The global illiberal surge


Fig. 1. “Adolf Hitler (Nazi Party party leader) Herman Göring, Franz Pfeffer von Salomon [Franz von Pfeffer], etc. at the Nuremberg rally 1929, the Nazi Party Congress held in Nuremberg, Germany on August 1–4. Parading SA members, Nazi salutes, Party flags with nazi swastika, brownshirt uniforms, etc. Public domain according to Narodowe Archiwum Cyfrowe.” Photograph by Robert Sennecke, August 1929, from Narodowe Archiwum Cyfrowe (National Digital Archives of Poland), via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0.

In an article on the global rise of illiberalism,[1] I’m more skeptical of the second paragraph quoted here than I am the first:

Some political leaders and academics fear an enduring era of authoritarian rule, driven by the promise to return to working people some of the stability and security that has been swept away by globalization and the resulting transfer of many jobs either to lower-paying regions of the world or to automation. The trend has been exacerbated by the division of people into agitated and aggressive factions on social media.

But others say the authoritarian wave will be just that, a short-lived surge that recedes as it becomes evident that the far-right populists do not have any good solutions for most people’s frustrations, either.[2]

As a movement, illiberalism has been developing at least for decades—some of its roots go back a thousand years,[3] making it hard to say that there’s any clear beginning or end point to such a “wave.” Its supporters seem undeterred by policy failures as they continue to blame “elites,” including academia and the media, and establish competitive authoritarian regimes that ensure their hold on power.

The way to end authoritarianism has been documented through the years, but that doesn’t mean there’s an easy recipe to follow. “Nobody can predict the collapse of an authoritarian regime, but we do know the ingredients,” [Moisés] Naím said. “Elections, independent judiciary, term limits — that’s the magic sauce. We used to talk about that recipe for banana republics, but now it applies to the United States.”[4]

The very point of a competitive authoritarian regime, such as that which white Christian nationalists seek to establish in the U.S. is to ensure that these ingredients are not present or are not effective.[5]

  1. [1]Marc Fisher, “Leaders of democracies increasingly echo Putin in authoritarian tilt,” Washington Post, October 16, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/2022/10/16/authoritarian-world-leaders-putin/
  2. [2]Marc Fisher, “Leaders of democracies increasingly echo Putin in authoritarian tilt,” Washington Post, October 16, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/2022/10/16/authoritarian-world-leaders-putin/
  3. [3]David Benfell, “Barack Obama asks, ‘Why is it that the folks that won the last election are so mad all the time?’” Not Housebroken, November 4, 2018, https://disunitedstates.org/2018/11/04/barack-obama-asks-why-is-it-that-the-folks-that-won-the-last-election-are-so-mad-all-the-time/
  4. [4]Marc Fisher, “Leaders of democracies increasingly echo Putin in authoritarian tilt,” Washington Post, October 16, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/2022/10/16/authoritarian-world-leaders-putin/
  5. [5]Andrew Marantz, “Does Hungary Offer a Glimpse of Our Authoritarian Future?” New Yorker, June 27, 2022, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2022/07/04/does-hungary-offer-a-glimpse-of-our-authoritarian-future

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