Drawing on a set of studies undertaken over the past years, I use this paper to compare and reflect upon the role which democratic norms play in the legitimation of transnational and intergovernmental governance. Descriptively, I argue that democratic norms have, in general, been on the rise in transnational as well as in intergovernmental governance. Yet the dynamics that gave rise to democratic norms and the roles these norms have come to play differ significantly across contexts as well as over time. In the second part of the paper, I reflect upon how we can best make sense of the context-sensitive rise (and fall) of a democratic legitimation narrative in global governance. Drawing on different perspectives in contemporary social theory, I argue that the rise of democratic legitimation norms we can observe is episodic rather than linear, precarious rather than stable and reformist rather than radical. In normative terms, then, the rise of democratic legitimation norms oscillates somewhat uncomfortably between democratic potential and post-democratic practice.