Defending Democracy

The world’s democracies confront both internal and external threats. Internally, democratic institutions are under attack from populist leaders who seek to entrench their power by changing the political order. Externally, democracies face increasingly assertive adversaries as cracks are appearing in the military alliances that protected fledgling democracies in Western Europe and East Asia for decades. A blend of legal and geopolitical analysis is needed to make sense of these threats and devise effective responses. 

Erosion from Within

Democratic institutions in places like Hungary, Venezuela, and Turkey have been weakened by populist, authoritarian-leaning leaders. The erosion of democracy is often accompanied by constitutional crises, raising two questions. First, what characterizes a constitutional crisis, and what causes them? Second, how can constitutions safeguard against democratic erosion? Specifically, how effective are preventive measures such as banning illiberal parties, limiting undemocratic speech, or restricting constitutional amendments? Understanding when and where constitutional crises have occurred – and how they can be stopped – requires rigorous legal theory and careful empirical research. 

Engagement versus Retrenchment

A great debate is taking shape about America’s proper role in the world. Does the challenge of authoritarianism demand U.S. engagement and reinvigorated democratic alliances? Or should the United States insteadpare down its global commitments and steward its resources for rebuilding democracy at home? 

The Democratic Advantage?

Scholars have argued that democracies are more peaceful, better treaty partners, more militarily powerful, and have other advantages in international affairs. But others disagree. What are the conditions for the “democratic advantage,” and how can democracies exploit it to meet the challenge of rising authoritarian powers? 

Technology and the Nature of Power

Military power in the 21st century will be reshaped by emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, while older technologies like nuclear weapons continue to have transformative potential. How can democracies best integrate these technologies into a strategy for countering authoritarian influence, while also preventing the spread of dangerous technologies to undemocratic adversaries? 

The Public and Democratic Statecraft

The public plays a key role in constraining and enabling democracies’ responses to international threats. How does the public decide what constitutes a threat, which democracies deserve protection, and what costs are worth paying to defend them? This module integrates psychology and political science to explore how democratic public opinion will react to the authoritarian challenge.


Faculty & Researchers

Post-Doctoral Research Associate
John Owen
Professor of Politics, Department Chair
Graduate Fellow
Todd Sechser
Professor of Politics, Lab Director
Professor of Law, UVA School of Law
Doctoral Research Assistant