Master of International Affairs   Master of Public Policy  

Erosion and resilience of democracy

Illiberalism and authoritarianism have become major threats to democracy across the globe. The titles of the 2019 editions of the reports of the major democracy research institutes are therefore rather gloomy, from 'Democracy facing global challenges' and 'Democracy in retreat' to 'Polarisation and repression increase'. In 2019, a third of the world’s citizens lived in countries where the quality of liberal-democratic institutions had declined over the previous 10 years. The decline even strongly affected well-established democracies such as the United States. Semi-democratic right-wing populist parties had also been on the rise in many countries by 2019.

The main contemporary challenge to democracy is not sudden regime breakdown in the form of military coups or regime collapses as they occurred in 1989, but it is a gradual demise after illiberal or authoritarian-leaning political leaders come to power in elections. These trends towards illiberalisation and autocratisation are eroding our democracies from within.

Nevertheless, these trends are not unstoppable. In many European countries, in Canada and New Zealand, democratic institutions continue to be strong. Democratic political parties still win elections. Nevertheless, we have empirical evidence that citizens’ belief in the legitimacy of these institutions is continuing to decline. Therefore, we need to draw our attention to questions which help us to recognise the institutions and practices which strengthen or weaken the democratic quality of political regimes in our times. In the course we want to work on both concepts – 'democratic erosion' and 'democratic resilience' – and apply them to empirical cases and countries.