Democratic Decay & Renewal (DEM-DEC): Global Research Update-June 2019

DEM-DEC is Marking its First Anniversary

DEM-DEC was launched on 25 June 2018 to assist researchers and policymakers focused on the global deterioration of liberal democracy, and on re-thinking democracy. DEM-DEC has delivered on its core purpose is to bring scholars and policymakers together in a collaborative project to pool expertise on democratic decay and democratic renewal, in a context where many experts were previously talking in silos, or past one another. Since launch DEM-DEC has been used by thousands of democracy defenders and analysts worldwide, in over 130 states. You can find endorsements from leading analysts here. The platform has also expanded over time, with recent additions including a special section devoted to the EU treaty process for addressing rule of law backsliding (curated by Prof. Laurent Pech and Dr Joelle Grogan). Thank you to everyone – and that’s thousands of you! – for helping to make DEM-DEC what it is today, and for continuing to collaborate in this global project.

Eleventh Global Research Update since DEM-DEC was launched

This eleventh monthly update was issued on 29 June 2019 and is now available on DEM-DEC. Sincere thanks to DEM-DEC REsearch Editors Kuan-Wei Chen and Anant Sangal, who assisted in production of this Update.

Additions in the June Update include:

·         New research worldwide from May-late June 2019

·         A significant list of additions suggested by DEM-DEC Users

·         A growing list of forthcoming research, and

·         Resources recently added to the DEM-DEC Links section

Identifying Themes

In each monthly I select key themes. The aim is simply to provide ‘added value’ by helping users to navigate the Update, and to provide some limited commentary, especially on very recent research. Although it is impossible to capture every dimension of the issues covered in this Update, six key themes can be picked out.

1    Taking Stock on DEM-DEC’s First Year Anniversary

DEM-DEC’s first anniversary provides a useful moment to pause and take stock. In early 2018 the initial inspiration for DEM-DEC was the clear need for a hub to gather the rapidly growing literature and events focused on the deterioration of liberal democracy worldwide – whether through the subtle machinations of errant governments, rising illiberal political forces, or wider decay of the democratic system. After a breakneck development phase, by the time DEM-DEC was launched in June 2018 the sheer range of activity worldwide made the public value of such a hub even more evident.

This proliferation of research shows no sign of slowing down, and the DEM-DEC team now faces the continual challenge of providing a useful round-up of research each month while avoiding the temptation to be comprehensive and becoming part of the problem by adding to information overload. Every part of DEM-DEC, including the Global Research Update, rests on careful curation, in an ongoing relationship with our users and leading global experts.

Our name change to Democratic Decay & Renewal in April 2019 means the focus of DEM-DEC has expanded to include items on re-thinking how we conceive of, and practice, liberal democratic rule. We see this as the necessary corollary of meditating on the causes and patterns of democratic decay, and it provides a focus on hope and action rather than fatalism and powerlessness.

2    Taking Stock on the Global Crisis of Democracy

Three new books focus on the current global challenges facing liberal democracy, examining the appeal of authoritarianism, whether militant democracy remains a viable model for securing democracy, and the wider transformation of the West in past half-century. In The Appeal of Authoritarianism in an Age of Uncertainty, the social psychologist Fathali Moghaddam examines the stages of political development on a spectrum from absolute dictatorship to the ideal of operating democracy. Discussing everything from how we conceive of freedom, to the dictator-follower nexus, to the enduring threats including social media and politics as show business, it is a worthwhile tour through the complexities of our relationships to governance and belonging and the tensions between global unification and a retreat to tribal identity. It is also a useful companion piece to the new collection on militant democracy, edited by Anthoula Malkopulou and Alexander Kirshner, which brings together an international group of political scientists, legal scholars and philosophers to discuss the urgent (though longstanding) question of how democracies can adopt defensive postures to combat anti-democratic extremism, and whether this can be justified. Painting on a broader canvass again, Simon Reid-Henry examines the remaking of the West since the Cold War, arguing that the ‘Empire of Democracy’ built in the decades after 1971 as a reaction to the crisis of democracy as the postwar ‘golden age’ waned, is itself ending. As the blurb puts it: “The era we have all been living through is closing out, democracy is turning on its axis once again.”

3    Authoritarian Constitutionalism

A new collection on authoritarian constitutionalism, edited by Helena Alviar García and Günter Frankenburg, is a welcome systematic analysis of the contours of this prismatic concept, and how it focuses our minds on the meaning of both authoritarianism and constitutionalism. The editors emphasise the need to analyse authoritarian constitutionalism as an important phenomenon in its own right, not merely as a deviant of liberal constitutionalism. With a broad global scope including states such as France, Japan, Venezuela, South Africa, Syria and the US, the collection also features probing conceptual and comparative analysis. A particularly interesting focus across multiple chapters is on enclaves and dimensions of authoritarianism within liberal democracies (see chapters by Helena Alviar García, Duncan Kennedy, and Norman Spaulding). As Peer Zumbansen puts it in his review, the collection poses a challenging question:

What if the liberal belief in a Constitution as safeguard and backbone of a democratic, inclusive and egalitarian society turned out to be wrong? The contributors … provide challenging evidence of the myriad ways in which constitutional texts and practices can and in fact do facilitate, endorse and empower authoritarianism.

