Democracy Defined

In their own excerpt, Dan Collier and Steven Levitsky grapple with the definition of democracy. Over the last century, countries have challenged the concept of democracy as they move towards democratic transitions and democratization. The article explores alternative and more precise ways to define democracy by using Satori’s Ladder to create diminished subtypes of democracy, characterizing democracy by adding defining key characteristics and shifting the overarching concept.


By using Sartori’s ladder one can compare Poland to the procedural minimum definition of democracy. For example, as you go up the ladder of generality Poland meets the standards for, an electoral regime and down on the ladder a parliamentary democracy. However, according to a Washington Post article, over the past few months, Poland has been criticized in regards to “turning its back” on democracy. In the Law and Justice Party, they are de-establishing Poland’s Constitution Tribunal so that it doesn’t do anything that the PiS doesn’t want. In regards to the definition of democracy and Satori’s Ladder, this would place Poland along the lines of a diminished subtype as it heads towards illiberal democracy. This means that although Poland does hit the “root definition” of democracy, the diminished subtypes helps to avoid conceptual stretching while determining democratic countries.


Will scholars ever be able to determine a precise definition of democracy with so many diminished subtypes and loose interpretations of democratic characteristics?


Although there are so many different democratic regimes around the globe, having a definitive definition of what a democracy it would be extremely difficult. Nonetheless, the usage of subtypes and “defining attributes” help to narrow down the scale. Being able to differentiate these attributes instead of conceptualizing them and their trade-offs are important towards moving to a better understanding of democracy as shown in Satori’s ladder.



David Collier and Steven Levitsky. “Democracy with Adjectives: Conceptual Innovation in Comparative Research.” World Politics 49, no. 03 (1997): 430-51. 

Editorial Board. “Opinion | Democracy’s Slow Fade in Central Europe.” The Washington Post. (July 7, 2018.)


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