How Democracies Survive – CounterReplica

Trump’s electoral victory in 2016 and his accession to the Presidency in 2017 set in motion a huge group of scholars of political development and comparative politics in the United States, who met, half astonished and half hurried, to examine the state of their democracy.

They knew that American political science in general had been preoccupied for some time with trends that undermined American democracy, such as growing economic inequality, heightened polarization, the resurgence of racism or nativism, and the increase in presidential power. However, the prospect of a severe deterioration of democracy, and even that of regime change, had received very little attention from that scientific community. They had to do something.

In November 2019 they organized a large conference on Democratic Resilience at Cornell University in New York. It was a broad academic event with experts from many higher education centers in the country and abroad, such as Harvard, Columbia, Princeton, California (Berkeley), Virginia, Washington, Georgia, Johns Hopkins, Pennsylvania, Marquette, Louisiana; from Koc University, Istanbul, Turkey, and Oxford University, England.

The book “Democratic Resilience” recently published by the Cambridge University publishing house, is a refined product of that event. The volume, of a little over 400 pages, has 15 very interesting studies, grouped into five sections: 1. Why would polarization harm democracy? Theory and Comparison. 2. Political Institutions in polarized times. 3. Social polarization and partisanship. 4. Vicious circles? The relationship between polarized behaviors and institutions. 5. Can political action save democracy in polarized times?

In what could be the prologue, the text claims to be the opposite of that famous book by Levitsky and Zibblatt that dealt with the death of democracies. In the initial essay, “How democracies resist”, by Susan Mettler, Robert Lieberman and Kenneth Roberts, coordinator and coordinators of that academic event and of the book in question, present their own definition: “Democratic resilience must be understood as the capacity of a system to withstand a major attack, such as extreme polarization, and continue to deploy the basic functions of democratic governance: electoral accountability, political representation, effective checks on excessive or concentrated power, and collective decisions.”

They acknowledge that although the dynamics of polarization have been widely studied, little has been done to better understand how they affect democracies and how or to what extent political systems could be resilient to the onslaught of competitive authoritarianism. In other words, it is necessary to investigate whether all polarization generates significant democratic erosion and what tools democratic systems have to prevent and repel these attacks and, where appropriate, recover.

I’ll tell you more on Thursday.


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