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What Causes Authoritarian Backslides?

Dictatorship, painted by the Night Café neural network.
Wednesday, November 23, 2022, 11:00 am – 1:00 pm

This lecture will summarize the last foundations of studies of democratic backslides. Before very recently, the conventional wisdom of political science suggested that autocratizations are almost impossible in stable democracies. Hence, even though backslides took place many times throughout the twentieth century, this phenomenon has been understudied. The scholarship of the recent five years yielded the intuition on how autocratization takes place and what politicians are the potential autocratizers. Unlike the picturesque military coups from the past, the recent backslides became tacit. Also, instead of happening overnight, they now can take as long as a decade. During these processes, first, something happens in a party system that does not yet affect country`s level of democracy: depending on the studies, either the polarization in the party systems increases, or the old party system collapses bringing up the fresh movement parties, or even an incumbent with clearly anti-democratic traits comes to power. Second, the judiciary becomes dependent to the future autocrats. Finally, the future autocrats commit steps that decline the level of democracy: they suppress or even repress media, they get rid of opponents and change the rules of the game.  The studies that test the structural correlates of the final stages of autocratizations have revealed the very intuitive effects: poor and young democracies are more prone to authoritarian collapses. My project aspires to find the structural processes that cause democratic backslides in their earlier phases.

Image: Dictatorship, painted by the Night Café neural network.