Why so many democracies are breaking down


Why do democracies backslide toward authoritarianism? Many scholars point to the worrisome erosion of democratic norms rooted in a social consensus about the rules of the game and civility toward fellow citizens, according to Michael Albertus and Victor Menaldo, the authors of “Authoritarianism and the Elite Origins of Democracy.”

But this erosion of democratic norms is ultimately driven by deeper factors. In many democracies, the roots of breakdown reside in democratic constitutions themselves, they write for the New York Times:

Fortunately, elite-biased democracies can successfully reform their social contracts over time to become more egalitarian and representative of average citizens rather than sliding back into dictatorship. It is not easy or common.

But if it is to be done, it tends to occur in the wake of these very same major crises or economic shocks. Mass citizen mobilization, when married to the material support of a faction of disaffected or disadvantaged elites, can succeed in amending or entirely rewriting democratic constitutions to eliminate the worst distortions to representation.


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