments of national unity but they will enhance separatist demands for liberation from oppression and, I suspect, they will also fail in their efforts to promote industrialization. These observations raise questions about the central meanings of democracy, what does it mean to become democratic? And does it make any difference what kind of constitutional regime -- parliamentary or presidential -- one adopts for this purpose?
How Democratic to Be. To answer these questions, we should, I think, recall how modern democracies were established and the basic problems they had to solve -- in the context of survival, the main issues concern prerequisites rather than such ideals as quality, freedom, justice and the other goals. The question I am asking is not what democracy could or should do, but what is necessary for its survival. These questions are diffeernt and require different answers.
For present purposes, let me mention two requisites for survival: legitimacy and representativeness. Western industrialized state nations, during the post-Westphalian era, have become so well established that their legitimacy is almost assured. In the successor states of the modern empires, however, legitimacy remains problematical --consider Bosnia, Somalia, Zaire, Nigeria as examples. How does a state become legitimate? Does its constitutional form make any difference? As for representativeness, who can speak for whom? This has always been a crucial issue for democracies and it remains so today. Let me say something about it first, and then, finally, talk about legitimacy.
Representativeness has less to do with ethnicity and how ethnic minorities can be represented, which I have already discussed, than it does with the degree to which governance responds to the needs of all citizens or, instead, gives preference to some, notably to property owners. Thus representativeness involves the distribution of power between established elites and all eligible voters. Thus it involves problems of oligarchy rather than of oligocracy. Under a facade of representativeness, a ruling elite may actually dominate -- this is carried to an extreme under single-party or even hegemonic party domination -- but one cannot easily draw a line between all citizens and those who, somehow, are entitled to preferential treatment. Whenever a small group can manipulate the machinery of government in order to create a facade of representativeness, we have oligarchic rule. (By contrast -- see note #9 -- oligocracy exists when many "subjects" cannot vote. Questions of representativeness arise when some citizens are enabled to exercise power at the expense of other citizens)
The movement to replace monarchic rule with representative government was, as we have seen, driven by the gradual empowerment of bourgeois communities in Western Europe and by European settlers in the Americas and Australia/New Zealand. Except in their own trading cities, no bourgeoisie could dominate traditional states. In order to take power from ruling elites, the bourgoisie needed allies among landed aristocrats, the church, bureaucrats and intellectuals. They formed a common front with them in order to empower the people. This word has always represented a intentionally fuzzy concept. Bourgois activists needed enough allies to gain power but they scarcely wanted to empower peasants, slaves, proletarians "poor people" versus those with property, and any other low status persons whom they viewed with distaste and hostility. No sharp lines could ever be drawn between those to be excluded and those to be enfranchised in a system of representative governance. A deliberately fuzzy term, 'people,' served oligarchic purposes. According to Webster's Dictionary, this word may refer to:
To empower the "people," in short, could mean quite different things to different people. The proponents of representative government sought to disable monarchs and to empower the "people," provided one could restrict this term to "respectable" folks or "propertied citizens." The "founding fathers" of the American Constitution seem to have feared "democracy" as a form of populism and they spoke of "representative government" as a legitimized form of oligarchy in which "minority" rights -- i.e., property rights --would be protected.
Over the years, monarchies were replaced by republics and royal powers were curtailed in constitutional monarchies. However, these were legitimized "oligarchies." This word has a negative connotation and so-called "democracies" will scarcely admit that they are, actually, oligarchies. Again, we seem to need a term that puts a good face on rule by elected politicians who represent some but not all citizens. One option would be to use "oligarchy" as a synonym for "representative government," but I know this will offend those who stress the illegitimacy of oligarchies. Perhaps an acronym like REGO could be understood as standing for the de jure legitimacy of representative government linked with the de facto existence of oligarchic power behind a facade of popular elections. The reality of any REGO could be softened by recognizing an historical evolution whereby the representativeness of governance expands to become more and more inclusive. In the rest of this essay, I shall link REGO with "representative government" or "oligarchy" to modify the favorable/unfavorable connotations of these terms.
No doubt there is also a connection between oligocracy and oligarchy in the sense that one can evolve toward the other. For example, consider that, in the American case, slaves were at first not recognized as "people" and had no political rights -- they were subjects of an oligocracy. Following the Civil War and the civil rights movement, the status of African Americans as "people" had become fully recognized although, no doubt, prejudice and discrimination against them persists -- thus in the American oligarchy (REGO) the status of African-Americans has moved from being subjects in an oligocracy to becoming marginalized citizens of a REGO (oligarchy).
Similarly, women were at first subjects but have now become citizens. In the United States, also, only those who paid taxes were originally enfranchised but gradually even impoverished and homeless persons have gained political recognition as citizens. A more adequate measure of the extent of oligarchy in the U.S. can be secured by noting the large number of citizens who don't vote -- they fail to exercise their legal rights but, in the process, abandon power to those who do vote -- or, rather, to the plurality of voting citizens who happen to vote for the winners.
