In the last twenty years, there has occurred a ‘global resurgence of democracy’ (Diamond and Plattner, 1996). The breach of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the subsequent collapse of communism in central and eastern Europe removed one of the major ideological and political challenges to democratic government not only in Europe but throughout the world. The failure of Latin American military dictatorships to resolve economic problems, as well as their appalling human rights records, dealt severe blows to their attempts to establish a non-democratic form of political legitimacy and paved the way to the restoration of civilian democratic government in the 1980s. The ending of apartheid in South Africa and the coming of mass democracy showed the association between democratic government and the ideal of political equality in which members of the same society were not divided into first- and second-class citizens. Political challenges to the ‘soft authoritarianism’ of east Asian societies in Korea and Taiwan, as well as the persisting strength of the democratic movement in Hong Kong, surprised those who thought that Asian culture was built upon a principle of respect for those in authority. Democratization in places as diverse as South Africa, Argentina, Poland and South Korea occurred with a speed and vigour that surprised informed and knowledgeable observers. Formerly closed, authoritarian political systems became open to new influences and political ideas. These events and trends prompted many observers at the time to claim that ‘we are all democrats now’, having reached ‘the end of history’ (Fukuyama, 1989) or, to put the point less poetically but more accurately, the end of political controversy about systems of government. Democracy — it would seem — has ceased to be a matter of contention and has become a matter of convention.
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