On 18 September 2013, Professor Lucan Way discussed his upcoming book, Pluralism by Default and the Sources of Political Competition after the Cold War, at the Constitutional Transitions & Global and Comparative Law Colloquium. Professor Way is an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Toronto.
The book explores factors that explain the emergence and persistence of highly competitive and often democratic regimes in countries with weak democratic prerequisites. Focusing on regime transitions in the former Soviet Union, Way argues that democratic and semi-democratic political competition has often been grounded less in well-designed institutions or emerging civil society, and much more in the failure of authoritarianism. In many cases, pluralism has persisted because autocrats have been too weak to steal elections, repress opposition, or keep allies in line – resulting in pluralism by default. Pluralism by default describes a range of democratic and competitive authoritarian regimes in which political competition survives not because leaders are especially democratic or because institutions or societal actors are particularly strong, but because the government is too fragmented and the state too weak to impose authoritarian rule. In such cases, leaders lack the resources, authority or coordination to prevent today’s allies from becoming tomorrow’s challengers, control the legislature, impose censorship, manipulate elections, or use force against political opponents.
During the colloquium session, Way discussed the idea of political pluralism as the default position for authoritarian regimes that fail to consolidate. While this outcome seems to be true for the former Soviet republics, the same may not hold true in other parts of the world. Plausible alternatives to political pluralism could be descent into civil war; the disintegration of the state into a failed state and chaos; or a cycle of weak authoritarian regimes, each overthrowing the next. Way also expanded on one of his central arguments – that efforts to build the institutions of consolidated democracies are double-edged swords, because strong institutions can also serve as the foundation for autocracy. On this view, democracy promotion through building strong states creates a dilemma for democrats, who may inadvertently increase the risk of autocracy. Way suggested that one could differentiate between different varieties of state-building strategies, some of which were directed at democracies and others directed at autocracies.
More information about future sessions of the Constitutional Transitions & Global and Comparative Law Colloquium is available here.