The Conceptual Politics of Democracy Promotion: The Venezuela Case


  • Ali El Hajj-Hassan University of British Columbia
  • Peter Ferguson University of Western Ontario



democracy, Venezuela, Chavez, neoliberalism, US imperialism


In 1970 Giovanni Sartori articulated what he saw as the greatest challenge to political science in an increasingly globalized worldconceptual stretching. Sartori was referring to the traveling of western concepts eastward and proposed the use of a conceptual ladder to help inform the decisions political scientists make regarding the concepts they wish to travel. This paper seeks to push the boundaries of Sartori’s critique beyond academia to include policy; a subject where a dynamic and informative relationship between academia and policy should exist, but are instead faced with a one-dimensional arrangement. In that vein, this paper consists of three main parts. The first employs a brief historiography of the conceptual debate between, largely, Schumpeterian and Dahlian definitions of democracy where two main schools of thought will be sketched. The second evokes Venezuela's recent political history to illustrate how the United States Government has, at different times, employed various definitions, and standards, of democracy to describe the Venezuelan regime. The third seeks to establish how American oscillation between standards erodes the value reference point of democracy and draw out the implications of this. In particular, the third part unpacks what this erosion should mean moving forward for academics engaged in the conceptual politics of democracy. In sum, the instrumentalizing of the ambiguity of the concept—democracy—by oscillating between Schumpeterian and Dahlian standards devalues the concept. And unless the academic debate regarding democratic theory begins to account for this devaluation, democracy may well be emptied of its substance. 

Author Biographies

Ali El Hajj-Hassan, University of British Columbia

Department of Geography, PhD Candidate

Peter Ferguson, University of Western Ontario

Department of Political Science, Assistant Professor


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