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Shapiro: Democracy Innovation

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Shapiro. 1996. Democracy Innovation: A South African perspective on Schumpeterianism. In Democracy's Place. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

In Brief

Schumpeter's procedural definition of democracy has conquered the Western literature, but people in emerging democracies tend to view "democracy" as much more than a mere set of electoral procedures. Shapiro illustrates this argument by presenting South Africa's democracy as an example.

As a refresher of Schumpeter's (1942) main idea about democracy: "it's about selling a product [governmental output] in exchange for votes" (81).

Schumpeter in South Africa

This view suggests that "democratic civil society" and such is overrated. What really matters is the free competition for votes. This often depends on constitutional engineering that gives rival groups incentives to yield power when they lose elections. They must believe that, even if short-term policy isn't good, they can move policy towards what they want in the long term.

But what this rational choice approach won't concede is that losing groups can develop a normative commitment to democracy. Just as enough white Americans came to support affirmative action that it became national policy, a large portion of Afrikaners came to oppose Apartheid in the end (especially after the Dutch church in South Africa formally declared Apartheid to be against Christianity in the mid 1980s). Further, what if members of the highly fragmented ANC were willing to suffer temporary losses after 1994 because they decided normatively that democracy was important (given their recent experience of oppression)? Culture matters too.