Challenges to Democracy Framing Retreat
June 7-9. 2023
Co-sponsored by the Toda Peace Institute and the Fletcher School of Global Affairs at Tufts
More and more reports are documenting an accelerating rate of democratic erosion coupled with the rise of autocracy and extreme polarization around the globe. At the same time, a recent Carnegie Endowment for International Peace report identifies 32 countries that have witnessed “democratic bright spots” in the last decade and analyses where and why some of those shifts towards democracy have been sustained while others have not. As global threats such as climate change, migrations, pandemics, misinformation, growing inequality, and increased polarization expand, the need for well-functioning democracies with engaged citizenry is arguably more critical than ever, both to address national level challenges and those that affect global well-being.
From June 7-9, 2023, Toda, in partnership with the Fletcher School of Global Affairs, held a Framing Retreat at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts to explore how Toda might contribute to research on 1) why democracy is declining around the world and more autocrats are being elected; and 2) the development of effective interventions in both governmental and civil society institutions to prevent further erosion and strengthen democratic resilience. The retreat was attended by 12 experts from across the world and included democracy researchers and historians as well as academics and practitioners in the field of conflict resolution and peacebuilding.
On the first day, eight participants presented their research on topics that included an historical perspective on current challenges to democracy, a cross-country comparison of democratic backsliding with 16 case studies, the global rise of the extreme right, the worldwide increase in hyper-polarization and in the US in particular, and the likelihood of increased political violence during times of democratic transition. This was followed by case examples from India and Nigeria and a comparative analysis of democratic resilience in Europe. These presentations coming from different academic disciplines provided the group with a multi-perspective view of current trends and challenges, leading to rich discussions that in turn suggested many areas for further research.
The group then engaged in a systems analysis to map how factors contributing to democratic backsliding are interacting with each other to create negative feedback loops that promote polarization, the rise of demagoguery, and the weakening of democratic norms and institutions, further increasing democratic erosion. Interventions that interrupt these feedback loops are likely to have the biggest impact, hence the importance of identifying them. Positing greater democratic resilience as the desired goal, another form of systems analysis aided in then identifying and prioritizing specific governance and civil society structures that need support and strengthening. Together, these efforts provided a useful framework for further elaboration that could then be applied to specific country or regional contexts.
The group greatly valued the contributions of different disciplines to the questions posed by current global trends and the differing vantage points of researchers and practitioners. Follow-up discussions are planned to discuss what other disciplines or practice areas should be included in this effort and to identify concrete areas of focus to maximise real world impact.
A full Summary Report will follow.
Toda Peace Institute Public Conversations on YouTube
Toda Peace Institute has recorded a number of conversations with experts on the challenges to democracy. See the full listing on YouTube here.
Related Policy Briefs
Policy Brief No.168: Why Parliaments? by John Keane
Related Global Outlook articles
Polarisation as a Challenge to Democracy by Wolfgang Merkel
India’s Growing Democratic Deficit by Ramesh Thakur