University of Chicago Law Review

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This Essay examines the potential causal mechanisms that plausibly link the occurrence of terrorism within a polity to that polity’s democratic decline. That causal pathway is often asserted in political rhetoric about terrorism. But such assertions do not rest on a robust body of theory or empirical knowledge. I hypothesize three pathways along which acts of terrorism might lead to a decline in democratic practices. These three pathways work through the use of emergency powers, the assemblage of a repressive state apparatus, and the emergence of a populist style of politics adverse to democratic contestation. I tentatively conclude that terrorism is most likely to undermine democracy through its accelerating effect on state development and its corrosive effect on democratic politics. Recognition of this possibility, I conclude, has implications for the doctrinal treatment of individual rights in the context of national security threats.

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