The Authoritarian Challenge: Liberal Thinking on Autocracy and International Relations, 1930-1941 (2022)

with Stephan Haggard


The return of authoritarian great powers, the slowing of the democratic wave, and outright reversion to authoritarian rule pose important questions for international theory. What are the implications of an international system populated with more autocracies? This question was posed by a diverse array of social scientists, public intellectuals, and policy analysts in response to the autocratic wave in Europe in the 1920s and 1930s. We show that a series of conversations emanating from quite diverse intellectual priors – from Christian realists to international lawyers and disaffected Marxists – converged on the risks these autocratic regimes posed to democratic regimes and the international order they sought to forge. These risks included unconstrained rulers, an inability to sustain international commitments and political processes that undermined rational deliberation at home and spread disinformation abroad. The reading of this work suggests an under-appreciated strand of liberal international relations theory, and these debates have direct implications for liberal arguments about the democratic peace. Rather than theorizing why democracies avoid war, they underscore the importance of understanding why authoritarian and democratic countries are particularly prone to conflict.

Justice: Evaluating a Role-Immersion Game for Teaching Political Philosophy (2020)

with Noel Martin and Andy Lamey


We created Justice: The Game, an educational, role-immersion game designed to be used in philosophy courses. We seek to describe Justice in sufficent detail so that it is understandable to readers not already familiar with role-immersion pedagogy. We hope some instructors will be sufficiently interested in using the game. In addition to describing the game we also evaluate it, thereby highlighting the pedagogical potential of role-immersion games designed to teach political philosophy. We analyze the game by drawing on our observations as designers and playtesters of Justice, along with feedback from students obtained in focus-groups conducted shortly after playtesting ended. We present evidence that Justice, compared to conventional instructional methods alone, plausibly enhances student learning of philosophical skills and content by requiring them to practice those skills and put their content-area knowledge to use in a highly-motivating and engaging context.

Working Papers

(comments welcome, please don't cite)

On the Possibility of Right Answers in Politics

This article draws out a tension in democratic theory between popular rule and technical expertise. It sets out a taxonomy of the types of political question we might encounter, and elucidates the extent to which democratic delegation is defensible in each case. I find that the scope for legitimate democratic delegation to experts varies with the political unit's degree of consensus on (1) the paradigms used to understand the non-political world and (2) the objectives to be furthered through collective action. The legitimate role of the expert will be largest when there is consensus on these concepts, and smallest under conditions of dissensus, particularly those exacerbated by political polarization. This variation in the legitimate role of experts complicates political theories based on mechanisms for eliciting “the right answers,” such as the Condorcet Jury Theorem. There seem to be at least two senses in which political outcomes may be said to be correct and incorrect, one relating to achievement of the agreed end through the agreed paradigm, and another relating to the correspondence between the end so achieved and the requirements of justice. By disambiguating these cases, this article contributes to recent debates in epistocracy by clarifying the precise sense(s) in which a political question may be said to have a correct answer. A draft of this paper won the PPE Society's 2022 Gerald Gaus Memorial Essay Prize.

What Democracy Prevents

Political theorists tend to justify democracy on the basis of the good things that can be expected to result from adopting it. However, there exist many expressions of what we might call “democratic anxiety,” or worries about the repercussions of losing democracy. These expressions identify a lacuna in our democratic theory, because they point not toward hopes that might be frustrated, but towards fears that might be realized. These fears or worries lead in two theoretically-fruitful directions. First, they permit the exploration of different ideal types of non-democracy, based on some particular set of anti-democratic worries or anxieties. Second, they allow us to develop richer justifications for democracy based not only on achieving some good but on avoiding the specific “bads” articulated by expressions of democratic anxiety. I speculate that democracy’s commitment to prevent these conditions from arising cannot be completely fulfilled, in the sense that full achievement of one of these goals will impair or compromise fulfillment of the others. This negative justification of democracy has connections to an older tradition in political theory that celebrates democracy not for what it actually provides, but rather for what it counterfactually prevents. Prior theorists have shown what an ideal democracy might look like, and how ours has fallen short. By contrast, I seek to show what the varieties of ideal non-democracy might look like, and in so doing, to help us understand the role that fear of these ideal types plays in sustaining our democratic aspirations.

Measuring Democratic Antecedents, 1650-1789

This paper sets out a coding scheme for measuring the antecedents of democratic institutions in Eurasian states between 1650 and 1789. Building on the work of historians, I identify a set of ten factors that collectively comprise the institutional complex known as medieval constitutionalism, and I argue that the presence of these proto-democratic institutions provides a reasonable proxy for measures of democracy in the period immediately prior to the emergence of mass democratic institutions.


Evaluating a minimalist electoral definition of democracy

This paper evaluates conceptualizations of democracy used in empirical research, in particular the influential minimalist conception of democracy that operationalizes democracy as the occurrence of competitive elections. I find that although some degree of conceptual minimalism may be desirable for the purpose of operationalizing the definition in research, these considerations do not give the analyst carte blanche to stipulate definitions. Limitations include a desire to communicate with other researchers studying the same topic, and some degree of correspondence with the background concept as used in ordinary language.