The quality and diversity of democracy in Latin America: notes on the political theory of Guillermo O’Donnell1
It has been three decades since Guillermo O’Donnell, Philippe C. Schmitter, and Laurence Whitehead (1986) initiated a remarkably productive program of research with the publication of Transitions from authoritarian rule. The 1980s were a moment of academic consensus on the need to understand democracy in minimal and procedural terms, and to eschew old debates over formal versus substantive democracy. The subsequent shift in scholarly focus from transitions to consolidation (Linz and Stepan 1996), however, generated a new debate over whether democracies in Latin America would diverge from or resemble more established democracies. Guillermo O’Donnell (1996), wrote a particularly trenchant critique of the idea of democratic consolidation. The fatal flaw in the idea of consolidation was the teleological assumption of convergence on liberal democracy. The lack of consolidation did not necessarily mean transitions were incomplete, but that democracies emerging in Latin America might be different from those that have emerged in Europe and North America. Democratic theory developed in that context was of limited relevance to Latin America where a “new species” of democracy was emerging, which O’Donnell labeled “delegative.”
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