Carl Henrik Knutsen
University of Oslo
In a short but great book, Adam Przeworski analyzes the survival and quality of democracy. The main motivation is to understand the current situation where potential crises of democratic decline are lingering in several countries. Przeworski discusses 'hot topics' such as gradual processes of democratic subversion 'by stealth' by elected incumbents. He even outlines a scenario of how democracy could die in the US (pp. 188–192). In a balanced analysis, Przeworski steers clear of pushing crisp, mono-causal explanations, and his sound empiricist instincts also mean there are few doomsday predictions and 'big, bold statements'. Yet, the book is not without conclusions. Przeworski deals with several explanations of democratic decline from current debates, such as increased polarization and rise of radical-right parties, but also points out how economic fundamentals related to income inequality and stagnation in incomes may be facilitating factors. Przeworski draws lessons from statistical relationships in historical data, but the perhaps most impressive chapter discusses historical cases ('Some Stories'). It lays out cases of democratic breakdown (Germany 1928–33; Chile 1970–73) as well as cases where democracy was at risk, but survived (France 1954–62, 1968; USA 1964–1976). Przeworski details, for instance, how 'the survival of democracy in France may have been a historical accident' (p. 73). He subsequently draws lessons from history to evaluate the future course of democracy globally. Expected trends in fundamental causes of democracy are seen as important for predicting trends in democracy. Crises of Democracy is very well-written, clear in its arguments, and soundly anchored in empirical patterns. If we are to better understand how to avoid democratic decline, Przeworski provides an excellent example of the type of analysis that democracy researchers must engage in.