Region: Comparative Theoretical General

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October 2021, Volume 32, Issue 4

Carl Gershman and the Struggle for Democracy

The National Endowment for Democracy’s founding president made enormous contributions to the fight for freedom and human rights. Reflections on what his 37-year tenure meant for the democratic cause—and this journal.

April 2021, Volume 32, Issue 2

Making the Internet Safe for Democracy

The outsized power of large internet platforms to amplify or silence certain voices poses a grave threat to democracy. Finding a reliable way to dilute that power offers the best possible solution.

April 2021, Volume 32, Issue 2

Why Freedom Defeats Terrorism

Far from being a vulnerability in the struggle against terrorism, democratic freedoms are key to empowering moderate voices and depriving terrorists of popular support.

April 2021, Volume 32, Issue 2

Authoritarian Vestiges in Democratic Regimes

Democracies rarely begin with a blank slate. Relics of authoritarian rule typically persist after democratic transitions, and these vestiges are not always harmful to people’s newfound freedom.

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January 2021, Volume 32, Issue 1

Why Strongmen Win in Weak States

While analysts of populism have focused on economic woes and “cultural backlash,” a thirst for the restoration of order may better explain the appeal of authoritarian populists in fragile democracies where governance is falling short.

July 2020, Volume 31, Issue 3

A Glimpse of the Way Forward

For all the concern over authoritarianism’s advance, the competence of governance may be what determines the next chapter in the struggle between democracy and dictatorship.

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July 2020, Volume 31, Issue 3

The Enduring Vulnerability of Liberal Democracy

Liberal democracy has drawn its share of false indictments. But like any form of government, it has genuine weaknesses that can at best be managed. How well liberals navigate these inherent tensions may help determine the future of freedom.

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July 2020, Volume 31, Issue 3

The Future of Nonviolent Resistance

In the decade leading up to the covid-19 pandemic, nonviolent civil resistance grew more popular than ever—but its effectiveness had already started to plummet. The future of nonviolent resistance may depend on movements’ ability to move beyond mass protests toward exploring alternative tactics and developing smarter, longer-term strategies.

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January 2020, Volume 31, Issue 1

30 Years of World Politics: What Has Changed?

Democracies are grappling with an era of transformation: Identity is increasingly replacing economics as the major axis of world politics. Technological change has deepened social fragmentation, and trust in institutions is falling. As our most basic assumptions come under question, can liberal democracy rebuild itself?

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January 2020, Volume 31, Issue 1

The End of History Revisited

Is liberal democracy the endpoint of history? The ongoing democratic recession, growing disaffection among citizens, and rising populism pose new challenges to this view. Yet testing Francis Fukuyama’s much-criticized thesis requires us to consider not only liberal democracy’s internal contradictions, but also those of its authoritarian rivals.

January 2020, Volume 31, Issue 1

Democracy’s Inevitable Elites

Robert Michels’s classic work on the “iron law of oligarchy” can help us to understand why there is so much dissatisfaction with representative democracy.

January 2020, Volume 31, Issue 1

The Instinct for Freedom

The mass protests that have taken place in 2019 in Hong Kong and elsewhere show that people’s desire for liberty cannot be extinguished.

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July 2019, Volume 30, Issue 3

Polarization versus Democracy

Why do ordinary people vote to return to office undemocratic incumbents? New survey experiments in several countries suggest that many voters are willing to put their partisan interests above democratic principles—a finding that may be key to understanding democratic backsliding.

July 2019, Volume 30, Issue 3

Why Ballot Secrecy Still Matters

The norm of ballot secrecy, although widely accepted in principle, is often downplayed and loosely defined in practice. As policy makers weigh new electoral options such as postal and internet voting, a better understanding is needed of secrecy’s many aspects and requirements.

April 2019, Volume 30, Issue 2

Confronting Authoritarianism

In May 2018, the people of Malaysia transcended distinctions of class, religion, and ethnicity in order to vote for democracy and reform against a long-ruling party riddled with corruption.

January 2019, Volume 30, Issue 1

The Fates Of Third-Wave Democracies

Since their transitions, the democracies of the “third wave” have followed a range of trajectories beyond simple survival or breakdown. Many have stagnated at low levels of democracy and some have suffered democratic erosion, but there also have been cases of democratic deepening against the odds.

October 2018, Volume 29, Issue 4

Why National Identity Matters

From enhancing physical security to encouraging mutual trust, an inclusive sense of national identity continues to be crucial to the flourishing of modern states.

