Policy Brief  

Democracy and Authoritarianism in the 21st Century: A sketch

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In recent years significant academic attention has been devoted to the phenomenon of democratic backsliding characterized by assault on the rule of law, attempts to steal elections, and efforts to subjugate the judicial system and control free media. Yet, parallel political developments affecting hybrid and authoritarian regimes have by and large been neglected. This related process can be described as dictatorial drift and implies the transition from “soft” forms of authoritarian rule to hard core authoritarian policies characterized by the concentration of executive power, the destruction of political institutions such as fair elections, independent judiciary, free media, and autonomous civil society organizations, and worsening political repressions. This paper describes both democratic backsliding and authoritarian drift and argues that each are to a significant degree demand side phenomena: in countries undergoing such changes, significant parts of the electorates support anti-liberal and authoritarian policies. These two processes are illustrated by political developments in formerly communist countries in Central and Eastern Europe and in Central Asia.