Jonas Wolff | 2022

From the Varieties of Democracy to the defense of liberal democracy: V-Dem and the reconstitution of liberal hegemony under threat

in: Contemporary Politics

In recent years, democracy has been facing increasing challenges. How has comparative regime research responded? Focusing on the Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) project, this paper argues that the perception of serious threats to democracy in general and liberal norms in particular has given rise to a convergence around the liberal conception of democracy, reversing a previous turn towards recognising its conceptual contestability. In tracing V-Dem’s discursive turn from the contestation to the decontestation of democracy, the paper reconstructs two mechanisms that concern the ways in which academic research relates to the outside world and that have jointly pushed V-Dem scholars towards embracing unequivocally liberal conceptions of regime type and regime change. As a response to the crisis of democracy, this gradual abandonment of a pluralist conceptualisation of democracy is understandable but also deeply problematic as it contributes to downplaying the inherent limitations of liberal democracy.

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