Is Economic Development a Prerequisite of a Functioning Democratic System?
In the world of political science, it is an inherent feature of the discipline that academics will seek a universally applicable theory to explain phenomena that occur within the political sphere. Seymour Martin Lipset did just that in his article Some Social Requisites of Democracy: Economic Development and Political Legitimacy, published in the American Political Science Review in 1959. In this, he made the claim that forms of behaviour in social groups have certain specific outcomes, which can be measured and tested by empirical means, and then generalised from to create a hypothesis. From this he derives that in a democratic state “one must be able to point
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The sudden shift that a change of political-economic system causes the nation to suffer a downturn in economic fortunes, and without sufficient consolidation within the economy to act in a cushioning effect and to allow it to take a hit without imploding, the entire political system can be jeopardised, undermined and left facing collapse.8 However, this is seemingly contradicted by the idea that disaffectation with the existing regime among the powerful classes of a state, for example, the middle classes and the military in post-fascist Portugal, is the most likely cause for a change of system – and that those classes are in fact, less likely to be disaffected and thus less likely push for a move towards democracy in a non-democratic system that has a good level of economic development.9 This is seemingly paradoxical in the face of the above outline example of the necessity of economic well being for a new, democratic system to successfully evolve. This inconsistency is highlighted by the fact that, today, admittedly with a fifteen-year head start, Portugal outranks Poland on the democratic indices.10 This indicates that economic development is not only not always essential for the transition of an authoritarian state into a democracy, but also that it is not always essential for that democracy to flourish, develop successfully and endure in a sustainable fashion. The conclusion of all of this