Event Summary: ‘Resurgent Authoritarianism: The Global Challenge to Democratic Norms’


by Hugh Coates

On the 5th May, Dr Marc F. Plattner, Dr Lilia Shevtsova, and Christopher Walker gave a talk on the current threat posed to democracy by resurgent authoritarian powers across the globe – the central theme of their recent co-authored book, Authoritarianism Goes Global: The Challenge to Democracy. The event was chaired by Dr Andrew Foxall and was hosted by the Henry Jackson Society in Millbank Tower.

The talk commenced, with Dr Marc Plattner setting out three distinct periods of change for modern day democracy. He defined the period between the 1990s and 2000s as a time of growth for democracy; the mid-2000s, saw a turning point whereby regimes actively sought to stifle domestic democratic activities; more recently, in his view, authoritarian regimes have now sought to roll-back democracy altogether rather than simply contain it. He closed his section of the talk by introducing the idea of ‘authoritarian learning’. This is the notion that authoritarian regimes modify their strategies for repression based on the actions of similar such states.

Dr Lilia Shevtsova then took up the reins of the talk by focusing her analysis on present day Russia. She stressed, in the beginning of her section, that this concerted push against global democracy were not the actions of strong powers. On the contrary, she cited the severe internal problems facing Russia and China. With regards to Russia individually, while not a self-assured regime, she believes it is one that exercises prudence when dealing with the West. Moreover, she signified the adoption of a new Russian paradigm for survival, whereby it looks to simultaneously cooperate with and operate against, the West.

The final word in the discussion fell to Christopher Walker, who framed his section around the argument that authoritarian regimes were becoming more sophisticated and far-reaching in their endeavours to stifle democratic norms. In particular, he highlighted the use of government-funded groups masquerading as civil society (GONGOs) to frustrate and undermine credible international efforts to make democratic progress. He spoke candidly about the dashed hopes that China would show signs of liberalising after the Olympics. He concluded the talk by echoing the sentiments of Dr Shevtsova, asserting that such regimes are decaying, but warned that they have the capacity for resilience and as such, the West could not idly sit by.


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