The empirical study of democratic systems in comparative politics is predominantly concerned with the identification of stable democratic orders. As noted, it is in this commonplace that democratic political regimes cannot be merely identified by reference to a set of ‘hard’ institutions (the constitution, separation of powers, the rule of law), but also need to take into account ‘soft’ institutions in the form of what is variably referred to as a ‘background culture’, ‘political culture’, ‘civic’ or ‘public culture’. A simple ‘transfer of institutions’ to emerging democracies is deemed not sufficient to construct functioning and viable democracies, as democratic systems need a wider societal legitimation as well as habituation to democratic practice. In this, however, there is a rather astonishing absence of debate on how such cultural underpinnings of democracy might develop differently between (and within) societies, to what extent they depend on the specific cultural contexts in which democracies emerge, and how contextual differences might relate to different normative models. Since the 1960s, the predominant focus in comparative political research is on a one-dimensional, Schumpeterian account of democracy, in which the necessity of a supportive democratic political culture is presupposed (Huntington 1991; Linz and Stepan 1996). So far, however, hardly any systematic attention has been paid to existing and potential substantive diversity in perceptions, attitudes, and understandings of democracy qua democratic understandings, of both political elites and in wider society. The possibility that differing perceptions of democracy might underpin (a variety of) democratic regimes is not considered. A case in point are the recent democratic transformations in post-communist Central and Eastern Europe. Comparative politics has mostly engaged in the assessment of the rapprochement of the former communist countries to a ‘rule-of-law’ model of democracy, largely derived from liberalism and Western experiences with democracy. Political culture has re-emerged in these studies as a highly normative concept, partially also to explain the drawbacks and failures of democratization in post-authoritarian societies, allegedly related to incompatible collective identities (ethnic nationalism) and cultural predispositions (paternalism, clientelism). In this, liberal political culture has been contrasted with illiberal discourses, but possible variety in political discourse qua democratic discourse has been largely overlooked.