Democracy has attained a hegemonic position both as a normative ideal and as the dominant form of government, but there are growing concerns about democratic decline and crisis. The numerical growth of democracies has slowed down, and there have been some reversals from democratic to authoritarian rule in recent years. Nevertheless, the primary concern is about the substance of formal democracies, especially as recent democratic transitions have tended to produce depoliticized democracies and hybrid forms of rule rather than substantive democracy. This article uses the growth and decline of democracy as an occasion to review the current state of democracy in the world, discusses the links between the modality of democratic transition and problems of post‐transition democratic substance, and examines competing approaches to democratic deepening. A case is made for shifting the perspective on democratization, from democratic transitions to the open‐ended politics of substantial democratization. This means that the analytical approach should be broadened from elitist institutional design for electoral democracy to transformative democratic politics. The article presents this line of argument and provides brief illustrations based on recent transitions in the Global South.