1st Edition

Democracies in Peril? Waves of Backsliding

By Hans Keman Copyright 2024
    276 Pages 1 Color & 10 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    276 Pages 1 Color & 10 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    276 Pages 1 Color & 10 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    This insightful text rigorously examines and accounts for contemporary developments – and crucially a reversal of “democraticness” – in democratic polities and related political processes comparing 38 democracies across the world. The focus is on contemporary developments and recent volatile levels of democraticness.

    Democracies in Peril? introduces theoretical backgrounds of what makes democracy tick and scrutinises empirical trends and development in “democraticness” in an accessible manner. It explores what “democracy” as a political regime implies and how the liberal democratic model developed, as well as examining the present state of affairs in democracies, the challenges democracies encounter and the perils of democracy as a legitimate system of governance in the 21st century. The book provides a “systemic” approach to adjudicate the effects of this assumed reversal in democratisation in terms of popular preferences, party behaviour, institutional architecture and policy performance. The effects of public policy formation and the role of the state on actual democratic performance are also analysed.

    Finally, case studies on the Covid pandemic and the development of social welfare demonstrate the complex relationship between government capacities – under pressure – and the quality of democracy, approaching the question: How do 38 democratic states cope with societal problems, populist tendencies and a fast-changing world without degrading their institutional quality and legitimacy?

    This text will be of key interest to students, scholars, journalists and interested readers of comparative politics, democratisation, public administration, political economy, constitutional law and the social sciences in general.

    List of tables

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    1 Prologue: democracy in the 21st century

