Editorial: Why yet another journal on democracy?

April 2021 marks the first month of the Review of Democracy, RevDem for short, an intellectual and academic journal founded by the CEU Democracy Institute. In our first editorial, we would like to inform our readers about the purpose of the Review and the main ideas behind it.

RevDem sets out to provide an open platform for discussing and debating ongoing processes of de- and re-democratization, as well as offering analyses, reflection and opinion pieces on these processes in Europe and more globally. As a platform for exploring and debating democracy, RevDem draws on the intellectual resources of several European universities and research centers and links them together in a lively forum within the worldwide Open Society University Network. Around two dozen editors and section heads, helped by a large number of assistant editors, are devoted to extending this network and fostering dialogue among researchers, practitioners and activists worldwide.

RevDem represents not only a new initiative but also a new approach to the discussion of democracies at national and supranational levels. This approach focuses on a continent in its global context and confronts a variety of important issues facing democratic regimes in the 21st century. At the same time, RevDem’s coverage is far from limited to one continent: Europe merely serves as our point of departure. We are looking at democracy in a comparative perspective in ongoing dialogues with historians of ideas and practices. We organize debates on hot issues linked to de- and re-democratization, conduct interviews with key scholars and practitioners, offer reviews of major new publications and commission op-eds and longer essays that explore and publicize relevant new research initiatives linked to democracy. We intend to include a large number of young people, the next generation of scholars and practitioners of democracy in our editorial work, and will provide them with training in public engagement and help them to create digital teaching materials for universities worldwide.

Democracy as a political, socioeconomic, legal and intellectual question is at the heart of our project. Constitutional democracy with its division of powers, the rule of law, protection of human rights and peaceful transfer of power is under sustained attack in several parts of the world. We observe major transformations of democratic cultures and see a growing distrust in democratic institutions, an emerging resistance to basic rights, attempts at building “illiberal democracies”, and consolidation of authoritarian regimes. Three decades after the “third wave of democratization” we see the emergence of processes of de-democratization that require new intellectual tools to understand them.

We believe that renewing democracies requires a fundamental reflection on the origins of the current crisis and a constant search for innovative solutions. This journal, founded by scholars from the Central European University, the first university in exile in the European Union, and joined by a large numbers of other academics, aims to contribute to such debates. We want to spotlight non-obvious perspectives, taking inspiration both from the European and global level of scholarship and activism.

In order to make a contribution to that fundamental reflection, RevDem explores democracy through five key lenses. In the section on the history of ideas, we explore various theories of (re/de)democratization, probe the relationship between democracy and liberalism at the heart of the current populist crisis, and pursue debates surrounding the notion of citizenship.

The comparative and transnational perspective, adopted in our section on cross-regional dialogue, allows us to survey and reflect on situations in various parts of the globe through the making of new connections.

Political economy and inequalities are two issues central to the survival and thriving of democracy. Subjects which we address in this section include the interplay between socio-economic pathways and political change; the discussion of  the ways  European integration and other forms of shared sovereignty regimes shape room for democracy at national and supranational levels.

The importance of the Rule of law section is reinforced by the fact that the more recent processes of de-democratization are based less on physical coercion or violence, but more on new forms of (mis-)using law for diminishing political rights and neutralizing democratic institutions. Apart from drawing on current academic discussions, in this section we re-examine theories of Europeanization that have  largely failed to forecast and then properly address democratic backsliding – the sorry consequences of which are all too familiar to our host institution.

Finally, the section on the future of democracy in Europe is focused on innovation, which also provides a forum for the just started debate about the future of Europe. We believe that new ideas and practices of democracy are crucial to the flourishing of the European project which suffers from democratic deficits – democratic innovation may even be needed for its very survival.

We see the RevDem as an attempt to continue the long history of intellectual journals which have fed the debate on the most important issues of political life. Sadly, one such journal, Le Debat ceased its operations just last year when its founder, Pierre Nora noted how the new media has altered the way we read and write. The digital revolution appears to require diverse formats and new ways of organising content, and RevDem intends to become a newand engaging journal for the 21st century.

A brief sample of what we have already published:

Adam Przeworski in an interview with Laszlo Bruszt points to a new phenomenon in the study of democracy, namely the rapid increase in “Botswana cases”, as he calls them. “In Botswana the elections were held, all the appearances of democracy were maintained, and the same party won the elections every time (…). This Putinisation of democracies occurred, dictators learned that they don’t have to shoot mass demonstrators in order to stay in power and a lot of governments learned the same, that they can do whatever they want in power while preserving all the appearances of democracy – holding elections, having parliaments, even sometimes courts,” Przeworski said.

Jan-Werner Müller in an interview with Luka Lisjak Gabrijelčič underlines the rationality of emotions in politics and the need to go past them: “(…) [I]f you think even only of negative emotions, like anger and fear etc, we’ve known at least since Aristotle that these have a cognitive element, they are not just irrational irruptions coming from nowhere. Somebody is angry because they have a sense that the world is unfair, or that they have been treated unfairly. We can then talk whether that judgment is correct or not, but talking about ‘emotions’ in general is a total dead end, as a theoretical discussion.”

In the book review section, our editor Ferenc Laczo analyses the latest book by Francis Fukuyama and comes back to his thesis about the end of history: “Often misconstrued by his critics, the object of Fukuyama’s reflections has been the purpose of history rather than history as a series of admittedly unpredictable developments without a simple teleology. In other words, history as a series of events has obviously not come to an end, but Fukuyama remains confident that we might be able to identify its end goal. His focus on such an overarching purpose allows him to consider and not attach too much importance to recent and ongoing trends of de-democratisation.”

Our other publications concerned topical issues, including vaccination passportsthe situation in Myanmar after the coup. In addition,we wrote about academic freedom and the politics of antipopulism.

The events we organised in the last weeks were centred on the rule of law in various contexts: in the framework of our first RevDem interview online we hosted Prof. Adam Bodnar (Polish ombudsman); we also co-organised with the Democracy Institute the events on the rule of law and democracy in the EU Member States with European Commission Vice-President Vera Jourova, Commissioner Didier Reynders, as well as French European Affairs Minister Clement Beaune. Our next event, on the 10th of May will be devoted to the Conference on the Future of Europe.

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