The course is divided into four modules. In the first introductory module, we canvas several contemporary cases of democratic erosion around the world to better understand the lay of the land. The second module begins by defining democracy and democratic erosion, then surveys six substantive themes. Each of the first five substantive themes addresses one of the causes, symptoms, and/or consequences of democratic erosion; the sixth—resistance—explores mechanisms for defending democracy from the threat of erosion. In the third module, each instructor selects three regional case studies to discuss in greater depth. The final module concludes by returning to the case of the US and our own unique political moment.


Introductionsetting the stage

Corrales, Javier. “Hugo Boss.” Foreign Policy. February 19, 2006.

Naim, Moisés & Francisco Toro. “Venezuela’s democratic façade has completely crumbled.” The Washington Post. July 1, 2016.

Ulfelder, Jay. “Daniel Ortega Shows Us How to Dismantle a Democracy, 21st-Century Style.” Dart-Throwing Chimp. November 20, 2011.

Shifter, Michael. “Nicaragua Is Turning into a Real-Life ‘House of Cards.’” Foreign Policy. September 5, 2016. 

Ost, David. “Regime Change in Poland, Carried Out from Within.” The Nation. January 8, 2016.

Marcinkiewicz, Kamil & Mary Stegmaier. “Poland appears to be dismantling its own hard-won democracy.” The Washington Post. July 21, 2017.

Cheeseman, Nic. “How Zambia’s long-stable democracy ended up in a political crisis in 2017.” Quartz. July 7, 2017.




Definitions of democracy and theories of democratization

Schumpeter, Joseph. 1947. Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy. New York: Harper & Brothers. Chapters 21 and 22.

Dahl, Robert. 1972. Polyarchy: Participation and Opposition. New Haven: Yale University Press. Chapter 1.

Diamond, Larry. 2002. “Thinking About Hybrid Regimes.” Journal of Democracy 13(2): pp. 21-35.

Acemoglu, Daron & Robinson, James. 2006. Economic Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy. New York: Cambridge University Press. Chapter 2.

Rustow, Dankwart. 1970. “Transitions to Democracy: Toward a Dynamic Model.” Comparative Politics 2(3): pp. 337-363.

Lipset, Seymour Martin. 1959. “Some Social Requisites of Democracy: Economic Development and Political Legitimacy.” American Political Science Review 53(1): pp. 69-105.


Definitions and theories of democratic erosion

Linz, Juan J. & Stepan, Alfred. 1989. The Breakdown of Democratic Regimes. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press. Chapters 2 and 3.

Arendt, Hannah. 1962 [1951]. The Origins of Totalitarianism. Cleveland and New York: Meridian Books. Chapter 11.

Lust, Ellen & Waldner, David. 2015. Unwelcome Change: Understanding, Evaluating, and Extending Theories of Democratic Backsliding. Washington, DC: USAID. pp. 1-15.

Bermeo, Nancy. 2016. “On Democratic Backsliding.” Journal of Democracy 27(1): pp. 5-19.

Norris, Pippa. “Is Western Democracy Backsliding? Diagnosing the Risks.” Forthcoming (April 2017).


Uses and abuses of democratic institutions

Varol, Ozan. 2015. “Stealth Authoritarianism.” Iowa Law Review 100(4): pp. 1673-1742. Parts I, II and III.

Scheppele, Kim Lane. 2013. “Not Your Father’s Authoritarianism: The Creation of the ‘Frankenstate’.” European Politics and Society Newsletter (Winter): pp. 5‐9.

Huq, Aziz & Tom Ginsburg. 2017. “How to Lose a Constitutional Democracy.” Working paper.

Corrales, Javier & Michael Penfold. 2014. “Manipulating Term Limits in Latin America.” Journal of Democracy 25(4): pp. 157-168.

Kennedy, Sheila. 2016. “Electoral Integrity: How Gerrymandering Matters.” Public Integrity 19(3): 265-273.

Alexander, Michelle. 2010. “The War on Drugs and the New Jim Crow.” Reimagine! 17(1): 75-77.


Populism and demagoguery

Müller, Jan-Werner. 2016. What Is Populism? Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Berman, Sheri. 2017. “The Pipe Dream of Undemocratic Liberalism.” Journal of Democracy 28(3): 29-38.

Weyland, Kurt. “There are 4 big barriers to the populist model in America (and your democracy is safe).” The Washington Post. August 11, 2017.


Propaganda and restrictions on the press

Wedeen, Lisa. 1999. Ambiguities of Domination: Politics, Rhetoric, and Symbols in Contemporary Syria. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Chapter 2.

Hill, Daniel & Yonatan Lupu. “Restrictions on the news media are a bellwether for two disturbing trends.” The Washington Post. April 17, 2017.

Barrera Rodriguez, Oscar David et al. 2017. “Facts, Alternative Facts, and Fact Checking in Times of Post-Truth Politics.” Working paper.

Adena, Maja et al. 2015. “Radio and the Rise of the Nazis in Prewar Germany.” Quarterly Journal of Economics 130(4): pp. 1885-1939.

