This article argues that much of the work on democratization and democratic consolidation is obscured by a conceptual fog, when at the very least some of this confusion could be ameliorated by parsing out components that are obviously liberal in nature. An admission of the importance of liberalization and liberal consolidation as distinctly different in form and measurement from democratization and democratic consolidation are the first steps to better research on the varieties of causation that constitute and propel the dissolution of more authoritarian regimes towards more liberal democratic regimes. Acknowledging that the liberal in liberal democracy is unpopular for some, and that liberal democracy does not necessarily mean American liberal democracy, go a long way to freeing these terms from ethnocentric misconceptions, as well as cementing analytical clarification. Though all modern democracies have both liberal and democratic components, democratic consolidation does not guarantee liberal consolidation.

Keywords: liberalization; liberal consolidation; liberalism; democratization;democratic consolidation; democracy; liberal democracy.


A causal argument, whether borne by a statistical inquiry or a qualitative articulation, is in the aggregate the most valued species of argument in contemporary political science. If we are to present an argument that veers away from causation and instead focuses our attention on the level of concept, we must justify ourselves to those who prefer the middle path. A linguistic trial by classification and typology creation can “have a useful role, however, as a way of categorizing causes and effects that cannot be measured using numbers”. In order to avoid a droll discussion of conceptual classification and clarification, some imperative must excite us away from a question of what causes what towards a more fundamental query of what are we even talking about. Something like a normative imperative surely exists amongst the community of scholars and practitioners of what is normally  referred to as “democratization” and its various offspring: “democratic transition”,“democratic consolidation”, and “quality of democracy.” If scholars get these concepts wrong, how should we expect those in the world of policy to get it right? This article has a singular argument: in the twenty-first century, any concept of democratization is wrong when liberalization is also assumed to be an inherent part of that process. If democracy and liberalism are not the same thing, then why do we expect (1) democratization to automatically include liberalization, and (2)democratic consolidation to include liberal consolidation?

To state the conclusion first: we should not. Liberal democracy, though more than a simple sum of its parts, can never be “consolidated” unless both of its parts are understood. Furthermore, the liberal must be accepted and embraced in the same way that the democratic has been if we are to ever make sense of the various paths of transition from more authoritarian regimes. This article begins by reviewing the current confusion caused by the concept of democratization that values rule by the people more than liberty. A review of what democracy and liberalism mean and how they do or do not fit together to create a liberal democracy is in order. An alternative classification o fcurrent regimes will be provided in order to ground future theories of causation in a plane of greater clarity. The remainder of the article will then ask why it is that researchers have been so reluctant to use the adjective liberal in their projects and what might be gained by shifting a focus towards ideas of liberal consolidation…[click here to continue to read full text]

*Originally published in Democratization by T. F. Rhoden; photo credit to Biography.com. Unless otherwise stated, all posts on this website are under Creative Commons licence.