Worth Reading (Aug. 1, 2014): Journal of Democracy July 2014


This installment of Worth Reading showcases articles from the July 2014 issue of the Journal of Democracy: “Gay Rights: Why Democracy Matters,” by Omar G. Encarnación; “The End of the Transitions Era?” by Journal of Democracy co-editor Marc F. Plattner; and “The Ups and Downs of Islamism,” a review by Tarek Masoud of Shadi Hamid’s new book, Temptations of Power: Islamists and Illiberal Democracy in a New Middle East.

“Gay Rights: Why Democracy Matters” by Omar G. Encarnación

In “Gay Rights: Why Democracy Matters,” Omar G. Encarnación explores the correlation between democratic governance and respect for the rights of gay citizens. While gay rights have advanced quickly over the past decade, Encarnación reminds readers that these rights are “deepening more than spreading.” In democratic countries, he writes, gay rights have made remarkable progress. By contrast, in authoritarian countries including Uganda and Russia, threats to the LGBT community are a matter of grave concern. Seeking to explain why “the nature of the political regime is a better predictor of gay rights than either economic development or cultural factors such as religion,” Encarnación turns to the history of the gay rights movement. He finds that democratic systems enable progress in this area through several mechanisms, including the protections of citizenship, the presence of a vibrant civil society, intra-civil society collaboration, respect for the rule of law (which has contributed to demonstrable progress in Latin America), and a tolerant environment in which gay people may “live their sexuality openly and honestly.”

Encarnación discussed his article in a Journal of Democracy podcast, available here.

“The End of the Transitions Era?” by Marc F. Plattner

In “The End of the Transitions Era?,” Journal of Democracy co-editor and International Forum for Democratic Studies Research Council Co-Chair Marc F. Plattner examines the origins of the terms “democratic transition,” “revolution,” and “regime change” for insight into the future of these concepts. Beginning with the Aristotelian concept of “regime change” as a cycle between democracy and oligarchy, Plattner proceeds to explore the concept of “democratic revolution” from the perspective of Alexis de Tocqueville, who described global politics as moving toward the social equality of all citizens, but not necessarily toward political freedom. The concepts of authoritarian breakdown and transitions toward greater political freedom began to be seriously considered with the works of Dankwart Rustow, Guillermo O’Donnell, Philippe Schmitter, and Laurence Whitehead, finally culminating in Samuel Huntington’s book Democracy’s Third Wave. This literature, Plattner writes, is sometimes misread as implying that any authoritarian collapse must be part of a transition toward democracy. Looking forward, Plattner notes that the third wave was marked by the relative strength of the democratic idea and the weakness of authoritarian regimes, trends which are somewhat reversed today. In an era where authoritarian regimes actively thwart democratic aspirations and the “low-hanging fruit” (countries where democratization posed the least challenge) has already been picked, Plattner does not predict another wave of democratization–but neither does he predict another reverse wave like those following the first and second waves of democratization.

An adapted version of Plattner’s article appeared in Foreign Policy, which can be accessed here.

“The Ups and Downs of Islamism” by Tarek Masoud

Finally, in “The Ups and Downs of Islamism,” Tarek Masoud reviews Temptations of Power: Islamists and Illiberal Democracy in a New Middle East by Shadi Hamid. Masoud summarizes the book’s central puzzle in the following way: why did the Brotherhood, upon obtaining power, fail to live up to their relatively moderate campaign rhetoric and instead opt for a hardline approach? Hamid suggests that assumptions that the Muslim Brotherhood would become more moderate after achieving political inclusion were based on underestimations of radicalism in Egyptian society. Masoud critiques this theory using Hamid’s own fieldwork, noting that the forces which caused the Brotherhood to moderate its rhetoric did not “disappear with the advent of democratic competition.” Instead, Masoud posits that the Brotherhood was, as the book’s title suggests, “simply blinded by the temptations of power.” Masoud concludes by reflecting on Tunisia, where political rejection of moderate Islamists “suggests…less that the inclusion-moderation thesis is wrong than that non-Islamists have categorically ruled out the possibility that it could ever be right.”

More information on Hamid’s book can be found here.

About Worth Reading

Network of Democracy Research InstitutesWorth Reading is a bi-monthly publication of the International Forum for Democratic Studies at the National Endowment for Democracy. Many thanks to the Journal of Democracy editorial staff for their work on the most recent issue; thanks also to Omar G. Encarnación, Marc F. Plattner, and Tarek Masoud for their scholarship and insight. If you have materials you would like featured in Worth Reading, please send us an email at ndri@ned.org.