Pippa Norris Photo

Pippa Norris

Paul F. McGuire Lecturer in Comparative Politics


The early 21st Century has seen warning signals that peoples in every part of the world face clear and present danger from liberal democratic backsliding and authoritarian resurgence. The cumulative effects commonly erode of the quality of liberal democracies -- and sometimes trigger their eventual collapse. Meanwhile authoritarian states have commonly become even more repressive at home and emboldened abroad, challenging Western alliances and the rules-based world order.

Part I in this course opens by discussing the concept, classification, and measurement of democratic and authoritarian regimes, and reviews evidence of trends. Part II debates multiple explanations for these developments. This includes (i) accounts focusing upon the rise of specific strongman leaders and elite enablers; (ii) falling electoral support for moderate parties, party system fragmentation, and the growing popularity of authoritarian-populist parties; (iii) the spread of misinformation and disinformation in the digital age; (iv) legal-institutional design flaws failing to check executive aggrandizement; (v) structural drivers and economic inequality in mass society; (vi) the impact of nativism, population migration, and growing ethnic and racial diversity; (vii) new electoral cleavages due to cultural shifts in social values; and (viii) global struggles in international relations pitting Western allies against the forces of authoritarian states. Part III considers the practical policy options flowing from each alternative theory.

The course adopts a global comparative perspective, including the United States, using cross-national time series data and selected case studies of the process. Assignments include a regional workgroup mid-term report and a final individual research report. The class encourages the capacity to think quantitatively, to write effectively for a broad practitioner readership, and to communicate using professional data visualizations skills. Some statistical skills are an advantage but not essential.