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Is There Illiberal Democracy? A Problem With No Semantic Solution | Jeffrey C. Isaac

Jeffrey C. Isaac

This article will be published in three parts, this being the second part.


The idea of “illiberal democracy” is not new. In political science it was probably thrust into prominence with the 1997 publication of Fareed Zakaria’s Foreign Affairs essay “The Rise of Illiberal Democracy.”[1] While the downfall of Communism in 1989 seemed to cap a “wave” of democratic transitions, Zakaria’s book gave voice to a growing concern among commentators that the toppling of the old regimes and their replacement by electoral systems did not necessarily herald the emergence and consolidation of liberal, representative democracies. Zakaria popularized an insight developed by a great many political scientists facing the limits of “transitology”: that there was emerging a range of “hybrid regimes” that seemed to correspond neither to conventional understandings of liberal, representative democracy nor to authoritarianism.[2] But this literature was interested primarily in the practices of elites and regimes that adverted to electoral legitimacy, and not really in the ideas motivating this appeal to electoral legitimacy, and certainly not in the justification of such appeals.

The current interest in “illiberal democracy” is centered precisely on such ideas and indeed on their justificatory force. The paradigmatic contemporary statement about “illiberal democracy” was made by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in a July 2014 speech given, interestingly, in Băile Tuşnad, the small ethnic Hungarian town in Transylvania, Romania. The key sections are these:

the defining aspect of today’s world can be articulated as a race to figure out a way of organizing communities, a state that is most capable of making a nation competitive. This is why, Honorable Ladies and Gentlemen, a trending topic in thinking is understanding systems that are not Western, not liberal, not liberal democracies, maybe not even democracies, and yet making nations successful. Today, the stars of international analyses are Singapore, China, India, Turkey, Russia. And I believe that our political community rightly anticipated this challenge. And if we think back on what we did in the last four years, and what we are going to do in the following four years, then it really can be interpreted from this angle. We are searching for (and we are doing our best to find, ways of parting with Western European dogmas, making ourselves independent from them) the form of organizing a community, that is capable of making us competitive in this great world-race. . . In order to be able to do this in 2010, and especially these days, we needed to courageously state a sentence, a sentence that, similar to the ones enumerated here, was considered to be a sacrilege in the liberal world order. We needed to state that a democracy is not necessarily liberal. Just because something is not liberal, it still can be a democracy. Moreover, it could be and needed to be expressed, that probably societies founded upon the principle of the liberal way to organize a state will not be able to sustain their world-competitiveness in the following years, and more likely they will suffer a setback, unless they will be able to substantially reform themselves . . . we have to abandon liberal methods and principles of organizing a society, as well as the liberal way to look at the world. . . . in the past twenty years the established Hungarian liberal democracy could not achieve a number of objectives. I made a short list of what it was not capable of. Liberal democracy was not capable of openly declaring, or even obliging, governments with constitutional power to declare that they should serve national interests. Moreover, it even questioned the existence of national interests. It did not oblige subsequent governments to recognize that Hungarian diaspora around the world belongs to our nation and to try and make this sense of belonging stronger with their work. Liberal democracy, the liberal Hungarian state did not protect public wealth.Hungarian voters expect from their leaders to figure out, forge and work out a new form of state-organization that will make the community of Hungarians competitive once again after the era of liberal state and liberal democracy, one that will of course still respect values of Christianity, freedom and human rights. Those duties and values that I enumerated should be fulfilled and be respected. The Hungarian nation is not a simple sum of individuals, but a community that needs to be organized, strengthened and developed, and in this sense, the new state that we are building is an illiberal state, a non-liberal state. It does not deny foundational values of liberalism, as freedom, etc. But it does not make this ideology a central element of state organization, but applies a specific, national, particular approach in its stead.[3]

A few things about the speech are particularly notable. The most obvious is Orban’s explicit renunciation of “liberalism” and “liberal democracy,” which he associates with an excess of individualism and, indeed, with anachronism in the face of new needs in a new world. Equally obvious is the appeal to national identity, national strength, and to the “national” character of the state—and his insistence on the authentic membership of diasporic communities in the Hungarian state surely was no coincidence given the location of the speech. Finally, while Orban does not explicitly denounce “liberal values” such as “freedom, he does insist that these values should not be “a central element of state organization.” But since what distinguishes liberalism as a political discourse is precisely the centrality of a state centered on individual rights and the rule of law, he is in effect stating, loudly, that political liberalism is hostile to an authentically Hungarian politics, and that the proper form of state in Hungary will thus be an “illiberal democracy.” Finally, it is worth noting that while Orban speaks prospectively, articulating a vision, he also speaks retrospectively, about “what we did in the last four years.” For indeed, since his return to power in 2010, he has pursued a clear effort to dramatically alter the structure of the state and indeed its very identity (in 2011 a new Constitution was enacted by legislative majority and the name of the country was officially changed from Republic of Hungary to Hungary). As Erin K. Jenne and Cas Mudde have noted:

