Democracy is in decline. Larry Diamond said we were in a democratic recession years ago. Freedom House has tracked a worldwide decline in recession for the past 12 years. Their most recent report was titled Democracy in Crisis. The election of Donald Trump sent the literature into overdrive. Theorists and scholars are afraid of the recent rise of populism.

Some scholarship has claimed the third wave of democracy is nearly reversed. The earliest transitions have consolidated like Spain and Portugal. But South America has shifted towards populism. The recent conflict in Venezuela over Presidential power is a culmination of its gradual shift to autocracy. The country erased its democratic traditions during the reign of Hugo Chavez who ruled as its president until his death. Nicholas Maduro is an extension of Chavez rule except without the charisma or the oil revenue. But South America is also home to the rise of populist leadership in Ecuador, Bolivia and recently Brazil. Evo Morales and Rafael Correa have both pushed the boundaries of executive term limits. It took the Columbian Constitutional Court to invoke the theory of the unconstitutional constitutional amendment to prevent Alvaro Uribe from winning a third term.

The European Union is facing a populist backlash within its membership. While Brexit has dominated the news cycle, Hungary and Poland have created existential problems for the union. The populist Fidesz Party commands two-thirds of the Hungarian Parliament. They rewrote the entire constitution unilaterally and redesigned the composition of Parliament. Every electoral district has been transformed. Many laws require a two-thirds majority to change. Because they have the necessary votes today, their policies will remain long after they lose control of Parliament. The Law and Justice Party has challenged the independence of the judiciary. They refused to swear in justices the previous Parliament had named. This set off an institutional conflict to determine the balance between Parliamentary and Judicial Powers. The European Union has begun to act, but they will struggle to punish membership as populism continues to expand its presence in Europe.

The next nine posts will focus on specific theories about the recent decline in democracy. Recent events have redefined how theorists view democracy. They have already begun to redefine our thoughts on democratic consolidation. The term deconsolidation has spread throughout the literature. The landmark work of Francis Fukuyama called The End of History is now dated. Democracy may not be an end. Theories of Competitive Authoritarianism have changed our definitions of democracy and autocracy. The presence of elections is no longer enough. Democracy requires more than elections. Most of the world elects some of its leaders. Yet many of those elections are tilted towards those in power or outright rigged.

It is impossible to discuss every theory or idea. But my intention is to touch on some of the different perspectives to help illuminate ideas about democracy and governance. The dramatic expansion of democracy during the Third Wave raised expectations for democratic governance. Nuances are now important because they represent the difference between true democracy and authoritarianism. But this has left scholars without a clear theory of democracy. This is a paradox. We understand more than ever before. Yet our vision is less clear.

jmk, carmel, indiana, democracyparadoxblog@gmail.com

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