What is the State of Democracy around the World

The state of Democracy within the context of Samuel P. Huntington’s third wave has become stagnated as a result of a fading legitimacy. Huntington describes the ascendency of democratic states within three periods or waves. Currently the world is engaged within the third wave in which democracy slightly increased due to failing autocratic states, but has now declined. This decline, according to Marc Plattner can be attributed to the, “attractiveness of the world’s leading democracies,” such as the United States and Europe (Plattner, 14). Plattner associates this decline with the results of the economic crisis of 2008 in conjunction with poor public perceptions of political institutions (e.g. the European Union, NSA, GCHQ, etc.) and problematic foreign policies.

As a result, attempts to create democratic regimes within historically authoritarian states such as Egypt have failed to consolidate their power. The Arab Springs is one such example that illustrates the inability for democratic regimes to institute a stable government within authoritarian states. This inability stems from the growing power of authoritarian regimes such as Russia, China, and Iran who have been able to consolidate their party’s power. These states have thus become models for existing autocratic regimes to follow; as their power develops within the international community. Any emergence of democratic proponents within these states form only because, according to political scientist Ghia Nodia, democracy, “‘has become fashionable,’” for those who want to change the social condition (Plattner, 13). Another challenge presented to democracy is the combined resistance that authoritarian regimes created in order to secure their interest both domestically and internationally. Juxtaposed with the loss in credence, democracy is struggling against the combined ideals of autocracies on the international stage.

Yet the lack of knowledge in implementing such a democratic regime juxtaposed with its failing “attractiveness”, represents the core issues creating a stagnation of the spread of democracy. Stagnation, however, does not imply an end to Huntington’s third wave. The dominance that autocracies impose within their domains presents an element that may allow for transition to occur. Robert Dahl, notes this imposed state dominance in Dilemmas of Pluralist Democracy; referring to it as resource that is counteracted by the formation of organizations. Pro-democratic organizations (e.g. Arab Springs), however, lack the necessary knowledge to implement such a difficult system of governance within societies having no prior history with such ideals (Plattner, 15-16). Therefore, the transition must occur in conjunction with the ideals prioritized by the established organizations; which will format the cultural understanding and, thereby influence its policies.

As democracy stands today, its stagnation resulted from a gradual loss of international legitimacy due to the economic crisis of 2008 and poor management of institutions and foreign policies. In response, the growth of autocratic regimes has become relative to the loss of legitimacy of leading democratic nations that have failed to provide security within the international community. As a result, democracy as a political institution has been restricted to previously democratized states and has failed to insert democratic ideals within autocratic states due to a loss of perceived legitimacy.


  1. Plattner, Marc F. Project Muse. “The End of the Transitions Era?”. John Hopkins University Press. http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/journal_of_democracy/v025/25.3.plattner.pdf .
  2. Terhcek, Ronald and Thomas Conte. Theories of Democracy. Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2001.

2 thoughts on “What is the State of Democracy around the World

  1. Planner’s article paired nicely with Masoud’s study on the decline of Arab Democracy. I completely agree with your claims that sustained Democracy needs a strong foundation of electoral processes and leadership accountability. Maybe democratization is a more of an evolutionary process, than a revolutionary overnight series of events. For some countries after the Arab Spring, there was no ‘stand still’. Libya and Egypt, who changed regime, have failed to halt regional conflict or heavy-handed government control. The only success story seems to be Tunisia, who has peacefully turned over legislative power to the non-islamic political party. But even Tunisia stands in a ‘grey area’ of democratization as their leaders repeat the phrase ‘prestige of state’, a previous byword of other Arab autocrats (Masoud).

  2. I agree that Democracy needs a strong foundation because it “suffers from being a form of government to establish, to sustain, and to make function well” (Plattner, 15). It is essential to solve this problem so that future democratic regimes are able to withstand. However, the international presence of authoritarian regimes such as China seems to prove a challenge for future democracies. Apart from discrediting the modernization theory, there could be a day where authoritarian regimes can become an attraction in the same way democracy has become after the waves of democratization. One of the first things that democratic regimes should focus on is the solution to their own internal problems. In consequence, they could still have a strong presence in the international environment and discredit the ideologies of the authoritarian regimes.

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