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October 2018, Volume 29, Issue 4

Democracy’s “Near Misses”

What factors help a democracy to survive a crisis? A study of cases in which democracy suffered a steep decline, yet ultimately recovered and endured, offers new insights. In moments of crisis, unelected and nonmajoritarian actors can play a pivotal role.

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October 2018, Volume 29, Issue 4

Understanding Authoritarian Regionalism

Taking advantage of broad global respect for regionalism, authoritarian regimes are using their own regional organizations to bolster fellow autocracies. These groupings offer a mechanism for lending legitimacy, redistributing resources, and insulating members from democratic influences.

July 2018, Volume 29, Issue 3

What Is “Sharp Power”?

Today’s authoritarians are using “sharp power” to project their influence internationally, with the objective of limiting free expression, spreading confusion, and distorting the political environment within democracies.

July 2018, Volume 29, Issue 3

Modernization and Authoritarianism

Embracing a new model of capitalist authoritarianism, a number of nondemocratic regimes have made startling gains in state capacity, posing a new challenge to the appeal and advance of liberal democracy.

January 2018, Volume 29, Issue 1

Reevaluating Runoffs in Latin America

The worldwide popularity of runoff rules for presidential elections has grown strikingly in recent decades. In Latin America, contrary to scholarly expectations, this shift has had important benefits for democracy. 

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January 2018, Volume 29, Issue 1

Fighting Terrorism: The Democracy Advantage

Despite worries that terror groups can turn open societies’ very openness against them, the numbers reveal that liberal democracies enjoy significant advantages in resisting the threat of terrorism. 

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July 2017, Volume 28, Issue 3

The Pipe Dream of Undemocratic Liberalism

A look at liberal democracy’s complex historical evolution shows that elite fantasies of liberalism without democracy are ill-founded. Authoritarian legacies and democratic deficits lie at the core of trends that threaten liberal rights.

July 2017, Volume 28, Issue 3

The Rise of Referendums: Elite Strategy or Populist Weapon?

Political elites once held referendums to fend off challenges to European integration. More recently, Euroskeptic parties have employed referendums to batter down the walls of elite consensus. But the spread of referendums threatens to undermine the legitimacy of representative democracy.

July 2017, Volume 28, Issue 3

The Rise of Referendums: Demystifying Direct Democracy

Plebiscites have grown less common in recent decades in authoritarian and semi-authoritarian countries, even as the use of referendums in democracies has expanded. Despite their many shortcomings, referendums are, on balance, a mechanism for strengthening democracy.

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April 2017, Volume 28, Issue 2

The End of the Postnational Illusion

With the advance of modernization, nationalism was supposed to fade away. Yet everywhere we look, even in advanced democracies, nationalism’s influence seems larger than ever. What did we get wrong?

April 2017, Volume 28, Issue 2

The Modernization Trap

Populist nationalism is emerging as the main competitor to liberal democracy. But despite its current resurgence, in the long run, like other illiberal paths to modernity, it is likely to prove a dead end.

October 2016, Volume 27, Issue 4

Transition in China? More Likely Than You Think

Evidence from social science and history suggests that China is entering a “transition zone” that will threaten its capacity to maintain both authoritarian rule and high levels of economic growth.

October 2016, Volume 27, Issue 4

When Dictators Die

What political consequences can we expect when aging dictators die while in power? A fifth of the world’s autocracies are facing such a possibility, but the evidence shows that this may not augur well for democracy.

April 2016, Volume 27, Issue 2

Making Democratic Waves

A review of Making Waves: Democratic Contention in Europe and Latin America Since the Revolutions of 1848 by Kurt Weyland.

January 2016, Volume 27, Issue 1

On Democratic Backsliding

Old-fashioned military coups and blatant election-day fraud are becoming mercifully rarer these days, but other, subtler forms of democratic regression are a growing problem that demands more attention.

January 2016, Volume 27, Issue 1

The Authoritarian Threat: Weaknesses of Autocracy Promotion

While “autocracy promotion” presents a real danger, its influence so far has been limited. Because authoritarian regimes are concerned first with furthering their own interests, their interventions often have contradictory effects, sometimes even inadvertently fostering greater pluralism.

January 2016, Volume 27, Issue 1

Transition Leaders Speak

A review of Democratic Transitions: Conversations with World Leaders, edited by Sergio Bitar and Abraham F. Lowenthal.

October 2015, Volume 26, Issue 4

Exploring “Non-Western Democracy”

Often called for but seldom defined with any precision, “non-Western democracy” could end up giving cover to authoritarianism, but also could allow potentially useful democratic innovations to be tried and tested.

