Reversing regimes and concepts: from democratization to autocratization

  • Andrea CassaniEmail author
  • Luca Tomini


The debate on regime change has experienced a U-turn. Attention has shifted from the regime transitions occurred during the so-called third wave of democratization to the signals of an incipient reverse trend. However, the actual import and urgency of the problem remain unclear, due to a growing confusion concerning what a process opposite to democratization is, how many distinct forms it can take, and consequently what the empirical referents of the phenomenon are. Building on the notion of “autocratization”, or regime change towards autocracy, the paper elaborates a framework for the comparative analysis of regime changes opposite to democratization. Specifically, we identify political participation, public contestation and executive limitation as the main dimensions of regime variance, define autocratization accordingly, illustrate and systematize the different regime transitions that fall under this label, and clarify what autocratization is not. The proposed conceptual and analytical framework could support future research on comparative autocratization.


Autocratization Democratization Regime change Reverse wave Conceptualization 



The authors wish to thank Giovanni Carbone, Alex Dukalskis, Marco Giuliani, Davide Grassi, Leonardo Morlino, Gabriele Natalizia, Alessandro Pellegata, Jean-Benoit Pilet, and Francesca Pasquali for the helpful comments.


  1. Adcock, R., and D. Collier. 2001. Measurement validity: A shared standard for qualitative and quantitative research. American Political Science Review 95(3): 529–546.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Adebanwi, W., and E. Obadare. 2011. The abrogation of the electorate: An emergent African phenomenon. Democratization 18(2): 311–335.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Agh, A. 2015. De-Europeanization and de-democratization trends in ECE: From the Potemkin democracy to the elected autocracy in Hungary. Journal of Comparative Politics 8(2): 4–26.Google Scholar
  4. Ambrosio, T. 2010. Constructing a framework of authoritarian diffusion. Concepts, dynamics, and future research. International Studies Perspectives 11: 375–392.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bates, R. 2008. State failure. Annual Review of Political Science 11: 1–12.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Berg-Schlosser, D., and J. Mitchell (eds.). 2002. Authoritarianism and democracy in Europe, 1919–1939: Comparative analyses. Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  7. Bermeo, N. 2003. Ordinary people in extraordinary times. The citizenry and the breakdown of democracy. New Haven: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  8. Bermeo, N. 2016. On democratic backsliding. Journal of Democracy 27(1): 5–19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bogaards, M. 2009. How to classify hybrid regimes? Defective democracy and electoral authoritarianism. Democratization 16(2): 399–423.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Bogaards, M. 2010. Measures of democratization: From degree to type to war. Political Research Quarterly 63: 475–488.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Brooker, P. 2014. Non-democratic regimes. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Brownlee, J. 2009. Portents of pluralism: How hybrid regimes affect democratic transitions. American Journal of Political Science 53(3): 515–532.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Capoccia, G. 2005. Defending democracy: Reactions to extremism in interwar Europe. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  14. Carothers, T. 2002. The end of the transition paradigm. Journal of Democracy 13(1): 5–21.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Collier, D., and R. Adcock. 1999. Democracies and dichotomies: A pragmatic approach to choices about concepts. Annual Review of Political Science 2: 537–565.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Collier, D., J. LaPorte, and J. Seawright. 2010. Typologies: Forming concepts and creating categorical variables. In The oxford handbook of political methodology, ed. J. Box-Steffensmeier, H. Brady, and D. Collier. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  17. Cooley, A. 2015. Countering democratic norms. Journal of Democracy 26(3): 49–63.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Coppedge, M., J. Gerring, D. Altman, M. Bernhard, S. Fish, A. Hicken, M. Kroenig, S. Lindberg, K. McMann, P. Paxton, H. Semetko, S.E. Skaaning, J. Staton, and J. Teorell. 2011. Conceptualizing and measuring democracy. A new approach. Perspectives on Politics 9(2): 247–267.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Crouch, C. 2004. Post-democracy. Malden: Polity Press.Google Scholar
  20. Cunha, I.F. 2015. About the “de-democratization” of Europe: Democracy, media and political corruption. Intercom: Revista Brasileira de Ciências da Comunicação 38(1): 37–62.Google Scholar
