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Democracy, Politics And The Art Of Liberalisation.

November 24, 2017


The ideals embedded in democracy have given rise to the emancipation of civil society from the authoritarian decision making of the bourgeois elite, paving the way for the liberalisation of society and the redistribution of both wealth and influence. Democracy itself pertains to a set of principles in which the individual within the wider state apparatus has equal rights under the law, the same protection from governmental action and the checks and balances necessary to ensure that no one branch of the government has excess influence over the other. The political liberalisation of society is a result of the movement towards equal representation within the state structures. In this essay I will discuss that indeed the notion of legitimate democracy occurring without political liberalisation devalues the very essence of democracy. The core of revolutionary emancipatory democracy lays in the notion of freedom of choice, equal rights under law, equal representation in government, freedom of trade and the protection of cultural norms from the influence of the regime (Anderson 2004, p. 6). Referring to the Arab Spring I will conclude that democracy cannot occur without political liberalisation and thus not all states are capable of implementing democracy.


The underpinning of political liberalisation rests in the culture of collective emancipatory action by civil society. Social movements at the grass roots level have been the catalyst for change within many authoritarian regimes. The necessity for emancipatory movements within society reflects the dysfunctional nature of the political sphere (Hamilton & Kim 2007, p. 113). The lack of civil liberties, civilian political involvement, increased cultural repression; increased restriction on the free media and the monopolisation of decision making to favour the ruling class reflects the undemocratic nature inherent to authoritarian regimes. The Arab Spring protests around the Middle East are testament to the emancipatory potential of mass mobilisation (Moghadam 2013, p. 398).  The repressive nature of the regimes in the region have sparked mass movements spreading from country to country and have been the driving force behind pressure on the existing regimes to implement the democratic ideology (Kamrava 1998, p. 64). The cultures of emancipatory political revolutions are inherent to the culture of many of the current authoritarian regimes, one needs only to interpret the current state of political upheaval in Egypt and the countries long history of political and military intervention to understand the cultural disposition to internal conflict (Moghadam 2013, p. 399-400). Considering pro-democracy movements only happen in states that are repressive of their citizens, this speaks volumes of the inherent necessity for liberalisation to practically implement democracy.      


The liberalisation of the political sphere through the mobilisation of opposition movements and student activism has in many cases proven to be the catalyst towards the democratisation of previously single party regimes (Hamilton & Kim 2007, p. 24). It becomes increasingly apparent however, that even within democratic states there tends to be a lack of equal representation. Leading one to question whether democracy and political liberalisation really allow for the equal representation of all sections of society. Structural realists would argue that the political institutions themselves are created to ensure the long-term survival and the promotion of the best interests of the institution. If the needs of the institution are not representative of the needs of the wider society then the preservation of the institution and its inherent ideals hold precedent (Kamrava 1998, p. 64). This helps to shine a light on the role which long term institutionalisation of political decision making apparatuses have played in shaping the wider public discourse regarding equal representation within the political sphere. If institutions and parties are created to ensure their own longevity and reflect only the interests of the party, then political liberalisation will result in change that only benefits the existing institutions (Hamilton & Kim 2007, p. 123). The inherent ideological viewpoints held within the institutions must become the focus of political liberalisation rather than merely focusing on the governing apparatus itself. The onus is on the institutions themselves to administer a process of internal revaluation so as to ensure the ideological foundations of the organisation are in sync with the liberal democratic values from which they were created.     


