This article analyzes the scholarship on variation among democracies and offers a proposal intended to address the relative lack of consensus over the fundamental conceptual infrastructure underpinning this literature. The framework introduced here differentiates between four dimensions of democracy: authenticity, quality, depth and consolidation—arguing that they may vary with some independence from one another. This approach simultaneously addresses concerns of normative and empirical democratic theory, rooting the conceptualization of democracy's dimensions in central aspirations that motivate normative theorists and political actors. The distinction between authenticity and quality as formulated here centers on the difference between standards understood to be required for membership in the democratic genus and normatively valued goals that surpass such standards. Work on democratic depth, as formulated here, addresses concerns over the possible tension between “minimalist” operational definitions and the underlying idea of democracy with its emphasis on political equality and rule by the people.


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