The Myth of Democratic Recession

Issue Date January 2015
Volume 26
Issue 1
Page Numbers 45-58
file Print
arrow-down-thin Download from Project MUSE
external View Citation

Contrary to widespread belief, there is no global “democratic recession.” Despite less favorable international conditions, levels of democracy in the world remained stable in the 2000s. Perceptions of democratic recession originate in excessive post–Cold War optimism, rooted in the successful democratizations of the 1980s. During the early 1990s, economic crisis, weakened states, and external pressure forced many autocrats to abandon power or tolerate opposition. These authoritarian crises were widely viewed as democratic transitions, even though most were not. Subsequent authoritarian (re)consolidation was thus perceived as democratic “backsliding.” Misplaced pessimism was reinforced by disappointment over non-democratization in China, the Middle East, and elsewhere, despite the fact that most remaining dictatorships existed amid highly unfavorable conditions for democratization.

About the Authors

Steven Levitsky

Steven Levitsky is professor of government at Harvard University and co-chair of the Journal of Democracy Editorial Board.

View all work by Steven Levitsky

Lucan A. Way

Lucan Way is Distinguished Professor of Democracy at the University of Toronto, co-director of the Petro Jacyk Program for the Study of Ukraine, and co-chair of the Journal of Democracy Editorial Board.

View all work by Lucan A. Way