Some historians have suggested that these processes of democratization took place in the course of ‘the long nineteenth century’, the period from 1760 to 1919, beginning with the Industrial Revolution and ending with the First World War.
At the inception of this period, there were no democracies, but by its end most Western states had some form of liberal democracy in operation. In Western societies, capitalist industrialization is widely believed to have a powerful impetus to democratization.
However, outside of the west, social theorists have many different explanations for the varied routes through which democratization occurs, in what sorts of historical circumstances, at what levels of material development, and so on.
They tended to search for such historical patterns to explain the nature and even durability of democracy in specific contexts, as also the past future relationship between democracy and development.
The evolution of democracy in Europe and the United States through the nineteenth century is generally treated as the exemplar of democratization, the experience of post-colonial democratization in Latin America and Asia, and of post-Communist democratization in Eastern Europe, has raised questions about the conditions under which democratic institutions take root in some countries but not in others.
This is also why it is difficult to establish uniform standards for judging or comparing the nature and extent of democracy as found in the different states which claim or have historically claimed the label of democracy.
The ‘real world of democracy’, as the political theorist C.B. Macpherson famously called it, has been populated by many variants of democracy: from bourgeois democracy to socialist and even communist versions, each of which has insisted that its form of democracy is the truest and most genuine.
The 20th Century Italian thinkers Pareto and Mosca argued that democracy was illusory, and served only to mask the reality of elite rule.
Indeed, they argued that elite oligarchy is the unbendable law of human nature, due largely to the apathy and division of the masses (as opposed to the drive, initiative and unity of the elites), and that democratic institutions would do no more than shift the exercise of power from oppression to manipulation.
Even though India is a democracy, the social stratification inherent in the Hindu religion persists to this day. In a country that prides itself as being the world’s largest democracy, more than 200 million people from the Dalit communities suffer from caste discrimination.
In a liberal democracy such as Canada, the following paradox persists. Even though the majority of respondents answer yes to the question: ‘Are there too many immigrant arrivals each year’ immigrants numbers continue to rise until a critical set of economic costs appear economists since Milton Friedman have strongly criticized the efficiency of democracy they base this on their premise of the irrational voter.
Their argument is that voters are highly uninformed about many political issues, especially relating to economics, and have a strong bias about the few issues on which they are fairly knowledgeable.
Plato’s The Republic presents a critical view of democracy through the narration of Socrates: “Democracy, which is a charming form of government, full of variety and disorder, and dispensing a sort of equality to equals and unequaled alike.” In his work, Plato lists five forms of government from best to worst.
Assuming that the Republic was intended to be a serious critique of the political thought in Athens, Plato argues that only Kallipolis, an aristocracy lead by the unwilling philosopher-kings (the wisest men) is a just form of government.
Traditional Asian cultures, in particular that of Confucian and Islamic thought, believe that democracy results in the people’s distrust and disrespect of governments or religious sanctity.
The distrust and disrespect pervades to all parts of society whenever and wherever there is seniority and juniority for example between a parent and a child, a teacher and a student.
More recently, democracy is criticized for not offering enough political stability. As governments are frequently elected on and off there tends to be frequent changes in the policies of democratic countries both domestically and internationally.
Even if a political party maintains power, vociferous, headline grabbing protests and harsh criticism from the mass media are often enough to force sudden, unexpected political change.
Frequent policy changes with regard to business and immigration are likely to deter investment and so hinder economic growth. For this reason, many people have put forward the idea that democracy is undesirable for a developing country in which economic growth and the reduction of poverty are top priority.
Democracy is also criticized for frequent elections due to the instability of coalition governments. Coalitions are frequently formed after the elections in many countries (for example India) and the basis of alliance is predominantly to enable a viable majority, not an ideological concurrence.
This opportunist alliance not only has the handicap of having to cater to too many ideologically opposing factions, but it is usually short lived since any perceived or actual imbalance in the treatment of coalition partners, or changes to leadership in the coalition partners themselves, can very easily result in the coalition partner withdrawing its support from the government.
Slow governmental response
Democratic institutions work on consensus to decide an issue, which usually takes longer than a unilateral decision.
This is a simple form of appealing to the short term interests of the voters. This tactic has been known to be heavily used in north and north-east region of Thailand.
Another form is commonly called Pork barrel where local areas or political sectors are given special benefits but whose costs are spread among all taxpayers.
The new establishment of democratic institutions in countries where the associated practices have as yet been uncommon or deemed culturally unacceptable, can result in institutions that are not sustainable in the long term.
One circumstance supporting this outcome may be when it is part of the common perception among the populace that the institutions were established as a direct result of foreign pressure.
The history of democracy has by no means been an uninterrupted, smooth or even process. It has been marked by successes and reversals within particular democratic societies, but it has also varied across countries and continents.