The constitutional revolution in Hungary represents a more fundamental challenge to liberal democracy than those seen earlier in post-communist Poland or Slovakia. Authoritarian leaders typically undermine democratic institutions by not respecting the law. Rather than changing the rules, they bend or break them, relying on patronage and low administrative capacity to get away with it. Hungary’s leaders, by contrast, have actually changed the rules. Backed by a 2010 election victory that gave it a two-thirds constitutional majority in Hungary’s unicameral parliament and enabled it to pack the Constitutional Court with party loyalists, the Orbán government has rewritten the constitution . . . . Although the new constitution is nominally democratic in the sense that it was passed by a two-thirds majority of parliament, it was never popularly approved through a referendum or otherwise.[4]

 But while Orban has most relentlessly pursued an explicit agenda of remaking the state as an “illiberal democracy,” he is not alone in casting his anti-liberal project as a fulfillment of “democracy.” Back in 2006 Vladimir Putin himself offered a similar rationale for his political agenda, responding to questions about his respect for democracy as follows:

I would first ask these people how they understand the concept of democracy. This is a philosophical question, after all, and there is no one clear answer to it. In your country, what is democracy in the direct sense of the term? Democracy is the rule of the people. But what does the rule of the people mean in the modern world, in a huge, multiethnic and multi-religious state? In older days in some parts of the world, in the city states of ancient Greece, for example, or in the Republic of Novgorod (there used to be such a state on the territory of what is now the Russian Federation) the people would gather in the city square and vote directly. This was direct democracy in the most direct sense of the word. But what is democracy in a modern state with a population of millions? In your country, the United States, the president is elected not through direct secret ballot but through a system of electoral colleges. Here in Russia, the president is elected through direct secret ballot by the entire population of the Russian Federation. So whose system is more democratic when it comes to deciding this crucial issue of power, yours or ours? This is a question to which our critics cannot give a direct answer.[5]

In defending himself in this way, Putin was also drawing on the arguments made by Vladislav Surkov, his chief ideologist of the time, who insisted that: “Our Russian model of democracy is called sovereign democracy. . . We want to be an open nation among other open nations and cooperate with them under fair rules, and not be managed from outside.”[6] For Surkov, such a “sovereign democracy” is distinguished by its sovereignty, in other words by its policing of clear boundaries separating it from “outside” influences and especially Western, liberal conceptions of democracy: “I would like to say, that our project is a commonplace one. I would name it briefly as a ‘sovereign democracy.’ It is not good to add something to democracy because a third way issue appears. But we are forced to do that because liberal politicians consider the sovereignty issue as not actual. I often hear that democracy is more important than sovereignty. We do not admit it. We think we need both. An independent state is worth fighting for.”[7] While Suslov has remained an important figure in Putin’s orbit, the rhetoric of “sovereign democracy” and its cousin, “managed democracy,” has receded from public prominence as Putin has consolidated his hold on the Russian political system. At the same time, the general idea of “illiberal democracy” has clearly continued to gain traction in many parts of the world and especially in parts of post-communist Europe, as a justification for political agendas of nationalists seeking to use electoral means to achieve legislative majorities, to capture important state institutions, and to use them to permanently marginalize political oppositions.

Muller’s recent book What is Populism? is a brilliant discussion of this intellectual political tendency, and in it Muller details the populistic and indeed popular and democratic rhetoric of the mainly right-wing movements and parties in question, and exposes the contradictions and dangers of this political worldview.[8] Yet he adamantly maintains that the appeals by rightwing populists to “illiberal democracy” are illicit, and represent a corruption of political language itself, and that those scholars and critics who accept this usage help to reproduce this confusion. He insists that what is at stake is not liberalism but democracy itself, and that “to attempt to limit freedom of speech and assembly, media pluralism, or the protection of minorities, is an attack on democracy’s very foundations.”