For the potential democratisation of an authoritarian political regime Hamilton & Kim (2007, p. 112) are of the opinion that the process consists of three stages “(1) the breakdown of the old regime, (2) a period of uncertainty and (3) consolidation, where rules are established for future negotiation”. The cultural relevance and the geopolitical climate in regions where regime break down occurs are inherently hostile, thus attempts at political liberalisation amongst combatants are increasingly difficult as warring factions compete for ascendency into positions of influence (Moghadam 2013, p. 386). Groups lacking the coercive or economic power to influence the decision-making apparatus post-conflict have difficulty establishing themselves and their views, thus making the plausibility of creating democratic institutions increasingly unlikely. It is from this position where democratisation of failed states becomes uncertain. The potential of political liberalisation increases, as the previous state structures are no longer maintained by the same authorities, which had created an environment of oppression thus allowing for the reconstruction of institutions. The implementation of a transitional government may allow for the democratic process to flourish, however the danger that the same factional divides that existed prior to the transitional government taking power may manifest themselves via the democratic governing bodies and lead to the de-liberalisation of the society regardless. Cultural influence in the newly constructed democratic arena could also equate to the legitimising of two separate yet equally oppressive political parties, which may escalate into sectarian violence. In this particular set of circumstances democracy may occur but still result in the oppressive treat of citizens within the civil society.


Economic Liberalisation.


The concept of economic liberalisation as a means of transitioning from authoritarian regime to democratic governance proves a much more plausible alternative to that of the social movement. In the case of South Korea, the government made selective decisions regarding the economy and the manner in which the financial markets and institutions were governed. Changing from a ’governed market’ to a ‘self-adjusting market’ via the restructuring of government ministries, limited governmental intervention in the economic sphere and changes in foreign investment laws (Hamilton & Kim 2007, p. 110). Through this method of economic liberalisation the openness of trade barriers and the revaluation of both policymaking and the role of government ministries, the internal process of liberalisation has taken place. In stark contrast to external pressures usually inherent to political liberalisation, it is from the capitalist reconfiguring of the free trade economy that the most influential and thorough liberalisation processes are able to take place. Internalising the process creates significant and lasting changes within the political decision making apparatus. The initiative for change becomes the driving force within the institution itself so as to adhere to the global precedent set by other developed states. Economic liberalisation provides the clearest pathway for regimes to begin the process of political liberalisation. The process may not lead to the democratisation of the state governing structure itself but it does allow for the process of change to begin. Potentially extending beyond the realm of the economy and into the social sphere. 



The potential for democratisation without the implementation of political liberalisation is a very difficult concept to grasp. Modern western societies are built on the concept of democracy and democracy itself reflects an openness to change, openness inherent to the systems very nature (Moghadam 2013, p. 394). Changing government, changing officials, changing laws and changing economies are all fundamental to liberal democratic societies. The large scale difficulty presented during the mass mobilisation of civil society living under oppressive regimes is that once the governing body is overthrown, such as Egypt, the incoming government comes from established political parties whom have no education or experience in the notion of democratic governance. Culturally, the concept of political liberalisation has no true contextual representation outside of what the perceptions of the west are. These societies have gone from empires and monarchies; religious rule and military dictatorships which liberty need not apply. The problem in a lot of authoritarian or post-authoritarian societies is not that they don’t want democracy but that they don’t know what democracy actually means. Democracy and political liberalisation are terms, which do not resonate within the political organisations that govern societies in the Middle East. Thus the states that we believe require political liberalisation for the implementation of democracy may not be culturally conducive of democratic structures. So in conclusion, for the successful implementation of democracy there would need to be political liberalisation, however recent history has shown that most authoritarian states are unable to adapt democratic ideals to their governing structures (Kamrava 1998, p.69). The political institutions and ideologies are to deeply imbedded in the institutions themselves that changing hund


reds of years of political, cultural and religious thinking to allow for a successful transition to democracy may just prove a step to far.               





Anderson, J 2004, “In My View: What is Democracy?”, Kappa Delta Pi Record, vol. 41, no, 1, pp. 4-6.


Hamilton, N & Kim, EM 2007, “Economic and political liberalization in South Korea and Mexico”, Third World Quarterly, vol. 14, no. 1, pp. 109-136.


Kamrava, M 1998, “Non-democratic states and political liberalization in the Middle East: A structural analysis”, Third World Quarterly, vol. 19, no. 1, pp. 63-85.


Moghadam, VM 2013, “What is democracy? Promises and perils of the Arab Spring”, Current Sociology, vol. 61, no. 4, pp. 393-408.



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