  21. Dahl, R. 1971. Polyarchy: Participation and opposition. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  22. de la Torre, C., and A. Ortiz Lemos. 2016. Populist polarization and the slow death of democracy in Ecuador. Democratization 23(2): 221–241.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Denk, T., and C. Anckar. 2014. Length of independence and democratic failure. Contemporary Politics 20(4): 385–401.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Diamond, L. 1999. Developing democracy. Toward consolidation. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  25. Diamond, L. 2000. Is Pakistan the (reverse) wave of the future? Journal of Democracy 11(3): 91–106.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Diamond, L. 2002. Thinking about hybrid regimes. Journal of Democracy 13(2): 21–35.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Diamond, L. 2008. The democratic rollback: The resurgence of the predatory state. Foreign Affairs 87(2): 36–48.Google Scholar
  28. Diamond, L. 2015. Facing up to the democratic recession. Journal of Democracy 26(1): 141–155.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Diamond, L., J. Linz, and S.M. Lipset (eds.). 1989. Democracy in developing countries. Boulder: Lynne Rienner.Google Scholar
  30. Diamond, L., and M. Plattner (eds.). 1991. The global resurgence of democracy. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  31. Diskin, A., H. Diskin, and R. Hazan. 2005. Why democracies collapse: The reasons for democratic failure and success. International Political Science Review 26(3): 291–309.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Doorenspleet, R. 2005. Democratic transitions: Exploring the structural sources of the fourth wave. Boulder: Lynne Rienner.Google Scholar
  33. Dresden, J., and M. Howard. 2016. Authoritarian backsliding and the concentration of political power. Democratization 23(7): 1122–1143.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Eckstein, H., and T.R. Gurr. 1975. Patterns of authority. A structural basis for political inquiry. New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  35. Erdmann, G. 2011. Decline of democracy: Loss of quality, hybridization and breakdown of democracy. In Regression of democracy?, ed. G. Erdmann and M. Kneuer, 21–58. New York: VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Fish, S. 2001. The dynamics of democratic erosion. In Postcommunism and the theory of democracy, ed. R. Anderson, S. Fish, S. Hanson, and P. Roeder, 54–95. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  37. Foa, R., and Y. Mounk. 2016. The democratic disconnect. Journal of Democracy 27(3): 5–17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Fukuyama, F. 2015. Why is democracy performing so poorly? Journal of Democracy 26(1): 11–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Geddes, B., J. Wright, and E. Frantz. 2014. Autocratic breakdown and regime transitions: A new data set. Perspectives on Politics 12(2): 313–331.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Goertz, G. 2003. Social science concepts: A user’s guide. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  41. Haggard, S., and R. Kaufman. 1994. The challenges of consolidation. Journal of Democracy 5(4): 5–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Heydemann, S., and R. Leenders. 2011. Authoritarian learning and authoritarian resilience: Regime responses to the Arab awakening. Globalization 8(5): 647–653.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Howard, M., and P. Roessler. 2006. Liberalizing electoral outcome in competitive authoritarian regimes. American Journal of Political Science 50(2): 365–381.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Huntington, S. 1991. The third wave: Democratization in the late twentieth century. Oklahoma City: University of Oklahoma Press.Google Scholar
  45. Joseph, R. 1998. Africa, 1990–1997: From abertura to closure. Journal of Democracy 9(2): 3–17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Kagan, R. 2015. The weight of geopolitics. Journal of Democracy 26(1): 21–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Kapstein, E., and N. Converse. 2008. Why democracies fail. Journal of Democracy 19(4): 57–68.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Kneuer, M. 2011. Deficits in democratic quality? The effects of party-system institutionalisation on the quality of democracy in Central Eastern Europe. In Regression of democracy?, ed. G. Erdmann and M. Kneuer, 133–171. New York: VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Kornai, J. 2015. Hungary’s U-turn: Retreat from democracy. Journal of Democracy 26(3): 34–48.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Levitsky, S., and L. Way. 2010. Competitive authoritarianism: Hybrid regimes after the cold war. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Levitsky, S., and L. Way. 2015. The myth of democratic recession. Journal of Democracy 26(1): 48–58.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Lindberg, S. (ed.). 2009. Democratization by elections: A new mode of transition. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  53. Linz, J. 2000. Totalitarian and authoritarian regimes. Boulder: Lynne Rienner.Google Scholar