But while such formulations may well be objectionable, are they thus contrary to the very meaning of democracy? We could simply stipulate that only “liberal democracy” qualifies as “authentic” democracy, and all other conceptions, ideological formulae, and legitimations are simply fraudulent, or “pseudo-democratic.” But I think this is a mistake, a verbal sleight of hand.

First, it is a historical mistake. If repression of pluralism attacks the very foundations of democracy (and not simply of liberalism or liberal democracy), then what do we make of the conceptions of “totalitarian democracy” once analyzed and lauded by Carl Schmitt, and analyzed and despised by Jacob Talmon? Leninism was centered on a theory of “revolutionary proletarian democracy,” and fascism too, in its Italian and Nazi variants, claimed to institute the “people’s will.” Before 1945 these anti-liberal appropriations of democracy were powerful ideologies, and indeed it was only in struggle against these populistic ideologies that a distinctive praxis of liberal democracy eventually emerged. And throughout the entire period of the Cold War, the discourse of “people’s democracy” pervaded the countries of the Soviet bloc (paralleled in “the People’s Republic of China” and “Democratic People’s Republic of [North] Korea”).

Muller knows this. It is a central thesis of his fine 2011 book Contesting Democracy: Political Ideas in Twentieth-Century Europe. But even in this book there is some ambivalence. For while Muller acknowledges that these ideologies “played on the register of democratic values” and “promised fully to realize values commonly associated with democracy,” he also insists that “they were not democracies by any stretch— though, as we shall see, many defenders of these regimes did engage in strenuous conception stretching precisely to make that claim plausible.”[9] But in fact, as he himself points out, post-war liberal democracy was defined in opposition to these dictatorial regimes that claimed the mantle of “authentic” democracy. I surely agree with Muller that from the perspective of liberal democracy as a historical achievement and a normative value—a perspective I share!—the Stalinist and fascist regimes were dictatorial, tyrannical, brutal, even evil. And they were surely hostile to liberal democracy. And there is thus good reason to have been, and to be, hostile to them. But only from the vantage point of liberal democracy can their partisans be ruled out as not authentically democratic in a semantic and ideological sense. For much of the history of the 20th century, such ideologists offered alternative conceptions—dangerous alternatives to be sure—of democracy, ones that were plausible to many people, perhaps even more plausible and compelling than liberal democracy was until WWII and its aftermath. This, again, is the central theme of Muller’s book—that contestation over the value and indeed the very meaning of “democracy” defined the politics of the century.

The totalitarian regimes, in short, represented lethal, and morally and politically objectionable, efforts (mutations?) to institute a kind of anti-liberal, populistic democracy. They were hostile to liberal democracy—in part, in the name of an alternative conception of democracy.

It is very awkward to speak in this way, to be sure. But it is also necessary. As Muller himself writes in his book: “Though few people, to put it mildly, would nowadays defend the Nazis’ ‘Germanic democracy’ or the post-war Eastern European ‘people’s democracies,’ it is not superfluous to say that most of the ‘democratic promises’ of the extreme anti-liberal regimes were disingenuous (or, at the very least, dysfunctional in practice). But it is also important to ask why these regimes felt compelled to make these promises in the first place.”[10] It is important to ask this. And the answer is plain: because “liberalism” was in crisis, and it had always been in tension with “democracy,” and because “democracy” had a range of meanings that were the topic of hot and cold contention. And understanding the ideological underpinnings of these alternative conceptions was and is essential to better contesting them in the name of liberal democratic values.

Fast forward to today. Orban, Kaczynski, Erdogan, Trump and Putin are no Mussolini or Hitler or Stalin– at least not yet. And their ideological rationales perhaps lack the “system” and the “power” associated with the interwar discourses of “totalitarian democracy.”

