Theme Panel: The Resilience and Erosion of Democracy

The Resilience and Erosion of Democracy

How do democracies survive? When do they erode, and how? When democracies collapse by military coup, the change in regime is sudden and stark. But when democracies erode, the process is often far harder to detect. These changes are especially likely to go unnoticed when popularly elected leaders twist laws to their advantage or frame attacks on checks and balances as populist reforms limiting the power of elites. Like the proverbial frog in the boiling pot who does not detect the water temperature slowly rising, citizens and elites may struggle to agree on whether any of the “bright lines” separating democracy from tyranny have been crossed—and, if so, what to do about it.

Yet democratic erosion—either in the U.S. today or in other countries around the world—is never a certainty. Just as there is nothing inevitable about democratic survival, neither is the demise of democracy guaranteed. Indeed, episodes of democratic backsliding may prove fleeting; in some cases, determined pushback against transgressions might even trigger changes in norms and institutions that strengthen democracy in the long term.

This round table’s central aim is to advance understanding of the factors that threaten democratic breakdown and those that contribute to resilience. Bringing together leading comparative scholars on democracy, Larry Diamond (Stanford University), Nancy Bermeo (Nuffield College Oxford), Jennifer McCoy (Georgia State University and Carter Center), Yascha Mounk (Harvard University), Tom Ginsburg (University of Chicago), Susan Stokes (Yale) and Gretchen Helmke (University of Rochester), this round table will explore counter arguments against many of the worst-case scenarios being offered today about the state of American democracy.

Larry Diamond, Stanford University (Presenter)
Nancy Bermeo, Princeton University (Presenter)
Yascha Mounk, Harvard University (Presenter)
Tom Ginsburg, University of Chicago (Presenter)
Jennifer McCoy, Georgia State University (Presenter)
Gretchen Helmke, University of Rochester (Presenter)
Anna M. Grzymala-Busse, Stanford University (Chair)
Susan C. Stokes, Yale University (Presenter)