Domestic elites and opinion - The neglected dimension of externally induced democratization


After the end of the Cold War, the international community has become more and more active in building peace and supporting the development of democratic institutions in conflict-ridden societies. Such post-conflict reconstruction activities equally gained the attention of researchers in political science, international relations, history, and sociology. The overwhelming majority of these post-conflict studies focus on the contribution of external actors to peace- and democracy-building in the frame of peace-building and peace-keeping missions or international trusteeship administrations. Scholars assess the internal structure of such missions, their mandates, and the implemented programs and strategies as well as the legitimacy of externally led democratization and state-building. They make strong arguments about internal organizational shortcomings of national governments such as the U.S. and international organizations such as the United Nations or the European Union and cite cooperation problems among the multiple external actors working in a post-conflict society as critical factors for successful peace missions. Some seek to discover the impact of such missions on peace-building processes and thereby tentatively conclude about potential negative consequences of democracy promotion for peace-building.

It comes as a surprise that all these studies neglect what scholars of transition studies, drawing on a broad range of historical examples of regime change, have highlighted as most important factors for successful transitions to democracy: a domestic elite consensus and the support of the electorate for the emerging democracy. A consensus between outgoing and incoming elites on decision-making procedures, basic values and the required reform program is necessary for successful democratization. In the long run, such a consensus allows for the nonviolent management of conflicts and facilitates cooperation, trust-building and the capacity for compromise which in turn guarantees the survival of democracy, or in other words, the elites’ durable compliance with new democratic rules of the game. It is claimed that, once the political elites follow the rules, the people will also accept democracy as a legitimate political system. Furthermore, the more inclusive the elite consensus, the more stable and the less vulnerable democracy becomes. Without such an internal elite consensus the country would risk falling back into authoritarianism or at best stabilize as a democracy with defects.

The literature on elites acknowledges that profound political crises, such as the attainment of national independence, defeat in warfare, a revolutionary outbreak or a civil war, are pivotal events that often produce changes in elites and regimes. Many crises, in turn, derive from elite confrontations between old regime elites and new oppositional. However, with their focus on domestic actors, elite-centered approaches stand in stark contrast to recent analyses in transition and post-conflict studies that advance the concept of successful democratization from the outside by external actors.

Apparently, there is a lack of dialogue between those different strands of research. Hardly any recent study in the field adopts the perspective of domestic elites or past developments in post-conflict countries whose transition process is externally monitored, supervised or even administered nor do they consider the relevance of public opinion in such a controlled democratization process.

This conference attempts to fill this research gap. Thus, our conference invitees will deal with the following research questions:

- Who are the domestic elites and which impact do they have on their societies?

- How do internal elites perceive the external interference in peace- und democracy-building and subsequently interact with external actors in externally induced democratization processes?

- In how far do internal elites benefit from and/or exploit the long-term presence of external actors for their political purposes?

- How does public opinion influence decision-making in external democratization?

- Might the current responses of political elites and the public to the presence of external actors be explicable by historical experiences of dependence and foreign domination?

- Are there lessons to be learned from historical examples of foreign occupation and external attempts to build peace or exert an impact on the shape of the political regime?

  • Department of Politics and Public Administration
    Weiffen, Brigitte; Grimm, Sonja (2013): Domestic elites and public opinion : the neglected dimension of externally induced democratization ; International conference, September 5-7, 2012, University of Konstanz Zeitschrift für Vergleichende Politikwissenschaft. 2013, 7(1), pp. 85-88. ISSN 1865-2646. Available under: doi: 10.1007/s12286-013-0142-0

Domestic elites and public opinion : the neglected dimension of externally induced democratization ; International conference, September 5-7, 2012, University of Konstanz



Origin (projects)

Funding sources
Name Finanzierungstyp Kategorie Project no.
Exzellenzinitiative third-party funds research funding program 476/12
Further information
Period: 01.01.2012 – 31.10.2012