Democratic Self-Defense: The Social Model

The rise of far-right extremist and populist parties has forced democracies to consider how best to defend their core values. Can democracies impose restrictions on those who seek its demise? If so, on what grounds? Are there other ways to defend democracy against its inner enemies?

In the literature on democratic self-defense, one distinguishes between three approaches: legal repression (e.g. party bans), political inclusion (e.g. deliberation) and social integration (e.g. universal welfare). Today legal and political approaches dominate the debate, both in a national and European context. By contrast, the social approach has fallen behind. This is surprising given its relative success vis-à-vis legal and political approaches in the interwar years in Scandinavia, and empirical evidence which shows that high levels of social equality lead to high levels of tolerance.

This project therefore asks what the Scandinavian or social approach could add to the contemporary defense of democracy. How can the promotion of social equality contribute to the defense of democracy? More specifically, the project has three aims: a) to examine and evaluate legal and political approaches of democratic self-defense, b) to examine and evaluate the Scandinavian approach of democratic self-defense, c) to systematize the three approaches into three distinct models, and flesh out a more comprehensive theory of the social model of democratic self-defense.

Principal investigator Sofia Näsström says:

  • This project is timely and important, given the resurgence of authoritarianism in many consolidated democracies. It contributes with relevant knowledge to decision-makers and the public about how to defend democracy in times of democratic discontent and instability.

  • The aim is to move away from legal approaches which target specific actors to targeting the political and social structures needed to regenerate long-term commitment to democratic practices and ideals. The question is not merely how to defend democracy, but to ask what kind of democracy is worth defending.

Principal Investigator: Sofia Näsström

Period: 1st July 2019 – 30th June 2022

Funding: 4 200 000 SEK from Marianne & Marcus Wallenberg Foundation


Anthoula Malkopoulou

Senior Lecturer/Associate Professor at Department of Government, Faculty

+4618-471 3457

Visiting researcher at Centre for Multidisciplinary Research on Religion and Society (CRS)

Last modified: 2021-12-14