Why the “Journal of Democracy”

Issue Date Winter 1990
Volume 1
Issue 1
Page Numbers 3-5
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The decade of the 1980s witnessed a remarkable worldwide resurgence of democracy. Freely elected civilian regimes replaced dictatorships throughout much of Latin America, and a democratic transition neared completion in Chile. In Asia democracy emerged, against difficult odds, in the Philippines, South Korea, and Pakistan. Almost everywhere, state-dominated economies became mired in stagnation, and dictatorial governments faced pressures for democratic change. Even many communist regimes, including the Soviet Union, found themselves compelled by economic failure and popular dissatisfaction to adopt policies aimed at greater “democratization.” As the decade drew to a close, democratic opposition forces made unprecedented gains in Poland and Hungary, and breathtakingly sudden crises of totalitarian rule erupted in East Germany, Bulgaria, and Czechoslovakia.

The resurgence of democracy may be attributed in part to the failure of its rivals. Marxism-Leninism and the various brands of authoritarianism that have dominated the Third World have proven themselves incapable both of securing popular legitimacy and of achieving satisfactory economic progress. Moreover, people who experience life under these repressive regimes gain a new appreciation of the essential human freedoms guaranteed by democratic government.

About the Authors

Marc F. Plattner

Marc F. Plattner is a member of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) Board of Directors. He was on the NED staff from 1984 until 2020, serving first as the director of the grants program. In 1989, he became founding coeditor (with Larry Diamond) of the Journal of Democracy. He later served as codirector of the International Forum for Democratic Studies and as NED’s vice-president for research and studies.

View all work by Marc F. Plattner

Larry Diamond

Larry Diamond is senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the Mosbacher Senior Fellow in Global Democracy at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University, and founding coeditor of the Journal of Democracy.

View all work by Larry Diamond

Yet despite its intrinsic appeal and its recent triumphs, democracy remains comparatively weak in the realm of political ideas and organization. In many developing countries, the bookstores and the universities are dominated by Marxists. Elsewhere, Islamic fundamentalism and other extremist. or authoritarian doctrines exert a powerful influence. There are still significant areas of the world where prodemocratic intellectuals are lonely and embattled, or reluctant to raise their voices.

Democrats are typically less well organized than adherents of antidemocratic ideologies. Because democracy naturally appeals to those who value moderation and believe in the importance of the private sphere, its supporters are sometimes less committed to political struggle than their opponents. Yet the achievement and consolidation of democracy require strong nongovernmental organizations devoted not only 4 Journal of Democracy to advancing the interests of particular sectors but to building and defending the democratic system as a whole. Without a vigorously organized civil society, it is unlikely that the many powerful obstacles to democratic transitions can be overcome or that new democracies will be able to survive. Dedicated men and women around the world are responding to this challenge, but their task is a formidable one.

In many cases Third World democrats feel beleaguered and isolated. There is surprisingly little contact between activists and intellectuals, even within the same country. Prodemocratic forces have also been much less effective than their antidemocratic rivals in establishing international contacts and cooperation. Often democratic groups are not aware of the efforts being carried out by their counterparts in other countries, much less the ideas, strategies, and tactics that are being successfully employed in mobilizations for democracy around the world. Particularly striking is the almost total lack of communication between democrats in the Third World and those in the communist countries — or indeed even between Western scholars who study issues relating to democracy in these areas.

The Journal of Democracy seeks to bridge some of these gaps. We hope that it will help to unify what is becoming a worldwide democratic movement. But like genuine democracy itself, the journal will be pluralistic. Its pages will be open to a wide variety of perspectives and shades of opinion, and it will seek to encourage lively debate among competing democratic viewpoints. The journal will also provide its readers with timely information, thoughtful analysis, and the latest scholarship on democracy. It will attempt not only to document and explain democratic developments in specific countries but also to advance understanding of the broader conditions and strategies for instituting, consolidating, and maintaining democratic government.

The Journal of Democracy is edited and published in the United States, and it can play an important role in helping political and opinion leaders in this country…