Getting and Keeping Democracy


This is a course about how democracy comes into being and how it breaks down, and about what citizens, activists, and policymakers around the world can do to make the former more likely and the latter less so. Around the world, there is an increasing sense that democracy is under threat. In established democracies such as the United States and France, nativist and populist political leaders question liberal, democratic arrangements that had long been taken for granted. In new democracies such as Tunisia and Indonesia, political leaders capitalize on instability and disorder that invariably attend democratic transition to call for a return to the old, authoritarian order. And in authoritarian regimes, leaders point to models of economic success offered by such countries as China and Singapore to portray undemocratic, nonconsensual politics as more capable of delivering the prosperity that citizens desire. The legitimacy that democracy once enjoyed is now no more.

In order to understand what we can do to erect democracy where it doesn’t exist, to make it work better where it is does exist, and to shore it up where it is fragile, this course draws on a variety of literatures to distill key lessons for citizens, activists, and policymakers. The readings will also cover a variety of regions, from Europe to Latin America to the Middle East to Southeast Asia, and will bring into dialogue the work of scholars and practitioners. Exercises will be writing intensive, and intended to help students develop their own intellectually coherent visions for how democracy can be built, deepened, and defended. This course is designed for students who seek careers in development and in international affairs. In addition to emerging with tools and insights useful for supporting democracy in their home countries and around the world, students will gain groundings in some of the principal social scientific approaches to the analysis of democracy and authoritarianism.