But why deny that they offer a version of “popular sovereignty,” and thus of “democracy,” even if their version would seek to transform an electoral victory into a permanent mandate to rule in the name of “the people” or “the nation”—an objectionable version of “democracy” to be sure, and even an authoritarian one? Denying that this is an interpretation of “democracy,” even if an objectionable interpretation, makes it difficult to understand the ideological struggles of the 20th century. And it also makes it difficult to understand the popular, demotic source of the contemporary appeal of the Orbans and Trumps of our world. For a great many right and left populists do “play on the register” of democratic values, and challenge real deficiencies of liberal democracy, and claim to promote a more authentically popular mode of representation. And understanding what they are doing with words, and how their words are resonating, is essential to understanding their power. The question of their “sincerity”—whatever this might mean, and however much this might be gauged– is beside the point. As Robert Michel’s noted a century ago in his Political Parties, “our age has destroyed once for all the ancient and rigid forms of aristocracy, has destroyed them, at least, in certain important regions of political constitutional life. Even conservatism at times assumed a democratic form. Before the assault of the democratic masses it has long since abandoned its primitive aspect, and loves to change its disguise. . . In an era of democracy, ethics constitute a weapon which everyone can employ. . . Today, all the factors of public life speak and struggle in the name of the people, of. the community at large. The government and rebels against the government, kings and the party-leaders, tyrants by the grace of God and usurpers, rabid idealists and calculating self-seekers, all are ‘the people,’ and all declare that in their actions they merely fulfil the will of the nation. Thus, in the modern life of the classes and of the nations, moral considerations have become an accessory, a necessary fiction.”[11] As Michels makes clear, modern politics is in large part defined by competition for the banner of “democracy.” It is not a question of sincerity. It is a question of contested meaning. To stipulate by semantic fiat that the justifications offered by Orban et al are against not just liberal democracy but democracy itself is to refuse to take seriously the potent, if perhaps toxic, ideological brew that many millions of citizens are apparently eager to imbibe.


To say that the discourse of “illiberal democracy” is a real and politically effective mode of legitimation whose popular “logic” and appeal ought to be understood as a dangerous variant of “democracy” is one thing. But to say that the proponents of “illiberal democracy” are in fact instituting “illiberal democracy” as an accomplished fact, is another.

As political theorists and social scientists we are not required to accept the rhetoric of “illiberal democracy” at face value. We are indeed obliged to analyze the rhetoric not merely as words or symbols, but as practices, linked to political initiatives, movements, parties, and efforts to legislate change. It is essential to appreciate that the social world is partly constituted by language, and that we do with words is important. But equally important is what we do with the words; and to get at that we need to go beyond the words themselves.

Here, I would submit, the language of “illiberal democracy” is problematic, and does suffer from a kind of “conceptual stretching” that inhibits careful inquiry. For it condenses two questions that are related but also distinct.

The first relates to the ways we characterize the aspirations of political agents. If Orban, for example, declares that he seeks to bring about an “illiberal democracy,” then one moment of analysis involves taking his declarations seriously and understanding what he means by “illiberal democracy.” This requires analyzing his uses of this term, the prior uses and meanings on which he draws, the contexts in which he rhetorically acts, and the political “uptake” of his pronouncements among relevant publics. But it also involves unpacking the term into its likely practical ramifications: the transformation of state institutions to exalt “national unity” over ethnic and political pluralism; the bringing of relatively autonomous judicial, educational and media institutions under partisan control; the policing and thus the harassment of contacts between domestic civil society institutions and transnational NGOs, IGOs, etc. These are the kinds of things that Orban is doing or more accurately attempting to do with his invocations of “illiberal democracy.” Does the simple assertion “Orban seeks an illiberal democracy” make sense? Yes. But it is a simple assertion, and it has little content, and as theorists and social scientists we have every reason to be wary of such simple assertions, and to want more explanatory content than such assertions can provide.

The second question to which the analytic invocation of “illiberal democracy” often speaks is a question not about political aspiration but about regime type: have the changes instituted by “illiberal democratic” aspirants actually resulted in a regime change, and if so, does the term “illiberal democracy” constitute an adequate way of describing and classifying the new regime? It is in this vein that many journalists and commentators speak of the “rise of illiberal democracy,” and that the Hungarian contributors to an important new volume intend in speaking of The Hungarian Patient: Social Opposition to an Illiberal Democracy. [12] This way of talking is also nicely captured in the extended headline of a recent Nation piece by David Ost: “Regime Change Carried Out in Poland: Since Taking Office in November, the Law and Justice Party has Abandoned the Institutions of Liberal Democracy in the Pursuit of Raw Power.”[13] There is, to be sure, some ambiguity in this title. On the one hand, this “abandonment” of liberal democracy in pursuit of power is presented as a purpose of the Law and Justice Party. But on the other hand, it is presented as an accomplishment of this party since taking office three months before.

The implication behind formulations like these seems to be that a new regime has been instituted, in which essential elements of the liberal democracy that had evolved since 1989 have been abandoned.

