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Samuels, David J. “The International Context of Democratic Backsliding: Rethinking the Role of Third Wave “Prodemocracy” Global Actors.” Perspectives on Politics (2023): 1-12.


We know much about “how democracies die”: elites and masses become polarized, and norms of mutual toleration, forbearance, and institutional restraint erode. But why do elites feel free to undermine these guardrails of democracy? What are the sources of backsliding? Answers to these questions have focused on the impact of economic and cultural change, and on autocratic meddling. I consider another potential source of backsliding around the world: the impact of the reconfiguration of global politics after the Cold War and 9/11 on politics in the main prodemocratic actors that Samuel Huntington highlighted in his book The Third Wave: the United States, the European Union, and the Vatican. Today, the international context gives leaders in these global powers relatively weaker incentives to stand up for democracy, even in the face of aggressive meddling from Russia and China. Changes in international politics has left democracy with weaker ideational support in the global arena, potentially facilitating backsliding.

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.