  54. Linz, J., and A. Stepan (eds.). 1978. The breakdown of democratic regimes. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  55. Linz, J., and A. Stepan. 1996. Problems of democratic transition and consolidation: Southern Europe, South America and post-communist Europe. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  56. Lueders, H., and E. Lust. 2018. Multiple measurements, elusive agreement, and unstable outcomes in the study of regime change. Journal of Politics 80(2): 736–741.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Luehrmann, A., M. Tannenberg, and S. Lindberg. 2018. Regimes of the world. Opening new avenues for the comparative study of political regimes. Politics and Governance 6(1): 60–77.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Mainwaring, S., and A. Pérez-Liñán. 2014. Democracies and dictatorships in Latin America. Emergence, survival, and fall. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  59. Merkel, W. 2004. Embedded and defective democracies. Democratization 11(5): 33–58.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Merkel, W. 2010. Are dictatorships returning? Revisiting the “democratic rollback” hypothesis. Contemporary Politics 16(1): 17–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Mechkova, V., A. Luehrmann, and S. Lindberg. 2017. How much democratic backsliding? Journal of Democracy 28(4): 162–169.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Nathan, A. 2003. Authoritarian resilience. Journal of Democracy 14(1): 6–17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. O’Donnell, G. 1998. Horizontal accountability in new democracies. In The self-restraining state: Power and accountability in new democracies, ed. A. Schedler, L. Diamond, and M. Plattner. Lynne Rienner: Boulder.Google Scholar
  64. O’Donnell, G. 1992. Transitions, continuities, and paradoxes. In Issues in democratic consolidation: The new South American democracies in comparative perspective, ed. S. Mainwaring, G. O’Donnell, and S. Valenzuela, 17–56. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press.Google Scholar
  65. O’Donnell, G., J.V. Cullel, and O. Iazzetta. 2004. The quality of democracy: Theory and applications. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press.Google Scholar
  66. Plattner, M. 2010. Populism, pluralism, and liberal democracy. Journal of Democracy 21(1): 81–92.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Plattner, M. 2014. The end of the transitions era? Journal of Democracy 25(3): 5–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Puddington, A. 2010. The erosion accelerates. Journal of Democracy 21(2): 136–150.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Sartori, G. 1987. The theory of democracy revisited. Chatham: Chatham House.Google Scholar
  70. Schedler, A. 2006. Electoral authoritarianism: The dynamics of unfree competition. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner.Google Scholar
  71. Schedler, A. 1998. What is democratic consolidation? Journal of Democracy 9(2): 91–107.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Schmidt, V. 2006. Democracy in Europe. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Schmitter, P. 1994. Dangers and dilemmas of democracy. Journal of Democracy 5(2): 57–74.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Schmitter, P. 2015. Crisis and transition, but not decline. Journal of Democracy 26(1): 32–44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Skaaning, S.E. 2011. Democratic survival or autocratic revival in interwar Europe. A comparative examination of structural explanations. In Regression of democracy?, ed. G. Erdmann and M. Kneuer, 247–265. New York: VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Stefes, C., and J. Sehring. 2011. Wilted roses and tulips: The regression of democratic rule in Kyrgyzstan and Georgia. In Regression of democracy?, ed. G. Erdmann and M. Kneuer, 221–246. New York: VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Svolik, M. 2008. Authoritarian reversals and democratic consolidation. American Political Science Review 102(2): 153–168.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Svolik, M. 2012. The politics of authoritarian rule. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Svolik, M. 2015. Which democracies will last? Coups, incumbent takeovers, and the dynamic of democratic consolidation. British Journal of Political Science 45(4): 715–738.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Tilly, C. 2003. Inequality, democratization and de-democratization. Sociological Theory 21(1): 37–43.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. von Soest, C. 2015. Democracy prevention: The international collaboration of authoritarian regimes. European Journal of Political Research 54(4): 623–638.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Wahman, M., J. Teorell, and A. Hadenius. 2013. Authoritarian regime types revisited: Updated data in comparative perspective. Contemporary Politics 19(1): 19–34.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Waldner, D., and E. Lust, 2018. Unwelcome change: Coming to terms with democratic backsliding. Annual Review of Political Science 21 (ahead of print).Google Scholar
  84. Walker, C. 2015. Authoritarianism goes global. Journal of Democracy 26(4): 20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  85. Walker, C. 2016. The hijacking of soft power. Journal of Democracy 27(1): 49–63.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  86. Whitehead, L. 2002. Democratization. Theory and practice. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  87. Youngs, R. 2015. Exploring non-Western democracy. Journal of Democracy 24(4): 140–154.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© European Consortium for Political Research 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Social and Political SciencesUniversità degli Studi di MilanoMilanItaly
  2. 2.Centre d’Etude de la Vie Politique (CEVIPOL), Faculté de Philosophie et Sciences SocialesUniversité libre de BruxellesBruxellesBelgium

Personalised recommendations