Skip to main content Accessibility help
  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: June 2012

4 - Political System Change: The Radicals' Democracy


Is democracy the result of a planned process in which, from deep within an authoritarian political system, perhaps with a little help from outside, democratic forces bring about a democratic transformation? For a number of reasons, this idea is highly simplistic. For many of those living in an autocracy, it is hard to develop a pro-democratic attitude and outlook without having experienced democracy first-hand. It often takes some time after a formal democratic framework is established for a civic culture to take hold. Oppositional elites and parties, should any exist, may of course profess their belief in democracy. But an opposition can survive in an authoritarian state only if it refrains from clearly raising the prospect of system change – which is precisely what calling for democracy would entail. Even if the opposition has produced a democratic vision, doubts often remain about the seriousness of such aspirations. Is the commitment to democracy merely a means to an end, the opposition's way of blinding political opponents and the international community to their true intentions, namely to abolish democracy once in power and replace it with a new dictatorship?

Despite the doubts that inevitably remain for the ideological critic, it is reassuring to note that there is another quite different perspective on political change. Rather than a process that opposition forces consciously aim to set in motion, democratization may be viewed as a kind of historical accident.