‘Dictators in Trouble’: Democracy not the only system under stress


Gloom about the state of democracy pervades Washington and other Western capitals. Yet all this attention on the decline of democracy has obscured a story that is just as important: many authoritarians, dictators, and other nondemocratic leaders are also in trouble. The last few years have seen a remarkable wave of unrest push a number of authoritarian leaders to resign under pressure, notes Senior Vice President for Studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and Co-Editor, with Andrew O’Donohue, of Democracies Divided: The Global Challenge of Political Polarization.

Just like their peers in free countries, many citizens in nondemocracies are deeply frustrated with their political systems and have in the last several years been acting on that unhappiness by challenging those in power. The central political dynamic of the current moment is thus not the gradual eclipsing of democracy by authoritarianism. It is, rather, the growing difficulty of political elites in all types of regimes to satisfy the demands of their citizens, he writes for Foreign Affairs: 

In the face of rising popular pressure for answers and results, it’s hard to maintain democracy. But it is equally hard—and maybe harder—to maintain autocratic rule. The instinctive approach of most democratic governments to make partial concessions and engage in negotiations with angry citizens often leads to muddled politics and stalled reforms. Yet compared with the authoritarian instinct to crush dissent and stonewall change, the messy conciliation of democracy is more likely to allow a government to survive and even renovate itself. RTWT

*A panelist at the recent celebration of The Journal of Democracy’s 30th anniversary (above). organized by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). 

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