Hague Journal on the Rule of Law

, Volume 11, Issue 1, pp 9–36 | Cite as

Democratic Decay: Conceptualising an Emerging Research Field

  • Tom Gerald DalyEmail author


In recent years the creeping deterioration of democratic rule worldwide has become a major preoccupation across a wide range of research fields and disciplines—especially public law and political science—as scholars struggle to understand the nature of evolving threats to a broad range of democratic systems. Many terms are now used to refer to the incremental degradation of democratic rule worldwide, or ‘democratic decay’. Abusive constitutionalism. Autocratic legalism. Populist constitutionalism. Bad faith constitutionalism. De-constitutionalism. Constitutional retrogression. Constitutional capture. Constitutional rot. Constitutional decay. Democratic deconsolidation. Democratic backsliding. Authoritarianisation. Authoritarian backsliding. Rule of law backsliding. Democratic erosion. Democratic recession. The list goes on. This article argues that conceiving of this scattered cross-disciplinary literature as a research field and providing an account of recent conceptual development can help to map a rapidly developing landscape, maximise the analytical utility of key concepts, identify resonances and duplication among concepts and across discrete literatures, and can help to ensure that this emerging quasi-field develops in a more coherent and rigorous manner.


Democratic decay Conceptual development Democracy Public law Political science 



  1. Aach M (2008) The decline of democracy in Venezuela: the deterioration of Venezuelan exceptionalism and the rise of Hugo Chavez. Lehigh Rev 16:88Google Scholar
  2. Abdurrachman S (2018) Constitutional Retrogression in Indonesia Under President Joko Widodo’s Government: what Can the Constitutional Court Do? Const Rev 4(2):271Google Scholar
  3. Acar A (2016) De-constitutionalism” in Turkey? Int J Const Law, May 19Google Scholar
  4. Alpan B (2016) From AKP’s ‘conservative democracy’ to ‘advanced democracy’: shifts and challenges in the debate on ‘Europe’. J South Eur Soc Polit 21(1):15CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Amur J (2017) Why Turkish opposition parties are contesting the referendum results. Washington Post, April 17Google Scholar
  6. Balkin J (2017a) Constitutional crisis and constitutional rot. Md Law Rev 77:147Google Scholar
  7. Balkin J (2017b) Constitutional rot and constitutional crisis. Balkinization, May 15Google Scholar
  8. Balkin J (2018) Constitutional rot. In: Sunstein CR (ed) Can it happen here?: Authoritarianism in America. Dey Street Books, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  9. Bermeo N (2016) On democratic backsliding. J Democr 27(1):5CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Blokker P (2013) New democracies in crisis? A comparative constitutional study of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Slovakia. RoutledgeGoogle Scholar
  11. Bozóki A, Hegedűs D (2018) An externally constrained hybrid regime: Hungary in the European Union. Democratization 25(7):1173CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Çalı B (2018) Will legalism be the end of constitutionalism in Turkey? Verfassungsblog, January 22Google Scholar
  13. Carothers T (2002) The end of the transition paradigm. J Democr 13(1):5CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Carothers T, Samet-Marram O (2015) The new global marketplace of political change. Brief (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, April 2015)Google Scholar
  15. Cheung A (2018) “For my Enemies, the law”: abusive legalism. Candidacy paper, JSD Program, NYU School of LawGoogle Scholar
  16. Clements J (2016) Christ’s Samurai: the true story of the Shimabara Rebellion. Hachette, LondonGoogle Scholar
  17. Corrales J (2015) The authoritarian resurgence: autocratic legalism in Venezuela. J Democr 26(2):37CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Daly TG (2017a) Democratic Decay in 2016. In: International IDEA annual review of constitution-building processes: 2016. International IDEAGoogle Scholar
  19. Daly TG (2017b) ‘Preventing ANC Capture of South African Democracy: A Missed Opportunity for Other ‘Constitutional Courts’?’ I-CON conference, 5–7 July 2016Google Scholar
  20. Daly TG (2018) Populism, public law, and democratic decay in Brazil: understanding the rise of Jair Bolsonaro. In: ‘Democratic Backsliding and Human Rights’ conference, College of Law and Business, Tel Aviv, Israel, 2–3 January 2019Google Scholar
  21. Diamond L (2015) Facing up to the democratic recession. J Democr 26(1):141CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Ercan SA, Gagnon J-P (2014) Editorial: the crisis of democracy: which crisis? Which democracy? Democr Theory 1(2):1CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Finn JE (2014) Peopling the constitution. University Press of Kansas, LawrenceGoogle Scholar
