Off balance: Systematizing deformations of liberal democracy

Date01 November 2021
Published date01 November 2021
International Political Science Review
2021, Vol. 42(5) 690 –704
© The Author(s) 2020
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DOI: 10.1177/0192512120915721
Off balance: Systematizing
deformations of liberal democracy
Pascal D König
TU Kaiserslautern, Germany
Markus B Siewert
Bavarian School for Public Policy, TU Munich, Germany
The project of liberal democracy is inherently marked by tensions between its liberal and democratic pillar.
This means that liberal democracy needs to constantly strive for a balance between conflicting principles. If
it does not contain these centrifugal forces, liberal democracies risk becoming subverted from within due
to one principle clearly dominating the other. In this article, we start from the idea of liberal democracy
depending on balance to systematically assess multiple endogenous challenges to democracy. We identify
four types of deformations and show how they are qualitatively distinct phenomena, yet systematically relate
to each other. We furthermore discuss what the co-existence of several such deformations means for the
notion of liberal democracy understood as a state of balance. In sum, the proposed framework adds to
existing research by providing a systematizing and theoretically grounded assessment of ongoing subversive
tendencies in liberal democracy.
Liberal democracy, subversion, populism, technocracy, post-democracy, relativism
There is a recurring theme regarding endogenous threats to liberal democracy: that the project of
liberal democracy1 is characterized by fundamental tensions concerning the ways in which citi-
zens’ preferences are translated into political outputs. On the one hand, the democratic element
requires that political decisions are ultimately linked back to the will of the people. The liberal
element, on the other hand, posits that all power, including that of the people, must be limited and
individual rights protected. Since both pillars are needed for liberal democracy and neither can be
Corresponding author:
Pascal D König, Department of Social Sciences, University of Kaiserslautern, Erwin-Schrödinger-Straße, Building 57, PO-
Box 3049, Kaiserslautern, 67653, Germany.
915721IPS0010.1177/0192512120915721International Political Science ReviewKönig and Siewert

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