Following similar lines of thought as the above, in the Annual Review of Political Science (May 2019) Christopher Parker and Christopher Towler argue that micro- and macro-level authoritarianism have much in common, drawing lines from the historic authoritarian enclaves enclaves in the Jim Crow South to what they view as contemporary authoritarianism at the micro-level, which they see as ultimately driving racism – and how the communities targeted resist it. The

4    The ‘Marketplace of Ideas’ and Institutional Resilience in Today’s USA

Similarly tying the past to the present, Michael Scudder, in his keynote opening the recent Symposium issue of the Notre Dame Law Review on ‘Contemporary Free Speech: The Marketplace of Ideas a Century Later’ (made accessible online this month), observes that “many aspects of the way we think, communicate, and interact have one foot still touching yesterday and another trying to find balance today.” The collection, revisiting Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes’s dissent in Abrams v. United States (1919) in which he argued for a ‘free trade in ideas’, underscores how much the free speech landscape has changed (including privacy and digital audiences) but how the stakes of curtailing free speech remain (or allowing it to be diminished) remain as high as ever. Elsewhere, articles in the Harvard and UCLA law reviews address the frayed legitimacy of the Supreme Court and the federal judiciary more widely, while two articles in the Iowa Law Review and  Texas Law Review make good companion pieces, examining the US’s susceptibility to dictatorial takeover and the challenge of restoring rule-of-law norms. Both focus on the role of institutions: the former on the courts and Congress; the latter on a  broader suite of “foundational institutions” encompassing the federal judiciary, Executive Branch (including law enforcement) officials, Congress, the press, states and cities, advocacy and professional organizations, and the legal academy and universities.

5    Focusing on Latin American Experiences

This week I head to Santiago, Chile, for the annual conference of the International Society of Public Law (ICON-S). The conference has, like last year, a strong focus on the challenges facing democracy (not least the panels I will be on - #24, #83, #125 and #183). Two items in this Update point to the importance of research on democracy in Latin American states. Employing cognitive dissonance theory, Bruno Castanho Silva examines what happens to anti-establishment populist supporters once their candidate wins a national election. Silva argues that survey data from Bolivia and Ecuador collected when presidents Evo Morales and Rafael Correa were elected confirm that populist supporters dissociate the federal government from other political institutions once a populist is elected president, and that this dissociation can last for a few years, an insight that has important wider application. Elsewhere, Samuel Handlin’s 2017 book State Crisis in Fragile Democracies: Polarization and Political Regimes in South America – suggested for addition by a DEM-DEC user – is key reading for anyone seeking to understand the state of democracy from Chile to Venezuela today.

6    Deliberation to Restore Faith in Democracy

Finally, a variety of pieces centre on the potential for democratic deliberation to restore faith in democracy. In Democratic Theory (June 2019) – and linking with this Update’s meta-theme of taking stock – André Bächtiger (interviewed by Selen Ercan) draws on his extensive research on deliberative practice within and beyond parliaments to reflect on the development of the field of deliberative democracy over the past 20 years, not only as a growing branch of democratic theory that suggests understanding and assessing democracy in terms of the quality of communication between citizens and politicians, and among citizens, but also the potential for practicing deliberation in times of increasing populist power. Two other items – suggested by DEM-DEC users – are of note: in a 2018 article Shelley Boulianne, based on a study of a 6-day deliberative exercise, suggests that questions remain as to whether enhanced opportunities for citizen engagement in governance can improve low levels of political trust and efficacy in Western democracies. Finally, in an article from April 2019, Saskia Goldberg, Dominik Wyss and André Bächtiger suggest “a sort of a ‘populist’ impulse where disenchantment conduces to calls for a stronger voice of the ‘people’ and participatory governance models, irrespective of their concrete design.” With deliberative mechanisms (especially citizens’ assemblies) the current darling of constitutional lawyers, this is clearly an area that requires intense cross-disciplinary discussion and engagement.

The DEM-DEC Bibliography

The DEM-DEC Main Bibliography (finalised on 24 June 2018) presents a global range of research on democratic decay. It has a strong focus on research by public lawyers – spanning constitutional, international and transnational law – but also includes key research from other disciplines, as well as policy texts. Updates to the Bibliography are issued during the first week of every month, based on new publications and suggestions from users of DEM-DEC. All updates should be read in conjunction with the main bibliography on DEM-DEC.

Suggest Additions and Subscribe to the Mailing List

You can suggest additions for the next Update by filling out the form on DEM-DEC, or by emailing items directly at

You can also Subscribe to the DEM-DEC mailing list to receive updates of all new additions to the Resource by using  the Subscription button on the DEM-DEC homepage or by e-mailing

Become a DEM-DEC Editor

Interested in helping with production of the Research Update? Email with a CV/resumé or use the form at the bottom of the Get Involved section. All positions are on a volunteer basis at present.

DEM-DEC Launch Podcast

Have you listened to the DEM-DEC Launch Podcast yet? The panel discussion to formally launch DEM-DEC on 22 October was broadcast by ABC Radio National’s ‘Big ideas’ programme on 27 and 28 November and is now available as a podcast.  The launch programme and details are on DEM-DEC.