• Length:
    7 Weeks
  • Effort:
    3–6 hours per week
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  • Course Type:
    Instructor-led on a course schedule


There are no formal prerequisites for this course, although an interest in democracy, democratic structures and institutions, as well as democratic development is key.

About this course

Skip About this course

Conditions of Democracy is the first course in a two-part series intended as a broad survey of the political, social, cultural, economic, institutional, and international factors that foster and obstruct the development and consolidation of democracy. Each factor will be examined in historical and comparative perspective, with reference to a variety of different national experiences. An important aim of the course is to encourage each student to relate the historical development and contemporary situation of a particular country or region to the various theories about democratic development, and to evaluate those theories in light of the experience of a country, set of countries, or region.

What you'll learn

Skip What you'll learn

You will learn about the political, social, cultural, economic, institutional, and international factors that foster and obstruct the development and consolidation of democracy.

Comparative Democratic Development Part I: Conditions of Democracy

Week 1

Lecture 1: Introduction and Key Concepts

Why this course? Why democracy? How can we define electoral democracy? How does it differ from “liberal democracy”? The components of democratic quality that make for a “high-quality” or “liberal” democracy.

Lecture 2: The Third Wave of Democratization and the Democratic Recession

The history of democratic expansion since 1974. The concept of “waves” of democratic expansion and retreat. The democratic recession of the past long decade, and its distinctive features and causes.

Week 2

Lecture 3: Legitimacy, Authority and Effectiveness

What is political legitimacy? What determines the legitimacy of a political system? What are the distinctive features of democratic legitimacy? The historical and contemporary sources of legitimacy. The role of regime performance in democratic legitimacy. The relationship between economic performance and democratic legitimacy.

Lecture 4: Democratic Consolidation

How do democracies become stable and rooted, or “consolidated”? What do we mean by “democratic consolidation” and is it a useful concept? The relationship between legitimacy, or public normative support for democracy, and “democratic consolidation.”

Week 3

Lecture 5: Political Culture

What do we mean by the term “political culture” and what are the components of a democratic political culture? How do people around the world view democracy?

Lecture 6: Are Democratic Values Universal?

Is democracy a Western concept or more nearly a universal one? To what extent do people in non-Western societies—as in Latin America, Asia, and Africa—believe in the value of democracy and manifest other beliefs associated with democratic culture? What have been the recent global trends in support for democracy, rejection of authoritarian options, and support for rule of law and constitutional government? Evidence from the Latinobarometer, the Asian Barometer and the Afrobarometer.

Week 4

Lecture 7: Economic Development and Democracy

What is the relationship between the level of a country’s economic development and the presence or degree of democracy? If there is an association, why does it exist? How valid is “modernization theory”—the assertion that as countries become richer they are more likely to become democracies, or at least to sustain democracy? How do a country’s class structure and its level of inequality affect its prospects for democracy?

Lecture 8: Civil Society

What is “civil society” and how does it differ in its boundaries from “society” more broadly? What are the characteristic features of civil society, and why and how (and to what extent) does it contribute to stable democracy? What dilemmas and challenges do civil society organizations face in the contemporary era, and how can they overcome them?

Week 5

Lecture 9: Democratic Transition: Paths and Drivers

What have been the characteristic paths by which democracy has emerged historically? What paths, sequences or means are most likely to produce what Robert Dahl called a “system of mutual security,” in which competing political forces come to trust and tolerate one another?

Lecture 10: Democratic Transitions: Types and Means

Assessment of three different models of contemporary democratic transitions: those led from above, by the authoritarian regime (gradual reform); those imposed from below, by popular uprising (democratic revolution); and negotiated (pacted) transitions producing compromise agreements between the regime and the opposition. What are the advantages and drawbacks of each mode of transition, and how does the nature of the transition (including the extent to which it is broad-based and non-violent) affect the prospects for subsequent democratic success?

Week 6

Lecture 11: Democratic Breakdowns

What are the principal models or historical processes by which democracy fails? What are the most important contributing factors to the failure of democracy? The relative weight in democratic breakdown of human agency vs. structural causes, and of domestic vs. international factors. Were prominent past failures of democracy “inevitable”?

Meet your instructors

Larry Diamond
Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution and at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies
Stanford University

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Frequently asked questions

Do I need to buy a textbook?

There is no required textbook for this course, although students are strongly encouraged to follow along with the recommended readings and to seek out other articles as mentioned by Professor Diamond during lecture.

The reading list can be found on the course platform, along with links to available articles and downloadable PDFs in the Conditions of Democracy Course Reader link found at the top and right side of the page. The readings complement and enrich the course lectures. Students are not required to do all the reading, but they are strongly encouraged to read at least one or two articles each week. The more you read, the more you will gain from the class.

How will I be graded in this course?

There will be a review quiz each week and one final exam. Most of the questions will relate to the lecture material but some questions may address key readings. In order to receive a certificate, students must maintain an average score of at least 75% on the weekly quizzes and also on the final exam. (The lowest of the six weekly quiz scores can be dropped to determine the final average.)

There will be 2 lectures released each week, excepting week 6, which will have one. Students can expect roughly 10-14 questions per quiz and will have two attempts to pass.

The final exam will be available to students between March 31 and April 17. The exam will cover material from all lectures. There is only one attempt allowed, so please review the course material beforehand and make sure to take it in an area with minimal distractions.

Am I expected to participate in the discussion section of the class?

The discussion forum is an opportunity for you to share your thoughts, comments, or questions about the lectures and readings. The goal is to help students review, distill, discuss, and debate with one another the lecture material (and readings) for each week. Classroom assistants from Stanford University will be available to facilitate conversations, and you can also direct course-related questions to Professor Diamond. Please view the forums as an opportunity to maximize your course experience.

The discussion forums are sorted as follows:

  • Weekly Discussion Forum: To discuss the lectures and readings for that week.

  • Administrative questions: To pose questions to the course staff about the requirements and administration of the course.

  • Democracy news and analysis: To share with your fellow students and the course staff news developments and analysis of particular relevance to the course.

  • Meet other students: To meet online fellow students in the class with particular interests or shared backgrounds.

The online course forums are an extension of our classroom. Abusive or hateful speech will not be tolerated, and any such comments will be removed at the moderators' discretion. Please be respectful of one another and follow the University Code of Conduct:

  • Stanford University is an institution dedicated to the pursuit of excellence and facilitation of an environment that fosters this goal. Central to that institutional commitment is the principle of treating each University Community member fairly and with respect, and embracing diversity and inclusion.

The University prohibits discrimination and harassment and provides equal opportunities for all Community members and applicants regardless of their race, color, religious creed, national origin, ancestry, physical or mental disability, medical condition, marital status, sex, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, veteran status or any other characteristic protected by law.