Debate: The Value of “Tyrannophobia”

Issue Date October 2022
Volume 33
Issue 4
Page Numbers 161–64
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Jason Brownlee and Kenny Miao offer an important corrective to the current mood of despair about democracy’s trajectory. Democratic failure, they argue, is not inevitable, and is not even tightly linked to the phenomenon of democratic backsliding. Wealth, in particular, remains an insulating factor that protects democracies from paying the ultimate price. In response, I have three points to make. First, the distinction between breakdown and backsliding in their account is not as sharp as it could be. This blunts some of the force of the argument. Second, I agree with the authors that erosion—rather than democratic death—­is what we should be concerned about. It is easy to imagine significant erosion in the United States, beyond what we have experienced, without a full-fledged collapse. Third, I argue that what some pejoratively call “tyrannophobia” is endogenous to democratic survival. Indeed, hand-wringing can be necessary to keep democratic competition alive.

About the Author

Tom Ginsburg is professor of political science and Leo Spitz Distinguished Service Professor of International Law at the University of Chicago.

View all work by Tom Ginsburg

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