The Future of Democracy

Since the ‘Third Wave’ of democracy has swept through Southern Europe, Latin America, Central and Eastern Europe, Africa, and a number of South-East Asian countries, transitions to democracy have become a global phenomenon. Furthermore, liberal democracy appears to be the preferred form of government in most parts of the world.

There are significant differences in these processes of transition and consolidation of democracy between countries. At the same time, there are many similarities that can only be understood by large scale comparative analyses across countries and time. Three decades have elapsed since the beginning of the ‘Third Wave’. Thus, it is now possible to assess the persistence of the institutional structures as well as the emerging democratic political culture of these young democracies.

The quality of democracy has a direct bearing on a country’s ability to meet current and future challenges. These challenges are both external and internal. Most of the external challenges result from processes of globalization. Among these processes economic globalization is most important. Today nation states face a strong competition world-wide. Success and failure in this global competition largely determines the ability of countries to meet the expectations of their citizens regarding preferred outcomes such as social welfare, security, or environmental protection. Perceived failures to achieve this feeds a growing skepticism in the performance of institutions of representative government. This can result in a challenge of both the effectiveness as well as the legitimacy of democratic rule.

Against this background, STIAS welcomes research proposals aimed at exploring various aspects of this theme. The following are examples of subthemes in need of further investigation:

Theoretical explorations

“Democracy” comes in many varieties. There are different types of democratic institutions as well as different types of democratic communities. In order to better understand differences in the performance of democracy the notion of democracy and its many varieties should be explored on a theoretical level.

External challenges

Processes of globalization lead to increased challenges to society and the economy. Aspects that need further attention include global economic competition among nation states; large-scale migration, the impact of religious fundamentalism on the division between state and religion and the resulting problems for the implementation of the rule of law.

Internal challenges

Processes of modernization and changes in value systems often result in a citizenry that is cognitively better equipped, critical and demanding more participation. Corruption, nepotism as well as gender, social and economic inequalities become important issues and the institutions of liberal democracy are evaluated in terms of their efficiency and performance to tackle these problems. This growing tendency has important implications for the functioning of democracy and warrants further scrutiny.

Empirical investigations

Research on varieties of democracy and of democratic community (e.g. Coppedge et al. 2011; Buehlmann et al. 2011; Fuchs and Klingemann 2002) is growing. More empirical work is needed on the impact of external and internal challenges on liberal democracy (e.g. Kriesi et al. 2006; Dreher 2008; Vowles and Xezonakis 2013) and on the ability of different political regimes (autocracies as well as democracies) to deal with the most recent global recession (van Beek 2005, 2010, 2012). However, it is necessary to integrate the various approaches and data collections to ease empirical analysis and to better understand the future of liberal democracy.

The role of constitutions

An important part of the STIAS programme will be an annual seminar on African constitutionalism. This will be a joint project with the Institute for International and Comparative Law in Africa and the Centre for Human Rights, based in the Law Faculty of Pretoria University and their partners on the African continent. These acclaimed institutes form part of an African-wide network and have close links with the United Nation office in Geneva.

Being the foundational document of the state, constitutions have the potential to play a crucial role in maintaining the health of democracies. The current constitutional landscape in Africa is highly fragmented, and reflects the residues of colonialism, traditional values and modernization, while those involved in shaping new constitutional orders often provide short interventions or otherwise draw on an eclectic blend of ideas not suited to local conditions.

However, the role of constitutions in Africa cannot be considered in isolation and the Annual Seminar needs to be augmented by additional research on constitutions and constitutionalism in other parts of the world in order to provide a comparative framework and to place developments on the continent in a global perspective. STIAS would therefore welcome individual or group projects in this field in addition to the work being done by the Seminar.

Back to Themes or Application to the STIAS Programme.