According to this article illiberal democracies are becoming fashionable these days:

PRINCETON - Nearly two decades ago, the political commentator Fareed Zakaria wrote a prophetic article called “The Rise of the Illiberal Democracy,” in which he worried about the rise of popular autocrats with little regard for the rule of law and civil liberties. Governments may be elected in free and fair elections, he wrote, and yet routinely violate their citizens’ basic rights.

Since Zakaria’s piece, illiberal democracies have become more the norm than the exception.

According to Larry Diamond (via Wikipedia) a democracy consists of four key elements:

(a) A political system for choosing and replacing the government through free and fair elections; (b) The active participation of the people, as citizens, in politics and civic life; (c) Protection of the human rights of all citizens, and (d) A rule of law, in which the laws and procedures apply equally to all citizens.

On the other hand, an illiberal democracy:

is a governing system in which, although elections take place, citizens are cut off from knowledge about the activities of those who exercise real power because of the lack of civil liberties.

So, according to Larry Diamond, an illiberal democracy is not a democracy (or at least this is my conclusion).

Question: can illiberal democratic regimes be considered democratic regimes or they, in fact, should be considered authoritarian regimes with a tendency towards dictatorship? Or shortly put, isn't "illiberal democratic" just a fancy concept for a nondemocratic regime?

To narrow down the question, I am thinking about Hungary and its Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán.

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    I believe en.wiktionary.org/wiki/democracy is much more accurate and says nothing about civil rights or rule of law (except that everyone has the right to vote). I think you (and many others, sadly) are confusing democracy with republic. – barrycarter Feb 12 '17 at 19:58
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    Is seems that the difference is simply in which definitions you pick. There's no "right" answer. – user4012 Feb 12 '17 at 20:01
  • @barrycarter but rights exist because they are expressed by laws. If you have no rule of law, then you have no rights since its enforcement is at the discretion of the government. For example, you may have the right to being judged, but without rule of law a cop may decide otherwise and shot you dead with total impunity... – SJuan76 Feb 12 '17 at 21:00
  • @barrycarter - you are right about the confusion. Thanks for pointing it out. While democracy technically (from definition) does not state about civil rights, I think Larry's definition has more substance and illustrates what modern people actually expect from a working (mature as opposed to flawed) democracy nowadays. That is why I have chosen his "definition". – Alexei Feb 12 '17 at 21:23
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    I would recommend tagging this with political-theory, sincethere seems to be nothing here about actual, real governments - just some definition and whether some activities are consistent with it. – indigochild Feb 13 '17 at 17:37
up vote 4 down vote accepted

Based on the Given Definitions

To restate the definition from the question, something is a democracy if (and only if) it meets these four criteria:

  • (a) A political system for choosing and replacing the government through free and fair elections;
  • (b) The active participation of the people, as citizens, in politics and civic life;
  • (c) Protection of the human rights of all citizens, and
  • (d) A rule of law, in which the laws and procedures apply equally to all citizens.

We are asked whether an illiberal democracy is really a democracy, or something else. So what is an illiberal democracy? Given by the question,

is a governing system in which, although elections take place, citizens are cut off from knowledge about the activities of those who exercise real power because of the lack of civil liberties.

It should be clear that this does not necessarily violate any of the four conditions to be a democracy. However, there at least two facets that are somewhat interesting:

This system is a democracy, so long as those with "real power" are not preventing it from being so. Criteria (a) could be violated by our hypothetical political leaders, but will not necessarily do so. This gets us back to age-old questions about the virtues of our leaders. The same goes for criterion (d) - without the citizenry knowing whether laws are being applied fairly to leaders, we don't know whether the rule of law in fact exists. However, there is no criteria in our definition that citizens know anything significant about their leaders.

Second, the idea of an illiberal democracy requires that there be a "lack of civil liberties". All four of our criteria can be met without many civil liberties, but any hypothetical example would have to satisfy what civil liberties exist in order to be interesting. For example, even without freedom of the press or free association we could have a "free and fair" election - if there is no media. However, if the media is being manipulated to prefer one candidate, party or viewpoint than the election is definitely not "fair".

Short answer: Yes, an illiberal democracy can be a democracy. However, it is also possible for an illiberal democracy to not be a democracy.

  • This is the answer I was looking for. Thank you. – Alexei Feb 14 '17 at 8:12

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