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New social forces that emerge as part of the process of development turn structural change into political change. Their struggles for representation and incorporation occupy a prominent place in our understanding of regime change. Even elite-driven democratic transitions necessitate moments of mass mobilization that push liberalization into regime change. Many scholars also contend that an active citizenry leads to democratic stability via more effective government. In contrast, others warn that a mobilized and polarized civil society can undermine democracy – particularly if the demands of social forces outstrip the capacity of institutions to process them. In this chapter, we explore the effects of social organization and mobilization on democracy. Using the Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) and Nonviolent and Violent Campaigns and Outcomes (NAVCO) data, we gauge the extent to which organized and mobilized social forces are responsible for levels and changes in democracy. We find that civil society participation and nonviolent protest positively affect democracy and that rightwing anti-system movements constitute the largest threat to democracy.
The Varieties of Democracy project (V-Dem) pioneered new ways to conceptualize and measure democracy, producing a multidimensional and disaggregated data set on democracy around the world that is now widely used by researchers, activists, and governments. Why Democracies Develop and Decline draws on this data to present a comprehensive overview and rigorous empirical tests of the factors that contribute to democratization and democratic decline, looking at economic, social, institutional, geographic, and international factors. It is the most authoritative and encompassing empirical analysis of the causes of democratization and reversals. The volume also proposes a comprehensive theoretical framework and presents an up-to-date description of global democratic developments from the French Revolution to the present. Each chapter leverages the specialized expertise of its authors, yet their sustained collaboration lends the book an unusually unified approach and a coherent theory and narrative.
This chapter summarizes the explanations developed in preceding chapters, fits them into a more comprehensive theoretical framework, and tests them using path analysis, which helps researchers understand causal sequences. Democratization is characterized by punctuated equilibrium. Distant historical factors such as geography and demographic characteristics, together with incrementally changing aspects of social and economic development, affect a country’s level of democracy, but only roughly. Institutions and organizations such as a healthy civil society, the rule of law, and institutionalized political parties, tend to reinforce one another and keep each country’s level of electoral democracy close to an equilibrium or set point. However, short-term economic performance, anti-system movements, and opposition campaigns can sometimes disturb the equilibrium, making significant upturns and downturns possible.