Exploring “Non-Western Democracy”

Issue Date October 2015
Volume 26
Issue 4
Page Numbers 140-155
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Support for the concept of non-Western democracy is becoming more voluble, widespread and determined. In many places, it has become a central focus of debates about the future of democracy. Calls for non-Western varieties of democracy are part and parcel of the rise of a post-Western world order. The search for forms of democracy that differ from prevailing Western norms is legitimate and needs to be taken seriously. But it also merits a carefully thought-out response. The concept of non-Western democracy is a challenging one. While the sentiment in favor of local ownership and authenticity in political forms is sound, a distinctive non-Western variety of democracy has yet to be defined with any precision. At the same time, non-Western countries certainly offer new ideas for democratic innovation, and democracy supporters from the West need to do more to encourage these ideas.

Why are calls for non-Western democracy proliferating? There are several reasons. These calls flow from both political changes within states and shifts in global power balances between states. The first reason for non-Western democracy’s rising appeal as a concept is Western liberal democracy’s own poor performance of late. The rise of non-Western powers is the second reason. Rising powers’ pushback against Western democracy is associated with these states’ newfound ability and determination to exert their effective sovereignty.

About the Author

Richard Youngs is senior associate in the Democracy and Rule of Law Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and professor of international relations at the University of Warwick. This essay is based on material from his book The Puzzle of Non-Western Democracy (2015).

View all work by Richard Youngs