Calling the Bluff: Why is Democratic Backsliding so Difficult to Detect, or Is It?

It seems uncontroversial to assert that there are political parties which aim to subvert the constitutional or democratic basis of a society through democratic and legal means. Underpinning much of the analysis has been the assumption that this kind of democratic backsliding is difficult to detect. This paper revisits what has come to be called the detection problem The argument is set up in three steps: The first part outlines the threat to democracy as we faced it in contemporary Europe as one where autocratic leaders undermine the democratic nature of state through largely legal means. The second part identifies the “detection problem” and distinguishes between three different objects to which it could apply to. The third part deals with a series of factors that make democratic backsliding difficult to detect before moving on to discuss how these factors might influence the institutional competence of the institutions tasked with protecting democracy.