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Photo: “The Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi attending the ASEAN-India Informal Breakfast Summit, in Singapore on November 15, 2018“, by The Government of India, licensed under GODL-India. Hue modified from the original

Gerschewski, Johannes. “Erosion or decay? Conceptualizing causes and mechanisms of democratic regression.” Democratization (2020): 1-20.


Democratic regression has become a worrying phenomenon in the last years. Social science has provided a variety of explanations why democratic regimes have lost democratic regime quality. Against this backdrop, I take stock of the recent literature by putting forward two important analytical distinctions that we should make more explicit. First, I propose to classify our current explanations along the source where the cause for the malaise originated. By doing so, I introduce a distinction between erosion and decay type of arguments. While the former is a gradual process that is caused exogenously – like wind or water hitting a stone – the latter is caused endogenously – like the half-life in nuclear decay processes. Second, I draw a distinction between the endogenous or exogenous roots of the cause and the subsequent causal mechanism that connects the cause with the outcome. I outline the need for dissecting a causal mechanism into its constitutive components and highlight its underlying dimensions of temporality. Throughout the article, I use empirical case material as well as relevant secondary literature to illustrate these points.

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.