  24. Foa R, Mounk Y (2016) The danger of deconsolidation: the democratic disconnect. J Democr 27(3):5CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Frantz E, Kendall-Taylor A (2017) The evolution of autocracy: why authoritarianism is becoming more formidable. Survival 59:57CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Freedom House (2018a) Democracy in crisis. Freedom in the World 2018Google Scholar
  27. Freedom House (2018b) Nations in Transit 2018: confronting illiberalism. Hungary country reportGoogle Scholar
  28. Graber MA (2013) A new introduction to American constitutionalism. Oxford University Press, New YorkCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Graber M, Levinson S, Tushnet M (eds) (2018) Constitutional democracy in crisis? Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  30. Human Rights Watch (2016) Stifling dissent: the criminalization of peaceful expression in India. Report (Human Rights Watch, 24 May 2016)Google Scholar
  31. Huq AZ, Ginsburg T (2018a) How to lose a constitutional democracy. UCLA Law Rev 65:95Google Scholar
  32. Huq AZ, Ginsburg T (2018b) How to save a constitutional democracy. University of Chicago Press, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  33. Issacharoff S (2011) Constitutional courts and democratic hedging. Georget Law J 99:961Google Scholar
  34. Khaitan T (2018) India’s third constitutional retrogression. In: ICON annual conference, 25–27 June 2018Google Scholar
  35. Kilovaty I (2018) Doxfare: politically motivated leaks and the future of the norm on non-intervention in the era of weaponized information. Harv Natl Secur J 9(1):146Google Scholar
  36. Kingston J (ed) (2016) Press freedom in contemporary Japan. Routledge, AbingdonGoogle Scholar
  37. Koncewicz TT (2017a) Unconstitutional capture and constitutional recapture: of the rule of law, separation of powers and judicial promise. Jean Monnet Working Paper 3/17, Jean Monnet Program, New York University (NYU)Google Scholar
  38. Koncewicz TT (2017b) Of the politics of resentment and european disintegration: are the European peoples ready to keep paddling together? Part I. Int J Const Law, February 26Google Scholar
  39. Körösényi A (2018) The theory and practice of plebiscitary leadership: Weber and the Orbán regime’ East European Politics and societies: and cultures (First Online Articles: published 25 September 2018)Google Scholar
  40. Korycki K (2017) Memory, politics and the “populist” moment. In: Canadian Political Science Association (CPSA) Annual Meeting, Ryerson University, Presentation, May 30–June 1, 2017Google Scholar
  41. Kosař D, Šipulová K (2018) The strasbourg court meets abusive constitutionalism: Baka v. Hungary and the rule of law. Hague J Rule Law 10(1):83CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Krastev I (2007) The strange death of the liberal consensus. J Democr 18(4):56Google Scholar
  43. Landau D (2013) Abusive constitutionalism. UC Davis Law Rev 47:189Google Scholar
  44. Landau D (2018) Populist Constitutions (2018). Univ Chicago Law Rev 85:521Google Scholar
  45. Landau D, Dixon R (2018) Abusive constitutional borrowing. Paper presented at the Centre for Comparative Constitutional Studies. Melbourne Law School, 1 May 2018Google Scholar
  46. Levitsky S, Ziblatt D (2018) How democracies die. What History Reveals About Our Future. Penguin, LondonGoogle Scholar
  47. Lins Ribeiro G (2016) The Brazilian political conundrum. LASA Forum 47(3):12Google Scholar
  48. MacFarquhar L (2011) How to be good. New Yorker, September 5Google Scholar
  49. Machado JEM (2013) The Portuguese constitution of 1976: half-life and decay. In: Contiades X (ed) Engineering constitutional change: a comparative perspective on Europe, Canada and the USA. Routledge, London and New YorkGoogle Scholar
  50. Magarian GP (2018) Forward into the past: speech intermediaries in the television and internet ages. Okla Law Rev 71(1):237Google Scholar
  51. Magyar B (2016) Post-communist mafia state. The case of Hungary. CEU Press, BudapestGoogle Scholar
  52. Matsudaira T (2017) Abe’s Japan—another case of abusive constitutionalism. Int J Const Law, September 23Google Scholar
  53. Mitchell J (2017) ‘Press Freedom in Contemporary Japan’: persuasive and important but incomplete. Japan Times, May 6Google Scholar
  54. Mordechay N, Roznai Y (2017) A Jewish and (declining) democratic state? Constitutional retrogression in Israel. Md Law Rev 77(1):244Google Scholar
  55. Morgan KA (ed) (2013) Popular tyranny: sovereignty and its discontents in ancient Greece. University of Texas Press, AustinGoogle Scholar
