A woman walks to a polling booth in Bangui, Central African Republic, February 14, 2016.
Siegfried Modola / Reuters

In the West, it is difficult to escape the pessimism that pervades current discussions of global affairs. From Russia’s invasion of Crimea and the never-ending crises of the European Union, to the Syrian catastrophe and the rise of the Islamic State (also known as ISIS), the world appears to be tearing at the seams. Meanwhile, democracy itself appears to be unraveling—helped along by resurgent authoritarianism, weakened liberal democratic values, rising populism, and contagious illiberalism.

Democracy has unquestionably lost its global momentum. According to Freedom House, there are only a handful more electoral democracies in the world today than there were at the start of this century. Dozens of newer democracies in the developing world are struggling to put down roots, and many older democracies—including, of course, the United States—are troubled. The theory that democratic transitions naturally move in a positive direction and that established democracies don’

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  • THOMAS CAROTHERS is Senior Vice President for Studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. His most recent book is Development Aid Confronts Politics: The Almost Revolution.
  • RICHARD YOUNGS is a Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He is the author of eleven books on democracy and European policy, including the new book, Europe’s Eastern Crisis: The Geopolitics of Asymmetry.
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