This section provides a list and definitions of over 70 key concepts used to capture democratic decay, elements of democratic decay, and adjacent concepts which help to explain the overall conceptual terrain. Particular attention has been paid to cataloguing concepts coined by lawyers, or which focus on the law and its role in democratic decay.


purpose and inspiration

The main purposes of this Index are to provide scholars working in the area of democratic decay with a useful 'map' of the area, and to provide students interested in the area with a first port of call for grasping the main concepts. As discussed below, many of the concepts in the area are highly contested, there has been a remarkable proliferation and duplication of concepts, and there is some laxity in how concepts are used. This Index aims to help scholars navigate this complex landscape. The Index was inspired by the indices on the Venice Commission's CODICES database of constitutional case-law, and more broadly, by the collaborative spirit of online resources such as Wikipedia. 

It also worthwhile to emphasise that this Resource does not aim to fuel endless and unproductive debate on the meaning and boundaries of certain concepts. Rather, given the tricky conceptual terrain of this area, the Index here is aimed at helping researchers to draw on the necessary conceptual resources to further their work, to navigate the literature in this area, to identify conceptual frameworks most relevant to their work, and to appreciate and maintain useful distinctions between different concepts. If public lawyers and others are to be capable of working together, and working with non-lawyers, there has to be at least some consistency in the use and understanding of conceptual frameworks and terminology. For newcomers to the area, and students, the aim is to provide a useful first port of call for grasping the conceptual landscape. 



Many of the concepts in the Index are essentially contested, including the meaning of 'democracy', 'rule of law', and so on. The aim here is not to be prescriptive, but to provide broadly accepted definitions provided by well-regarded scholars. Feedback is welcome: contact if you have a serious disagreement with a definition or think it could be amended or improved. As stated in the About section of this website, this may be considered Version 1.0 of this Resource and nothing here is set in stone.


Proliferation and duplication

It will be clear from perusal of the Index that there has been a rapid proliferation of concepts in this area. There is a significant degree of overlap between terms such as 'autocratic legalism', 'constitutional capture' and 'constitutional retrogression', or 'hybrid regime' and 'modern authoritarianism'. Partly, this appears due to the fact that a lot of new scholarship has been produced by different research leaders in parallel, and published during a short time period. Partly, it reflects the use of different terms for similar phenomena within different research fields and disciplines.

For this reason, every effort has been made here to highlight similarities and to point out key distinctions between similar concepts, while cross-references at the end of each concept definition help to identify certain 'concept clusters'.  Take a look at the Concept Map to get a quick sense of the conceptual terrain. 


conceptual confusion

It is also clear that there is a certain lack of consistency and rigour across scholarship and policymaking regarding the use of appropriate concepts. By way of example, the international organisation Democracy Reporting International recently released a Briefing Paper decrying the misuse and overuse of the terms 'populism', 'illiberal democracy' and 'crisis of democracy' in scholarship and media commentary on the phenomenon called democratic decay here. Again, the purpose of this Resource is not to be unduly prescriptive, but to assist researchers in using conceptual frameworks and terminology with greater rigour, and perhaps more widely, to initiate a discussion about how the conceptual terrain might be de-cluttered and navigated with greater care.