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Democracy and its Discontents in the Post-Cold War World


Admission requirements

Admission to the MA International Relations. Students who are interested in taking this course, but who are not admitted to the mentioned master programmes are requested to contact the co-ordinator of studies.


With the conclusion of the Cold War, proponents of liberal political and economic models proclaimed their ultimate ideological victory and, at the extremes, the ‘end of history’. Liberal democracy accompanied by neoliberal economic policies appeared to be remaking the world, particularly in the former Soviet sphere and Latin America. Supporters of this new democratic wave argued that a combination of global political and economic reform would leave the foundation for a more prosperous, harmonious, and free world following the wars and dictatorships of the twentieth century.
By the second decade of the twenty-first century, however, there was growing popular cynicism toward the desirability of liberal democracy in many parts of the world. Countries including Russia, Turkey, and Venezuela have come into conflict with Western European powers, the United States, and other international actors due to the attitudes of their governments and many of their citizens toward the apparent post-Cold War liberal political and economic consensus. In the mainstream media as well as foreign policy circles, there is also now talk of democracy being under attack from domestic and foreign sources in many of those countries which most enthusiastically supported this post-Cold War wave of democratization.
In this course, we explore international politics and history from the end of the Cold War to the present through the lens of the advances and retreats of liberal democracy. We will first interrogate the ideas and concepts that underpin liberal democracy as it has been understood and used in international political discourse in the late twentieth- and early twenty-first century. We will then explore how the concept of democracy spread through large parts of the globe during the 1980s and 1990s. Finally, we will examine the ambivalent political and economic legacy of the post-Cold War period by looking at the rejection of liberal political and economic ideals in many parts of the world. Geographically, this course will focus on Europe, Russia, Latin America, and the Middle East. Students will, however, be given significant freedom in exploring the topics raised in relation to other regions in which they have specialist knowledge or interest.

Course objectives

Students in this course will be encouraged to critically assess some of the dominant ideas in contemporary international political debate and commentary. In particular, they will learn how to problematize dominant narratives of international relations by developing and defending their own understanding of terms such as democracy and dictatorship. Students will further learn how to determine the applicability of such terms within specific political and historical contexts. In doing so, students should leave the course better equipped to participate in political debate in both popular and scholarly forums.
Through weekly debates, students will gain confidence and ability in analysing scholarly texts, developing arguments, and presenting their ideas to an audience. In their written assessments, students will be guided in their ability to develop and execute their own research project under supervision. The written assessments are structured in such a way as to promote an orderly process of research that involves consulting the existing literature, developing an original research question, and then designing a feasible research project.


Via the website

Mode of instruction


Course Load

  • Weekly close reading: 72 hours (6 hours per week x 12 weeks)

  • Seminars (attendance is compulsory): 18 hours (12 x 1,45)

  • Class Debate: 10 hours

  • Literature Review: 40 hours

  • Research project: 140 hours

  • Total course load for this 10 EC course is 280 hours.

Assessment method

  • Class participation & debates: 25%

  • Literature review: 25%

  • Research essay: 50%


The final mark for the course is established by determining the weighted average.


A resit for the research essay can be held if the original submission is insufficient. The resubmission should be completed within two weeks of being advised on the insufficient nature of the original.

Exam review

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.


Yes, see Blackboard.

Reading list

A reading pack will be made available.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch.


Dr. Randal Sheppard