Democratic Decay: Conceptualising an Emerging Research Field

Abstract

In recent years the creeping deterioration of democratic rule worldwide has become a major preoccupation across a wide range of research fields and disciplines—especially public law and political science—as scholars struggle to understand the nature of evolving threats to a broad range of democratic systems. Many terms are now used to refer to the incremental degradation of democratic rule worldwide, or ‘democratic decay’. Abusive constitutionalism. Autocratic legalism. Populist constitutionalism. Bad faith constitutionalism. De-constitutionalism. Constitutional retrogression. Constitutional capture. Constitutional rot. Constitutional decay. Democratic deconsolidation. Democratic backsliding. Authoritarianisation. Authoritarian backsliding. Rule of law backsliding. Democratic erosion. Democratic recession. The list goes on. This article argues that conceiving of this scattered cross-disciplinary literature as a research field and providing an account of recent conceptual development can help to map a rapidly developing landscape, maximise the analytical utility of key concepts, identify resonances and duplication among concepts and across discrete literatures, and can help to ensure that this emerging quasi-field develops in a more coherent and rigorous manner.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    See also assessments by the Economist Intelligence Unit, V-dem, and POLITY.

  2. 2.

    Huq and Ginsburg state: “Because no democratic system is perfect, there will always be some quanta of such violations.”

  3. 3.

    The original work is Parfit D (1984). Reasons and Persons. Oxford University Press.

  4. 4.

    See the abstract accompanying Bermeo’s article on the Journal of Democracy website: https://www.journalofdemocracy.org/article/democratic-backsliding.

  5. 5.

    A third cause of constitutional crisis under Graber’s schema—namely, when important political actors are too faithful to the constitution—is rooted in US history and need not concern us here.

  6. 6.

    See http://www.democratic-erosion.com and http://www.democratic-decay.org.

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Daly, T.G. Democratic Decay: Conceptualising an Emerging Research Field. Hague J Rule Law 11, 9–36 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40803-019-00086-2

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Keywords

  • Democratic decay
  • Conceptual development
  • Democracy
  • Public law
  • Political science