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What is Democratization? - Definition & Process

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  • 0:01 Democracy
  • 1:03 Democratization
  • 2:18 Processes & Examples
  • 5:11 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

The transition to democracy is not necessarily easy, nor is there only one way to make it. Explore different paths to democracy and test your understanding with a brief quiz.

Democracy

By a show of hands, who wants a lesson on democracy? Hey - look at that. Democracy in action. You just voted, and the majority vote was used to make a decision. Democracy! By its strictest definition, democracy is 'a system in which the majority opinion rules, as opposed to a system where a single person's opinion is the law'. For instance, say a group comes to a crossroads. In a democracy, they vote on which road to take. In a non-democratic system, the leader makes the decision alone. So, democracy is pretty cool. Now, in terms of modern government, a democratic system is pretty universally understood to best protect the rights of the people. But, this was not always the case. Historically, kings, emperors, and other people with absolute authority were in charge of the government. But times change, and governments change - that's where democratization comes in handy.

Democratization

Imagine that we have a kingdom. This kingdom is run by, you guessed it, a king! And this king has absolute power. We call this an authoritarian government. But the people of this kingdom are tired of not having any political rights or say in how their nation is run. So, they start protesting, and they get some political power - maybe they refuse to pay taxes or get the nobles or military to support them - and they convince the king that it's time for a more democratic system of government.

Democratization is 'the transition to a more democratic system of government'. Historically, democratization has been kicked off by several factors. Higher wealth throughout the population gives more people economic equality, which often turns to a desire for political equality. Greater education, especially literate populations, are more likely to think, read, and write about their rights, and are more likely to encourage democratization. Healthy economies, lengthy periods of peace, good international relations, industrial technology, cultural values, and even the growth of a middle class have all been proposed to influence the move towards democratization.

Processes & Examples

Let's look at a few historical examples. In Great Britain, which was an absolute monarchy for a long time, democratization began with the formation of an elected parliament, a legislative body that removed some power from the king. The Parliament was first formed in 1215, at which point only lords could be elected. The British Parliament changed several times over the centuries, continually moving towards a more democratic system that represented the needs of the people and took absolute authority away from the monarch. This does not mean that it was a smooth transition. Democratization is very rarely a smooth process, and in Great Britain, monarchs often tried to reclaim their absolute authority, leading to a few major civil wars. The one that really finalized Britain's dedication to democratization was the Glorious Revolution of 1688, after which the victorious Parliament forced the king to accept a Bill of Rights.

So, democratization can be messy, and sometimes democracy will be embraced, rejected, and embraced again before it sticks. That's what happened in Japan. When Japan started to develop an industrial economy in the late 19th century, minor democratic reforms were established, creating Japan's version of a parliament, called the National Diet. Then, in the early 20th century, those reforms were expanded and Japan became even more democratic. And then, a new emperor rose to power and reclaimed his absolute authority. Japan moved away from democracy until the end of WWII resulted in a new constitution that guaranteed democratic rights and elevated the National Diet to be more powerful than the emperor.

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