For almost a decade, Freedom House’s annual survey has highlighted a decline in democracy in most regions of the globe. Some analysts say this shows that the world has entered a "democratic recession." Others dispute that interpretation, emphasizing democracy’s success in maintaining the huge gains it made during the last quarter of the twentieth century.
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.
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.
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.
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?
A review of What Is Populism? by Jan-Werner Müller.
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.
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.
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.
A review of The Quest for Good Governance: How Societies Develop Control of Corruption by Alina Mungiu-Pippidi.