    1.1 Democracies in peril: backsliding and de-democratisation

    1.2 The concept of democraticness: proto-types

    1.3 Levels of democraticness: the yard-stick for comparison

    1.4 The storyline as a “road trip”: democratisation and political decay

    1.5 Value-free and value-related knowledge: a realist position

    PART 1

    Studying democracy: detecting flaws, defects and perils

    2 Reversing trends in “democraticness”

    2.1 Democracy in peril?

    2.2 Are “full” democracies indeed reverting?

    2.3 Full democracies in contrast to flawed and defective democracies

    2.4 Perilous developments: potential reasons and questions to ask

    3 Comparative political science and the study of democracy

    3.1 The academic debate: room for improvement

    3.2 Omissions in the study of democratic politics

    3.3 Comparing democratic states: full, flawed and defective polities

    4 Thinking about democracy: the origins of the liberal model

    4.1 From ideas to design

    4.2 The enlightenment and the concept of the democratic state

    4.3 John Stuart Mill and liberal democracy

    4.4 The roots of liberal democracy laid out: still work in progress

    PART 2

    Pathways towards liberal Democratisation

    5 Designing liberal democracy: institutionalising the polity

    5.1 Constitutional trajectories toward “representative” governance

    5.2 Missing dimensions, institutional progress and constraints

    5.3 The shaping of the polity towards liberal democracy

    5.4 Considerations on the road to liberal democratisation

    6 Towards universal suffrage and representation of the people

    6.1 Electoral inclusiveness and fair representation

    6.2 Finding the optimal solution to fair and effective representation

    6.3 The effects of electoral systems: inclusiveness and pluriform representation

    6.4 Institutional engineering: the choice of an optimal electoral system

    7 Who governs at the end of the day in a democracy?

    7.1 Power distribution and indirect democracy: inevitable or containable?

    7.2 Democracy and selected leadership: the role of political elites

    7.3 Indirect democracy: selecting accountable leadership

    7.4 Elitism versus pluralism: power concentration or dispersion?

    7.5 The scope and limits of liberal democracy

    PART 3

    Contemporary approaches to the development of democracy 97

    8 Polyarchy and pluralism: waves of democratisation

    8.1 Polyarchy: the route to “full” democracy?

    8.2 Pathways of democratisation: sequences towards polyarchy

    8.3 Waves of democratisation: path dependencies and critical junctures

    8.4 The second wave of democratisation and reversal (1920–1939)

    8.5 Post-war waves towards polyarchy and beyond

    8.6 Conceptual considerations on polyarchy

    9 Consensus democracy: the alternative to polyarchy?

    9.1 Cleavage theory and the coming about of consensus democracy

    9.2 Institutional engineering a peaceful polity: consensus democracy

    9.3 Consensus democracy and a better and kinder society

    9.4 Considerations on the theory of consensus democracy

    10 Parties and democracy: does politics matter?

    10.1 Politics – polity – policy and democracy

    10.2 Complexities of democracy: political parties and policy performance

    10.3 Electoral politics and parties in competition and government

    10.4 To what extent does democratic politics matter?

    PART 4

    The liberal model as a yardstick of full democracy?

    11 Ranking the stars of democraticness

    11.1 The end of history or political decay?

    11.2 Liberal democracy: the paradigm to follow? Ranking the stars

    11.3 The state of democracy in the 21st century

    11.4 Towards fuller democracies or the end of the liberal model?

    12 The limits of the liberal democratic model

    12.1 From liberal to full democracy? Variations of democraticness

    12.2 The paradigm of liberal democracy contested: toward a fuller democracy?

    12.3 Challenging liberal democracy: reforming the system

    12.4 The state of the liberal model: embeddedness or moving away?

    12.5 The limits to liberal democracy

    13 Signs of backsliding: illiberalism and populism

    13.1 “Illiberalism” and “anti-pluralism” and the level of democraticness

    13.2 Anti-pluralism and the impact of populism

    13.3 The growth of anti-democratic tendencies: illiberalism and populism

    13.4 Backsliding towards defective democracy

    PART 5

    Liberal democracy, the national state and governing society

    14 Macro-politics and micro-performance of the “state”

    14.1 The problem-solving capability of the democratic state

    14.2 Public policy formation: political choice and policy performance

    14.3 Trust is hard to gain but easy to lose: output legitimacy

    15 Liberal democracy, legitimacy and stateness: micro performance

    15.1 Democratic politics, public policy and societal performance

    15.2 The crisis-solving capacity of democratic state: coping with a pandemic

    15.3 Avoiding misery, inequalities and the pursuit of happiness?

    15.4 The democratic advantage and effective stateness as a sine qua non

    16 Legitimacy and the liberal democratic state in the 21st century

    16.1 Democracy and the state: entering a new age

    16.2 Trust and confidence in institutions

    16.3 The rise of social media and its role in politics and society

    16.4 The battle for the people: mainstream party politics in disregard

    16.5 The shift to provocative parliamentarism: harbouring populist illiberalism

    17 Epilogue: backsliding into the 21st century: outmoded or viable and resilient?

    17.1 Liberal democracy: state of affairs

    17.2 Fear for autocratisation: institutional decay and anti-democratic ethos

    17.3 Positive conditions and negative consequences of democraticness



    Hans Keman is Professor Emeritus of Comparative Political Science at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VU Amsterdam), the Netherlands.

    'Democracies in Peril proceeds with the evenhandedness of a diplomat and the incisive analytical insight of a superbly informed scholar. In it Hans Keman explains the value of democracy, with all its limitations, and how the rising menaces of anti-pluralism and populism are slowly derailing liberal democratic practices from within. All who care to understand what is at stake—and we all should—will gain a clear-eyed appreciation of the stakes by pondering the ideas Keman puts on offer.'

    Michael McDonald, Professor of Political Science, State University of New York at Binghamton, USA

    'This is a thoughtful and realistic account of the much discussed crisis of democracies today making us to understand their weaknesses and defects with ensuing diminishing policy performance and a loss of trust in government. The comprehensive analysis of democracies allows the author to suggest ways out of the current legitimacy crisis by making proposals for building higher levels of confidence in the democratic system. The book sets new standards in the discussion on the democratic backlash. A must read!'

    Dietmar Braun, Professor of Political Science, University of Lausanne, Switzerland