From Democracy to Dictatorship

Module Leader:
Gábor Győri
2017-2018 Autumn
Social Sciences

Democracy as a general concept is now surely near its apogee: The notion that government must be
“democratically” legitimated is nigh universally accepted. Nevertheless, the broad latitude available to
those who interpret the concept of democracy and apply it in practice has also allowed many
manifestations of democracy that do not mesh with what has emerged as the mainstream model of
western democracy. This is a not a new phenomenon; what is distinctly novel, however, is that recently
the trajectory of global politics appears to be moving away from this traditional western concept of
democracy. The new phenomenon challenging the western version of democracy has been going by a
variety of names, including the term popularised by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán of Hungary, who
referred to building an “illiberal democracy”.
Does that make sense? What is liberal democracy? And while we’re at it, what is democracy? What we
will try to do first is to narrow in on the concept. We will not take for granted the idea that democracy is
good, and correspondingly we will briefly explore some of the rival conceptual foundations of political
rule that democracy overcame on the way towards establishing itself as the global paradigm. We will
then proceed to discuss what features – if any – are essential if we want to label a political regime a
democracy. This will lead us to sketching the contours of the most widespread version of democracy,
the western constitutional model, also referred to as liberal democracy. Finally, we will turn to the
contemporary challenges of western liberal democracy.
Nevertheless, while we will indulge in some discussions of contemporary politics, ours will be neither a
course on current affairs nor on political activism. If you want to find out how to topple authoritarian
leaders or would-be dictators, you will have to take a different course. We will focus on conceptual
issues, and we will mainly use the discussions of contemporary politics to crystallise our own
understanding of what democracy entails.