Democratic purgatory: The failure of democracy in Venezuela

Christopher Matthew Brown, Florida International University


This research provides an understanding of the conditions that presage the failure of consolidated democratic political regimes through constitutional processes. In seeking to answer the question of how democracy might fail through democratic means, this study has revealed a gap in the literature on democratization. Venezuela was selected as a heuristic case study to explain this phenomenon. Heuristic case studies place less emphasis on the more configurative or descriptive elements of the case itself, and instead see the case as a point of departure for the formulations of theoretical propositions. While in-case hypotheses are possible, heuristic case studies make it an explicit research plan to tease out mechanisms that exist in a particular case study that might survive in other situations. ^ This study demonstrates that the elements in society that act as direct participants in the establishment of a democratic political system are able to maintain their position in the new order largely through an expansion of their ability to meet popular demands through clientelistic arrangements. While these corporatist groups may serve to facilitate social mobilization during the establishment of democratic regimes, they do so only in so far as they can maintain social control of in-group membership without fully providing for representative democracy. Once these democratic institutions are consolidated as key parts of the democratic structure, these corporatist arrangements provide for a type of unstable democratic purgatory: democracy is not fully representative, yet it is not completely unresponsive to the demands of the electorate. ^ The condition of democratic purgatory produces a paradox whereby democracy can be undemocratic under certain conditions. The stability of these regimes allows for democratic consolidation, despite the undemocratic basis of legitimacy. While these regimes can undergo consolidation, ultimately, this condition is unstable: either these regimes must establish an endogenous basis of political legitimacy (one that is not simply a function of the corporatist/clientelistic political structure), or the democracy will suffer a qualitative decline that may result in a democratic breakdown. Furthermore, this study finds that the viability of any type of democratic regime rests upon its adaptability to ensure adequate representativeness. ^

Subject Area

History, Latin American|Political Science, General|Political Science, International Law and Relations

Recommended Citation

Brown, Christopher Matthew, "Democratic purgatory: The failure of democracy in Venezuela" (2009). ProQuest ETD Collection for FIU. AAI3395775.