The Theory of Democratic Development

The Bourgeoisie and Democracy 2

The Theory of Democratic Development

We adopt a conventional definition of democracy: regular free and fair

elections of representatives on the basis of universal suffrage; responsibility of the state

apparatus to the elected representatives of the people; and guarantees for freedom of

expression and association. We argue that the development of democracy is the product of

three clusters of power: (1) the balance of class power as the most important aspect of the

balance of power in civil society, (2) the nature of the state and state-society relations, or

the balance of power between state and civil society, and (3) transnational structures of

power, or the international economy and system of states, as they shape the first two

balances and constrain political decision-making.

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The central thesis of our book is that capitalist development is related to

democracy because it shifts the balance of class power by weakening the power of the

landlord class and strengthening subordinate classes. The working and the middle classes -

- unlike other subordinate classes in history — gain an unprecedented capacity for

self-organization due to such developments as urbanization, factory production, and new

forms of communication and transportation. As to the role of the bourgeoisie, we dispute

the claims of both liberal and Marxist political theory that democracy is the creation of the

bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie made important contributions to the move towards

democracy by insisting on its share in political power in the form of parliamentary control

of the state, but the bourgeoisie was also hostile to further democratization when its

interests seemed threatened.

The structure of the state and state-society relations are clearly relevant for

the chances of democracy. The state needs to be strong and autonomous enough to ensure

the rule of law and avoid being the captive of the interests of dominant groups; the state’s

authority to make binding decisions in a territory and the state’s monopoly of coercion

must be settled. The vote does not rule where it competes with the gun. However, the

power of the state needs to be counterbalanced by the organizational strength of civil

society to make democracy possible; the state must not be so strong and autonomous from

all social forces as to overpower civil society and rule without accountability. The third

power cluster involves international power relations. Aside from the impact of war

(typically creating a need for mass support and discrediting ruling groups in case of

defeat), we focused on the role of economic and geopolitical dependence. The three

power clusters — relative class power, the role of the state, and the impact of transnational

power structures — are closely interrelated. For instance, economic dependency can have

long term effects on the structures of class; war and geopolitical factors can strengthen the

role of the security forces within the state; and the results of power relations in civil

society are crucially affected by differential access to the state apparatus.

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