Region: Comparative Theoretical General

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. 

January 2018, Volume 29, Issue 1

Alfred C. Stepan (1936–2017)

On September 27, the field of comparative democratic studies lost one of its most brilliant, prolific, and seminal scholars of the last half-century, Alfred C. Stepan. The longest-serving member of the Journal of Democracy Editorial Board (one of only two members still serving from the founding Board of nearly 28 years ago), Stepan authored or coauthored more…

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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?

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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.

April 2013, Volume 24, Issue 2

Armies and Revolutions

A key factor in determining the success or failure of revolutions is how the national armed forces react. What are the keys to making accurate predictions about what the soldiers will do when the fate of a regime hangs in the balance?

October 2012, Volume 23, Issue 4

Media and Democracy: The Long View

Modern democracy was born in the era of print, and the press has been one of its essential institutions. With the decline of newspapers and the rise of new media, what are the implications for democracy?

October 2012, Volume 23, Issue 4

Politics in Crisis?

Although politics today is in critical condition—some even say it is dying—it is all the more important to revive it.

October 2012, Volume 23, Issue 4

The Ethnocracy Trap

A political system in which power is formally divided among ethnic or sectarian groups may seem like a good idea in conflict-ridden societies, but it bears a high price and makes true democratic transition harder to achieve.

April 2012, Volume 23, Issue 2

Václav Havel (1936–2011)

A tribute to Václav Havel—one of the most revered democratic leaders and thinkers of our time—who passed away on 18 December 2011. Included are a document issued by the signers of China's Charter '08 and some reflections, originally published in the Mainichi Daily News, by Aung San Suu Kyi.

April 2012, Volume 23, Issue 2

Guillermo O’Donnell (1936–2011)

Tributes to the eminent political scientist Guillermo O'Donnell, who passed away on 29 October 2011, written by O'Donnell's former coauthor Philippe C. Schmitter and by Scott Mainwaring of the Kellogg Institute, which O'Donnell helped to found.

October 2011, Volume 22, Issue 4

Comparing the Arab Revolts: The Global Context

Although the Arab revolts have a long way to go before they can be counted as gains for democracy, they do underline what is perhaps democracy’s greatest source of strength worldwide—its superior legitimacy.

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October 2011, Volume 22, Issue 4

Comparing the Arab Revolts: The Lessons of 1989

The Arab events of 2011 may have some similarities to the wave of popular upheavals against authoritarianism that swept the Soviet bloc starting in 1989, but the differences are much more fundamental.

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April 2011, Volume 22, Issue 2

Liberation Technology: Whither Internet Control?

Paradoxically, the rising profile of “liberation technology” may push Internet-control efforts into nontechnological areas—imprisonment rather than censorship, for example—for which there is no easy technical “fix.”

April 2011, Volume 22, Issue 2

FOI Laws Around the World

Are laws guaranteeing citizens freedom of access to public information (FOI laws) among the most important democratic innovations of the last century?

July 2010, Volume 21, Issue 3

Election Observers and Their Biases

Why do election monitors sometimes issue contradictory statements or endorse flawed elections? The answers are not always straightforward; in some cases, the monitors’ good intentions may undermine their credibility.

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April 2010, Volume 21, Issue 2

Democracy and Deep Divides

How do democracies deal with the deep divisions created by race, ethnicity, religion, and language? The cases of Canada, India, and the United States show that democratic institutions—notably, competitive elections and independent judiciaries—can bridge divides and build stability, but they must find a way to manage the tension between individual and group equality.

January 2010, Volume 21, Issue 1

Twenty-Five Years, Fifteen Findings

A coauthor of the pathbreaking study Transitions from Authoritarian Rule reflects on the lessons that he has learned about democratic transition and consolidation since the publication of this work nearly 25 years ago.

January 2010, Volume 21, Issue 1

Transitions to the Rule of Law

While we have witnessed many transitions to multiparty systems, it has proven much harder for countries to attain a genuine rule of law. We need to know more about the origins of the rule of law in order to promote it successfully today.

January 2010, Volume 21, Issue 1

The Crash of ’08

The short-term political impact of the economic crisis has been less dramatic than initially expected, but it may have lasting effects on the “quality” of democracy, including the legitimacy of prevailing financial institutions.

January 2010, Volume 21, Issue 1

Authoritarianism’s Last Line of Defense

The new electoral authoritarian regimes of the post–Cold War era have formally adopted the full panoply of liberal-democratic institutions. Rather than rejecting or repressing these institutions, they manipulate them.

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January 2010, Volume 21, Issue 1

Populism, Pluralism, and Liberal Democracy

In recent years, scholars have begun to focus on the sources of "authoritarian resilience." But democracy has also shown surprising resilience, in part because the disorders to which it is prone tend to counteract each other.