Gehlbach, Scott. 2010. “Reflections on Putin and the Media.” Post-Soviet Affairs 26(1): pp. 77-87.



Svolik, Milan. 2017. “When Polarization Trumps Civic Virtue: Partisan Conflict and the Subversion of Democracy by Incumbents.” Working paper.

Sunstein, Cass. 2009. Going to Extremes: How Like Minds Unite and Divide. New York: Oxford University Press: Chapters 1 and 2.

Mason, Lilliana. 2015. “‘I Disrespectfully Agree’: The Differential Effects of Partisan Sorting on Social and Issue Polarization.” American Journal of Political Science 59(1): pp. 128-145.

Kinder, Donald & Cindy Kam. 2010. Us against Them: Ethnocentric Foundations of American Opinion. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Chapter 1 and Conclusion.

Mudde, Cas. 2008. Populist Radical Right Parties in Europe. New York: Cambridge University Press. Chapter 9.

Ferree, Karen. 2006. “Explaining South Africa’s Racial Census.” The Journal of Politics 68(4): 803–815.


Scapegoating, paranoia and exclusion

Butler, Judith. 1993. “Endangered/Endangering: Schematic Racism and White Paranoia.” In Reading Rodney King/Reading Urban Uprising, ed. Robert Gooding-Williams. New York: Routledge, pp. 15–22

Hofstadter, Richard. 1952. The Paranoid Style in American Politics: And Other Essays. Paperback. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Chapter 1.

Hochschild, Arlie Russell. 2016. Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right. New York: The New Press. Chapters 1, 9 and 15.

Wood, Thomas. “Racism motivated Trump voters more than authoritarianism.” The Washington Post. April 17, 2017.

Kuhn, David Paul. “Sorry, Liberals. Bigotry Didn’t Elect Donald Trump.” The New York Times. December 26, 2016.



Chenoweth, Erica. “People Are in the Streets Protesting Donald Trump. But When Does Protest Actually Work?” The Washington Post. November 21, 2016.

Stephan, Maria & Erica Chenoweth. 2008. “Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict.” International Security 33(1): pp. 7-44. pp. 7-17 and 25-32.

Havel, Vaclav. 1978. The Power of the Powerless. Unpublished manuscript.

Kestenbaum, Dave. “Act Six: A Change in the Office Climate,” in “608: The Revolution Starts at Noon.” This American Life. January 20, 2017: 53:28 – 1:04:15.

Gerken, Heather. “We’re about to See States’ Rights Used Defensively against Trump.” Vox. December 12, 2016.

Senate Joint Resolution No. 19, 2005 Montana Legislature.

Gibler, Douglas & Kirk Randazzo. 2011. “Testing the Effects of Independent Judiciaries on the Likelihood of Democratic Backsliding.” American Journal of Political Science 55(3): pp. 696–709.




Latin America

Weyland, Kurt. “Latin America’s Authoritarian Drift: The Threat from the Populist Left.” Journal of Democracy 24(3): 18-32.

Levitsky, Steven & James Loxton. 2013. “Populism and Competitive Authoritarianism in the Andes.” Democratization 20(1): 107–36.



Gyimah-Boadi, E. 2015. “Africa’s Waning Democratic Commitment.” Journal of Democracy 26(1): 101–13.

Bratton, Michael, and E. Gyimah-Boadi. 2016. “Political Risks Facing African Democracies: Evidence from Afrobarometer.” Afrobarometer Working Paper No. 157.

Louw-Vaudran, Liesl. “Term-limit changes the biggest threat to democracy in Africa?” ISS Today. September 14, 2016.


Russia and Eastern Europe

Gessen, Marsha. 2012. The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin. New York: Riverhead. Chapters 6, 7 and 8.

Greskovits, Béla. 2015. “The Hollowing and Backsliding of Democracy in East Central Europe.” Global Policy 6: 28–37.

Levitz, Philip & Grigore Pop-Eleches. “Why No Backsliding? The European Union’s Impact on Democracy and Governance Before and After Accession.” Comparative Political Studies 43(4): 457-85.



Slater, Dan. 2013. “Democratic Careening.” World Politics 65(4): 729–63.

Kurlantzick, Joshua. 2014. “Southeast Asia’s Regression From Democracy and Its Implications.” Council on Foreign Relations Working Paper.



Lieberman, Robert C. et al. 2017. “Trumpism and American Democracy: History, Comparison, and the Predicament of Liberal Democracy in the United States.” Rochester, NY. Social Science Research Network Scholarly Paper 3028990.

Ulfelder, Jay. “What Now?” Political Violence @ a Glance. November 12, 2016.

Hughes, Sean Patrick. “What Now?” chartell west. November 12, 2016.

Levitsky, Steven, and Daniel Ziblatt. “Is Donald Trump a Threat to Democracy?” The New York Times. December 16, 2016.

Riddell, Kelly. “Anti-Trump Left a Threat to American Democracy.” The Washington Times. December 19, 2016.

Colgan, Jeff. “Six Months of Trump: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.” Authoritarian Warning Survey | Scholars on American Democracy. July 18, 2017.