Delegative Democracy, A Failure of Consolidation

Guillermo O’Donnell in his publication of “Delegative Democracy,” takes an alternative viewpoint as to why certain democracies fail to consolidate. While in previous readings the emphasis has been on the way transitions from authoritarian regimes to democracies have been handled, in this writing, O’Donnell argues that more decisive influences include historical factors and the severity of socioeconomic factors inherited by the previous regime.  O’Donnell highlights that the key difference between representative democracies and delegative democracies are that after the first phase of transition from authoritarian to democratic, representative democracies undergo a second phase in which the democracy is consolidated due to intentional building of effective political institutions. O’Donnell states that countries like Uruguay and Chile have been successful because their governmental agents had a cohesive undertaking to strengthen institutions. On the other hand, delegative democracies, though enduring, fail to do so and instead fall into a pervasive cycle of discontent and crisis, driven by inherited social and economic problems. These crises are defined by politicians focusing on short-term solutions, assumptions that human beings will behave rationally, and in a ‘disaggregated manner.’


While O’Donnell certainly bring up a good point that democracies depend on institutions to effectively handle national problems, he only vaguely outlines what those institutions are and barely touches on how a government could go about undertaking the second phase of democratic transition. Furthermore, though he says that delegative democracies are enduring, if this cycle of election hype and then discontent continues, with no true economic or social growth, it is quite possible that Latin American countries currently labeled as these types of democracies could revert to authoritarian, given public outrage or desire for effective and quick rule. Overall, if political leadership fails to recognize its destructive tendencies, democratic rule could prove to be unfavorable to a suffering populace .