Consolidating democratic transitions
In sum, the idea of democracy is presently very strong at the global ideological level.Very few authoritarian rulers would actively defend traditional, authoritarian modes of rule (North Korea and Iraq are possible examples). Never in recorded history, wrote Robert Dahl in 1989, have state leaders appealed so widely to democratic ideas to legitimate their rule (193) and the trend in this direction has grown even stronger since then.
We may also note the ideological popularity of democracy.
When countries with fewer than one million inhabitants were included (bringing the total number of states in the world to 191) the survey classified seventy-nine countries as free, fifty-nine as partly free, and another fifty-three as not free (Freedom House 1997).
The question whether such number constitute great democratic progress is a bit like the question whether the glass is half full or half empty.
No comprehensive setback for democracy is in the cards, but there are no prospects for any substantial democratic progress either. Although the process of democratization is by nature first and foremost a domestic, internal affair, international actors have contributed to this unfortunate state of affairs.
My attempt to spell this out focuses on three factors: (a) the failure to appreciate the role of nationalism and political community; (b) the overemphasis on liberalism, first economic (reliance on the market) and then political (reliance on the ballot box and accountability); (c) the emphasis on elitism (i.e., the tendency to support elite-dominated democracies).
Finally, in Eastern Europe, people no longer buy into the old official position that political leadership by what was understood to be the party of the masses, the Communist party, is infinitely more democratic than liberal democracy on the basis of a capitalist society.