Skip to main content

Hur, A., & Yeo, A. (2023). Democratic Ceilings: The Long Shadow of Nationalist Polarization in East Asia. Comparative Political Studies0(0).


East Asian democracies, long seen as the success stories of the Third Wave, have curiously co-existed with illiberal partisan competition. We argue that such patterns are symptoms of long-standing democratic stagnation, rather than democratic regress. We trace the entrenchment of illiberal competition to nationalist polarization in the early phase of democratization—a common phenomenon in Third Wave democracies where nation-building and democratization pressures coincided. Party polarization can take many forms, but when it centers on mutually exclusive nationalist visions from the outset, it redefines the end of democratic competition as state capture and justifies whatever means necessary, even those that violate democratic norms, to achieve it. Through a comparative analysis of Taiwan and South Korea, we show that when democratization tends to institutionalize, rather than alleviate, pre-existing nationalist conflicts, it can seed endemic barriers to the habituation of democratic norms, imposing a ceiling on democratic progress.

The Illiberalism Studies Program studies the different faces of illiberal politics and thought in today’s world, taking into account the diversity of their cultural context, their intellectual genealogy, the sociology of their popular support, and their implications on the international scene.