Can democracies afford to be fully democratic? No doubt, ideally all democracies strive to become more representative. However, perhaps until it becomes well institutionalized, new democracies should be oligarchies -- most will also be oligocracies. When unrealistic expectations for democratic governance are raised, success may be jeopardized. Responsible leaders, confronting the limits of a country's resources and capabilities, may feel reluctant to empower impoverished and uneducated people whose real needs greatly exceed the capacity of the regime to provide social services and other benefits. Such was the reasoning behind Sun Yat Sen't famous "Three Principles" when he advocated a stage of "tutelege" to prepare the people for the exercise of democracy (add citation).
When universal suffrage prevails, candidates often promise much more than they can deliver. After they have been elected, when they cannot fulfill their promises, the whole process of democratic empowerment becomes discredited. Disillusioned voters, under such conditions, may well decide that democratic institutions are inherently fraudulent, leading them to boycott elections or abstain from voting -- extreme frustration may also lead them to support revolutionary movements, ethnonational revolts and criminal gangs.
More cynically, of course, ambitious rulers of new states may enfrancise their friends but not their enemies, or they may accept a facade of universal suffrage on the premise that they can, in fact, predetermine the outcome of elections (as in single-party regimes), or make them irrelevant by dominating the elected assembly, as in military regimes. Factitious pseudo- democratic practices can easily jeopardize the success of democratic institutions and lead to cynical demands for authoritarian solutions to urgent problems. In all the industrialized democracies, we must live with choices that were made long ago, but in the successor states of the modern empires, these are still important questions. The answer, in part, depends on how democratic a successor state can afford to be -- I suggest that parliamentary regimes can be more democratic and survive, whereas presidentialist regimes can survive only if they are more oligarchic.
Structure. No doubt there are those who argue that the parliamentary/presidentialist option is a Twiddledee/Twiddledum question that makes little difference. There are such great variations among parliamentary and presidentialist regimes that supplementary choices and non-institutional factors may be far more decisive than which of these historically determined regime types one happens to choose. My position, however, is that it does make a significant difference, but the reasons are counter-intuitive and require some more analysis. Moreover, if my premises are correct, presidentialism can survive but, perhaps, only by being more oligarchic -- parliamentary regimes can, I think, afford to be more democratic. Admittedly, this is only a hypothesis, but let me at least indicate why I have reached this conclusion.
To start the argument, consider that the viability of presidentialism hinges on the ability of the president and congress to reach agreements under the constraints of a constitutional separation-of-powers principle which enables each to flout the other. This means that gridlock may occur for an indefinite period of time between the Executive and Legislative branches or, more probably, the President, with the support of the armed forces and the civilian bureaucracy, will domesticate the legislature, forcing it into submission or even dissolving it by means of a coup d'etat. A puppet legislature, of course, makes a mockery of representativeness -- no matter how large the citizen majority may be who voted for a president, any chief executive not subject to constraints imposed by an elected assembly can easily succumb to temptations to become an autocrat. The maintenance of a politically potent elected assembly is, therefore, crucial for the survival of any democracy, and no assembly will be powerful unless its members compete for office against rival candidates -- a single-party in power can compel its members to follow party dictates and render the elected assembly a mere rubber stamp for the ruler.
No doubt, universal suffrance and popular representation are as feasible, in principle, under presidentialism as they are in parliamentary systems. In fact, however, the potential for gridlock undermines the capacity of presidential regimes to rule effectively unless political power is centripetalized by a somewhat oligarchic (limited) suffrage. The centripetalization of electoral competition in America entails political shifts to the center where both parties compete for the support of "independents."
Although outvoted centrists are not directly represented, they share the preferences of the winners on so many issues that they are willilng to accept defeat. Moreover, winning candidates compromise on many issues in order to create a broad coalition. In the 1996 presidential race, for example, candidates Dole and Kemp, though personally committed to the anti-abortion "Right to Life" principle strive to squash this plan in their party's platform in order to attract the votes of "Pro Choice" Republicans. If this idea sounds undemocratic, perhaps it is, but the awkward system works only because compromisers can win power and the marginalized folks who feel most strongly about their own needs do not vote.
By contrast, when everyone votes, widely different and strongly held ideologies gain adherents in elected assemblies making it very difficult to reach agreements, not only within the assembly but also between the legislature and the executive. In parliamentary regimes, a multiplicity of parties and positions can be harmonized (at least to some degree) by the design of coalition cabinets, but under presidentialism, uncompromising minorities can block agreements in the assembly, and a president can deny any real influence to minority (extremist!) groups.
To make presidentialism work, I believe, it is necessary to centripetelize power enough so that voices of moderation based on centrist views can prevail in both the executive and legislative branches. Political leaders know that when marginalized people don't vote, it is much easier to elect moderates. Despite the rhetoric supporting increased voter participation in order to enhance democratic values, the fact is that when all citizens vote in a separation-of-powers regime, the survival of constitutional democracy is put in jeopardy.
