Destroying Democracy by Law


Until 2005, the number of democracies in the world had been steadily increasing; however, since that date, the number has declined. Even robust democracies are now showing signs of weakness and some have turned into hybrid regimes suspended between democracy and autocracy. What is killing off the world’s democracies, and what can be done about it?

In her lecture, Kim Lane Scheppele referenced countries in which democracies have been undermined by aspirational autocrats. Examples from Hungary, Poland, Venezuela, Ecuador, Turkey, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States and beyond demonstrate how democracies no longer necessarily die with tanks in the streets. Often democracies die when aspirational autocrats come to power through elections and then use constitutional methods to erode constraints on their power. With law as their weapon, aspirational autocrats damage the institutions that provide checks and balances, compromise the independence of the judiciary, stifle civil society, muzzle the press and use the power of the state against those who might challenge their monopoly on power.

The lecture will also aspire to provide some ideas for reversing these processes through law wielded by new democratic movements.

Kim Lane Scheppele is Professor of Sociology and International Affairs at Princeton University. She was co-founder and director of the Gender Studies Program at CEU and director of the Program in Law and Public Affairs at Princeton. She specializes in the Sociology of Law, her other areas of research include sociological theory, comparative sociology, political sociology, sociology of knowledge, and human rights. In her research, she focuses on the rise and fall of constitutional governments, changes in democracies – particularly the case of Hungary – and changes within the European Union. She has published widely in both social science and law journals. Scheppele is currently Visiting Fellow at the IWM in Vienna, where she is completing her book Destroying Democracy by Law and working on another book: Hungary's Constitutional Transformations: From Communism through Liberalism to Autocracy, co-authored with Gábor Halmai.

Misha Glenny, IWM Rector, introduced the speaker and moderated the ensuing Q&A.

A recording of the event is available below.