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Eastern Europe’s Illiberal Revolution

The Long Road to Democratic Decline

Rally 'round the flag: at a far-right march in Warsaw, November 2017. Agencja Gazeta / Reuters

In 1991, when the West was busy celebrating its victory in the Cold War and the apparent spread of liberal democracy to all corners of the world, the political scientist Samuel Huntington issued a warning against excessive optimism. In an article for the Journal of Democracy titled “Democracy’s Third Wave,” Huntington pointed out that the two previous waves of democratization, from the 1820s to the 1920s and from 1945 to the 1960s, had been followed by “reverse waves,” in which “democratic systems were replaced . . . by historically new forms of authoritarian rule.” A third reverse wave was possible, he suggested, if new authoritarian great powers could demonstrate the continued viability of nondemocratic rule or “if people around the world come to see the United States,” long a beacon of democracy, “as a fading power beset by political stagnation, economic inefficiency, and social chaos.” 

Huntington died in 2008, but had he lived, even he

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