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What is the difference between “liberalization” and “democratization”?

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  1. Introduction
  2. The rise of illiberal democracy
  3. Liberalization and democratization
  4. What is the difference between ?liberalization? and ?democratization??
  5. Conclusion

In his 1997 article, The Rise of Illiberal Democracy, published in Foreign Affairs, Fareed Zakaria pointed out a phenomenon which had been growing among the newer states emerged from what Samuel Huntington named the Third Wave of Democracy (1990); newly elected powers regularly failing to acknowledge and respect the constitutional limits to their own power, bypassing institutions and restraining the liberties of their citizens. Zakaria further argues that failure in the West to see and understand this issue has been due to the false assumption that constitutional liberalism and democracy naturally go hand in hand (comforted by the experience of postwar Europe and Japan).

But constitutional liberalism, which refers to a set of rules and civil liberties and principles (rule of law, freedom of speech, of assembly?) that a government (and by extension the society it governs) should warrant and respect himself, has known a rather distinct historical and theoretical path than that of democracy, which itself refers to an inclusive political system where competition and uncertainty are institutionalized, despite both having coincided at some point in Europe from the 19th century onwards . One of Zakaria's other point in the article is that ?Constitutional liberalism has led to democracy, but democracy does not seem to bring constitutional liberalism?. By asserting the fundamental difference between the concepts of constitutional liberalism and democracy, and in the light of the transformations in Latin America and contemporary changes in the Middle East, it becomes necessary to insist on a distinction between these two linked, yet independent processes that are liberalization and democratization.

This essay's objective will therefore be not only to understand the differences between the said processes and its implications for the analysis of political systems, but also to see how they relate to each other. Two major interrogations will serve as the basis for this work: firstly, we shall examine the reasons which compel non-democratic regimes to initiate processes of partial liberalization, before asking ourselves how the latter can potentially bring about a the wider, more systemic process of democratization.

[...] But what motivates the initialization of a political liberalization in a non-democratic state ? To answer this, Przeworski (1986), O'Donnell and Schmitter (1986), and Stepan (1988) have focused on the processes within the ruling elite, on the assumption that their position grants them the power to implement such changes. They particularly stress the importance of schisms appearing inside the authoritarian coalition, which creates a more favourable context for liberalization. It is indeed difficult for such changes to occur in the context of a hierarchical, structured, and overall cohesive coalition determined to stay in power. [...]


[...] Finally, for a democratization to occur in a context of liberalization, the types of divisions within government and opposition are equally vital. Przeworski distinguished within the regime the existence of uncompromising hard-liners and more moderate soft-liners, who will be the ones more apt to establish alliances with outside factions to weaken their rivals in the system; and on the side of the opposition the existence of moderates (with whom the regime soft-liners will try to negotiate alliances) and uncompromising ?maximalists? (or moralists/prinicpalists), who also refuse negotiation (Przeworski, 1986). [...]


[...] Making a distinction between the two concepts of liberalization and democratization is fundamental; it makes one take notice of the value of democracy (institutionalized uncertainty, competitiveness, and genuine possibility for a faction to be elected fairly) as opposed to internal changes within an authoritarian rule (opening some areas of the public space for dissent), and appreciate the qualitative and procedural differences that exist between them. Bibliography: -Dahl, Robert Polyarchy. New Haven: Yale University Press. - Huntington, Samuel Political Order in Changing Societies. New Haven: Yale University Press. [...]

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