Xavier Marquez examines the normativeness of democracy:
Democracy has become a sort of universally invoked standard, even though people vehemently disagree about its meaning. How do we know this? For one thing, almost every country in the world describes itself as a “democracy” in its constitutional documents. Using the data collected by the Comparative Constitutions Project, we can see that as of 2006, only 20 of 184 countries with some kind of written constitutional document did not describe themselves as democratic.
Moreover, the assertion of “democracy” in constitutional documents is almost always accompanied by the assertion of the classical “liberal” norms: freedoms of speech, expression, religion, association, press, and the basic equality of all people. The constitutions of the most repressive countries all proclaim such freedoms. Let’s take the basic freedoms of association, speech, religion, and assembly, as well as the norm of equality before the law. Almost every constitutional document in the world (over 90%!) asserts all five of these; and among those countries that don’t, most proclaim their allegiance to at least four of these. Only two countries (New Zealand and Libya!) failed to mention any of them as of 2006.
This might seem unsurprising; a cynic might say that I’ve only rediscovered the obvious impotence of constitutional restraints in the absence of supportive social and political realities. But it is nevertheless interesting, to my mind, that there is such a widespread need to assert these particular normative commitments, even as they are routinely violated, or interpreted in such radically restrictive ways as to render them politically meaningless. Among authoritarian elites, only the House of Saud and the Sultan of Brunei appear to have the courage of their convictions; everyone else hides behind a banner of rights and liberties.