Maslow's hierarchy of needs (citation) can help us understand the psychological dynamics: the lower one's income, the greater one's need for subsistence, for food, clothing and housing, whereas the more secure one is, the more one's psychic and social needs gain in priority. In order to get the support of impoverished and uneducated constituents, politicians make wildly exaggerated and expensive promises that cannot be redeemed. Less needy and better educated voters suspect that such promises are unrealistic and they also feel threatened by them (since their taxes would be required to pay the higher costs). They focus, therefore, on policies that affect their higher need levels which are numerous, complex and usually less costly.
The failure of marginalized American citizens to vote is "voluntary" and differs significantly from oligocratic situations in which many subjects of a regime are not permitted to vote. A centripetalized democracy fails to capture the attention or loyalty or marginalized citizens, by contrast with the reaction of subject peoples (with their own elites, their better educated leaders) who can more easily be mobilized to support sovereignty claims. The promised advantages of political independence seem more attractive to the marginalized than the lukewarm assurances they get from politicians seeking the votes of middle-class citizens. The American form of representative government (REGO) illustrates the point that representativeness requires not only the extension of suffrage rights to all citizens but it must also motivate everyone to want to vote.
The main reason for the centripetalization of politics in America is probably the continued use of single-member electoral districts -- another hold-over from the traditional British model. By contrast, in the name of democracy and representativeness, many not other presidentialist systems have adopted some form of proportional representation, a structure that assuredly generates centrifugalized democracy. By enabling citizens of diverse income levels, cultural backgrounds and ideological preferences to gain representation in an assembly, PR is able to offer options that seem promising to members of marginalized communities who would not bother to vote in a single-member district.
Their motivation for continuing to participate in elections, however, ultimately depends on the degree to which their assembly representatives can, indeed, share in the exercise of power and help to shape policies that respond to the interests and concerns of their supporters. In parliamentary regimes, the cabinet system gives minority parties an opportunity, at times, to share real power. With a popularly elected head of government, however, the principle of winner-takes-all (Linz) prevails and minority members of a congress remain as permanently marginalized at the center as they regularly are on the periphery.
It is important not to equate centripetalism with a two-party system. There are good examples of such systems in presidentialist regimes like Uruguay, Colombia, and Venezuela, yet politics in these countries is highly centrifugalized -- in Uruguay, for example, factionalization and list voting fragment power within that country's two long-established parties. I have discussed this matter elsewhere and shall not repeat the explanation here (Riggs 1994a). However, the two-party system is often viewed, rather simplistically, as an explanation for the relative success of American constitutionalism. Both centripetalism and the two-party system have a common cause which can be found in the "first-past-the-post" (single-member plurality) electoral system. Elsewhere, this voting system has been largely rejected as essentially "undemocratic" on the premise that democracy requires a high level of representativeness in government. The American centripetalized polity is, indeed, oligarchic as a result -- but this is also an important reason for the system's survival.12 My conclusion is that for presidentialism to survive, it must be significantly unrepresentative. Put the other way around, a highly representative presidentialist regime is likely to be short-lived. Ironically, the truly exceptional fact that American constitutionalism has lasted so long may hinge (in part, at least) on the unwillingness of large numbers of poor and uneducated citizens to vote, thereby perpetuating an oligarchic (REGO) power structure dominated by the upper echelons of American society.
By contrast, parliamentary regimes can afford to be more representative and yet survive. A key point involves their ability to use proportional representation without endangering the regime. Because even small minorities in parliament can participate in coalition cabinets, it is possible for them to be accommodated. Moreover, the willingness of minority leaders to compromise increases, I believe, when they consider the possibility of actually sharing power in governance. Even countries following the Westminster electoral model are able, in principle, to gain support for regional parties whose members often form local majorities. Because of the cabinet system, their members in parliament can be coopted into a governing coalition whereas under, presidentialist rules, that option is closed to them.
By contrast, the prospect of perpetual marginalization in a separation-of-powers congress must embitter them and reinforce their no-cost choice of remaining obdurate -- at least, they endear themselves to their marginalized supporters. Thus the obstinacy of permanent minority legislators enhances their ability to mobilize continuing support in a variety of niches among marginalized communities who would not choose to vote in a centripetalized party system. In the U.S., however, the inability of "third party" legislators to share power eventually leads most of their would-be supporters to drop out or switch to one of the two major parties --a fate that looms for Ross Perot's current Reform Party. No doubt other comparisons could be made between inherent capacity of presidential and parliamentary constitutional systems to reconcile the principles of universal suffrage with the requisites of effective governmental decision making by means of an oligarchic option. However, I must now turn to the question of legitimacy.
See linked pages:  introduction || industrialism || nationalism || democracy (2: legitimacy) || conclusion || endnotes || bibliography 
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