  56. Mounk Y (2018) The people versus democracy: the rise of undemocratic liberalism and the threat of illiberal democracy. Harvard University Press, Cambridge and LondonCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Mudde C, Rovira Kaltwasser C (2017) Populism: a very short introduction. Oxford University Press, Oxford and New YorkCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Mudde C, Rovira Kaltwasser C (2018) Studying Populism in Comparative Perspective: Reflections on the Contemporary and Future Research Agenda. Comp Polit Stud 51(13):1667CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Müller J-W (2014) Rising to the challenge of constitutional capture. Eurozine, March 21Google Scholar
  60. Müller J-W (2016) Protecting the rule of law (and democracy!) in the EU: the idea of a Copenhagen commission. In: Closa C, Kochenov D (eds) Reinforcing rule of law oversight in the European Union. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  61. Müller J-W (2017) What is populism? Penguin, LondonGoogle Scholar
  62. Norris P (2017) Is Western democracy backsliding? Diagnosing the risks. HKS Working Paper No. RWP17-012Google Scholar
  63. O’Donnell G (1992) Transitions, continuities, and paradoxes. In: Mainwaring S, O’Donnell G, Valenzuela J (eds) Issues in democratic consolidation: the New South American democracies in comparative perspective. University of Notre Dame Press, Notre DameGoogle Scholar
  64. O’Donnell G (2007) The perpetual crises of democracy. J Democr 18:5CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Ohlin JD (2017) Did Russian cyber interference in the 2016 election violate international law? Texas Law Rev 95:1579Google Scholar
  66. Ottaway M (2013) Democracy challenged: the rise of semi-authoritarianism. carnegie endowment. Ch. 3 ‘Venezuela: Democratic Decay’Google Scholar
  67. Oyaya CO, Poku NK (2018) The making of the constitution of Kenya: a century of struggle and the future of constitutionalism. Routledge, LondonCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Pech L, Scheppele K (2017a) Illiberalism within: rule of law backsliding in the EU. Camb Yearb Eur Legal Stud 19:3CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Pech L, Scheppele KL (2017b) Poland and the European commission, part I: a dialogue of the deaf? Verfassungsblog, January 3Google Scholar
  70. Peluso Neder Meyer E (2018) Judges and courts destabilizing constitutionalism: the Brazilian judiciary branch’s political and authoritarian character. German Law J 19(4):727CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Rosenblatt H (2018) The lost history of liberalism: from ancient rome to the twenty-first century. Princeton University Press, PrincetonCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Runciman D (2018) How democracies end. Profile Books, LondonGoogle Scholar
  73. Ruys T, Turkut E (2018) Turkey’s post-coup ‘purification process’: collective dismissals of public servants under the European Convention on Human Rights. Hum Rights Law Rev 18(3):539CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Scheppele KL (2013) The rule of law and the frankenstate: why governance checklists do not work. Governance 26(4):559CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Scheppele KL (2018) Autocratic legalism. Univ Chic Law Rev 85:545Google Scholar
  76. Schneider C (2008) The consolidation of democracy: comparing Europe and Latin America. Routledge, LondonCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Snyder T (2018) The road to unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America. Random House, LondonGoogle Scholar
  78. Stephanopoulos NO (2018) The causes and consequences of gerrymandering. William & Mary Law Rev 59(5):2115Google Scholar
  79. Stopler G (2017) Constitutional capture in Israel. Int J Const Law, August 21Google Scholar
  80. The Prime Minister’s Speeches (2018) Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s speech at the 29th Bálványos Summer Open University and Student CampGoogle Scholar
  81. Thiel M (ed) (2016) The militant democracy principle in modern democracies. Routledge, LondonGoogle Scholar
  82. Tushnet M (2004) Constitutional hardball. J Marshall Law Rev 37:523Google Scholar
  83. Uprimny R (2011) The recent transformation of constitutional law in Latin America: trends and challenges. Texas Law Rev 89:1587Google Scholar
  84. Zaiden Benvindo J (2016) Abusive impeachment? Brazilian Political Turmoil and the judicialization of mega-politics. Int J Const Law, April 23Google Scholar

Copyright information

© T.M.C. Asser Press 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.MLS FellowMelbourne Law SchoolMelbourneAustralia

Personalised recommendations