Populist nationalism is emerging as the main competitor to liberal democracy. But despite its current resurgence, in the long run, like other illiberal paths to modernity, it is likely to prove a dead end.
Countries taking the initial steps from dictatorship toward electoral politics are especially prone to civil and international war. Yet states endowed with coherent institutions—such as a functioning bureaucracy and the elements needed to construct a sound legal system—have often been able to democratize peacefully and successfully. Consequently, whenever possible, efforts to promote democracy should try to follow a sequence of building institutions before encouraging mass competitive elections. Democratizing in the wrong sequence not only risks bloodshed in the short term, but also the mobilization of durable illiberal forces with the capacity to block democratic consolidation over the long term.