Is this true? Regime ideologists adamantly insist it is not, and they point to continued existence of civil freedom, and its exercise by government critics such as the Polish Black Monday activists protesting proposed legislation to restrict abortion rights on October 3, 2016, as evidence.[14] Most of the commentators would themselves probably concede that it is too early to tell. In the case of Poland, certainly three or four or even fourteen months is a relatively short period of time in which to radically transform a political system through electoral achievements and legislative means. In the case of Hungary, Orban’s project has evolved over the period of many years, and it has involved substantial institutional changes and the passage, through questionable means, of a new Constitution itself. Here there might be stronger grounds for the claim that there has been a regime change. But even here, I would suggest that many of the analysts of these changes, most of whom are also critics of these changes, recognize that this remains an open question. The recent legal failure of Orban’s proposed referendum on limiting EU mandated refugees surely suggests as much, though Orban’s response—that he regards the referendum as having been approved anyway, and he will change the Constitution to validate his interpretation—sharply indicates the extent to which regime change continues to be pursued.[15] In the same way, Orban’s recent attack on Central European University—involving a (sometimes anti-Semitic) campaign of denunciation of its links to George Soros, and legislation designed to force the closure of CEU’s Budapest campus—has provoked major street protests, and a diplomatic firestorm, and it remains to be seen whether and how Orban’s clearly anti-liberal effort will succeed.[16] One of the reasons to use the language of “illiberal democracy” to describe these changes is precisely to call attention to the illiberal aspirations being pursued and changes being made, precisely so they can be arrested, and the “patient” can be restored to (liberal democratic) “health.”

There is, perhaps, an ambiguity and a fluidity to these unfolding developments that makes the term “illiberal democracy” particularly suitable, as a way of denoting what some political scientists call a “diminished subtype” of (liberal-pluralist) democracy, and what others might consider a “weak” or “corrupt” or “failing” liberal democracy or as a liberal democracy suffering from diminishing quality.

I note these possibilities, without trying to resolve them, because they are matters of ongoing discussion and dispute among scholars of democracy and democratization. In these debates, the question of how best to categorize and describe “illiberal regimes,” and when to conclude, analytically, that there has been a fundamental change of regime from a liberal-pluralist democracy to an illiberal or authoritarian regime, is inextricably linked to debate about how best to categorize liberal democratic regimes themselves. The literature on this topic is immense, and the difficult and perhaps irresolvable questions presented by the topic have led one major international team of scholars to develop an overarching framework of analysis called “Varieties of Democracy” (or V-Dem).[17]

The basic approach was first outlined in John Gerring and Michael Coppedge’s “Conceptualizing and Measuring Democracy: A New Approach,” published in 2011 in Perspectives on Politics. The piece proceeds from the lack of scholarly consensus about how to conceptualize, measure, and thus compare the “democratic” character of regimes. As the authors note, this lack of clear agreement has both theoretical and practical consequences: “Without some way of analyzing regime-types through time and across countries we have no way to mark progress or regress on this vital matter, to explain it, to reveal its consequences, or to affect its future course.” They argue that the principal source of this lack agreement is the complexity and essential contestability of “democracy” as a concept. They argue that “democracy” is a “multivalent concept” that typically comprises at least six distinct dimensions—electoral, liberal, majoritarian, participatory, deliberative, and egalitarian—and that explanatory theories ought to register these distinct dimensions. They describe their approach as “historical, multidimensional, disaggregated, and transparent,” and conclude by considering some of the practical obstacles to its application and the ways these might be overcome.

Their point is not normative. It is empirical-analytic: ‘We do not propose any particular definition of democracy (at large). We leave this to others. Our intention here is to capture various possible conceptions of democracy without making judgments about how they might be combined or how they might contribute to a summary index. Our claim is that these six conceptions describe our subject in a fairly encompassing fashion and that each conception is logically distinct and—at least for some theorists— independently valuable. “ Perhaps most important for our purposes, Gerring and Coppedge and their collaborators insist on remaining agnostic about the meaning of “democracy” precisely so that it is possible to promote a range of research projects on the diverse processes of democratization and de-democratization over time and space: “the goal of summarizing a country’s regime type is elusive. As we have seen, extant democracy indices suffer from serious problems of conceptualization and measurement. While many new indices have been proposed over the past several decades—all purporting to provide a single point score that accurately reflects countries’ regime status—none has been successful in arriving at an authoritative and precise measurement of this challenging concept. In our view, the traditional approach falls short because its self-assigned task is impossible. The highly abstract and contested nature of democracy impedes effective operationalization. This is not a problem that can be solved—at least not in a conclusive fashion. . . A more 22 productive approach to this topic is to recognize the multiple conceptions of democracy and, within each conception, to disaggregate.”[18]

