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Democratic Careening

  • Dan Slater


Democracy in the developing world is generally outliving expectations, but not outperforming them. Democratic collapse has happily been a far rarer event thus far in the twenty-first century than it was in the twentieth. Yet it does not exactly ring true to say that most developing country democracies are consolidating. This review essay ventures the claim that political scientists need to transcend their rightful concerns with how and why young democracies collapse or consolidate, and devote more attention to theorizing how and why they careen. It defines democratic careening as political instability sparked by intense conflict between partisan actors deploying competing visions of democratic accountability. Careening occurs when actors who argue that democracy requires substantial inclusivity of the entire populace (vertical accountability) clash with rivals who defend democracy for its constraints against excessive concentrations of unaccountable power, particularly in the political executive (horizontal accountability). These arguments are elaborated through reviews of leading theoretical works on democratic break-down as well as detailed case studies of Thailand and taiwan.



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* This review article has benefited enormously from presentations to audiences at the University of Chicago Political Theory Workshop, Harvard University Asia Center, Stanford University Center for Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law, University of Wisconsin Center for Southeast Asian Studies, and Boston University Center for the Study of Asia. Above all, it is the beneficiary of Chicago's low barriers between subfields, as seen in the gracious invitation by Christopher Berk and Patchen Markell to present my work in progress to our theory group, and in my extensive conversations with Bob Gooding-Williams, John McCormick, and Jacob Schiff on the theorists and concepts engaged herein. I am also deeply grateful for helpful feedback from Michael Albertus, Aries Arugay, Mark Deming, Sofia Fenner, Edward Friedman, Jingkai He, Lindsay Knight, Dominika Koter, Stanislav Markus, Marie-Eve Reny, Alberto Simpser, Paul Staniland, Joseph Wong, and Daniel Ziblatt. All of these valued colleagues of course remain blameless for any faults and the many silences in the exploratory essay that follows.

Democratic Careening

  • Dan Slater


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