Democratic consolidation is understood as the process in which a new democracy becomes more established and less likely to return to a non-democratic regime.
Examples of consolidated democracies are the United States, Germany and the United Kingdom. These democracies have well-established political systems. The most important features of the systems are specified in the states’ constitutions and have not been widely changed for decades.
Examples of non-consolidated democracies might include Afghanistan, Kazakhstan and Iraq. First of all, one might question if these states are de facto democracies after all (especially Afghanistan).
According to Linz and Stepan (1996), consolidated and non-consolidated democracies differ in the degree in which they achieve the following five criteria:
- In civil society, there has to be freedom of association and communication
- In political society, there has to be free and inclusive electoral contestation.
- There must be a rule of law and a spirit of constitutionalism.
- The state apparatus has to be fun, according to legal-rational (Weberian) bureaucratic principles.
- Economic society has to be organised around respect for property rights, and conditions must be in place to permit economic growth.
It is extremely difficult (if not impossible) to fully achieve all five criteria. Therefore, states are also considered “consolidated” when they mostly achieve the criteria. For example, there are (weakening) secessionist tendencies in Great Britain (the IRA wants Northern Ireland to become a part of Ireland), the recent London riots deeply contrast a “rule of law and a spirit of constitutionalism” and economic property rights, and in the Southern parts of the United States black citizens have lacked full support of the judicial system for a long time. However, only very little people would consider Great Britain and the United States undemocratic (or not fully consolidated).
While it is subject of debate where one should draw the threshold between consolidated and non-consolidated democracies, the given examples are among the best scoring (USA, Germany, UK) and the worst scoring states (Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Thailand) according to above criteria. One might therefore reasonably distinguish them as consolidated and non-consolidated democracies.
- Linz, J. and Stepan, A. (1996): Problems of Democratic Transition and Consolidation: Southern Europe, South America, and Post-Communist Europe. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press