watching democratic cultures decline

Yesterday, I offered some evidence that broad public deliberation declines when authoritarianism rises. I used data Varieties of Democracy, which asks 2,800 experts questions about specific countries in specific years.

For this purpose, I’ll define “authoritarianism” as a system that relies on the arbitrary will of leaders. It’s a system of rulers without many rules. Its opposite, then, is “republicanism” in Philip Pettit’s sense: a system in which nobody can be told what to do without a justification. Many variables in the V-Dem database relate to authoritarianism, but I’ve selected two: (1) whether the executive branch respects the constitution of its country, and (2) whether elections are held without intimidation. I chose this election-related variable because regular and fair elections provide a check on arbitrary rule, and also because a typical tactic of an autocrat is to interfere with elections.

Pettit, citing Quentin Skinner, emphasizes that “one of the central themes” of the civic republican tradition is “belief in dialogical reason.” The connection between republicanism and deliberation is not definitional. In other words, you could imagine an authoritarian state that encourages deliberation or a genuine republic that is weak on deliberation. But republicanism and deliberation have often been connected because one way to make decisions non-arbitrary is to encourage discussion of them.

V-Dem offers two measures of deliberation: 1) to what extent do “large numbers of non-elite groups as well as ordinary people … discuss major policies among themselves, in the media, in associations or neighborhoods, or in the streets”?; and 2) to what extent do leaders consult a wide range of stakeholders? Along with the two measures of authoritarianism, we have four variables whose relationships interest me.

In Turkey, for example, all four measures have fallen since 2010. The fair elections variable began to decline first; then the other three fell in tandem.

The pattern is less pronounced but similar in Poland since 2011.

In the Philippines, election intimidation has not grown worse, but the other three variables have taken a dive since 2012.

In Venezuela, it’s been steadily downhill since 2000.

Brazil’s elections got a little worse first (starting at a high baseline), and then everything plunged after 2015.

Russia has seen fairly steady declines from a lower baseline.

And the US saw declines before 2016 in elections and in public dialogue that may presage rising state authoritarianism in 2017 and ’18 (not shown yet).