This is a guest post by Lucas Dolan, a PhD Student at American University’s School of International Service. His research deals with the transnational coalition-building of right-wing populist movements. For further information, see his website, or find him on Twitter (@mrldolan).
Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt (L&Z) have accomplished something impressive. Their new book How Democracies Die (HDD) is a relatively condensed volume that—while clearly written for a popular audience—is also likely to become required reading for scholars interested in authoritarianism and democratic backsliding. Indeed, my institution’s chapter of the 24 university “Democratic Erosion” consortium assigned the book even before it was released. It is a rare scholarly work that has generated substantial discussion in both the scholarly and policymaking communities immediately upon publication. The book draws from the authors’ extensive research on de-democratization in Latin America and Eastern Europe (as well as some instructive episodes of American history) to identify processes of democratic erosion and derive lessons for resisting such processes. These historical and comparative chapters are then used as benchmarks for evaluating the threat to democracy posed by President Donald Trump. Puzzlingly, the book omits a meaningful discussion of the role of populism in democratic erosion—despite one of the author’s influential work on that topic. In this review, I attempt to reconstruct how deeper engagement with populism might have fit with the book’s core contentions. I conclude that Levitsky’s own mobilization approach to populism lacks cohesion with HDD and that Jan-Werner Müller’s ideational understanding of populism interfaces more naturally with the mechanisms of democratic decline proposed by L&Z.
This World Politics in a Time of Populist Nationalism (WPTPN) guest post is written by Emily Holland and Hadas Aron, PhD Candidates in Political Science at Columbia University. Holland’s research focuses on energy politics, political development, Russian politics and East/Central Europe. Aron studies right wing populism and nationalism with a regional focus on Eastern Europe, the United States, and Israel. They blog at Commenting Together.
Immediately following the annexation of Crimea and the tragedy of flight MH17, the West largely regarded Vladimir Putin as a dangerous international pariah. But two years later, following the sweeping success of demagogues world-wide, Putin has emerged as a new oracle of the East, leading the charge for the new wave of illiberalism. Widely praised by US President Elect Donald Trump, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, Turkey’s Erdogan, India’s Modi, and Hungary’s Orban, amongst others, Putin’s brand of strongman leadership and exclusionary nationalism is succeeding like never before.
I agree with Josh Tucker that Iran doesn’t really fit the major categories of regime-type au currant in comparative politics, but, as I also suggest in comments, we should only lose sleep over that if we treat analytic types as filing boxes for cases rather than, say, as ideal-typifications. Still, if the analysis I’m seeing from reliable sources (and I, like Randy, have no idea what to make of the election outcome in Iran), it does seem that the regime engaged in some pretty brazen fraud of one form or another.
If that’s right, then we’re looking at a familiar dynamic: while most observers would have believed a fraudulent result that netted Ahmadinejad around 52-55% of the vote, the reported results just aren’t very credible. So why inflate margins in fraudulent elections?
Unfortunately, this isn’t a literature I know terribly well. But if what we see in the Russian case is generalizable–where no one doubted that the governing party would win, yet it still sought to inflate its margin of victory–such regimes seek greater “legitimacy” than a close election allows for. More generally, close results create more ambiguity as to the actual victor; indeed, as a non-Iran expert my initial reaction to the margin was “I guess that, whatever irregularities there might be, Mousavi must have lost.”
Still, assuming that the result was rigged, one has to wonder if the inflated margin here will actually backfire. It certainly seems to have produced incredulous reactions outside of Iran, let alone among opposition supporters in Iran