In short, following this approach, regimes are shifting targets of analysis; their understanding requires a range of concepts, distinctions, and qualifications; and it is unwise, if not impossible, to stipulate, in a simple or essentialist fashion, what is or is not “a democracy.” And for this very reason, I would argue, the social scientific usefulness of the concept of “illiberal democracy” can only be judged pragmatically. Does it help us to understand certain things about the political projects of contemporary anti-liberal political leaders and movements and about the possible or probable changes being instituted in its name? Surely yes. Does it have limits, and do the phenomena that the term seeks to capture also admit of other possible categorizations? Surely yes.

In this sense, the only reasonable social scientific answer to the question “is there illiberal democracy?” is qualified: there surely are phenomena that admit of this label, but whether or not this label suffices, or is the best label to apply, or is as suitable at time T2 as is it was at time T1, can only be determined by specific social scientific analyses and arguments. In the same way, whether a regime being led by an “illiberal democratic” government has moved decisively toward a more full-fledged authoritarian regime can only be determined by specific analyses and arguments. And there is no reason to expect a consensus on these questions any time soon.



[1] Fareed Zakaria, “The Rise of Illiberal Democracy.” Foreign Affairs (November/December 1997), pp. 22-43. See also his later book The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad (New York: W.W. Norton, 2003). Many of these themes were also raised in Vladimir Tismaneanu’s important Fantasies of Salvation: Democracy, Nationalism, and Myth in Post-Communist Europe (Princeton 1998).

[2] See, for example, Steven Levitsky and Lucan Way’s “The Rise of Competitive Authoritarianism.” Journal of Democracy (April 2002).

[3] Full text of Viktor Orbán’s speech at Băile Tuşnad (Tusnádfürdő) of 26 July 2014.

[4] Erin K. Jenne and Cas Mudde, “Hungary’s Illiberal Turn: Can Outsiders Help?” Journal of Democracy, vol. 23, no. 3 (July 2012).

[5] Russian President Vladimir Putin, Interview with NBC Television, July 12, 2006.

[6] Vladislav Surkov, Deputy Chief of Staff of the President of the Russian Federation, June 29, 2006.

[7] Vladislav Surkov, “How Russia Should Fight International Conspiracies.” (November 29, 2006).

[8] Jan-Werner Muller, What is Populism? (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016).

[9] Jan-Werner Muller, Contesting Democracy: Political Ideas in Twentieth-Century Europe (Yale University Press, 2011), pp. 3-5.

[10] Ibid., p. 4.

[11] Robert Michels, Political Parties (Ontario: Batoche Books, 2001), pp. 8, 15-16.

[12] Peter Krastev and Jon Van Til, eds., The Hungarian Patient: Social Opposition to an Illiberal Democracy (CEU Press, 2015). See also Janos Kornai, “Hungary’s U-Turn: Retreating from Democracy.” Journal of Democracy, vol. 26, no. 3 (July 2015).

[13] David Ost, “Regime Change in Poland, Carried Out from Within.” Nation (January 8, 2016).

[14] Rick Noack, “Polish Women Go On Nationwide Strike Against Abortion Ban.” Washington Post (October 3, 2016).

[15] Patrick Kingsley, “Hungary’s Referendum Not Valid After Voters Stay Away.” The Guardian (Sunday, October 2, 2016).

[16] See John Connelly, “Central European University Under Attack.” The Nation (April 12, 2017).

and “As Far as Hungarian State Television is Concerned, Soros is an Evil Zionist.” Hungarian Spectrum (May 26, 2017).

[17] See Varieties of Democracy: Global Standards, Local Knowledge.

[18] John Gerring, Michael Coppedge, et al., “Conceptualizing and Measuring Democracy: A New Approach.” Perspectives on Politics (June 2011), pp. 247-6.


Jeffrey C. Isaac is the James H. Rudy Professor of Political Science at Indiana University, Bloomington. He is the Editor-in-Chief of the flagship journal of the American Political Science Association, Perspectives on Politics: A Political Science Public Sphere. He is the author of many books, including Democracy in Dark Times (Cornell, 1998; Polirom, 2000).Click here to access his full bio.

This article was originally published in Public Seminar on July 12, 2017.

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