July 2015, Volume 26, Issue 3

Authoritarian Successor Parties

Why do significant numbers of people, after gaining the right to choose their leaders via free and fair elections, vote for political parties with deep roots in dictatorship, and how do such parties affect the consolidation of democracy?

April 2015, Volume 26, Issue 2

Transitional Justice and Its Discontents

The impulse to have crimes against humanity investigated and punished, like the impulse behind “truth and reconciliation” commissions, is understandable. But legalism cannot supersede the hard and messy work of politics.

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January 2015, Volume 26, Issue 1

Is Democracy in Decline?

As the Journal of Democracy celebrates its twenty-fifth anniversary, there are serious reasons to worry about the state of democracy.

January 2015, Volume 26, Issue 1

Why Is Democracy Performing So Poorly?

The failure to establish modern, well-governed states has been the Achilles heel of recent democratic transitions, as democratization without state modernization can actually lower the quality of governance.

January 2015, Volume 26, Issue 1

The Weight of Geopolitics

Can democracy prosper when democratic countries are in geopolitical retreat? History cautions against the notion that democracy will inevitably prevail.

January 2015, Volume 26, Issue 1

Crisis and Transition, But Not Decline

Rather than being in decline, democracy is in crisis due to the gap between the democratic ideal and how democracy is actually being practiced. It will survive by transitioning into a new, as yet unknown, form.

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January 2015, Volume 26, Issue 1

The Myth of Democratic Recession

In contrast to the conventional wisdom that democracy is in retreat worldwide, the evidence tells a different story: The state of global democracy has been stable over the last decade and is actually better than it was in the 1990s.

January 2015, Volume 26, Issue 1

Democracy Aid at 25: Time to Choose

From small beginnings, democracy aid has become a sizeable enterprise. Today it is beset by problems, however, as it must operate in a less friendly environment. Hard decisions will need to be made to maintain its relevance.

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January 2015, Volume 26, Issue 1

Facing Up to the Democratic Recession

Democracy has been in a global recession for most of the last decade, and committed and resourceful engagement by the established democracies is necessary to reverse this trend.

October 2014, Volume 25, Issue 4

Flirting with Disaster

A review of The Confidence Trap: A History of Democracy in Crisis from World War I to the Present by David Runciman.

July 2014, Volume 25, Issue 3

The End of the Transitions Era?

Regime change will always be a feature of political life, but we are unlikely to see again transitions to democracy on the scale of the “third wave.”

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July 2014, Volume 25, Issue 3

Gay Rights: Why Democracy Matters

The year 2013 featured unprecedented strides for gay rights in some parts of the world, particularly in Western Europe and the Americas, but also startling setbacks elsewhere, as in Russia and some countries in Africa.

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April 2014, Volume 25, Issue 2

Ethnic Power Sharing: Three Big Problems

In severely divided societies, ethnic cleavages tend to produce ethnic parties and ethnic voting. Power-sharing institutions can ameliorate this problem, but attempts to establish such institutions, whether based on a consociational or a centripetal model, face formidable difficulties.

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April 2014, Volume 25, Issue 2

Democratic Parliamentary Monarchies

How do democracies emerge from monarchies? In an essay that eminent political scientist Juan J. Linz was working on when he passed away in October 2013, he and his coauthors draw lessons from the European experience about whether and how Arab monarchies might aid or resist democratic development.

January 2014, Volume 25, Issue 1

Power Failure?

A review of The End of Power: From Boardrooms to Battlefields and Churches to States, Why Being In Charge Isn’t What It Used to Be by Moisés Naím.

October 2013, Volume 24, Issue 4

Democracy and the Quality of the State

What is the relationship between high-quality state administration and democracy? A look back at modern Greece and Italy, along with Germany and  the United States, provides some insights.

October 2013, Volume 24, Issue 4

Reflections on “Governance”

“Governance,” once merely a synonym for government, has taken on new meanings that tend to downplay the importance of the political. But can “good governance” be achieved today without the protections of liberal democracy?

July 2013, Volume 24, Issue 3

Kishore’s World

The widely hailed writings of Singapore’s Kishore Mahbubani, including his latest book, The Great Convergence: Asia, the West, and the Logic of One World, reveal a remarkably narrow and Manichean worldview.

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April 2013, Volume 24, Issue 2

Democratization Theory and the “Arab Spring”

In light of the “Arab Spring,” how should students of democratic transition rethink the relation between religion and democracy; the nature of regimes that mix democratic and authoritarian features; and the impact of “sultanism” on prospects for democracy?