JoD at 25 Years: "The Rise of Competitive Authoritarianism"


In anticipation of celebrating the 25th anniversary issue in January 2015, the Journal of Democracy is revisiting some of the most influential articles on the study of democratization ever published in the Journal.

#3: “The Rise of Competitive Authoritarianism” by Steven Levitsky and Lucan A. Way

In their Journal of Democracy article, “The Rise of Competitive Authoritarianism” (April 2002), Steven Levitsky and Lucan Way sought to move the debate about democratization beyond the “transition paradigm” by identifying a new type of regime that had emerged in the post-Cold War era.

As scholars wrestled with how to classify the wide variety of new regime types located somewhere on the spectrum between liberal democracy and traditional authoritarianism, Levitsky and Way argued that many of these efforts reflected a “democratizing bias” that assumed all these countries were undergoing a prolonged transition to democracy. The hybrid regimes that they categorized as “competitive authoritarian” maintain significant “arenas of contestation” between incumbent leadership and political opposition. Yet incumbents violate the rules of electoral competition so egregiously that these regimes should be viewed as subtypes of authoritarianism rather than democracy. Noting that competitive authoritarian regimes could develop after the decay or collapse of authoritarian regimes as well as through the decay of a democratic regime, Levitsky and Way suggested that competitive authoritarian regimes had the potential to move in either a more democratic or a more authoritarian direction.

By highlighting the emergence of this species of hybrid regimes and emphasizing their uncertain trajectories, Levitsky and Way made an important contribution to democracy research. Their terminology has come to be widely accepted among scholars of democracy, and their analysis still remains a starting point for debate about the nature and prospects of these “in-between” regimes.

About the Journal of Democracy

The Journal of Democracy is the world’s leading publication on the theory and practice of democracy. Since its inaugural issue appeared in January 1990, it has engaged both activists and intellectuals in critical discussions of the problems and prospects of democracy around the world. Today, the Journal is at the center of debate on the major social, political, and cultural challenges that confront both emerging and established democracies. The Journal is published by Johns Hopkins University Press on behalf of the National Endowment for Democracy’s International Forum for Democratic Studies.