Democracy in Retreat

The Revolt of the Middle Class and the Worldwide Decline of Representative Government

A thought-provoking study of democratization proposing that the spate of retreating democracies, one after another over the past two decades, is not just a series of exceptions.

Foreign policy analyses written by CFR fellows and published by the trade presses, academic presses, or the Council on Foreign Relations Press.

Read an excerpt of Democracy in Retreat.

Since the end of the Cold War, most political theorists have assumed that as countries develop economically, they will also become more democratic—especially if a vibrant middle class takes root. The triumph of democracy, once limited to a tiny number of states and now spread across the globe, has been considered largely inevitable.

In Democracy in Retreat: The Revolt of the Middle Class and the Worldwide Decline of Representative Government, CFR Fellow for Southeast Asia Joshua Kurlantzick identifies forces that threaten democracy and shows that conventional wisdom has blinded world leaders to a real crisis. "Today a constellation of factors, from the rise of China to the lack of economic growth in new democracies to the West's financial crisis, has come together to hinder democracy throughout the developing world," he writes. "Absent radical and unlikely changes in the international system, that combination of antidemocratic factors will have serious staying power."

Kurlantzick pays particular attention to the revolt of middle class citizens, traditionally proponents of reform, who have turned against democracy in countries such as Venezuela, Pakistan, and Taiwan. He observes that countries once held up as model new democracies, such as Hungary and the Czech Republic, have since curtailed social, economic, and political freedoms. Military coups have grabbed power from Honduras to Thailand to Fiji. The number of representative governments has fallen, and the quality of democracy has deteriorated in many states where it had been making progress, including Russia, Kenya, Argentina, and Nigeria.

The renewed strength of authoritarian rule, warns Kurlantzick, means that billions of people around the world continue to live under repressive regimes.

More on:

Political Movements


Censorship and Freedom of Expression

Human Rights

A Council on Foreign Relations Book

More on:

Political Movements


Censorship and Freedom of Expression

Human Rights

Reviews and Endorsements

Named to Foreign Policy's list of What to Read in 2013

Named one of the Best Books of 2013 by Anat Admati, Stanford Graduate School of Business

This is an important book, written in a very accessible style, drawing together a vast array of examples and arguments from across the globe and with some focus on Southeast Asia.

Nirmal Ghosh, Straits Times

Two decades ago, Francis Fukuyama famously argued . . . that the world would inevitably evolve toward liberal democracy and market economics. Yet 2013 represents the seventh consecutive year that declines in freedom outweighed gains, according to the Freedom House index. Kurlantzick offers keen insights into what has gone wrong.

Trudy Rubin, Philadelphia Inquirer

Removes the blinders so we can move forward in ways that promote democracy more effectively.

Global Times

International-policy wonks will find much of interest.

Kirkus Reviews

This book offers a very well-informed and global exploration of political developments over the past decade, with a particular emphasis on the state of democracy. Kurlantzick brings it all together in a unique, original, and compelling manner.

Brian Joseph, senior director, Asia and global programs, National Endowment for Democracy

Kurlantzick raises the specter of a world where democracy is in full retreat. . . . Few—if any—other books cover the topic so soundly and broadly, and for the future safety, security, and international position of the U.S., it is of vital importance.

Samantha F. Ravich, former deputy national security adviser to the vice president

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