The State and Democratization

The Polity IV data set code book, has a section entitled Indicators of Democracy and Autocracy (Composite Indicators), the authors write about the development of the state and the evolution of political participation as a corollary.  If you read it in tandem with this post on Max Weber’s view of the state and state legitimacy, you’ll begin to understand the nature of the state and why it has become the dominant contemporary form of political organization.

Three broad processes have reshaped the global landscape of state structures during the last two centuries One is an extraordinary expansion in the absolute and relative power of the state, a process that began i Europe. The new states created by the American and French revolutions marked the threshold between political world dominated by monarchies, whose claims to absolutism were belied by the fact that most social and economic life was autonomous from state control or extraction, and a political world in which state power was based on ever-widening control and mobilization of human and material resources exchange for broadened rights of popular participation. An integral part of this process was the development of bureaucracies with high capacities to regulate, tax, and mobilize people in the service of state policy. 

The second process was the transformation of the structures of political participation and legitimation. This transformation followed one of two paths, toward plural democracy or mass-party autocracy. The popular side of the bargain by which most West European rulers built state power in the nineteenth century was to acknowledge the right of widespread participation in policy making.  That right was given institutional expression in elected assemblies which could review, and sometimes initiate, public policy; in elections direct or indirect, of chief ministers; and in recognition of citizens’ rights to voice and act on political opinions. The concept of bargain is a metaphor for sequences of political crises and reforms in which these rulers granted rights for participation, however limited, to all significant social classes and groups, while simultaneously extending the state’s right and capacity to regulate, tax, and mobilize the human and material bases of state power. 

The process of political democratization had its own logic and dynamic which, in most of Western Europe, eroded all but a few symbolic vestiges of traditional autocracy (see for example Bendix 1978). Nonetheless, pressures to extend democratization have always contended with the self-interested desire of rulers to preserve and enhance their autonomy from political constraints. Theempires of Central and Eastern Europe–Germany, Russia, Austro-Hungary–implemented thetrappings but not the substance of effective democratic participation in the late nineteenth and early