Beyond 'Democratic Consolidation'

An Alternative Understanding of Democratic Progress

in Theoria
Author: Steven Friedman
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For almost two decades, the survival prospects and authenticity of new democracies has been assessed through the democratic consolidation paradigm which seeks to assess whether democracies are 'consolidated'. But an examination of the paradigm shows that it is vague, teleological and ethnocentric and measures new democracies against an idealised understanding of Northern liberal democracies rather than offering a plausible means of assessing longevity or democratic progress. Its inadequacy is further demonstrated by applying it to the South African case. The article thus argues for a new approach which rejects the consolidation paradigm's assumption that some democracies (those of the North) are a 'finished product' and acknowledges both that all democracies are incomplete and that each will show uneven progress, so that older democracies will lag behind newer ones in some areas of democratic quality while surpassing them in others.


A Journal of Social and Political Theory


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