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After Democracy

What Happens When Freedom Erodes?

Construction fencing surrounds the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, November 2018.  Jonathan Ernst/REUTERS

Across the world, including in the United States as midterm elections unfold, experts lament that democracy is eroding, or backsliding, or perhaps even dying. But this tells us little about what is most likely to arise, exactly, in democracy’s stead. When democracy erodes, what remains? When a democracy backslides, where does it wind up? When democracy dies, what is born?

The simple answer is authoritarianism. But authoritarian regimes are every bit as diverse as democracies. Authoritarianism is not simply the absence of democracy but its own political beast—really a menagerie of very different beasts—with multiple modi operandi. For this reason, it is safe to say that democracy is under serious threat but that the threat is not a singular one.

From the United States to the Philippines to Poland to Brazil, two undemocratic models of rule are readily identifiable. One is electoral authoritarianism, in which rulers win

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